Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Leadville Race Bike Details

Here is the bike I intend to ride at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race:

The particulars:
  • Santa Cruz Highball carbon frame in size XL, matte finish
  • Fox 120mm front suspension fork
  • Edge Composites wheelset, Chris King hubs, hand built by The Bicycle Lab
  • Shimano XT brakes
  • SRAM 11-36 cassette, X0 front and rear derailleurs, X0/Quarq power meter crankset
  • X0 shifters
  • Thomson Masterpiece setback seat post
  • WTB Rocket V saddle
  • FSA 110mm/6* rise stem
  • FSA XC carbon handlebar
  • Ergon GP-1 large grips
  • Crank Brothers Eggbeater 2Ti pedals
  • Epic Ride Research Feed Bag
  • Backcountry Research AwesomeStrap and Tulbag
This is the bike shown in the foreground, and is a brand new build.  Most of it was done with spare parts I had for the bike in the background, my original Highball.  That bike is similar, but has a 1x10 drivetrain.  I decided for Leadville I really needed a 2x10 drivetrain for lower low gears and higher high gears (since I'll be climbing and descending much larger hills than I generally ride in NC).  I also decided having a complete back-up bike would be a better idea than just spare parts.

 This bike is incredibly efficient, yet comfortable, while still descending very well.  It should be a great bike for an all day epic adventure.  I look forward to finding out just how good this bike is and where it can take me!

(And don't forget, it's not too late to donate to my cause!)

Monday, February 20, 2012

How To Air Condition Your Altitude Tent

So the altitude tent works on the principle of a machine that pushes in de-oxygenated air and that pushes out whatever was in there to begin with.  So once it's run for a couple hours, your oxygen level in the tent is dropped to something resembling what you'd find at altitude.  Once you get in it, your body breathes that air and expels carbon dioxide and moisture.  Most of the carbon dioxide is pushed out by the continual pumping of the air machine, but much of the moisture stays in the form of humidity.  What's worse, your normal body heat as well as some extra heat generated by the air machine cause the temperature in the tent to increase several degrees over the temperature outside the tent.  So it can get warm and sticky.

That's a problem for me, as I'm a light sleeper.  To get good sleep, I like to be bundled up (even if it's just a sheet) and I need it to be cool.  If it's not cool enough, I get too hot and wake up.  What's worse is by the time I wake up, the bed is fairly warm, too, and I have to just get out of it for twenty minutes or more.  Worse than that is the fact that it usually takes me another thirty minutes to go back to sleep.  So the best case is I lose around an hour of sleep, usually more.

This was happening with some regularity, so I knew I needed to do something to cool the inside of the tent.  The only commercial offering I've seen to handle this is actually to use a tiny "split system" HVAC unit.  That's expensive (around $2,000) and probably not a great solution, either, since it probably cools too much for a small tent.  It would basically freeze you for the few minutes it would need to run.  Oh, and it requires you to do some significant plumbing to an outside compressor that also requires an electrician to wire it in.  Too much for a tent.

So I decided to try another way...my own custom "heat exchanger."  The idea was to take two small radiators and plumb them together with some long hose.  In between would be a pump to circulate fluid between them.  On each radiator would be a fan.  While it's winter, I'd put one of these outside the bedroom window and the other inside the tent.  I didn't do any math, but just did some guessing on sizes of things.
My inside radiator with fan.

So here's the material list:
  • 2 Mazda Miata heater cores
  • 50' of 5/8" vinyl hose from Lowes
  • five hose clamps
  • Sunterra Fountain Pump (130GPH)
  • 1 bucket with lid
  • 2 small fans
  • half gallon of automotive anti-freeze
You can find about any older heater core from a car for about $25 (local junk yards or online at places like car-part.com).  The Miata ones came with two long aluminum tubes on each outlet that were easy to cut off to about 1" long, and the 5/8" vinyl hose will fit on the tube snugly.  Perfect.  The pump says it's a 1/2" outlet, but I found the larger part of the outlet works fine to clamp the 5/8" hose on as well. I found the pump at a local Northern Tool (for $20), but Lowes or Home Depot probably have something very similar (if not identical).  I've seen it online for less than $15.  The fans I used are larger computer style fans that are 110V.  Just about any small and quiet fan will do.

The assembly is pretty simple.  The pump is submersible, which means you need to drop it in a tank of fluid.  That's where the bucket comes in.  You don't need anything much larger than the pump itself, and the lid needs to be large enough to handle a hole for two pieces of hose and the cord.  I actually used a plastic container that some of my nutrition product came in.

Tank shown with shoe boxes to keep the hose from kinking.
(A note about the cord: I'm an electrical kind of guy, so I drilled a hole in the lid just big enough for the cord itself, but that doesn't leave any way to assemble it since it has a plug on one end and a pump on the other.  So I cut the cord, fed it through, and spliced it back together.  Do this at your own peril.  Should be safe as long as you do your splicing on the side that's going to be outside the tank.)

