5 Aug 2012

5th August 2012 & a '10' ?

5th 60-70F, 16-21C, sunny, light winds. Off we, jolly well, go again. I brought the tyres up to 102psi before leaving. There followed a 10 mile warm up, including a 2 mile climb. Then a 10 mile, very individual, time trial. Then ten more miles winding down. The Vetta SL saddle was fine today. Albeit with the same weird leg pains again. 30 miles so far.

My time over the ten miles, in the middle, was a rather tragic 34:47. My legs were hurting like hell all of the time. So I couldn't really go much faster today. Not even if I was being chased by rabid dogs. I was sweating profusely in the humid warmth. I don't like hot weather and never have.

"My" 10 mile Time Trial course is a gently undulating, out and back. Very little of it is really flat. The only steep bit is the seemingly endless climb up to the roundabout in the middle. All of it on a fairly smooth, marked off cycle lane each side of a (normally) busy main road. A Sunday morning ensures minimal traffic. Some might argue that traffic is a good thing. Because it offers some assistance as the rider is dragged along by the passing lorry draughts. I prefer to suffer in relative privacy.

So few roads are flat around here that I chose a route at right angles to the prevailing SW winds. I measured it out repeatedly on several competing, online mapping services. My cycle computer confirms it is close enough to 10 miles. If only for the purposes of showing off my personal inadequacies at time trialling.

I won my first ever time trial at the tender age of 16 on high pressures. They gave me a generous 3 minute handicap in a club field of about 20 riders. It was all very odd. I had just ridden 15 miles flat out. (as I always did back then)  Including climbing the truly massive Box hill up to Corsham. There I found these cyclists milling about beside the road in a leafy, rural village. They suggested I ride. I can't remember what I did with my ill-gotten gains because I had absolutely no pockets.

I only ever competed once more. I overtook the rider ahead of me and he promptly sat right on my wheel for the rest of the route. Then sprinted past me at the finish. I was so angry that I never competed again. Nor even joined a cycle club. I do realise that it did not affect my time but that wasn't the point. It felt like I was dragging an anchor around the entire course.

Then I had my all-Campag Record, Jack Taylor stolen. It was returned trashed from outside a local prison a couple of weeks later. Probably a prisoner late back from weekend leave needed a free ride. I couldn't afford to rebuild it properly and the insurance had lapsed. The TA Professional crank promptly sheared off at the spider after I had made the bike roadworthy again. Neither the bike shop nor the wholesaler would accept responsibility for selling me such substandard garbage. 

I was so disillusioned with cycling that I took up smoking. Immediately trashing the most amazing lungs my PE master had ever come across. In my final year at school I could run flat out over any distance and recover in seconds. Without any training, whatsoever, I was competing (in PE classes) with school athletes. If only for a while. I had been completely crap at running before that. I was also one of the smallest and skinniest kids throughout my school years. A hospital specialist had me blowing up balloons when I was little. Because I was so thin and weedy. It always made me dizzy so I had to give it up.

I still believe that my seemingly miraculous transformation was all down to chasing an older kid to school. He on his lightweight 531 racing bike. Both of us riding right across town in the morning rush hour. I was riding an undersized boy's bike with low pressure tyres and all steel accessories. It had cost me all of £2 of advance pocket money from another kid at school. I was robbed!

The route to school was horrendously hilly. Probably as steep as one-in-5 in places with hairpin bends. I turned myself inside out every morning. Just trying to stay with this bigger lad through the heavy traffic. Watching his chain hop effortlessly from cog to cog on his 10-speed Campag dérailleurs. As he held a high cadence in toe clips and straps and probably cycle shoes with plates. I had a decidedly dodgy, three speed, Sturmey Archer hub and rubber pedals and a heavy satchel full of books on my back.

I doubt he was even aware I was making myself nauseous chasing him like a lunatic every morning. I would be wringing wet with sweat for at least the first hour at school after riding flat out in full school uniform. The odd thing is that I grew almost a foot that year. After a lifetime of being bullied at school I was suddenly normal-sized for my age. Just in time to leave school.

