Thursday, June 23, 2011

The New Steed's Maiden Voyage

Originally, I had a long run schedule for Saturday.  Well, screw that.  I wanted to take my shiny new friend out for a ride.  I hadn't had a chance to transfer my Garmin from Rusty yet, so I'd use the bike computer that came with the new bike.  There wasn't a lot of work needed to prepare it for a long haul.  The previous owner must have been almost exactly my size.  Other than slightly adjusting the seat post and leveling out the aerobars, there weren't any other changes that needed to be made.  Sure, I'll get it professional fit at some point - probably during the off-season when I'm not spending all my dough on race fees and, well, buying new bikes. 

I've ridden on the Dakota Rail Trail plenty of times and was excited to see how far West it stretched.  Now that the bridge over Highway 7 is finished, the trail could take you from Wayzata out to who-knows-where. According to Google maps, it ends out in Hutchinson.  That would mean a ride of a little over 100 miles round-trip.  That should do for breaking in the new steed.

The weather was cloudy and muggy, but at least it wasn't raining.  There's a crap-load of construction going on in my neighborhood, so all the streets are torn up.  As a result, I started my trek by walking my bike down to the main road and clipping in from there.

It took several miles for my legs to warm up, but by the time I reached Wayzata I was good-to-go.  The Dakota Rail Trail is fairly new and nice and smooth.  Combine that with my new titanium frame, which is designed for a softer ride, and you end up feeling like you're riding on a cloud.  I could really feel the difference in the feel of the road. 

Once I got past the multitude of stop signs that are peppered along the eastern end of the trail, I could open up the throttle a bit more.  In the past, this would mean average speeds between 18 and 20 MPH.  On the new bike, it wasn't unusual for extended stretches at a casual 22 MPH.  Wowzer.  I can't wait to see what will happen at a race with the carbon wheels installed. 

I kept cruising through St. Bonifacius, over the nice, new Highway 7 bridge and out towards Waconia.  The trail was nice and flat, but that's okay.  I'll do hill workouts later.  A few more miles past Waconia, I hit the end of the paved trail and the beginning of the crushed limestone.  Well, as awesome as the new steed is, it still isn't designed to run on gravel, so I snapped this photo, pulled a 180 and headed back East.  Rats.

Last stop...end of the line.
Well, I wasn't going to get as many miles in today as I wanted, at least not on the Dakota Rail Trail.  So, I started to think about other ways to tack on some distance before heading home.  As it was, The Wife and I had left one of our cars at a friend's place in Bloomington the previous night.  So, if I could make it to their place, I could just drive home.

I said "Goodbye" to the Dakota Trail in Mound and headed towards the southern end of Lake Minnetonka.  At this point, the weather was still holding together, but I could see darker clouds off in the distance.  I continued into Excelsior and stopped at Excel Cycle to pick up a spare 650c tube.  The new bike has slightly smaller wheels, so my usual 700c tubes weren't going to work.  I figured I had already tempted fate enough by going 50 miles without a spare.

I turned South out of Excelsior and cruised down Powers Boulevard through Chanhassen.  The first sprinkles started to come right about the time I hit Pioneer Trail and it didn't take too long before I was riding in the rain.

Cars make me nervous.  So does riding in the rain.  Fortunately, Pioneer has a bike path that parallels the road.  I don't prefer to use bike paths closer in to town, especially when there's a good chance that I'll come across walkers.  But, with the rain, there weren't a whole lot of people outside.  I kept along this path until Pioneer turned into Bloomington Ferry Road and eventually turned onto Old Shakopee Road.  That's when things got interesting.

Anatomy of a Bike Crash

Nobody plans to crash their bike, but there are usually plenty of things that you can do ahead of time to prevent a crash.  Staying on smooth roads and keeping away from traffic are among two of the most important.  I wasn't doing either of these by riding down Old Shakopee road on Saturday.  The path had ended, so I had to ride in the road, which had little to no shoulder.  In addition, traffic along this road is always fairly busy, so I constantly had cars buzzing within a few feet of my left shoulder.  I was cruising along at about 20 MPH and anticipating a left-had turn in about a block to take me onto a less busy street.

14:15:00 - My front tire slid into a crack in the road and was immediately turned about 20 degrees to the left.  I didn't have time to think.

14:15:00.1 - With the back half of my bike now moving faster than the front half, my rear wheel launched into the air as if it was bounced by a giant spring.  My first thought: "what the..?"

14:15:00.2 - I was now airborne, travelling head first at approximately 20 MPH with my feet still securely fastened to my bike.  It was an interesting sensation, but the flight didn't last too long until I started sinking.  Cue Willie from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: "We're not sinking...we're CRASHING!"

14:15:00.3 - Seeing the ground coming quickly up at me, and preferring not to land on my face, I stuck out my right arm.  My left arm was still clutching tightly to my handlebar as I involuntarily flexed every muscle in my body.  My thoughts: "This is going to get worse before it gets better".

14:15:00.4 - My right hip and knee struck the ground first, followed by my right hand.  The gravel and sand were still wet from the rain.  I had finished my brief flight and was now skidding.

14:15:00.5 - As I continued to plow through the road gravel, it felt oddly like trying to steal 2nd base in Little League.  Only, I never slid 20-30 feet in Little League.  The only thing I could focus on was not letting my face or head hit the pavement.

