Monday, November 8, 2010

MORE COWBELL, LESS BRAKE: Things I'm learning... things I have yet to learn

First: A link to a small photo essay from the Cap City Cross race at Dublin, Ohio by Tim Norman:
Good stuff. Now, on with the rest of our show...

As this is my first full season of cyclocross there's a lot I've been trying to absorb and/or learn. Here's roughly where I am at:

1) More cowbell, less brake: I have a habit of trying to go "deep" into a corner (those familiar with auto racing probably get where I'm coming from), brake, and then have to jump on the pedals to get going again. Watching others who are kicking my butt shows that they ease off a bit sooner but roll through the corner with no brake, or very little. Then they just get through the corner faster than I do leaving me to really huff and puff to try to catch them. And if we are otherwise evenly matched, that's all the advantage they need. Have to work on that

2) Less REAR brake: Ugh. Least weekend I was in second after the first hairpin, down a short fast chute and into the left 180. I grabbed the rear brake and promptly hit the deck, sliding in front of most of the C field. Not a good place to be. I've really had to work on relying more on just the front brake.

3) You can take most corners faster than you thought: If there is some grass, vegetation, or about anything other than loose dirt or stone I'm finding I can really corner faster than I thought possible. Last race I went through the C race and halfway though the B race before I realized I didn't have to swing so wide for a Right to Left set of 90 degree turns. Had I known that sooner I could have held on to a few positions.

4) Look where you want to be, not where you're going: I know, I know. I keep telling this to my teenage boys as they are driving. I should know this. But on the bicycle (not so much on the motorcycle) I have a nasty habit of looking down. STOP I tell myself! By looking further through the track I'm seeing that I can cut corners smoother, more arc and less "sharply". I can anticipate gearing better. Let the peripheral vision take care of the close up stuff. Why I have difficulty with this on the bicycle, I don't know.

5) Gear big for rough ground: I took a page from the roadies who attempt Paris-Roubaix here. When the ground is bumpy, uneven or rough go to a larger gear. You end up supporting more of your weight with your legs, allowing you to flex more. To me, it seems that I am going just as fast as if I'd try to spin like a roadie. As well I find that if I spin on the rough stuff I end up bouncing all over the place.

6) You can go faster for longer than I thought: Right after my first race this year I thought I was done. But after an hour or so afterwards I really felt like I left some cards on the table. So the next race I tried to remember that and went harder; went for the hole shot (did really well until we got off the pavement and then I got shelled!), went after whoever was in front, tried to hold off who ever was behind and generally tried to keep a higher pace throughout the race. It worked - I moved up from mid pack (18th-20th) to just outside the top ten in the last two C races.

7) You may be stronger than you thought: Last year I bough a cyclocross bike and promptly swapped out the rear cassette for something with a wider range, lower low gear because that is what I had been used to riding during my long wandering road rides with the steep climbs in them for years. This year I ended up having to get another bike for myself and didn't have the extra scratch to buy even more stuff to recreate my beloved wide and low range gearing so I ended up riding what came stock on that bike. Even up the long steep climbs near my house. And strike me dead if I didn't make it up those hills with the harder gearing. Wow. This was a major revelation to me. I do end up standing more but I'm no more or less tired when I get up the climbs. Which translates pretty well to the race course.

8) Stuff to work on: Off-camber stuff, how to get through it without wiping out. Still trying to nail down tire pressure which I think has some to do with this but I think it's also a matter of picking the right lines. Speed - I just need to work on being faster. Yeah, when I work on it I don't know but it'd help! And endurance - pushing myself just a little harder for a little longer. Keeping a higher pace in general. Prior to racing this year, I've been happy to tool around at whatever speed. I don't recall what it's close to as I tossed the bike computer years ago. But now, I need to get the acceleration, cruising speed, recovery speed up; all these I need to increase somehow.

Yes, I'm sure intervals and weight lifting and all those sorts of things would help. I'm working on intervals at the local super-secret dirt track that the ATV guys tear up (it's short, about a 2 minute lap depending on how I ride it) with one easy lap, one fast lap, and so on. Or I stitch together a series of steep hills nearby which seems to help some. But most of all, I have to get out there and DO IT.

There is of course more I need to work on than I can identify. So if you race with me and want to point it out, by all means feel free! Hopefully this means I'll do better in the races and that will translate to more contributions to the Wounded Warrior Project! (Look, I guy can dream, can't he?)

Thanks for reading.

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