Natural High

I’ve always said that every day on the bike is a good day.  Never have I come home wishing I had not gone out; there’s such satisfaction as you catch your breath, dump the sweaty clothes, clean up, and decide how to refocus all that positive energy.  Even when you’ve picked up some road rash or had an encounter with an idiot motorist the good always far outweighs the bad.  Short of a bad accident, which so far I have been spared, what’s not to like?

But some days are better than others.  Yesterday’s ride did not start out auspiciously.  It was in the low forties, sun brilliant, wind calm.  I thought I’d take the Trail inbound (east) to Shirlington or Rosslyn.  But at the mouth of the right-of-way the game plan changed.  To the west were open ruts, easily rideable, but to the east was a sheet of ice from one side to the other.  I could have walked my bike for about 500 feet, but that was not satisfactory.  If the trail was that bad here, there would be other places equally as treacherous.  And in that direction I don’t know where they are.  I do know where the westbound ones are, and I could foresee that I’d be walking my bike in several places if I went that way.

So I retreated to the neighborhood streets, and traveled my “Cottage Circuit” described in the 2/8/11 blog.  My quads had seemed tight when I started, but soon they were strong, pounding away.  The tough little rises that usually slow me down were just challenges to be met with intense effort.  Traffic was no bother.  Every four-way stop street and traffic light was clear.  The places where I’m usually tiring by the last of three laps were good as new.

After the ride I felt vibrant, intense, almost hyper.  I was seeing everything very clearly, i was thinking lucidly, my whole physical and mental system seemed to sing with life.  I was set up for a great rest of the day.

Today, by contrast, was dank.  I wanted to ride, since tomorrow is almost surely going to be rainy.  But my energy level was not very high; my muscles were truly tight.  Though it was five degrees warmer than yesterday, the darkening clouds and the northwest breeze made it seem much colder, in that chilly, humid way that New Englanders call “raw” (the Sox play many of their April home games in weather like this).  I left my Trek at home, used my “rain bike” (the Fuji) just in case, and did my other neighborhood route, the “Tour de Nabes”  (see blog for 2/15/10).  It went well, if more slowly, between the bike I used (the “big” gear is a 48) and the state of my body.  The suburban landscape sat asphalt-gray, cold, silent, and preternaturally empty, almost as if there’d been an evacuation.  Every small noise seemed amplified.  The temperature dropped during the ride, but I timed it perfectly, feeling the first drops of tonight’s promised rain when I was only about 3/4 mile from home.

Still felt good, even a bit daring, to be out on a day like this, but it was not the same groove that was so groovy, man, yesterday.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

Advertisements

Contador: 50 picograms

Alberto Contador is not banned from cycling.

Far from it; he finished fourth in the five-day early season tune-up stage race, the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal.  He was actually positioned to finish higher than that, being only six seconds off the pace after the fourth stage, but he dropped 45 seconds (15th place) in the finishing 17.5 km Individual Time Trial stage.  The race winner was the up-and-coming young Tony Martin of the aggressively anti-drug HTC-Highroad team.  He’s just the kind of rider who wants to win races like this, as the established strong men of the pro peloton unkink the winter-knotted muscles and fine-tune their bodies for the bigger races of the warmer months.  Contador, for instance, might try for an unprecedented one-season sweep of the major European national stage races, the Giro d’Italia (May; he’s booked for it), the Tour de France (he’s defending champion), and the Vuelta d’España (his national race–how could he miss it?).

The unlikelihood of this situation just a few months ago makes it more astonishing.  Contador tested positive for a low concentration of the banned substance clenbuterol during the first rest day of the 2010 Tour de France.  The level was 50 picograms, 40 times less than the drug-testing protocols of the WADA require testing for.  Seen one way, this is evidence of the kind of microdoping techniques Floyd Landis talked about.  Contador thought he’d get away with it because the amount in his blood at the time of testing was “under the radar.”  Seen another way, this trace amount is so insignificant that it is not even evidence of doping, but of some trivial impurity from somewhere else.  Contador blamed beefsteak brought over the border from Spain by his buddies who visited on the rest day.  This brought indignant refutations from the Spanish Beef Council, who deny that their growers use the growth product in their animals.  So Contador’s defense is that a sentimental attachment to home-grown beefsteak sourced from some unofficial Spanish cattle ranch outside of Beef Council control was responsible for the 50 picograms.