So, cut a piece of hose long enough to reach from one radiator to the other, and clamp each end of that hose to an outlet on each radiator.  I placed my tank inside the tent (seemed more efficient that way, since a tank of cool fluid will also help cool the space).  So then cut another piece of tube to run from your tank to the OUTSIDE radiator.  Clamp one end to the outlet of the pump (inside the tank) and the other to the outside radiator.  Then cut another piece of tube to connect the inside radiator to the tank.  It only needs to reach well inside the lid as it's just going to dump return fluid from the system into the reservoir.

Lay this entire system out on a flat floor and put about a half gallon of water in your system.  Plug the pump in until it pumps the tank dry and unplug it quickly (these pumps should never be run long dry...it will kill them).  Then use your anti-freeze to fill the rest of the system.  You don't need anti-freeze if you live in a climate where it never gets below freezing outside, but it does actually transfer heat better, so it's worth using anyway.   Once you can leave the pump running and not have the tank go dry, check for leaks at your clamps. 

Outside radiator and pool noodle, shown from inside.
Now you'll want to attach your fans to your heater cores.  I oriented mine so that the one going outside was pointing out when in the window.  That way it shouldn't suck in rain water when it rains and kill the fan.  Then you can install your system in your altitude tent and an outside window.  To install in the window, I used a swimming pool "noodle" to seal off the window and not pinch the hoses.  I simply cut a slit lengthwise from the end and then two holes through the noodle to match the hose locations.  Then close the window against the noodle with the radiator/fan combo outside.

Outside radiator shown from outside the house.

There's also the matter of "burping" the air out of the lines once your system is setup.  With the pump running, you start at the pump supply end and lift the hose to advance the first air bubble toward the outside radiator.  Work that bubble to the radiator, and then move the radiator around to work it through the radiator and out the other side.  Then work that bubble back down that hose all the way back to your tank.  It should expel the bubble into the tank and you should be set.

One note here about head pressure.  Head pressure is the amount of "lift" a given pump can create.  The pump I chose has a lift maximum of four feet.  So that means that no point in this system can be more than four feet higher than the level the pump is sitting at.  I also believe that anti-freeze is heavier by volume than water, which probably reduces the lift height by some amount, so I wouldn't go more than three feet higher than your tank.  It's okay if your hoses go down and then back up, so if you are putting your radiator in a higher window, you'll need to also elevate your tank inside your tent somehow so that your radiator isn't more than about three feet above your pump (assuming you use a pump with a four foot lift capability for water, anyway).

I've found this system to work quite well, but I got pretty lucky with the fans I had on-hand.  The one on the outside radiator is high volume and loud, but it's outside the window and doesn't bother anything.  The one inside is lower volume and quiet.  The pump is very quiet.  All in all, this system makes nearly zero noise inside the house.  It's great in that respect.  It's not quite as efficient as I thought it might be, but a bit more fan inside would probably do the trick.  Right now with it getting below 40F at night, it works quite well without over-cooling at all.  I've not bothered to turn it off at any point, but it keeps the tent several degrees cooler.  It's not so good, however, that it causes any condensation of note, which may be a problem if you have lower outside temps and/or a better inside fan.  If so, the easiest solution is probably to put the inside radiator over a small bucket to catch the condensation and just empty it regularly.

 So what to do when it gets warm outside?  I've got a couple months to fix that, but one suggested solution is to try this same situation except remove the fan from the outside radiator and place that radiator in the freezer section of a small dorm refrigerator.  That will require drilling some holes in the door and re-routing your hoses through the door (and sealing those holes somehow).  But it may work.  The other solution, and the one I'm hoping to try, is to use a small salt water aquarium chiller.  I believe the 1/10th horsepower is about the proper size for this.  New they are about $400, which isn't good, but I hope to find one for MUCH less than that used.  We'll see if I can pull that off.  That will still require the use of the pump and tank, but you will simply remove the outside radiator and tie your two lines into the inlet and outlet on the chiller.  At that size most of them have both 1/2" and 5/8" plumbing, so it should be VERY simple to do (it'll take longer to bleed the system again than to re-do the plumbing!). 

If you try this, good luck, and leave some feedback here on how it goes!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

First race of the season!

That's me in mostly dark gear on the left, Alan in the middle, just as the race started.
This past Sunday was the Bushwhack Mountain Bike Challenge.  I competed in it along with my friend, Alan.

The race was 1 mile on pavement (to separate the field some) then a 7 mile loop of the Lake Crabtree County Park singletrack.  Then off into Umstead State Park for 18 miles of gravel trail.  Then back into Crabtree for another loop.  And then for some reason, another mile of pavement.  The total distance was almost exactly 34 miles.  Click here to see my race data.

