Weapon of Choice

08.7.2006 | 5:54 pm

A Moderately Special Note from Fatty: Usually, I try to keep The Fat Cyclist from being too bike-geeky of a blog. Today, though, it’s all about the hardware. For those of you who don’t ride at all, or just ride your bikes without obsessing about gear, you have both my apology (for what is about to follow) and my admiration (for keeping it simple and not ratholing into the dark underbelly of the cycling industry: bike porn).
This Saturday, I’ll be racing the Leadville 100 for the tenth time. For the first time in a long time, I’m light and fast. I really, really, really want to turn in a fast time. In fact, I’ll be trying hard for under nine hours.
There’s a big chunk of me, though, that says, "You haven’t ever been able to do this race in under nine hours. Why would you be able to now?"
My response to this internal skeptic is: "Now I have the Weapon of Choice."
Philosophy of the Weapon of Choice
I do not need to be particularly comfortable when I race the Leadville 100; I have demonstrated that I am capable of suffering all day. However, on a course that has 12,000 feet of climbing and is all about 9500 feet, I do need a bike that is light. And with a course that is fairly non-technical, with lots of open rolling, I need a bike that can build and hold momentum.
This ought to do nicely:
Let’s Get Specific
OK, so you can see it’s a Fisher Paragon. (Or, since I still haven’t replaced the broken camera and am therefore still using the camera in my phone, maybe you can’t see it’s a Fisher Paragon. Sorry!)
But I’ve made a few changes.
First off, I had Racer of Racers Cycle Service build me a lighter set of wheels. This is the first change anyone who wants a faster bike has to make. Less rotating weight =  faster bike. Racer built me wheels using DT Swiss 240s hubs and Bontrager Race Lite Disc rims. He also set my wheels up with Stan’s Notubes, which is a crazy combination of an airtight rimstrip and some liquid latex in your tires. Fewer flats, and a lighter wheel. I’ve had Stan’s before and did not have a great experience with it, so am a little bit nervous about this part of the whole setup. But if you can’t trust your mechanic, who can you trust, right?
Maxxis Igniter tires round out the wheelsets.
Let’s Get Sexy
Without a doubt, the sexiest upgrade I’ve made to my bike are the Magura Marta SL disc brakes. I sometimes just go out to my garage and look at those discs. They’re things of beauty, I tell you. Oh, and they’re also really light.
Coming in at second place in the sexy upgrade category is the new cockpit:
Lots is going on here. The stem: Easton EA70. The handlebar: Easton MonkeyLite SL. The shifters: SRAM X0. All these changes probably bought me at least an ounce and a half. Easily.
And coming in third for the Sexiest Upgrade contest: the Bontrager Carbon seatpost. It’s sexy, but you know, there’s nothing in the world that’s going to change the fact that it’s just a seatpost.
Let’s Get Wacky
Here’s the part I’ve been saving up, the part that changes my Paragon from a bike into a weapon. Check it out:
I’m guessing some people immediately noticed the boldness of what I have done here, while some of you have no idea how this front end is any different from any MTB front end. For those of you who are not so geeky as to notice what I’ve done, here’s a hint:
I replaced the suspension fork with a carbon fiber fork: a Bontrager Race Lite.
Yeah, I’m racing Leadville fully rigid.
Because it saved me about 1.5 pounds, first of all. And the course isn’t that technical. And, as I mentioned before, I don’t mind suffering a little bit. It’ll be good for me.
Other Goodies
Oh, I’ve done more. Consider:
  • XTR Cassette
  • SRAM XO Rear derailleur
  • A yard of duct tape wrapped around the seatpost
  • Oh, and one other very, very important thing:

Click for larger image

What It All Means
Racer has built me the lightest, climbiest 29"-wheeled bike I could ever hope for: 22.5lbs. I took it out for a four-hour shakedown ride last Saturday, and it’s a climber’s dream. Then I took it out this morning on Hog’s Hollow and got a little more comfortable with downhilling on a fully rigid bike.

This bike has the potential to either deliver me the best time at Leadville I’ve ever had, or to rattle my brains out by mile 60.

I can hardly wait to find out which happens.