14:15:00.6 - The bike and I finally came to a stop.  One foot was still clipped in, but the other had come free.  Remembering that there was still quite a bit of traffic, my first concern was that someone would run over me as I lay in the road. 

14:15:04 - Dazed, I got to my feet and pulled my new ride up over the curb and set it down in the grass.  I was still stunned and didn't have the best balance, but managed not to fall again.

14:15:09 - Traffic in the right lane had stopped.  Several drivers rolled down their windows and asked if I was 'OK'.  I looked myself over and didn't see any bones protruding from my legs or arms.  There wasn't a massive amount of blood and I was still standing.  I yelled back, "Yeah, I'm okay."

14:15:15 - One driver asked if someone had hit me.  I said, "No, nobody hit me.  I'm just dumb."  The driver then sped off without another word.  Must have been a lawyer.

14:15:20 - Finally, the pain started to settle in.  My right leg hurt and no amount of stumbling in a circle seemed to loosen things up.  I tried to focus my eyes on something...anything...but couldn't quite see straight.

14:15:30 - A Honda CRV pulled over and the window rolled down.  A couple nice ladies asked if I was okay.  I was still convinced that I was good (contrary to appearances).  Then, they asked me if I needed a ride.  My pride said "No".  Then, I thought about riding the next few miles back to the car.  "That would be great," I said to them.

14:15:40 - The driver, Emily loaded my bike into the back of the CRV with the help of two teenage kids who just happened to be walking down the sidewalk.  I never did catch their names.  They were good kids though. 

14:15:50 - While the boys were loading up my bike, I was hit with a wave of dizziness and nausea.  I thought I was going to barf.  I got down to my knees on the grass and curled up into a ball until my forehead was in the turf.  After about 30 seconds the wave passed, without any barf.  Whew.

14:16:40 - I limped into the back seat of the CRV.  I was wet and covered with gravel, sand and who knows what else.  My friend's house and my car were only a few miles away.  Emily served as my own personal SAG Wagon.

As it turned out, Emily was an X-Ray tech from Regions Hospital.  I didn't appear to have any broken bones, but she told me to keep an eye out for changes in my heart rate or blood pressure, just in case there was any internal bleeding.

She said, "Well, you're pretty muscular, and that probably helped keep you safe during the crash."  "Pretty muscular," eh?  That totally made my day.  When we got to my car, she started to unload my bike from the back of the CRV.  I asked if she needed any help.  She said, "Nah. This thing weighs like 5 pounds!".  That totally made my day, again.

I thanked Emily profusely, but she insisted she was just "doing her good deed for the day".  So, if you're ever at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, MN and meet an x-ray technician named Emily.  Please, thank her again for me.  Really.  She's an angel.

I took one more assessment of my situation before heading home.  My right side was covered in wet gravel and sand.  My right hand and forearm were pretty chewed up, but weren't bleeding too badly.  There was some road rash on my right shin that was about 2 inches across.  My new Twin Cities Spoke shorts were shredded (NUTS!) and my tailbone was killing me.

The drive home was no fun.  I felt weak...small.  But, I knew that things could have been a lot worse.  When I got home The Wife knew right away that something was wrong.  Maybe it was the look on my face, or maybe it was the muddy gravel plastered down the right side of my body.  She convinced me to take a shower and clean off all the muck, before driving me to Urgent Care.

I peeled off my shorts and found this little number waiting for me.  Yeeeouch!
Ahhh!  My ass!  My ghostly pale ass!

Well, the docs at Urgent Care gave me a clean bill of health.  Nothing was broken and the sore tail bone would slowly become less sore.  Wow.  How lucky am I?

I know, I know.  What about the bike?  Well, remember in my last post, when I said I was thankful that my new bike was titanium rather than carbon?  If it were a carbon frame, it could easily have been ruined.  Carbon does not respond well to trauma.  Titanium, on the other hand, can take a licking and keep on ticking.  The only damage I could find was a scratch on the handlebar tape and a scuff on the derailleur hanger.  In fact, it still shifts like a dream.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Welcoming Home a New Family Member

The last few days have been, well, crazy.  It all started on Thursday.  I skipped my normal lunch-time workout to check out the bike swap happening over at Tonka Cycle and Ski.  Just a few months ago, Tonka Cycle was about to go out of business.  Since then, they've gotten a new location in Hopkins, had a re-Grand Opening and even became a bike shop sponsor of the Twin Cities Spoke

Anyway, bike swaps can be a great place to find a good used bike at a great price.  Folks looking to decrease the size of their stable will bring their steeds into the shop, pay a small fee and then include their ride in the sale.  Outside of the small fee, all of the money made goes directly back to the original owner.  Since The Wife is in training for the Irongirl this September, I thought it might be a good opportunity to pick up something inexpensive that could get her through the race. 

There were all sorts of bikes at the swap.  There were plenty of kids bikes, some classic Schwinn cruisers, some beaters that could use a little love and even some tandems.
$500 for this Cannondale tandem is a steal.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything that fit the bill for The Wife.  They didn't have any road bikes in her size and all of the tandems available needed a bit too much love to get back up and running.  Oh well.  I was about ready to head back to the office when I noticed this little number just hanging near the edge of the lot:
Why, hello there beautiful.
What I found was a Merlin Aerial.  Merlin makes high-end titanium frames and the Aerial was a collaboration between them and Quintana Roo, the first company to develop tri-specific bikes.  I took this little number off the rack and took a closer look.  The frame was clean, the Dura-Ace components were in immaculate condition and...drumroll was my size.