Note that the average temp was basically 30F.  The wind wasn't as gusty as predicted, but was pretty constant at about 15MPH.  The problem with gear selection for a race like this is the singletrack is slow and wooded, but the gravel stuff was fast and open.  And in the middle of the race.  So while the singletrack was reasonably well protected from the wind and by nature we were going slower, it wasn't quite as cold.  But on the gravel trail we were much more out in the open and able to go a lot faster, which meant the wind was a big factor.
The race took from 9:30am until nearly 1pm. So 25F to start, 35F at the finish.
I chose my gear poorly and overdid it a little.  One too many layers on the bottom, and too heavy of a jacket on top.  I almost had an additional core layer (fleece vest), but in a short trail pre-ride to warm up and show Alan one of the tech features, I was already getting hot, so I got rid of that.  Good thing I did, as only three miles in to the race I was unzipping the jacket and trying to get the vents on it open.  A note here: PRACTICE USING YOUR GEAR.  ALL THE FEATURES.  With gloves on I had a heck of a time getting the armpit vents open, and it cost me a lot of time trying to do it on singletrack.  But I was boiling.  After the race it was still not much above freezing, and when I took my jacket off, my inner layers were completely soaked.

I used a Smartwool balaclava, but that was too much, too.  A similar cap that covered my ears would have been sufficient.  Clear glasses are important for helping keep the wind out of the eyes (well, that and there was mud flying here and there, too, especially on the second lap of Crabtree as the sun did the thaw thing to previously frozen parts and made things a bit interesting).  I had Smartwool glove liners on under some medium winter mountain bike gloves.  That part was good...anything less and my fingers would have been very cold.  I have some Lake winter mountain bike boots.  I hate them because they are so heavy (and in size 14 this is magnified), but those with some thick Smartwool socks, Sugoi winter sock liners, and some chemical toe warmers that hunters use all kept my toes from freezing.  Not sure on this day I could have gotten away with less here.  But those boots are heavy.  Normal bike shoes are very light, but also well vented.

I was very lucky to have thought as I got my gear ready that morning that I needed to add an insulated tube to my Camelbak.  Alan wasn't so lucky, and suffered the consequences.  The water freezes in the tube and you can't drink.  Fortunately he had also brought an insulated bottle with fluid so he had something.  I would have had nothing until it thawed, which according to Alan was not until a little less than an hour left.

And then there was the race itself.  I am dumb dumb dumb.  Alan has always been faster than me.  What's more, he has an insane ability to start out a race really fast without hurting himself.  Me, not so much.  I know this.  So when I found myself on his wheel all the way up the road and back, well, I SHOULD HAVE TAKEN THE SIGN.  But these dudes on a TANDEM mountain bike passed us on the road and he didn't give chase.  For some reason I didn't either, even though I was pretty sure those guys would be holding us up on the singletrack.  So I sat on his wheel, but was very annoyed about it.  Maybe subconsciously I knew I was already going too fast for my own good.

So we head into the singletrack, and of course we stack up in a bit of a conga line behind the tandem.  We get to the feature I showed Alan, and everyone strangely goes straight.  Except me.  You see, if you turn left, there is a fairly technical rock pile to climb and you cut off about 15 seconds of trail.  And it was a legal option in this race.  Why in the heck everyone else went straight, I do not know.  Especially Alan, because this was what we went to check out in our little pre-ride.  I rode there two days ago and knew this was an optional section so I checked it to see which was faster.  The rock pile was so much faster it was worth the small risk. Alan has as much tech ability as me, so I assumed he'd hit it.  Especially to pass the tandem.  But he didn't. 

When I did, I passed everything and set sail a little.  But then I started looking at the computer.  Whoa, my heart rate is near red-line and power average is around 275W.  Well shoot.  My Functional Threshold Power is only 250W (that's the maximum amount of power I can sustain for a one hour period before I give out).  And this is a 34 mile race.  I'm not near averaging 34MPH, and not even going to be near half that.  Uh-oh.  Try to take it easier. Breathe.  Breathe.  BREATHE DAMMIT.  Oh, stop yelling at yourself.  You are breathing.  But apparently you're just going too fast.  So I slow down.  At this point that conga line, minus the tandem, catches me and I let them cruise by, including Alan (they must have all passed the tandem somewhere in between).  We're about four miles into that first seven miles of singletrack and I'm overheating and redlining and wondering how I got so stupid so fast.  But fortunately, after the conga line there's nothing for a long ways back.  So I take my time and start trying to vent my jacket.  That goes poorly, but I get it done without crashing after about a half mile of fiddling. 