08.4.2006 | 8:25 pm

I’ve noticed something lately whenever I stand up, go up a flight of stairs, or otherwise surge from inactivity to moderate activity:
I feel like I’m going to fall over.
This is new.
However, I remember the last time I was fast and light (about four years ago, I think) I had the same issue. And today as we left Rick Maddox and Dug in the dust as we rode an easy pace up to the top of the Alpine Loop, I asked Rick Sunderlage (not his real name) if the same thing happens to him. It does.
So now I’ve got two questions for all you cyclists for which fitness is not a new sensation:
1. Do you get the same kind of dizziness I’m talking about here?
2. If so, do you know why?
My Theory
I’ve got this theory, for which I have no scientific research backing me up, on why this is happening: The fitter you are, the lower your resting heart rate. So, if you’re sitting around and your heart is beating at 46bpm, then you suddenly stand up, it takes a moment for your heart to spool up to a rate fast enough for your suddenly-active body to get blood to your noggin.
Am I right? I thought so.
PS: I am going to pick up the Weapon of Choice after work today, and will be doing a shakedown ride tomorrow. I will report my results either during the weekend or on Monday.
PPS: The Tour of Utah starts next week. Yay! Have you entered the contest to win the Cervelo Soloist Team, yet?

Big Plans

08.3.2006 | 6:06 pm

I am so excited, I can hardly think. Why? Because a week from today, I’ll be heading off to Leadville, to race my tenth consecutive Leadville 100.

Think of your very favorite annual tradition, but not the way you think of it now. Think of the way you felt about it when you were a kid.

That’s how I feel about the Leadville 100 race. It’s not just a race, it’s a tradition, full of mystery and drama. No, it’s more than that: it’s an important annual ritual.

Ritual of the Food
“What should I eat? What should I drink?” Over on the Leadville discussion boards, this is one of the most frequent recurring questions. The answer is simple: eat what you’ve been eating. Drink what you’ve been drinking. This answer is true for every endurance race, but every year I see people break the rule and try something new and improved for the race.

Almost invariably, these people regret their choice.

I used to have such a complex array of foods and drinks that I needed to print up a list for my crew: what to have available at each aid station. Spiz (yes, Spiz), sandwiches, gels, multiple kinds of energy drinks, you name it.

This year, my list is much shorter: at each aid station, I will have my mom (part of my Leadville tradition is to alternate having my mom and dad crew for me; this year it’s mom’s turn) refill my Camelbak with lukewarm water, while I slug down a container of Chicken and Stars soup. I will then replenish my supply of Clif Shot Bloks and go.

Water. Soup. Shot Bloks. That’s all I need. Why? I can’t chew solid food while I’m endurance racing at 10,000-12,600 feet; my mouth needs to stay open for breathing.

Oh, and I’ll probably have a Clif bar or two and some gels handy, because I am a rebel.

Ritual of the Clothes
I love standing around in the pre-dawn as we wait for the starting gun (a shotgun) to go off. This gives me a chance to inspect what everyone’s riding and what everyone’s wearing. You see people dressed like they’re about to do the Iditabike: tights, earwarmers, heavy jackets over long-sleeved jerseys. And you see people who look like they’re on the bike leg of a triathlon: sleeveless jersey, short shorts. You may even see someone in a skinsuit (that aero advantage really matters, you know).

As for me, I wear the shorts and short-sleeved jersey I’ve been wearing while training the whole year, and some armwarmers I’ll get rid of at mile 40. Dance with the girl what brung ya.

Ritual of the Bike
What kind of bike should you ride for a 100 mile race? The same bike you’ve been riding the whole year, that’s what. But what about tires? Same thing.

And yet, each year I see someone who’s outfitted their bike with aero bars. Each year I see someone who’s using the race as the maiden voyage of a brand new bike.

And to tell the truth, I’m making some modifications to my own bike this year. But that deserves an entry of its own. I will call this entry “Weapon of Choice.”

Ritual of the Plan
Are you going out hard, or easy? Are you paying attention to splits, or just seeing how your legs feel? I’ve tried it practically every way. I honestly don’t know the right answer. I think everyone gets the time they deserve.

