Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ask A Fred: Riding Rollers

It occurred to me that other Freds (and Wilmas) looking for advice, or real athletes looking for a laugh, might appreciate some of my training tips and techniques. I'm hoping to make "Ask a Fred" a regular feature of the blog and so, dear readers (Hi Mom!), feel free to send me your questions about cycling, athletics, and the life of surly sub-competency.

Onto today's topic: riding rollers. By "rollers" I mean short, undulating hills, not the bike treadmills that send the inexperienced flying across their garages in countless YouTube videos. After my last post, you may be surprised to learn that I really enjoy riding rollers. Rollers are the only time I get to experience what it feels like to go fast uphill. Since I was born with an upper body, I have a physique poorly suited to climbing well on a bike. I don't float uphill, dancing on the pedals (unless you mean dancing in the Wozniakian sense). Instead, I usually grind up a climb in a 30x25, making a noise like Thomas the Tank Engine about to burst a boiler. But rollers, when I get them right, can feel like flying.

The key is building and conserving momentum. Here's how I do it. When you spot a roller up ahead, klaxons and spinning red-lights should be going off in your mind. At this time you need to take charge of the cockpit like you're Richard Baseheart in Voyage to The Bottom of the Sea and the guy who looks kind of like Nixon just told you that a giant squid is in hot, tentacle-y pursuit. Right. Get to work.

Step one is to rev up the engine and attack the roller (squid). Make sure you're in the big ring, drop down a couple of cogs, and start pouring on the gas. I like to pretend I'm riding along an imaginary line that cuts directly through the roller like a "Manx Missile" equipped with a bunker-buster warhead. You should hit the bottom of the hill with a full head of steam, which you are now going to try and conserve until you get all the way up and over.

As soon as you start to feel resistance from the incline, get out of the saddle and crank hard to maintain as much speed as possible. As the hill scrubs off more of your speed, keep shifting up, one cog at a time, so that you maintain a high cadence without losing too much momentum. The trick is to keep putting in a good effort, but not so much that you will blow apart before you get to the top. You'll want to carefully meter how much energy you dose out, think control-freak soccer mom distributing juice-boxes to her brood rather than Keith Richards on his 21st birthday. Try to alternate between cranking out of the saddle, and spinning hard while "on the rivet."

When you get it just right, you'll pop over the crest of the hill like the Seaview doing an emergency surface or Floyd Landis on that one TdF stage where he totally didn't dope. Try not to let yourself fade at the top but keep cranking all the way up and over. If you take your eyes off the prize too soon and sag back into the saddle, one of gravity's long tentacles will slither up and start sucking at your wheel. Trust me, I speak from experience when I say it's no fun to try and ride fast with a large cephalopod adhering to you.

Postscript: If these tips help you ride rollers better, avoid the urge to pass on the advice to your wife as you ride by her. She will just yell at you and then drop you on the next real climb.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Rides of Not(e): Corbett spin

Occasionally my rides are epic affairs: sometimes they are epics of procrastination, guilt and avoidance, remarkable for the effort that goes into making nothing happen, others times the ride itself becomes something worthy of recording on a clay tablet with a cut reed (all proper epics are originally written in cuneiform). I thought it would be fun to intersperse regular blog posts with ride reports whenever I undertake a Ride of Not(e), wittingly or not.

Last Saturday, for the third Saturday in a row, I failed to motivate myself to ride up Larch Mountain. I hemmed, hawed and prevaricated until it was too late for a ride that long. I decided instead to go for a climb in the West Hills, but by the time I got across downtown the hills were swaddled in rain-clouds. My desire to climb anything swirled away in the mist and I turned around. Then I got mad at myself and ended up doing the mostly flat 70 miles to Corbett and back as fast as I could. It was windy and rainy and briefly I felt tough. Nonetheless, my average speed was a very fredly 16.5 mph. I also wondered, for the 8 millionth time, what drivers expect you to do when they honk when they're caught behind you on blind corner. Do they expect me to stop and dismount, possibly throwing my jersey across a puddle a la Sir Walter Raleigh? My usual response is just to move out into the middle of the lane, since if they're honking I know they have seen me so now they can run interference for whoever else comes up behind.

When I got home my knee hurt.