There is no word as to the origin of the trace elements of a plasticizer usually definitive of blood storage bags also found in his blood.  The WADA has not yet made them part of the banned substance list.  Perhaps Contador’s steak was carried from Spain in a blood bag.

Bike riders accused of doping are tried by their own national cycling federations.  The UCI or the rider can then appeal the finding to the CAS, or international Court of Arbitration for Sport.  While reviewing Contador’s case, the Spanish cycling federation tried to get the UCI to conduct the process jointly with it, and to co-sponsor the verdict.  The UCI declined, saying it was the Spaniards’ job and they had to do it.  It should be said that Spain has a reputation for being unusually tolerant of doping in professional sports.  The infamous Operation Puerto of 2005 ff., that cost a number of cyclists a couple of years’ suspension simply by being rumored to be connected with some of the notations, diaries, and blood bags found in the investigation, was about footballers more than cyclists.  Thus it was largely swept under the rug without formal legal proceedings, because football is big money, unlike cycling.  Spanish riders have been among the most frequent dopers, and Spanish teams among the most systematic users (e.g. Kelme and Liberty Seguros).

Ultimately the Spanish federation found Contador guilty and imposed a one-year suspension.  That was about a month ago.  Riders generally reacted unsympathetically, saying “all the signs were there” in the 2010 Astana team.  Andy Schleck, second place in last year’s Tour de France, pronounced himself a top contender this year.  However, Contador was given the opportunity to reply.  He did so by using the “Spanish beef” story (once more goading the Spanish Beef Council into a rebuttal) and arguing that the amount found in his blood could not enhance performance.  The Prime Minister of Spain, heretofore unknown as a doping expert, proclaimed that he was sure Contador was innocent.  The Federation bought Contador’s explanation and absolved him of wrong doing.

There’s been little reaction from cyclists since the absolution.  Everyone has just gotten on with racing.  One wonders what Floyd Landis must be thinking.  Or Greg Lemond.  Neither has criticized the result in public.  Would they have been so quiet if the accused had been Lance Armstrong? And one wonders if Lance wishes that he’d had the Spanish Prime Minister reacting in print to his accusers all these years, rather than hearing the vituperations of Lemond and Dick Pound, who readily condemned Armstrong without evidence.

Lance never gave a confirmed positive test; Contador now has.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

Hunter Station Road Redux

A couple of years back I wrote a blog entry for my old blogsite about one of the most consistent features of my rides, Hunter Station Road:

HUNTER STATION ROAD  FRIDAY, MARCH 6, 2009

It was 60 degrees when I left on my ride today, and much to my surprise and delight the snow was gone from the trail, except for the odd clump of slush.  So I headed westward to Herndon, the terminus of a good excursion of nearly 24 miles out and back.

Whenever I head west, it’s a point of honor to leave the trail where it crosses Hunter Mill Road, and take a loop up the adjacent Hunter Station Road, then back around to join the trail farther out at Sunrise Valley Road.  Hunter Station Road is a bit of an amateur cyclist’s climbing challenge.  After you dip down by a stream that can flood the road during a deluge, Hunter Station swings right and kicks upward at a ghastly angle.  Approaching, it looks like a vertical asphalt wall.  I bought a fancy new computer for my Trek 2.1 (of which more at some later time), and it recorded a steady grade of 8 to 11 percent on the climb, with a maximum of 14 percent.

That puts it squarely in the league of Mont Ventoux, the “Giant of Provence” in southern France, regarded “the Tour de France’s greatest climb” by many (see the great article in Cycle Sport magazine, August 2008, pp. 108-117).  Its gradients are 8 to 10 most of the way.  This climb’s so tough that Lance Armstrong never won it, though he could have in 2000 had he not eased up at the end to show his rival some respect.

Of course the difference is that the Mount Ventoux is 21 km long, and Hunter Station Road not even half a km.  That’s still long enough for my lungs to be aching at the top.  And my rate of speed is about 6 mph, whereas the best pros can do Ventoux at 14 mph or so.  Putting out that kind of power for a bit over an hour is astonishing.   Well, one does what one can.

Last fall the climb took on a whole new meaning for me.  Twice in a month, on October 8 and November 10, I had heart arrhythmia episodes after climbing Hunter Station (see my blog for 10/9/10, written the day after the first one).  The first time I slowly made my way to Herndon and got a ride home; the second time I completed my loop around to the trail and slowly wended my way home on the bike.  Neither time was much fun; both episodes, though neither was severe, were disconcerting.