As for myself, I already have nine “Finisher” buckles, so I’m not worried about whether I can complete the race. This year—in spite of some serious doubt as to whether I have it in me—I’m going to do what I can to finish this race in under nine hours.

Things I Haven’t Talked About Lately
Some of you may remember I said I would give away my Bianchi Pista if I didn’t lose 20 pounds and get to 155 by Leadville. I think most of you suspected that since I wasn’t talking about my weight, I wasn’t losing any.

Today, I weigh 157. If I were you, I wouldn’t count on getting a Pista from me.

More than that, though, at 157 pounds, I am climbing well again. In fact—and I hope I am not jinxing myself—I sometimes feel like I am faster than I have ever been before. Today, for example, I did my 20 mile commute (which includes a four-mile, 1500-foot climb) in 1:05. Including stoplights. And yesterday, when riding my favorite climbing trail, Tibble Fork, I found myself in second, third, and fourth gear, where I’ve never been in anything but granny before.

Maybe this means I’m fast this year. Maybe it means I have a shot at finishing under nine hours.

Maybe it means I’m deluding myself.

On August 12, I guess I’ll find out.

Before I Biked

08.2.2006 | 7:30 pm

A week from Saturday, I’ll be racing the Leadville 100 for the tenth year in a row. Which means I’ve been biking for about twelve years. Which brings up the question: what did I do for exercise before that?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Age 10 – 14: Pole Vault
Watching the 1976 Olympics, I—like most kids, I think—idolized Bruce Jenner. Specifically, I loved watching the pole vault.

Unlike most ten-year-old kids, though, I had a mom who Got Things Done. When I said I wanted to be a pole vaulter, she immediately got to work arranging for me to train with the Junior High track team.

I remember it was a couple months before I became good enough to clear the bar even when it was set at the lowest rung, but I loved it.

Two years later, when I entered seventh grade and was therefore allowed to start competing, I had much more experience than any other vaulters in my age group. I walked away with first place in pretty much every competition.

I was a short, light kid though, and stayed that way, which meant that by the time I was in ninth grade, other kids were able to get some spring out of the pole, while I could not.

I stopped winning. I stopped placing.

So in tenth grade, I dropped out of track altogether and did not do anything athletic for the next ten years.

Age 22-25: Raquetball
I don’t remember why I started playing racquetball, but it probably had to do with Robert Raleigh, a guy I worked with at WordPerfect. Once a week or so, we’d reserve a court at lunch and see if we could give each other nasty welts on the back.

We could.

There were several things I loved about playing racquetball:

  • The Serve: Having a lethal serve is a very satisfying feeling. I’d sometimes reserve a court on my own and just work on my serve for an hour. I had a nice little serve that hit the front wall, the right wall, the floor, then the back-left corner, where it just kind of rolled out. Done properly, it was pretty much an automatic point.
  • The Kill Shot: Raquetball is an interesting sport because there are so few variables. The playing area is small, the ball moves predictably, and the player positions are finite. So, when a ball comes to you in just such a way, you can almost always hit it so it just rolls off the front wall.
  • The Slam: When the ball comes to you at knee level, about two feet away from you on your forehand side, you can hit it with such force you’d think the ball would explode. This serves no strategic purpose in the game, but it feels great and makes an immensely satisfying sound.

Why did I stop playing racquetball? You know, I’m not sure. I moved to Indiana and didn’t have any playing partners there, and I’ve just never picked the game up again. I wouldn’t mind, though, especially during the winter.

Age 23-28: Rollerblade
This exercise-via-commute thing I’m doing on my bike is not new to me. For about five years, I commuted to work—8 miles, each way—by rollerblade. I developed Eric Heiden-esque quads, which have never exactly disappeared, and I got to the lowest weight I’ve been in my adult life: 148 pounds.

The thing is, I never even considered learning to do tricks on my Rollerblades. I was strictly a distance guy, focusing on as powerful and efficient style as I could develop. I never learned to skate backward, but I frequently passed bicycles on hillclimbs.

I also had one of the most painful injuries of my adult life while rollerblading. I was going downhill, tucked to be as fast as possible, when I came to a curb I needed to hop. I hopped, but not quite high enough. A wheel or toe caught the edge of the curb and I went down on my stomach, hands and arms, the road cheese-grating my skin off until I came to a stop.