I wasn't prepared for a test ride and I had to get back to work, so I hung the Merlin up and headed back to the office.  Needless to say, I spent the next few hours at work rather distracted.  Between tasks, I hopped onto The Interwebs and learned everything I could about Merlin bikes.  They're not exactly a household name like Trek, Cervelo or Specialized.  But, from what I could tell, they were very well constructed.

After punching out for the day, I'm pretty sure that I broke a few traffic laws trying to get home quickly.  I hopped on Rusty and sped off to see if my new friend was still waiting for me - which it was.  Not only that, but since lunch, they price had been dropped by $100.  Nice.  The folks at the shop were cool about letting me swap out the pedals and adjust the seat height to something that fit my stubby legs.  I took the Merlin out for an extended test ride. 

The first thing that I noticed was that it was comfortable.  I was able to ride without being all scrunchy in the shoulders.  The second thing I noticed was that this sucker was fast.  Maybe it was just my adrenalin, but it was easier to spin up to cruising speed. Plus, that the cruising speed was 1-2 miles an hour faster than what I was used to.  The best part was that the asking price for the bike was 1/3 of what I was expecting to pay for my first dedicated tri bike.  I was sold.  Or rather, the bike was sold - to me!

Let me introduce you to my new (yet to be named) steed.  It's already been set up with my trusty saddle bag and Twin Cities Spoke water bottle.
Of course, once I got home, buyer's remorse started to settle in.  So, I immediately hopped onto the Twin Cities Spoke forum, where I was calmly assured that this was, in fact, a heckuva good deal.  In fact, it was such a good deal, that I had enough cash left over to buy some carbon racing wheels from the swap the very next day.
Here he/she/it is all pimped out and ready to race.
That's it though.  There won't be any more big purchases for me, at least, not for a little while.  But man, I can't wait to get this bugger in a race.  Oh, and don't worry.  Rusty's not going anywhere.  In fact, I'm looking forward to converting him back to the nice road bike that he was created to be.

Stay tuned and I'll tell you about my adventure Saturday breaking in the new steed any why I'm so very thankful to have a titanium frame rather than carbon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Buffalo Olympic Triathlon Race Review

What a difference 2 years makes.  But wait.  I'm getting ahead of myself again.  Let's start from the beginning.

I spent Saturday evening was spent tweaking my bike and gathering all the necessities for race day.  One of my moms (New Mom for those of you keeping track) gave me an awesome backpack for Christmas that can expand out to swallow all of my gear.  I was able to get everything into that one bag - wetsuit and helmet included.  This went into the car along with my bike (no, my bike wouldn't fit in the bag too) and waited while I slept.

I woke up at 5:30 on Sunday morning and went through my normal pre-race routine.  Warm shower?  Check.  Bagel with peanut butter?  Check.  Climb into new team racing jersey and shorts?  Check.  With that, I hit the road for the 45 minute drive out to Buffalo.  The weather was looking absolutely great.  The sun was shining and the temps for race time would be in the low 70s.  Nice.

The first wave of the race wasn't scheduled to go until 9:00, but even at 7:00, things were just starting to get busy in the transition area.  I grabbed a spot on a rack and made sure it would be easy to find in the rather large transition area.  The Olympic and Sprint distance race at the same time, and there were two large transition areas separated by an Astroturf covered path.  With 1500 bikes to rack, they did a pretty good job of giving us enough space to maneuver.

Behold: my awesome MS Paint skills.
After claiming my space, I went to body marking where some dude drew on me.  No.  Wait.  That sounds weird.  Anyway, I got my race number on my shoulders and on my quads, plus my age on my left calf.  They do this so that you know if you're racing next to someone in your age group (remember this little tid-bit for later).  After that, I had another 90 minutes to spend waiting around, just soaking things in. 

After about an hour of wandering around, I got a text from my mom - Classic Mom this time.  She was heading over to see me race.  Sweet!  The Wife had to work on Sunday morning, so she couldn't make it, but it was pretty cool to know someone would be there.  Classic Mom made it out to the Get in Gear in April, but she's never seen me in a tri before, so having her out was pretty cool.

They had the pre-race meeting to remind us about the course changes.  This year, the bike course intersected two sets of train tracks and there was a very real chance that we would need to stop to wait for any trains.  That got a collective groan from the crowd.  My wave only the 4th to leave, so after the meeting I poured myself into my wetsuit and headed over to the beach for a quick warmup.  There was almost no wind, so the lake was just about as calm as my local lap pool.  I could tell already that the swim was going to be fun.  Just before my wave got lined up, I saw Classic Mom and gave her a nice wet hug before shuffling over to the start line.

The Swim
There was a hard right-hand turn less than 100 yards into the swim, so I lined myself up on the far left so I could get out fast and cut the corner in front of most of my wave.  Relatively speaking, I'm a stronger swimmer than I am a cyclist or runner, so I wanted to take full advantage of my time in the water.  Oh yeah.  I almost forgot.  At Buffalo, you don't have swim course buoys.  You get giant duckies.  Awesome.