So I abandoned that “point of honor” that I mentioned in 2009 and discontinued climbing Hunter Station Road.  Jane encouraged me in that decision, and I told her at the time that I might ride Hunter Station now and then, but I was not going to do it regularly any more, and I was not going try it any time soon.  Instead I added about 3 miles to my Herndon ride at the far end, going out to where the trail crosses Builders Road and there is a small park with a skateboard “rink” where I can stop, rest, and turn around.

But last Monday (Valentine’s Day) was a warm, sunny day.  The temperature ended up hitting 70, and I could ride without leggings, base layer, skull cap, mock turtle neck, long-fingered gloves, or high-tech wool socks.  The bare ruts on the trail had widened to about two feet across, and in effect the only problem was riding through the meltwater and getting that chilly wet feeling right where flying droplets off the tire hit the back of your cycling shorts.  Going westward I started to think about the traditional route.  I was feeling strong and relaxed, and remembered the old maxim about getting back on the horse after you’ve fallen off.

So when I crossed Hunter Mill Road I veered slightly to the left, past the parking lot where cyclists drive to begin their ride, down past the sign that warns of a sharp left turn and a 20 mph speed limit–a limit I always enjoy breaking on the quick downhill–along our own miniature “valley road” past the flood-prone creek, and then onto the climb.  About two years ago they repaved the outer edge of the road, which was cracking away at the edge.  That pavement is now itself cracking badly, and there are a couple of annoying shallow potholes on the way up.  But I passed them, did the steepest short haul past the driveway just over the lip of the incline where the angle diminishes, but not by that much, for a hundred more yards, then onto the turning lane for a side street, and level at last!  Just in time to shift gears, though, for a rapid downhill and another short, fairly steep climb up to the right turn onto Lawyer’s Road.

I had done it without ill effects!  Feeling great, I wheeled around, down, then up Twin Lakes (a decently hard but eminently doable hill), two more rights onto the long downhill along Sunset Valley (I hit 33 mph here) and back to the trail.  That set me up for a strong ride the rest of the way.  I also did the extended route to the turnaround at Builders.  And I had a stiff wind at my back going home, which means my steep climbing had also been into the wind.

No time like Valentine’s Day to give your heart a good workout, even before any possible romantic heavy breathing begins.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

Ruts

It’s easy enough to get in a figurative rut, though not always easy to get out of it.  Literal ruts are more physically threatening and controlling.  They are as old as the wheel, I suppose.  Covered wagons left ruts on the trails going west; heavy vehicles left four-inch-deep ruts in the stone streets of Pompeii; the famed “First Emperor” of China, Qin Shi Huang, standardized axle lengths throughout the realm to facilitate commercial traffic and trade in standard ruts.  I found my own ruts on the W&OD Trail today.

Though snow patches in the shady areas of the W&OD have mostly frozen into hard ice, they have uniformly spaced ruts through them, from Park Authority vehicles that drove over the trail on those rare thaw days.  These ruts are down to the asphalt almost everywhere, leaving two narrow but well-defined parallel passageways.

Discovering this happy state of affairs at the end of our right-of-way was my inspiration to forget my planned neighborhood ride and get out to Herndon today.  Again, the worst places on the whole route were between right where I got on and Vienna Town Center.  This confirms my thought that the sudden heavy wet snowstorm of two weeks ago was worse in my neighborhood than practically anywhere else.  The snow is gone from downtown DC.  It’s mostly gone in Herndon and Reston.  But our unfortunate neighbors across the street, with their northern exposure, have front yards that are full of snow, and our backyard is much the same.

On the trail, the ruts are about 12″ to 15″ wide.  On either edge is a bumpy layer of 2″ to 3″ of snow/ice, hard as a rock, that begins abruptly.  So the challenge is to keep the bike in the middle of the rut and avoid the edge.  It’s really shocking how difficult that is when you’re not going very fast and are in a low gear, so that more revolutions of the cranks are needed to move the bike forward for a given distance.  The least little wobble threatens to make your thin road tire lurch against the ice rim, perhaps tumbling you off or at least leading you unexpectedly onto a slippery, bumpy surface.  It’s so much easier when you’re rolling along at a moderate speed.  You just have to keep it steady for a few seconds and it’s behind you.

