Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mountain Bike Aerobars

Nope, that bad crack you smoked in high school isn't muddling your vision, it says "Mountain Bike Aerobars". OK, I got'cha now? I didn't put aerobars on my mtn bike, but there is a very cool connection between my mtn bike riding and riding with aerobars on my road bike.

The weather was pretty good this afternoon (notice how I'm keeping you in suspense here ;-) so I decided to risk the incoming storm and get out for as much ride as I could pack in on rusty legs and wheezing lungs. I was pretty well carbo loaded though, having indulged in Haagen Das Acai Berry Sorbet last night. I don't know what secret compound is in acai, but it sure does make for a great ride fuel!

It took me a little longer to get out the door today, as I haven't been on the road bike recently due to the rains, and had to find stuff back, pilfer it back from my mtn bike, and dig it out of the laundry basket (ick!), but finally with fresh Gatorade in clean bottles, one of my new favorite Fruit Smoothie Powerbars (has actual fruit, fructose and 100% of B vitamins) throbbing through my veins, one in my jersey, and leg-warmers and micro-fleece balaclava in my Novara wind vest's back pocket in case the storm rolled in, I went out the front door.

Straddling the top-tube outside the front gate I pressed "Reset All" on my Sigma DTS 1606L and did one last check of gear as the flags flapped loudly overhead and the clouds darkened and moved more briskly across the sky. I clipped in, making a mental note to loosen the grip on the left pedal - a little experiment that failed. I was glad I decided to throw on the vest at the last minute, even though it was mostly a place to stow the leg-warmers. It flapped against my chest as I began going through the gears, picking up speed.

With all the rain over the last few days the trail up to Beal's is now flooded in places, and I really wanted to give the aerobars a good run on the flats, so I headed for William Pond park down California St, past the old Governor's Mansion and through the "rat's maze" that takes you through forests of Eichler style houses and thickets of dead-end streets to Arden and William Pond WITHOUT having to risk rush-hour traffic on Fair Oaks Blvd.

I was surprisingly sharp. My shifting was smooth, my legs had a lot of snap, and when I hit the jets going up a small hill I was off and flying. Surprising, since I hadn't ridden in almost a week. But of course, I had. I rode a nice long ride Saturday on my mtn bike. Humm. Nice.

As I rolled right onto the main parkway trail and headed downstream I went through the gears heading down a short downhill stretch and found my shifter pegged against the high stop - I was already in my highest gear. (I am running 46/38/24 chainrings in front for climbing... or should I say, C-L-I-M-B-I-N-G) I checked my cadence. I was turning 104 rpms. Something was wrong. I know my gear-chart for this gearing almost by heart, so I knew at that cadence I'd have to be going over 30mph. Sure enough, I was still in my middle ring, a 38T. I shifted into the 46T, my "biggest" ring, wriggled down in the saddle, stretched out over the aerobars, and put some power down while I still had some hill under me.

Leaving the park area I was turning 96 rpms and feeling strong. A few hundred yards later there was a slight grade, and then a bit more of a grade. I shifted one gear and tested my legs, hammering hard. I was amazed how strong they were. Eager even. I don't have brakes or shifters on my aerobars (yet) so I decided to test my legs, and went up that grade and down a few and through a series of rollers all in the same gear. I NEVER do this. The whole point of having granular gearing is to always ride at an optimal cadence for optimal efficiency. Right now though, it makes more sense to stay in the aerobars in a headwind than to come out of the aero position onto the hoods to shift - so a reasonable time for such a test.

I was having fun. I was passing bike after bike, weaving through traffic, dodging joggers and all while plowing through a 10-15 mph headwind. I went under the hwy-50 bridge and realized no one had passed me yet. Cool! Usually I am in a "dead zone" where I am too fast for slow riders to stay on my wheel and not quite fast enough to pull strong riders, so I end up riding alone or sucking on a strong rider's wheel. I hate doing this, but I like the feel of speed, and like to spin those out and give my body a taste of what's to come - at least I hope. Once in awhile I get to draft in a group and take my turn at the front. That's more my idea of paying my dues, and if I can pull a paceline, that's even better. No arguement about what that means!