The start was incredibly uneventful.  I ran in, took a good dive when it was hip-deep and busted a move towards the first turn.  I didn't get a lot of contact from the other racers - just a couple bumps here and there.  On the way to the first duckie, I started to catch up to the wave ahead of me.  I learned pretty quickly to stay away from any feet that were doing the breast-stroke.  One heel to the mouth will drive that lesson home quickly.  The good news is that all of the white swim caps from wave #3 made it easier to sight the course - just follow the little white dots.

The first left turn was a bit of a cluster, but the long straghtaway was a great place to get some speed going.  I knew I could go a little wider of the duckies without swimming too much further than the crowd.  I'd much rather swim just a little further if it means avoiding packs of other athletes.  After the third and final turn, I started seeing more caps from the 2nd wave - blue this time - but I was more focused on tracking down more yellow duckies.  I hit the gas with about 200-300 yards left to go and hit the shore feeling dizzy from the swimming, but still fresh.

Goal: 28:00, or 1:42 per 100 yards.
Actual: 24:52, or 1:31 per 100 yards.

The Bike
After a somewhat muddled transition (gotta practice those) I pedaled out onto the bike course.  With 1500 athletes, it did get pretty crowded out on the course, especially during the first lap.  Most of the riders were good about riding safely.  Slower riders stayed to the right, giving speedier ones some room to pass.  Although, there were a few that need to be reminded what exactly "on your left!" means.  In the end, I don't think anyone was slowed down significantly due to congestion.

The course was incredibly fast.  During most of the first lap, it felt as though I was either going downhill or had the wind at my back.  Yes, I know.  The course is flat, so there weren't any downhills, but that's sure what it felt like.  In fact, the only real hills to speak of were a couple long rollers on the back stretch of the course, heading back into town. 

I tried to keep my pace moderately hard.  My goal was to keep my average speed over 19.5mph, so any time I dropped under 20mph, I gave it a little more gas.  Cycling during a triathlon can be tricky.  Sure, everyone wants to go fast, but if you go too hard you can ruin your chances at a good run leg.  I have enough problems putting together a good run, so I'm often second-guessing myself when I see my average speed climb too high.

Then again, sometimes you just have to say 'screw it!' and go out harder than you think is smart.

The 2nd lap was a lot less crowded, but still felt just as fast.  Again, the only real slowdowns were with the two rollers heading back towards the park.  As I came up into the park I realized that I had forgotten to slip my feet out of my shoes.  I wrestled with my right shoe and got my foot out, but was barreling towards the dismount line too fast to be able to get my left foot out.  So, I unclipped my left shoe, hopped off the bike, took off my shoe, picked it up and ran with it towards my transition area.  This was not exactly the graceful dismount I was hoping for.

My speed still looked good though.  I managed to keep my average speed over 20mph for the whole leg.  Wow.  That's the first time I've ever topped 20mph for any triathlon distance.  Sweet.

Goal: 1:18:00, or 19.6mph
Actual: 1:16:00, or 20.13mph.

The Run
The first 1/3 of the run is very flat, which made it a little easier to get my 'land legs' back.  I haven't done as many bike-run bricks in training this year as I probably should, which probably contributed to me being a little stiff.  Still, I managed to shuffle along at 8:50 per mile while running down the lake path.

Mile 3 made me wish that I had studied the course ahead of time.  It was essentially one long sweeping climb.  It wasn't extremely steep, but the road just kept turning, and turning, and turning, so it was impossible to see the turnaround until I was almost on top of it.  Needless to say, my split wasn't what I wanted - 9:23.  The good news was that mile 4 took us down the same hill.  So, I drank some water from the hilltop aid station, poured the rest over my head and booked it down the hill.  Lo and behold, going downhill actually gave me a faster split time - 8:35.  Downhills help you run faster?  Go figure.

As the course led back towards the lakefront, I was able to see the finish line waaaaaay down the shoreline.  I knew that I was almost there, but it still looked so dang far away.  I tried to pick up the pace a little bit and was even able to pass a few runners - something that I rarely do during a race.  Usually, they're all passing me.  I tossed some more cool water over my head at the last aid station and then focused on trying to reel in the next runner in front of me.

With about 50 yards to go, I got close enough to see that he had a '33' on the back of his calf.  He was in my age group (I TOLD you to remember that knowledge morsel, didn't I?).  I managed to grunt out a little sprint at the finish and passed him with about 10 yards to go.  That's the first time I've ever out-sprinted someone in my age group before.  Yay.

Goal:  56:00, or 9:00 per mile
Actual: 54:49 or 8:50 per mile

Goal: 2:46:00
Actual: 2:39:42

Well lookie here, I met my goal!  Now, part of me says that I need to set some more aggressive goals.  But, another part of me realizes that the race conditions were ideal for fast times.  If there had been heavy chop on the lake or high winds on the bike, I could easily have missed the mark.  The part that I was most encouraged about was my finish place.  I was 21/42 in my age group, which puts me squarely in the middle of the pack.  I've never felt this good about being average.  Hopefully this means that I actually am starting to get a handle on this whole triathlon thing.  Even better, I still feel like there's plenty of room for improvement.

So, it was a good day.  I met my goal.  I got to race by Classic Mom a couple of times and I firmly established myself as a middle-of-the-packer.  Good stuff.

I'll get some photos posted shortly.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Buffalo Olympic Triathlon Preview

Wow.  This one really came out of nowhere.  I was originally planning to do the Liberty Triathlon on June 11.  The problem was that I couldn't decide between the 1/2 Iron distance or the Olympic distance.  Well, by the time I had finally made up my mind, the race was full!  D'oh!  Fortunately, the was still accepting entries.  Heck. From what I can tell, they don't have a limit on participants.