The Park Ranger didn’t help, either.  To avoid what must have been some bent-over branches he drove off the pavement every so often, so that one of the ruts strays off too, projecting the rider onto a muddy, messy fine gravel surface, and making re-entry onto the pavement an issue of some difficulty.  Other pitfalls of the ruts include the jogger ahead of you, whom you have to follow at his pace until the trail is clear again because you can’t pull out to pass.  The idiot walker who has started down your path and should be on the other one is another problem requiring only a warning shout, which I always hope I can execute without allowing my “you fool, stay to the right, this isn’t England” tone of voice to project itself.  I’m never quite sure if I succeed.  There were enough risk-potential areas going out toward Vienna that I decided to change the route slightly when I headed back.  I got off the Trail and onto Park Street at the Vienna Community Center, took it to Cedar Lane, then a short jog over to Stonewall Drive, down to Jackson Parkway, left and up to the foot of Academy, and then my slow uphill sprint for home.  The Park Street ride is nice because it has three uphill crests, the first shortly after the Community Center, the second at Cunningham Park School and the third at the turn onto Cedar.  Between the second and third there’s a great downhill where one can easily hit over 30 mph.

Today journey on the Trail meant riding slowly at some points (see above), but the plus side is that so few trail users or drivers were out and about.  More walkers than cyclists were using the Trail, but the road crossings were a breeze because of the oddly light traffic.  For me the ride came down to a challenge of distance and wind.  It was not an overly long ride (23.7 miles) but longer than I have been doing.  And as for wind, it was at 40° and 8 mph (gusts to 30 mph) out of the west, so it had some bite.  The only way I get through a headwind like that with persistence is to imagine the return leg: the wind will be at my back, and the sun will be on my back too.  An entirely different thermal experience.  And since I’d seen all the ruts before, I knew exactly what to expect.  The literal ruts had set me free from the figurative rut of riding in the neighborhood.  “No chain” going home today.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

The Lance Factor V: Doping

Sports Illustrated, in its January 24, 2011, issue, published an article titled “The Case Against Lance Armstrong” by Selena Roberts and David Epstein.  This article summarizes and focuses the current state of public knowledge about an ongoing federal investigation of allegations about doping by Lance Armstrong and by the teams with which he was associated.  Armstrong has been a professional cyclist since 1991, after an adolescence of winning junior-level triathlons.  He achieved considerable success, including a top professional ranking in 1996, before being diagnosed with cancer later that year.  After a remarkable recovery from cancer he resumed racing in 1998 and, as they say, the rest is history.  He won the Tour de France seven straight years before retiring after the 2005 Tour.  He continued to race and staged a professional comeback in 2009-10, finishing third in the Tour in 2009.

Almost ever since he returned to the sport after cancer and began winning Tours, Lance has been accused of doping to enhance his performance.  Although as he has often stated, he never has tested positive for drugs, has never been sanctioned or suspended, during his entire career, spanning 20 years so far.  It has been easy enough to attribute the accusations to national jealousies (the French), embittered rivals (Greg LeMond), or broken friendships (Frankie Andreu, Floyd Landis).  But the current investigation, led by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, brings a weight and gravitas to the situation.  A Federal investigation is never a laughing matter, and the agent leading it is a hard-nosed and persistent investigator.  So what will they find?  Will there be enough grand jury evidence for an indictment?  Will there be enough trial evidence for a conviction?

One curious thing about Lance’s career, an aspect that typifies the ambivalence of the current controversy about his supposed drug use, is the significant number of Lance’s teammates who have tested positive for drug use after they left Lance’s team for other professional cycling opportunities.  Lance’s “super-domestique” in his early Tours, Tyler Hamilton, was disgraced a couple of years back by failing drug tests a second time after serving a two-year suspension for blood doping and then resuming racing on a team filled with pro cycling “bad boys,” Rock Racing.  Hamilton’s replacement as super-domestique, Roberto Heras, also fell into disgrace after “winning” the Vuelta a España for the fourth time, the first year after he no longer raced with Lance.  Floyd Landis, who left for the now-defunct Phonak team and “won” the Tour the year after Lance retired, was the biggest disgrace of all, having a testosterone level of 11 times normal on the day he made an amazing breakaway ride to recoup time he had lost the day before when he hit the wall on the last climb.  And it looks very much as though Alberto Contador will be suffering the same fate, though in his case Lance left Astana to form the Radio Shack team while Contador stayed.  Bitter rival teammate of Lance in 2009, Contador ingested clenbuterol during the Tour’s first rest day in 2010, when he was a rival but not a teammate.  He’ll not race this year, and will likely lose his 2010 Yellow Jersey, thereby imperiling severely his chances of equalling or besting Lace’s seven Yellows.  And in any case, they’ll not be “in a row.”  Perhaps these riders came under more pressure without the support of a champion presence in Lance, high-quality teammates and directeur sportif, and the intensity that Lance evidently brings to every enterprise.  Or perhaps they lost the cadre of expert dopers who could guide them flawlessly through intricate routines.  It would be interesting to know what other former Armstrong teammates who have never tested positive, such as George Hincapie, Kevin Livingston, and Jose-Luis Rubiera, have testified.