Anyway, enough of the regression therapy: 49 years later, the wind started very light. Increasing enough for the local group of wind turbines to start moving. The wind was almost perfectly at right angles to the course but felt more like a headwind on the return leg.

The split time at the roundabout was exactly 17 minutes. So what I lost going one way, I also lost going back as well. I should have had slightly more shelter on the return thanks to rather scrappy hedges. It certainly didn't feel like it!

As is my wont, I stretched out to place my palms on the hoods throughout my ride. Rather than bothering with my tri-bar add-ons which were lying back in the shed. Or using the drops. I already doubted that riding on the drops made me any lower than the palms downward position. The pictures below prove me right.

I had the Carradice Camper saddlebag on. With all my usual junk: Waterproof jacket, windproof jacket, full tool kit, several spare tubes, cable bike lock with heavy padlock, camera, etc. The all-up trike weight was 15.5kg or 34.2 lbs measured when I returned home. I must be able to do better than this!

I wish I could find somewhere safe, at the beginning of the course, to leave my saddle bag. So I could save considerable weight and drag. I was expected to shop on the way home so couldn't leave the bag at home. I suppose I could take the trike on the back of the car. Though I would still need a proper warm-up after I got there. 10 miles tends to iron out all the unlikely aches and pains which always seem to crop up when one deliberately tries to ride fast.

A glance at the Veterans Time Trial Association website suggests a 65-year old should manage a '10' in 29.48. So the saddlebag, 20 years of smoking and a complete lack of race fitness cost me five whole minutes!

It was suggested on the tricycle forum that wearing a number would extract the maximum motivation. So that is Cancellera's secret? Not an electric motor in the seat tube, after all. Sadly, my preparation did not extend to this detail.  

There were quite a few clubmen out training today. All going the other way. (which saved some embarrassment from being easily overtaken) No doubt some of them were wondering why my face was contorted in agony as I rode flat out at 13mph on the long uphill drags. Somehow I seriously doubt that Mr Wiggins will be greatly troubled by this particular "performance." ;-) 

The images alongside are meant to represent my four standard handlebar positions. Don't say I didn't warn warn you. I said I was a pedant! I have it in writing at the top of every page!

For some reason, it bothers me (greatly) to see people spending a fortune on a specialist TT bike. (or trike) Only to set it up as if it were a (sit up and beg) 1920s roadster. I suppose I most resent not having the cash for such a beautiful machine. Or even having a proper time trial to compete in, for that matter. Practice makes perfect. Even competing in a humble club TT every week gives one a chance to improve on each ride.

In TT racing the basic idea is to get as low as possible. To minimise one's frontal area exposed to the headwind. What is the point in worrying about the frontal area of a back brake when the biggest blot on the landscape is the rider's own body? It's like worrying about grammes on the weight of a carbon fibre, racing saddle when one is 20-odd stone! As I was reading, with some incredulity, on a bike forum only yesterday! 

In each picture I have roughly drawn a line through my torso to show a guesstimated, body lean angle. A horizontal line is also drawn parallel to the top tube to help indicate this body angle. Ideally, my torso should be horizontal too. It's an imperfect world. Now you know why I wasn't invited to complete in the Tour de France Prologue TT! :-)
In the top picture I am riding on the tops of the handlebars. This is my hill climbing and relaxed riding position. It feels very upright. Probably a 50 degrees body lean to the horizontal. Certainly not as upright as a roadster bike but still very high in air drag. My head, shoulders and torso present my maximum possible frontal area to any headwind. Even one of my own making. I'd have to let go of the handlebars to make myself any bigger, as a drogue parachute, trying to slow myself down.

