Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Over the years, although my fitness has improved, my high-speed skills have not. This is most apparent when mountain biking, as no matter how fast I climb, I'm always the last one down the mountain. In fact, overall, I feel I am much more timid when riding than I used to be. I suppose, in part, this is why I enjoy endurance riding so much.

I used to ride with people all the time. In fact, I used to not go riding at all, unless it was with someone. As my life filled up (with a wife, a job, and children), I found it more and more difficult to plan a time that would work with everyone. Gradually, I stared riding on my own more and more.

I have found out two things about this. First, I really actually enjoy the time alone. I enjoy the solitude, the sojourn with nature, so-to-speak. I like being able to push myself harder, if I want, or take it easy, if I'm tired. I really like coming home when I want to, instead of waiting for someone else's schedule. I find that I can do more actual riding alone--spending less time preparing or waiting or meeting up with other people.

Second, I found that when I'm alone (and this is especially true on the trail), I tend to not push myself over difficult obstacles like I would, out of pride, when with a group. I also have much less judge of my fitness. Even though I can tell that I'm much stronger than I used to be, I can't actually compare myself to others. For these reasons, I know that I really need to start riding with people more.

One Such Symptom
One of the symptoms of my timidity on the bike is readily apparent when descending on the road. Or, to be more precise, descending and cornering--especially at the same time. (Note: I also think that the poor brake performance of road bikes compared to mountain bikes makes me nervous to push the speed on descents. Ever notice how much faster road bike brakes fade than mountain brakes?) I really am not fast. This morning, after a sustained climb, I--get this--started downhill. I left the summit shortly after another rider whose car was waiting for him at the bottom. Not only did I never catch up to him, but he and his car were long gone by the time I reached the bottom.

Then it hit me: I need to get faster on downhills.

You see, in order to achieve my 16.5 average to finish the LOTOJA on time, I plan to stop very infrequently. I don't really plan to stop to eat. Ever. Also, I'm really working on both my endurance, and my hill climbing. That way, the hills don't hurt my average too much. This morning, however, I realized that one way in which I can increase my overall average speed, without much additional effort is to increase my downhill speed.

In relation to that, on my way down today I was forced to face another fear. Because my background is in mountain biking, I'm used to loose conditions, but always with big grippy tires. On my road bike, with the tiny contact patch, I worry that any little pebble on the road will mark my demise around corners.

Today, inadvertently, I hit one such pebble. My tire skipped ever so slightly and I continued on. It was totally uneventful. Instantly, I started letting my speed creep up slightly.

I should interject that, at this point, you are probably (with the exception of my wife) waiting for a nice story of a grand slide off the road and a bad road-rash. I'm sorry to disappoint you. The rest of the descent was uneventful.

I think I'm ready to start working on my descending skills.


tkp said...

Here's tip...go to an empty parking lot. Sprint up to the end of a parking row, then corner around the end and repeat down the next row (obvously, this needs to be an empty parking lot, like the old WordPerfect complex, after work hours). When you corner, work on getting as much lean angle as you can. Learn how much the bike will lay over before you start to slide. Then take it to the mountain.

Oh, and don't forget to shave your legs for when you crash.

James Sharp said...

One thing that you fail to realize, is that descending makes up very little time... unless you are really very good at it. As an example, say a quick climber can climb a particular hill in 15 min. A slow climber can do it in 20. That's five minutes difference. Now, turn around and a good descender might take 3 min to reach the bottom and a poor descender 5 min. That's only 2 min difference.

Now, let's look at average speed. Average speed is speed over time. You don't spend much time descending compared to the rest of the ride -- i.e. on the flats or climbing. So no matter how fast you go -- and the faster you go the less time you spend at that speed -- it doesn't impact your average on a long ride very much. Oh, it'll give it a bump, but not what you are looking for.

Continue to work on cornering and descending, but don't expect a huge effect on your average.