So where does this leave us in an assessment of Lance?  It seems to me that it’s difficult to approach this set of circumstantial evidence, along with all that presented in the SI article, from a neutral perspective.  Either we suspect that Lance is a doper, and all this contextual stuff proves it despite the fact he’s never tested positive, or we suspect Lance is an excellent athlete who competed in an era of widespread drug use and is getting tarred by the same brush.  It’s certainly true that when one watches the DVDs of Lance’s Tour victories, one inevitably begins mentally ticking off the riders in a key leaders’ group on a mountain climb: this one ended up serving a two-year suspension; that one retired after testing positive; the guy in magenta wasn’t there the year before because he was suspended; etc.  Nearly every one of them except Lance was proven to be a doper at some point during that era.  But the same DVDs show in Lance a rider with complete mastery over all his best rivals, able to call his own shots and toy with every competitor.

Was Lance the only one of his contemporaries good enough to be clean, or the only one smart and lucky enough not to get caught?  Floyd Landis has detailed the careful regimen of times and doses involved in virtually undetectable micro-doping.  If Floyd was so bloody knowledgable, why was he stupid enough to get caught with eleven times the predicted amount of testosterone in his system?  Doesn’t sound like that one was a micro-dose.  How rash, foolish or impatient does one have to be to violate a system one allegedly knows will work every time?  And on the other hand, there’s all this circumstantial evidence that links Lance to dubious doctors, needles and refuse dumped in trash bins in the dead of night, calibrations of wattage levels that are impossible to achieve unaided, surprise tests avoided, statements made in hospitals, and the like.

SI‘s “The Case Against Lance Armstrong” essentially recombines former facts with some new wrinkles, but no blockbuster revelations.  The chronology casts a curious pattern.  So much of the best circumstantial evidence refers to Lance’s pre-cancer career, 1996 and before.  Thus it does not pertain to allegations of abuse of federal money received through U. S. Postal Service cycling sponsorship, which occurred between 1999 and 2004.  Some of the statements made by former riders and associates of Armstrong’s don’t ring true, such as Andreu’s assertion that Lance “called the shots” on the Motorola team in 1995, determining who was hired and fired.  Or Mike Anderson, the disgruntled (because Lance decided not to set him up with a bike shop!) ex-companion who claims to have seen a box with the name of a drug on it in Lance’s Spanish home.  There’s not much in the article to flesh out the unsupported sweeping claim in the subtitle that Armstrong doped “while winning Tour de France championships.”  The most cogent accusations that could be drawn from the evidence would seem to relate to the persistent association of team management with advisors and doctors like Ferrari, and the absence of a strong anti-doping orientation on teams with which Lance was associated.  I think a case tilted in that direction might gain some traction, but what illegal activity exactly would management be accused of?  I don’t see much of anything in SI that might prove trafficking, conspiracy, or the like.  Uncorroborated assertions do not prove that Armstrong doped during the Tour.  There are a few old urine samples, but drug testing has the “B” sample requirement for a reason, and that can’t be waived simply because somebody wishes it could be, thinks it should be, or “knows” the accused is guilty even when agreed-upon standards of evidence don’t show it.

Armstrong has demonstrated incontrovertibly that he is a superbly fit and highly motivated athlete, disciplined and in control of himself at all times, not self-indulgent in matters of comfort or effort.  The combination of ability and desire might argue less need for enhanced performance, though it could indicate a willingness to win at all costs.  He is fortunate to fall under American law in the present circumstances, since under that law the principle of innocent until proven guilty prevails.  In European law and in international drug prevention circles the opposite is often true.  Cyclists are accused of doping and must prove their innocence to avoid sanctions.  The press and  administrators in the sport leak allegations, treat innuendo as fact, and appear unwilling to require hard evidence or to investigate the matter with impartial judicial standards.