This will be my first time racing in Buffalo and only my 2nd Olympic distance tri ever.  My first was Trinona back in 2009.  I'm fairly certain that I'll be able to PR.  I mean, I'd like to think that I've improved in the last couple of years.  So, lets take a step in the WABAC machine and try to figure out how things are going to go down.

The Swim
Trinona: 33:12, or 2:01 per 100 yards
Being my first triathlon, I really had no idea what to do.  I was still learning how to sight and was still getting over the initial shock of not having lane lines or any walls to push of of.   Since the, my swim times have come down quite a bit.  I averaged 1:45 per 100 yards at the Ironman.  So, tomorrow, I should be able to break 30:00 without too much of a problem.  I'm thinking that 28:00 sounds about right.
Buffalo Goal: 28:00, or 1:42 per 100 yards.

The Bike
Trinona: 1:28:12, or 16.87 MPH.
It's really not fair to compare bike courses.  Trinona is famous for having one of the steepest climbs in the country.  There's a mile-long segment with a grade of 12%.  It's no joke.  Plus, that was a couple years ago, and I didn't have nearly as many cycling miles under my belt.  Buffalo, on the other hand is flat as a pancake, and the forecast for tomorrow is calling for little or no wind. It's a 12.75 mile course. The sprint racers do 1 lap and us Oly folk will do two.  With close to 1500 other riders, things are bound to get a little crowded for lap #2.  If all goes well, I'm hoping for an average speed of 19.5 MPH.  20 MPH would be excellent, but I want to save a little gas for the run.
Buffalo Goal: 1:18:00 or 19.6 MPH.

The Run
Trinona: 1:06:21, or 10:41 per mile
The run was a rude awakening at Trinona.  I hadn't really done any brick workouts leading up to the race.  So, when I hopped off my bike, I was a little shocked when my legs didn't want to behave themselves.  It felt as though someone had shot me in each one of my butt cheeks.  I didn't have to walk any of the course, but I wasn't exactly breaking any land speed records.  Running is still my weakest discipline, but I'm still hoping to keep my splits under 9:00 per mile tomorrow.  If I can hold something faster, great.  But I'll try to keep it around 9:00 for the first half of the race and speed things up for the 2nd half if there's any fuel left in the tank.
Buffalo Goal: 56:00, or 9:00 per mile.

Trinona Total Time: 3:08:01
Let's see, before I know my final goal time, I'll need to factor in about 2:00 per transition.  So, that brings me up to a grand total of 2:46.  Okay.  Sounds like a plan to me.
Buffalo Goal: 2:46:00

I'll be back tomorrow to let you know how I did.  Later gators!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Multisport on a Shoestring: Your (T)rusty Steed

Okay.  So, last time I took you though getting set up for the swim.  As far as disciplines go, it's one of the easiest and least expensive to gear up for.  Suit? Check.  Goggles? Check.  Cap? Check.  Easy enough.  Now however, we come to the big money item: the bike.  Bikes are sexy.  They're elegant works of art that can be used to crush dreams and destroy the competition.  They're also rather intimidating.  There are so many different styles and brands, it's easy to get lost.
Let's get one thing out of the way first.  If you're new to multisport racing and aren't sure if you'll continue racing after your first event, you do not, I repeat, DO NOT need to drop $3000 on a carbon fiber rig.  Case in point: Cory Foulk

Cory's finished an Ironman on this $15 ride. 
 All right.  Let's get started.  This first part is for the person that has a bike, but doesn't know if it's "Tri Worthy".

If you're brand-spanking new to the sport, you probably still have some kind of bike stuffed in the back of your garage and are saying to yourself, "Self - I don't want to buy a new bike, maybe I can ride THIS...".  Well, before you decide, consider the following questions:

1.  Does it work? - Take your bike out, and ride it for a while, shifting through all of the gears.  If it doesn't shift smoothly, or sounds like a rusty barn door when you turn the pedals, then it probably could use a tune-up.  If you have the know-how, you can clean and tune it yourself, have a friend do it, or bring your ride into a local bike shop.  I'd recommend the local bike shop.  In addition to doing a nice, professional job, they'll also be able to tell you if there's more going on that you can't see.  The last thing you want is to have something break during your race.

2.  Does it Fit? - Opting to use your husband's old road bike is a great idea, especially if he's kept it clean and functional.  But, if he's 6'3 and you're 5'4, you're going to have problems.  Without getting too technical about fit, you'll want to be able to adjust the seat height so that you still have a slight bend in your knee when the pedal is at it's lowest.  Too much knee bend can cause pain in the knees, and legs that are too extended can cause hip pain.  Local shops will be happy to advise you on fit, especially if you already brought in your bike for a tune-up.

3.  Is it Fun to Ride? - This is often overlooked.  Sure, just about any bike will be able to finish the cycling portion of a race.  The issue is the training.  If you actually enjoy riding your bike, you're more likely to put in the training miles needed to finish your race.  If not, then it'll sit in the garage until race day, and you won't be as prepared as you could be.  Some folks can have fun riding almost anything. That's cool.  Others need to feel like the fastest kid on the block every time they ride.  That's cool too.