I have never been such a bloody, skinned up mess, and that includes a lot of falls on my bike. At least when I fall from my bike, I tend to roll a bit, so I don’t take the full slide on any one part of my body.

And I still had five miles to go. That was a slow five miles.

Age 28+: Bike
Once I started biking, pretty much every other sport has fallen by the wayside. I’m a one-trick pony (two tricks if you want to be generous and consider road and mountain biking as separate sports). I’m not at all well-rounded.

On the other hand, since I’ve started riding, nothing else has come close to catching my heart and mind the way the bike has.

At endurance races, I often see guys in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, still riding strong. The way things are going, I expect it’s only a matter of time until I’m one of those guys.

I sure hope I will be, anyway.

PS: The hypothetical guy who was trying to decide whether to race, has in fact decided to race. He has told me he will be happy to reveal his identity and how the race goes once it is over.

Hypothetically Speaking

08.1.2006 | 1:12 pm

I want to be perfectly clear: everything about this whole post is hypothetical. It is not based on any real person, and besides, that person wouldn’t want me to betray his or her trust by blogging about his or her dilemma in a public forum. If in fact that hypothetical person is not me.

If that person existed, I mean. Which he or she does not. Because this is a hypothetical situation.

Are we clear on that?


The (Hypothetical) Situation: Perspective 1

Suppose, for a moment, that you—though of course this is not about you, nor about anyone real, for this is a hypothetical situation—had signed up for a bike race. It’s a really difficult bike race, and as a realist, this hypothetical version of you knew that there’s a very good chance that you may not even start it, much less finish it.

So when you hypothetically signed up for it, you didn’t tell anybody, not even hypothetical people.

Now suppose that the race is getting close. Maybe it’s a few weeks away, maybe it’s a couple months away. You realize that you’re borderline: you might be able to finish it if you have a good day. Or you might completely implode and have to be carried off the course on a stretcher if you have a bad day.

What do you do?

  • Option 1: Do the Race. You could take a chance and do the race. For one thing, it would surprise everyone you know that you’re doing the race, since you’ve done a very good job of concealing the fact that you’ve signed up for it. The surprise alone is worth quite a bit. Even if you don’t finish the race, you’ll have some stories to tell.
  • Option 2: Don’t Do the Race. You didn’t tell anyone you signed up for this race for a very good reason: you didn’t want to embarrass yourself by bailing out. And now you can bail out, avoid suffering, and avoid the possibility of DNF-ing a race.
  • Option 3: Do Part of the Race. What if you went to the race and just did as much as you could do before you blew up? Of course, there’s the risk of getting caught up in the excitement and becoming unwilling to pull the plug even though it’s prudent.

Quite a conundrum. Now let’s look at it from another perspective.


The (Hypothetical) Situation: Perspective 2

Suppose you are no longer the hypothetical guy who has hypothetically signed up for a hypothetical race (actually, the race is for sure not hypothetical, but we won’t specify which race it is, just to be extra-vague). Now you are a hypothetical friend/acquaintance/spouse/sibling/whatever, who, for unstated (and quite possibly hypothetical) reasons, this potential racer has hypothetically confided to.

What do you do?

  • Option 1: Tell Her or Him Not to Race. Obviously, this person is conflicted about doing the race, and this race is not a trivial effort. If s/he’s not really into it, s/he probably shouldn’t do it. (You know, this “s/he” construction is fully lame. Did you know that Finnish doesn’t have gendered pronouns? All pronouns are gender-neutral, and nouns and stuff don’t get genderified, either. On the downside, the language does have 23 nominal declensions and genitive postpositions and other parts of speech that English speakers have never even considered.)
  • Option 2: Tell Her or Him to Race. How do you know whether you’re capable of completing the race if you don’t try? At least if you try and don’t finish, you’ll know where you stand. Or, more likely, you’ll know where you lay.
  • Option 3: List All the Options and Completely Avoid Offering Any Actual Practical Advice. Hm. This option appeals to me. Or at least it would if this situation weren’t hypothetical. Which it is.

Your advice? Your hypothetical advice, I mean.

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