If Lance Armstrong is convicted in an American judicial procedure, I will consider him guilty as charged.  But I don’t think he will be.  And all of us will be left with our own opinions about whether he doped, based on our deepest a priori premises.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

Cottage Circuit

The W&OD Trail is still snowed in from the “Perfect Storm” of 12 days ago.  [That was the sudden descent of 6 to 10 inches of wind-blown, wet snow just in time for the afternoon rush hour, that paralyzed the entire metropolitan DC area.]  Only for the last couple of days has it been warm enough for significant melting to occur, and even then there are stretches of the Trail the sun scarcely hits, though it’s winter and the trees are bare.  In my “Trail Tale” blogs of last February and March I described how long it took after two blizzards for the Trail to become rideable again, and that finally happened in early March only with the aid of a Park Authority snowplow.

Meanwhile our streets are well cleared, especially the main ones.  In these situations I often ride what I call the “Cottage Circuit,” a route along local streets whose backbone is the 3-mile swath cut by Cottage Street between Gallows Road and Maple Avenue in Vienna.  Three times back and forth on Cottage, plus some noodling around our Stonewall Manor subdivision, and a I have a 20+ mile ride.  And if I’m feeling extra strong or in need of increasing my stamina, I can do one more loop for 26 miles in all.

The nice thing about this ride is that it’s a fairly straight run back and forth, with relatively few narrow passages and stop signs.  Cottage is wide enough so that there’s room for cars to pass me easily, although it’s also wide enough for Metro busses and school busses.  The latter seem to be prohibited from crossing the center line to pass under any circumstances; I’ve had some lugubrious climbs on narrow hill roads thanks to them.  But the road gets enough traffic so that it needs paving now and then.  Over the last year there’s been a lot of much-needed new asphalt laid on Cottage Street, thanks in part to the Stimulus money I’m sure.  So while there are still a few passages that help give me an idea of what it must be like to ride on cobblestones, most of it is great; there’s one steep down-and-up passage where I’ve gained 5 or 6 mph at the top (end) of the stretch because I no longer have to dodge potholes on the downhill.

I get to Cottage by going down Academy, up Jackson Parkway, and down Drexel for two longish blocks.  Then I turn east on Cottage and go about ½ mile up a false flat with a nasty rise right at the end to Bucknell Drive.  I drift a little beyond Bucknell and do a U-turn just before I get to the median strip that separates the street at its intersection at Gallows.  I have to pay attention here to traffic coming up behind me over the rise.  Once I get rolling west on Cottage I can hit 28 to 30 mph going back toward the Dunn Loring Pool on the right.  Past the pool I start a long rise that crests a block before Cottage crosses Cedar Lane.  All along here it’s residential, with parking lanes on each side of the street and wide travel lanes.  The subdivision is Dunn Loring Woods, with houses similar to but not identical with our Stonewall Manor models.

The Cottage/Cedar Lane intersection is a pain because the light is activated by a pressure plate all the time.  Unless I have a car waiting with me, I have to scoot across when Cedar has no traffic, or cross when the eastbound Cottage traffic gets the light.  Once across I go down a long incline, across a 4-way stop intersection at Patrrick Street that I can usually blast through at full speed thanks to the absence of cross traffic.  That helps me over the next rise, which takes me down and up the swale I mention above; I can really be flying at that point.  Then the street rises gradually, through two busy 4-way stops at Kingsley and Tapawingo, to a crest about 5 blocks from Vienna.  I can generally zoom down the incline of those last five blocks, turning right at Locust, the last through street before Cottage ends in the back lot of a commercial block.  I go one block, past the Police Station, and take another right onto Center Street.  At that corner there’s a civic area, with Vienna Elementary School and a large recreational area on the north side of the street, and Faith Baptist Church on the south side.  Then Center Street provides four blocks of a moderately challenging climb, past residential lots many of which were rebuilt several years ago with pseudo-Victorian houses in gaudy colors, sporting big front porches, semi-detached garages, and the occasional turret.  A few of the banal 1950s ranch houses are left here and there.  Center crests at its intersection at Oak, leaving a sharp downhill and speedy right turn (traffic permitting) onto Moore.  A long block gets me back to a left (eastward) turn onto Cottage.  From there I retrace my route, which provides a rapid downhill and sharp rise up to and through the intersection at Ross Drive (site of a dreadful house fire some years ago, but that’s another story), a great downhill to Patrick again, and once across Cedar a long sweeping downhill and back to the false flat up to Bucknell.