Now, if you don't own a bike, or the one you have doesn't meet your needs, then you'll probably be thinking about buying new.  Great!  There are all sorts of fun rides to check out.  Again, what I have to say here is for the BRAND NEW athlete.  If you've already been around the block a few times in multisport and are looking for advice on a sleek, sexy, superbike, then you won't find what you need here.  However, if you're looking for something dependable that you can ride more than just for racing, then you're in luck.

As always, there are two big questions to ask yourself before shopping for a bike:

1.  What kind of riding will I do? - If you just want to ride around the lake trails on the weekends, that's cool.  But you may benefit from a different kind of bike from someone who say, wants to ride the county roads for 10-20 hours per week. 

2.  What's your budget? - Yeah.  This is a sticky one.  If you're crapping cash, then that's great (I'll go grab a bucket) but not everybody can affort the top of the line.  The good news is that there are plenty of other options out there for the rest of us.

Okay.  So you've decided that you want a new bike.  You know how you'll want to use it and about how much you have to spend.  Do yourself a favor and check out a loca bike shop.  They'll be more than willing to let you test ride anything that strikes your fancy.  It should go without saying, but do not buy a bike from Sears, Wal-Mart or Target.  Sure, I use these guys for stocking up on toothpaste and Underoos, but if I'm going to spend my hard-earned cash on a ride, I'm going to buy it from an expert.

Let's take a look at the 4 main styles of bikes to consider.

Mountain Bikes

Prices Starting At: $300
Who they're for: With thick, knobby tires, solid frames and up to 30 gears, these bikes are designed for trail and off-road riding.  The rougher the terrain, the more that these excel.  Many have front suspension - shock absorbers built into the fork.  Others have dual suspension so both the front and back wheels will flex to soften the ride.  Get one if you want to try Xterra or any off-road races.

Who they're not for: They're tough, but they're also heavy.  Plus those knobby tires create a lot of rolling resistance.  Compared to other types of bikes, it takes a lot more work to get these up to speed.  Avoid these if you want to go fast on the road. 

What you pay for: Spending more money will get you nicer components (shifters, deraileurs, brakes, etc), disc brakes, as well as front or full suspension.  Components have come a long way.  The mid-level components today can out perform the top of the line from just a few years ago.  Some folks will get upity about getting the most impressive component spec, but don't let them convince you that it's needed.

If you really want to go crazy, you can get a carbon fiber frame that's lighter and stiffer so that you can chew up the course and rocket up those mountains.


Prices starting at: $250
Who they're for:  These are some of the most common bikes out there.  If you're finding a ride in the back of your garage, it's most likely a hybrid.  Why?  Well, they mix the upright seating of a mountain bike with the gearing of a road bike and wheels that are half-way inbetween.  This is designed to keep the rider comfortable, but also allows them to go quite a bit faster than the mountain rigs, at least on paved roads and trails. 
If you're new to the sport and aren't sure if you'll keep with it after your first race, this is a good place to start.  At least if you decide that multisport isn't your thing, you'll still have a nice bike you can take around the lakes from time to time. 

Who they're not for: Speed demons.  Compared to road bikes, hybrids are still pretty heavy.  The tires aren't quite as thick as mountain bikes, but they're still plenty beefy.  If you really wanna go fast, keep scrolling down.

What you pay for: Again, nicer components cost more money.  They're more durable and will operate more cleanly.  Do you absolutely need to spend a lot of cash?  No. Of course not.  But, it's there if you want it.  Some hybrids have front suspension forks too.

Road Bikes
Prices Starting At: $550
Who they're for: All right.  Now we're cooking with gas.  Everyone knows what road bikes look like.  They're what all those fast dudes in the Tour de France ride around on.  The riding position is much more aggressive, meaning that your hands are lower than your butt, so that you're more aerodynamic.  You have larger gears than on a hybrid, which gives you a higher top speed.  The tires are nice and narrow - usually around 23mm, so you can get up to speed and stay there. You've even got hood-mounted shifters that will change gears with just a flick from your index finger.

Also, there are some flat-bar road bikes out there as well.  If comfort is an issue and your back just can't handle leaning that far forward for so long, consider one of these as an alternative.

If you're going to spend time riding on the road, get yourself on one of these.  As fugly as my bike is, it's still just a modified Trek roadie, and it did the Ironman just fine.  I've got over 10000 miles on mine, and will probably put on 10000 more. 

Who they're not for: If you're new to cycling, $500 could be a lot to spend for what is considered a budget ride.  If you're strapped for cash and can't justify the cost, you may want to hold off for now.  Also, they're also not designed to be ridden on the trails.  With those narrow little wheels, you won't have nearly as much controll on even limestone trails compared to a hybrid or mountain bike.

What you pay for:  Carbon fiber costs more. Carbon is lighter than aluminum or steel, so you don't have to work as hard to move it. It can be molded into any shape, so frames can be more aerodynamic.  It's also said to yield a softer, less tooth-rattling ride.  Some less expensive bikes will give you carbon forks or seat posts.  Spend $2000 or more on a bike and the whole frame will be carbon.  Is it cool?  Heck yeah.  Do you NEED it?  Heck no.  Some of the fastest rides out there are are aluminum, and trusty old steel still has a nice soft ride.   
Oh, and the same rules apply for components on road bikes - they more you spend, the nicer they'll be.  Are they better?  Yes.  Are they required?  Ehhh...not so much.