The next picture down shows me riding "on the hoods." I'm still fairly relaxed but slightly more stretched out. The torso angle has dropped considerably to only about 40 degrees. I present a much smaller frontal area to the wind. With much reduced drag. This position will  save a lot of energy on a long ride. Particularly at higher speeds. Where air resistance (drag) is the greatest hindrance to forward motion. Drag increases as the cube of velocity. Which is why we can't just go faster and faster on a bike the harder we pedal.  

Picture 3 shows me more stretched out. Palms on the brake hoods. My wannabe, mock TT position, if you like. It actually feels very low. I am stretched out enough to make this position quite uncomfortable for an extended period. Though not too painful to maintain for a few miles when pedalling hard. The effort on the pedals probably helps to lift the upper body weight against gravity. Oddly, this position feels as if my upper body is completely flat. The picture shows it is anything but! All is illusion, or, more likely, deliberate delusion, in cycling.

The 4th picture below shows me on the drops. This, again, does feel very low when out on the road. Yet my torso angle has hardly changed (at all) from the 3rd position. It may even be that my, more vertical, upper arms produce even more drag than the, palms on hoods, "superman" position. This riding position makes my racing jersey flap in the wind. My back is really quite humped. (instead of Wiggo flat!) So my shoulders and torso are still acting like a big, thick, blunt, stalled aerofoil. No serious car or aircraft designer would ever be daft enough to build anything which looked like a cyclist! Even motorcycles, with 100+bhp on tap, insist on fairings and smoothly curved, windscreens. Those control freaks at the UCI won't allow cycle fairings. So we have to try and work with the MkI human bod.

I deliberately kept my head low for these images to avoid a major cause of wind resistance. Normally I would be wearing my helmet. Which greatly increases my head's frontal area. Not to mention the amount of air drag compared with my (near) naked head. (silly haircuts notwithstanding) Unfortunately, naked heads tend to get damaged in any scrap with tarmac, trees and vehicles! I speak from long experience. 

What is surprising is the physical strain of maintaining a low position on the drops. Without any real reduction in air drag from position 3. Body lean hasn't changed but it is harder work supporting my upper body on my hands for very long. Tour de France riders can manage hundreds of miles in this position. My arms may be getting thinner and thinner (like theirs) but it doesn't get any easier for me!

A 'proper' TT position on tri-bars would provide far more body support on my forearms. Helping to carry the weight of my head and upper body. Much easier than resting on my outstretched arms. It would also reduce the unpleasant loads on my wrists. Which is why so few bother with resting on the drops when they can afford a tri-bar (or clip-on) in TT competitions. 

In practice my knees are not remotely hitting my chest in these lower positions. Though my quads are gently massaging my stomach when I pedal. This factor would probably set the lowest possible, comfortable, tri-bar position for most riders.

The ideal, truly-horizontal, torso angle (typical of Cancellara, Froome, Wiggins, et al) may be impossible to achieve for most normal riders. At least for the less than skeletal athlete. Perhaps we should all be doing sit-ups? Just to allow a lower tri-bar position?

Personally, I'm now a martyr to munching biscuits to keep up my strength on my rides. It seems my actual fuel consumption greatly exceeds my energy needs! I try to compensate by eating lots of fruit, salad and veg. I can certainly "pinch an inch" but pensioners aren't exactly known for their 6-packs. Unless we are talking about beer. Fortunately (?) decent beer is usually 600 miles away across the North Sea. 

Of course, bending my arms is possible in all four hand positions shown here. This would allow a slightly lower, "racing"  position. But this only makes supporting my upper body even more tiring. In practice I only tend to bend my arms a lot when descending a hill on the drops. To obtain maximum speed. Or when being buffeted by strong head winds and gusts. Or to provide some suspension over rough surfaces. Resting on my hands, like a quadruped, never came naturally to me. I have never been much good at press-ups. It must be the size (or weight) of my head. Or perhaps it's just a lack of practice at press-ups? 

Now it's time to go shopping again: 14 more hilly miles. Going surprisingly well now. It was rather warm and sunny!

Click on any image for an enlargement.

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