Usually after three rounds of that I am ready for home.  But I don’t go quietly.  Taking the downhill from Bucknell one last time, I turn right onto Drexel, then right again onto Stonewall Drive, and hit the three cul-de-sacs at our end of the subdivision, at the ends of Stonewall, Villanova, and Holt.  After Villanova there’s a great downhill on McNeil with a sharp right onto Holt, which is fun when I’m in the mood to ride it hard and there’s no sand on the street to slip on.  I’m still working on getting the apex of the curve just right.

After the dead end at Holt it’s just a right onto Jackson Parkway, downhill to Academy, up Academy with an all-out sprint, and a short freewheel back into our driveway.

Less than 90 minutes, 20.7 miles, over 1440 feet of uphill.  Good workout when the Trail’s unavailable, and even when it’s open.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

Clipless?

For just about 25 years, most professional cyclists have used clipless pedals.  Greg LeMond won the Tour with them in 1986, which was a transition year for pedals and other technologies, thanks in no small part to LeMond’s pro-innovation stance.   Among other things, he introduced a streamlined time trial helmet, aero bars for time trials, and the aforementioned pedals.  For the prior eighty-three years at the Tour, riders had used toe clips to attach their feet to the pedals.  Their advantage relative to unattached feet lay in keeping the legs and feet in the same position on the pedals at all times, and in allowing the cyclist to add power to his pedaling by pulling on the crank during the upstroke, rather than just having the crank elevate a passive foot.

But toe clips had their disadvantages too.  A fixed enclosure for the front of the shoe was tightened or loosened by straps.  When adjustment was needed during the race, the riders had to reach down to manipulate the straps.  Further, there was always some vertical “play” in them; they did not provide a solid bond of the shoe to the pedal.  But then came the clipless kind, designed by the same companies that made ski boot fixtures.  The cyclist’s shoe has a metal or plastic cleat on the bottom that locks into slots on the pedal.  The shoe and the pedal are “as one.”  hence the grip is total, the lift is 100% of the upward pull of the foot.

The only problem is getting in and out of this shoe-pedal bond.  With the toe clip, one simply has to pull one’s foot backward to be out of the clip.  With the clipless pedal there has to be a quick sideways twist of the foot.  I grew up with no attachment of foot to pedal, clip or otherwise.  When I got back on my bike after years off, I began with the toe clip because it was the cheapest and most familiar kind of coupling.  it seemed to work pretty well.  I was not into power pedaling anyhow, and it was just simpler.

But technology has its lure.  Clipless pedals hold you foot in place so it doesn’t “drift” from side to side.  They also prevent excessive “float,” the toe turning in or out, knock-kneed or pigeon-toed.  This makes for a smoother, stronger, pedal stroke.   Of course we all have our natural postures and adjustments, to which clipless pedals must be coordinated.  If they’re out of sync with you, they can hurt your ankle and knee joints.

For me, though, the real problem was learning how to unclip quickly.  I developed what I guess were bad habits with my toe clips, always pulling out my right foot, and always at the top of the stroke.  With clipless pedals, you have to twist your foot out at the bottom of the stroke.  And the shoes do not detach as instantaneously as with toe clips.   So if you’re not paying attention you can find yourself in a situation of having to brake and unclip instantly, and if you’re in the wrong position the bike stops with you attached to it with both feet, and you just fall over.  The shoes do detach from the bike, usually, but only after you hit the pavement.  That, embarrassingly, happened twice to me while I was riding clipless.  So I went back to toe clips.

This winter when I set up my Coda Comp inside on the mag trainer I thought I owed it to myself to try again.  After all, the vast majority of cyclists use these things, so why shouldn’t I?  This old dog surely should be able to learn one measly new trick.  So I put a pair of the clipless pedals on that bike, got my old (but barely used) cleated shoes out, and am riding the mag trainer that way this winter.  Using the shoes feels easy on the trainer setup.  I can get my foot off the pedal instantly and smoothly, my feet feel great on the bike, no sweat.  But of course this bike is absolutely laterally stable.  If things go well for the rest of the winter, I will do some outside practice riding in the Spring.  Then we’ll decide.  No use rushing things.

I will report my progress as the project unfolds.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.