Tri/Time Trial Bikes
Prices Starting At: $1000
Who they're for:  Me!  No, really.  I want one.  Bad.  These suckers are designed to go fast.  The frame geometry is much more aggressive and the aerobars get the rider nice and low.  The frame tubing is shaped like a wing so that it cuts through the wind.  Some have a rear wheel cutout that makes the back half of the bike even more slick.  These are for the serious triathlete and time trialist.

Who they're not for:  There's a saying: "Tri bikes are built for races, road bikes are built for life".  Meaning, a road bike is much more versatile than one of these beasts.  For example, since it's bad form to ride in the aerobars on a group ride, I'd be riding uncomfortably up on my base bar during all the Twin Cities Spoke rides.  They can also be a pain in the butt to maintain.  Kind of like sports cars, the more you spend, the more you find yourself tinkering with it.

What you pay for:  The same holds true for carbon fiber on tri bikes.  You'll see it used create more exotic shapes.  It can be softter vertically to absorb more road bumps, but stiffer from side to side so that all of your pedaling effort is transferred into the pedals rather than the flexing of the frame.  But hey, if you've got pockets deep enough for a carbon fiber tri bike, you probably knew that already.

Buying Used
There are plenty of deals to be had on Craigslist and eBay.  I know that the Twin Cities area has a fairly robust cycling presence on Craigslist.  If you really want a road bike, but still want to be able to afford gas and groceries, definitely give this a look.  I know it goes without saying, try to test ride the bike and confirm that everything is clean and in good working order before handing over your cash.  If something smells fishy, walk away.

My Ride
So, what do I ride?  Well, Rusty is a 2007 Trek 1500.  I got him on sale in preparation for RAGBRAI back in 2008.  Since then, I've added aerobars, flipped the stem to get lower in front, and rotated the seat tube 180 degrees to get more forward in the rear.  It's as close to a real tri position that I can get to for now.  The water bottle bolts rusted out, so I keep my fluids strapped between my aerobars and duct-taped the hole that was left when one of the bolts was 'extracted'. 
Even if I do finally save up enough dough for a dedicated tri bike, I'll still keep Rusty around for group rides, commuting, or nice rides around the lake.

My buddy.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Love/Hate Relationship with Beginner Triathlete

Yesterday, I posted my second article in a series designed to help The Wife and several of my friends as they dive (pun intended) into the world of multisport.  I put quite a bit of effort into it.  Well, as much effort as one can expect from someone who has a full-time job, trains for triathlons and is a bit of a lazy-ass to begin with. 

Now, fast-forward to this morning when I hopped onto to find any updates on the local forum and check on any new articles.  Well, what do you think I found?  A wonderful write-up entitled "What a triathlon beginner needs to get started: The Swim".

Dang it.

Don't get me wrong.  The article is great.  It's comprehensive, includes advice for both men and women and even has some products that I omitted - I mean really, no newbie is going to want to use Swedish Goggles.  They also include some purchases, such as wetsuits and racing gear that I'll be covering later on.  So, if you're new to the sport and are still looking to get yourself set up for a swim, do yourself a favor and check out their article

HOWEVER, I would still recommend that you check back with me over the next couple of days.  Why?  Well, mostly to keep from injuring my fragile little ego.  But I'll do my best to give you things that Beginner Triathlete might miss.  Sure, there's likely to be some overlap between their advice and what I have to say.  But I'll try to keep my focus on the budget-minded folks who still aren't sure if they'll want to keep training after their first race.  For example: can you compete in your first tri using that 10-year old WalMart bike hanging in your garage?  Absolutely.  Will you WANT to?  Ehhhh.....

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Multisport on a Shoestring - Gearing Up for the Swim

Disclaimer:  I'm no pro.  So, take my advice at your own risk.  However, I have managed to train and race on a conservative budget for the last several years.  Also, I'm not sponsored by anybody.  If I recommend any equipment it's because I've actually used it.  

For a lot of folks, coming to grips with the swim can be the most intimidating part of getting ready for their first triathlon.  It takes us out of our comfort zone - you know, walking or biking around surrounded by air - and puts us in a strange environment - you know, bobbing around surrounded by water.  Most of us have seen coverage of the Hawaii Ironman with 2400 swimmers all thrashing around like the world's largest human washing machine.  During my Ironman swim, I was elbowed, grabbed, kicked in the eye and kicked in the family jewels (twice!).

Sure, the swim can be scary, but it doesn't have to be.  If you're new to swimming, the best thing you can do is get comfortable in the water.  If your first race has a swim leg in a pool, then hit the pool.  If your first tri has an open water swim, then in addition to your pool time, you'll want to swim outside too.  Open water is a completely different animal, and takes a little getting used to.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's set you up with some gear first.

What they do:  Unless you're Aquaman, you'll need some help seeing underwater.  They'll also protect your eyes from chlorine pools.

Need Factor: 10/10
Cost Factor: $10-$20

Where to Shop: Triathlon Shops, Swimming Shops and Sporting Goods Stores will all carry the same brands.  If you have questions, definitely check out your local tri shop or swimming specialty store.  You may pay an extra dollar or two over the big-box chain stores, but knowing that you got the right product will be more than worth it.  I would stay away from department stores like Target or Wally-World.  The brands may be the same, but they're often a lesser quality version and not worth any potential savings.