As I approached the Guy West Bridge at Sac State I was acutely aware that my knees and thighs were pink and freezing. That wind was not only strong, but biting cold. I had intended to ride all the way down to Discovery Park, but really needed to stop and put on the leg warmers now, so quickly changed plans and decided to turn around there and then ride back past William Pond to Bannister Pk and return home from there. I turned, climbed the approachway, and dismounted. I realized I was going to have to take my shoes off and put on my leg warmers standing up, leaning against the bridge railing and watching for traffic out of one eye. Not too bad as it turned out, but taking the vest off to fetch the leg warmers out of the pocket my wet jersey felt like ice. As I put them on one leg at a time and tucked them under the bottom of my shorts, I got a knowing smile from a cute co-ed who's legs were pink as cotton candy. "Thank God I'm home" she croaked.

Just as I was starting to pull away a guy with a brand new Specialized Tarmac all decked out in 2009 DuraAce pulled up to put on some arm warmers. He built the bike up from the frame and had done a very nice job. We chatted for a bit about the Amgen Tour and he said he was from Idaho and was happy to be able to ride here in sunny California. It put my mild discomfort in perspective. I rolled out, clipped in and felt the tail-wind pushing hard at my back. Sweet!

Back in the aerobars I was winding it up again - 23.5mph and still accelerating. After a short stretch at 25.5mph I backed off a bit and was happy my legs were still feeling strong. I found a comfortable perch on the aerobars, dialed in and started pushing. I went 15 minutes where my computer never budged from 21.5 and 90 rpms. I love that feeling, where your body is just a machine, cranking out the watts, pushing you along almost effortlessly while you are free to enjoy the scenery, other riders, and dip a helmet to X-Country runners out for practice and enjoying the day. I like to tease them about trying out these new-fangled wheel thingies when I can. They always smile back with a wistful look. I admire them. Running is such a pounding. Too much so for old knees.

A mile or so before hitting William Pond again I noticed the tailwind had died, and I was getting some head wind. WTF? I plowed through this wind and now it was turning from tailwind to headwind? Sure enough, by the time I got to the bridge approach I had a slight, but steady headwind. As I looked over the bridge for traffic I saw the most gorgeous scene I've seen in two years. The deep green trees, the brilliant blue, dark blue and angry silver and white clouds were all hyper-colored by the backlighting sun. I cursed myself for not having a camera. That was one of my life's 100 great views. I slowed down and drank it in. The symmetry was so perfect, with the sides of the bridge framing the scene perfectly, the "heaven's gate" sun pouring through the billowing clouds, yellow sunbeams and churning blues juxtaposed perfectly. Truly astonishing.

As I headed down the back of the bridge I shifted into my large chainring in front and began to add power. Time to see how much the aerobars could cheat the wind again. As the initial descent off the bridge gave way to small rollers and tight turns I downshifted a gear and hit the brakes as necessary. Even an hour into the ride my legs were still full of iron. Accelerating out of turns and into increasingly stiff winds I thought about the physical challenges of my mtn bike ride on Saturday.

With lots of steep hills, fast descents and sandy flat sections that constantly turned, I had basically done 3-4 hours of wind-sprints. I have been increasingly aware of the physiological differences between road and mtn biking, but have never seen mtn biking as adding to my fitness level. Balance, terrain, shifting and braking technique, yes, but fitness level, no. I had ridden with the young, "fastest" group (~25 riders, we'd split into 3 groups, social, fast and fastest) and we had done some hard riding. It was great. The new fork and brakes on the mtn bike had performed flawlessly and I had a blast reveling in my new ride. I just didn't realize I had gotten in such a great workout.

The last 5 miles home from Bannister Park has a lot of large rollers and I stood and sprinted over them. It was such a great feeling to be that strong again. Almost like last summer when I could do that after riding 60 miles. I knew my stats would be good, so I kept the power down all the way to my front door.

I don't have a training log entry for the ride, because I'm not sure I have ever done that route before - maybe once. Door to door was 26 miles. I averaged 18.33, and my cadence was a new all-time high average of 87. Not bad when considering stops and slows for hydration, energy bars, and traffic. I'd guess my median speed pretty close to 20 mph and median cadence right at 90 rpms. Best of all? Zero people passed on the ride! So yes, mountain biking can make for some very strong riding - in aerobars. :D


Rachel said...

Sounds like a great workout! I always end up in the "dead zone" too. Btw, sounds like you ARE logging every ride--just in a journal format instead of a boring, hard data one.

Grey Beard said...

Ahhh, A wee bit of the Irish in me lass. I can tell a tall tale, I surely can. :D Of course, the German in me records every last detail from my cyclocomputer AND my BP and pulse rate in 1 hr post-ride intervals. Here's to the "dead zone" crusaders!!!