What to look for: Goggles come in a couple different flavors. First, there are your standard competition goggles.  They have small individual lenses, a plastic bridge to connect them and 1 or 2 straps to lash them onto your skull.  I go with the Speedo Vanquisher, but there are similar products from TYR, Dolfin and a number of other manufacturers.  They each have a slightly different contour, so you'll likely find that one brand fits your face better than the others.

The best way to test the fit is to take it out of the packaging (don't worry, it's not stealing) and press the goggles gently into your eye sockets without putting the straps around your head.  They should create a solid seal and hold in place on their own.

The other style of goggles you'll encounter are designed more specifically for open water swimming.  They are built with larger lenses and sturdier frames.  Some still have individual gaskets (the rubber parts that suction cup to your face), while others have a single gasket - similar to what you would find on a SCUBA mask.  While they are somewhat more bulky, the larger lenses provide a better field of vision, and the thicker strapping systems can provide some with a more secure fit.

Why Spend the Extra Dough: You'll get quite a bit of bang for your buck with goggles.  When properly cared for, they can last years.  Spending $17 at a specialty store versus 7.99 at a department store will get you better rubber gaskets, higher quality plastic lenses and more adjustable straps so they're easier to fit to your head.

Swim Caps
What they do:  Control your mane, make you super hydro-dynamic, warm your noggin and keep your goggles in place.

Need Factor: 6/10
Cost Factor: $5-$12 (or FREE with races)

Where to Shop: See 'Goggles' above

What to Look For:  There are two types of swim caps: latex and silicone.  They also come as one-size-fits-all, so even you guys with monster craniums are in good shape.  So, just pick a color you like and snap it onto your head. 

Latex caps are the most common.  I've gotten one from every race I've ever done.  They're color-coded to match the wave I started with.  I shave my head though, so a cap doesn't make me any more streamlined in the water, nor does it contain my flowing mane (unless I pull it down over my eyebrows).  The only problem I've noticed with latex, is that after a couple of months in the chlorine pool, the material starts to fade and get thin, which leads me to the other type of swim cap...

Silicone caps usually run a buck or two more than their latex cousins.  The material is thicker, and not quite as stretchy.  Though, you still shouldn't have any problem putting it on.  Silicone's strength is its near indestructibility.  I've had the same black cap - seen in my profile photo to the right - for the last 3 years.  Do I take care of it?  Heck no.  I usually ball it up and stuff it in my bag in between my shower sandals and towel.  After one quick rinse to knock off any sand, it's ready to wear again. 

I'd also recommend silicone if you're prone to ice cream headaches when swimming in colder water.  The thicker material helps keep my melon warm.  Now, you're probably wondering, "why does he wear a swim cap if he's already bald?".   First of all, I'm not bald.  I CHOOSE to shave my head as a preemptive strike.  Second, since most tris require that each racer wear a cap, I may as well get used to it in practice.  Third, if you put your cap on over your goggles, it'll help hold them on your head.

Why Spend the Extra Dough:  Don't.  Seriously.  All swim caps do the same thing.

Swim Suits
What they do: Cover your bits 'n' pieces.

Need Factor: 10/10
Cost Factor: $15-$60+

Where to Shop: You know those goggles and swim caps?  Well, would you believe that you can get your suits there too?

What to look for:  Before I get too far, let me remind you, I'm a boy.  I have boy parts.  If you are a lady, with all those wonderful lady parts, please consider checking out a swimming specialty store or tri shop if you have any questions about fit.  Also, for now, we'll just take a look at suits for training.  I'll cover racing clothing later on.

As a boy, I'm fortunate that my suits cost a fraction of those the ladies wear.  Why are they cheaper?  I would imagine it's because they use considerably less fabric.  In any event, training suits come in a few different varieties.

The first is nylon shorts.  These are baggy, may have pockets and are conservative enough to wear to the beach without drawing too much attention to yourself.  The good news is that nylon is highly resistant to chlorine, so shorts like these can last pretty much indefinitely.  However, since they're loose, they'll slow you down in the water.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as training with a little extra resistance can serve to make you stronger.

Next up are your more serious training suits.  I'm partial to the Speedo Endurance line of products.  You can check out my review of their square-cut shorts here.  The longest option are jammer shorts.  Wearing these is like wearing cycling shorts without the pad.  If you're more modest, but still want a fast suit, jammers may be right up your alley.

As the legs get shorter, you come to the square-cut shorts.  I usually opt for these because they're a little less expensive than jammers (less fabric) but they still cover my tushy.
Finally, you have briefs.  These are what most people think of when they hear the word 'Speedo'.  No, they're not for everybody, especially the self conscious of us.  But heck, once you're in the water, nobody's going to be paying attention to the suit you're wearing.  So, try a few different suits on and go with what's comfortable.  If you want to sport some briefs while you train, knock yourself out.

Why Spend the Extra Dough: Honestly, as long as you're comfortable in the water, there's no need to spend a crazy amount of money on a suit.  If you do decide to invest more, I would highly recommend the Speedo Endurance line since the fabric will last much longer in the pool than standard brands.  Sure, the shorts will run you an extra $10 compared to their standard counterpart.  However, they'll last 4-5 times longer.

Well, there you have it.  Once you've got a suit, some goggles and maybe a swim cap, you're ready to hit the pool at your local Y, health club or rec center.  We've got 2 more sports to get geared up for, and once we've got you set up for cycling and running, we'll be ready to train.

Stay tuned.