I put it back on cruise control a bit to try to get the heart rate down.  Crud, it's not working.  Back off a tad more and just try to use my bike handling skills to keep up the momentum.  I pre-rode this on Friday and know there are no more technical features coming up, so I just tried to use the force.  You know, let it flow through you and all that.  Seems to be working as I'm not pedaling much and I'm going kinda fast.  The group in front got away, but still nothing back (and I know there were a LOT more sport-class riders back there somewhere).  Check the heart rate.  Oh, great, it's still jacked.  Wonderful.

Exit Crabtree and head into Umstead.  Sadly, it's all climb all the time for the next ten minutes or so.  I decide there's not much I can do but gear it down and spin my butt off but not go very fast.  So that's what I do.  The hill levels out some and I click up a few gears but keep the cadence up.  Oh, waffle time.  Wow, Honey Stinger Waffles are difficult to chew at 45F.  But it's not 45F.  It's 30F.  They are IMPOSSIBLE to chew at 30F.  They just sort of break off and all you can do is hold them in your mouth for a while until they soften some more, and then you chew.  It's sort of like trying to eat frozen leather.  Well, what I imagine frozen leather would be like, anyway, since I haven't actually tried it.  Not awesome.  Next time I have to ride when it's this cold I'm going to try some sort of Chews or Shot Blox or whatever and keep them in my Feed Bag(tm) with a couple of those chemical hand warmers to see if that will keep those soft enough to eat.  But for this race I had to tear through four waffles on about 30 minute intervals (I gutted out the last 45 minutes without one...note to self, you owe yourself a free waffle).

On the plus side, I was able to open and hold and attempt to eat the waffles while maintaining speed and while wearing two pairs of gloves.  That's got to be worth something.  Oh look, a cookie...

So I get to some downhill and start thanking the Maker for answering what had to be the worst prayers ever. Only the downhill doesn't last long enough.  My heart rate is still going right back up.  Wunderval.  At this point it looks like I might as well just see if I can make something around my Lactate Heart Rate Threshold work for 2.5 hours.  That's smarts right there, since it can't really be done.

Another buddy of mine was taking pictures at the only water crossing on the route, which is in Umstead about half way through the race distance.  Right before this point, a female rider passed me.  I'm not sexist about these sorts of things...honestly.  I think "more power to her" and figure I'll just ride my ride.  But as we head to the water, she starts to slow a lot.  I decide she's going to have to pass me again, because I'm bombing this water like a bad-ass.  It wasn't to impress her, nor to make her feel bad.  My buddy was taking pictures!  I mean I couldn't be immortalized in digital imagery tip-toeing through a water crossing BEHIND A GIRL!  Okay, NOW I'm being sexist.  I admit it, I was wrong, I apologize ladies.  But you'd do it too.  Search your feelings, you know I'm right.

That's me in the water crossing.
It's okay, though, because she got her revenge on the next climb.  My strength coach, Jonas Sahration, has a saying...it's something like "You know Newton has a lesser-known third law of motion...FAT DON'T FLY."  In my case we can amend that a little for cycling and say FAT DON'T CLIMB.  And it don't.  So off the lady went.  (I outweighed her.  See what I did there?)  She slowly and steadily pulled away from me in Umstead until I could no longer see her.  There were also some other fellows who passed me, some of which I re-passed back.  I'd say that all-in-all, I probably got passed by about twelve riders once we got on the trail and maybe got about three of those back.  I do not like those numbers.

As I was getting near the end of Umstead I was thinking "It's going to be so nice to turn after the airport overlook...it's just all big soft downhill all the way back to Crabtree."  Well, that's true.  But what I didn't know was that the stupid 15MPH wind was IN MY FACE that entire way from the overlook to Crabtree.  I do remember thinking "well, my heart rate might be jacked, but this climb is going well....my speed is really good at least" on the way into Umstead.  Why, oh why, didn't that make me realize that it was because I had a stiff wind at my back?!?  Stupid, stupid ego. I just thought I was that good...

So I pedal on and head back into Crabtree.  It looks like the "expert" class riders must have finished somewhere around 30 minutes ahead of me, because I actually saw some of them and had to let one pass me on the small section of the loop that overlaps on the return trip (you really do like 1.1 laps of Crabtree upon re-entry and only like .9 of the loop on the way out).  So I pass what will eventually be start/finish and head around to complete the loop, pretty much on my own now.  Haven't seen anyone ahead or behind me for a while.  Crabtree does do some switchback kind of stuff even though there isn't much elevation change, and it's not very dense forest, so it's easy to see for long distances both directions sometimes.  Not much going on, until....

Oh shoot, some dude is catching me.  sigh  So I turn it up half a notch.  Okay, good, that's working.  He's still back there, but isn't really catching me any more.  I work my way around and get headed back along I-40 on the back side of the loop.  Crap, the sun has thawed out what were apparently LARGE frozen sections earlier this morning and now it's pure mud.  Well, only one thing to do...keep going fast!  I was mud slinging and sliding around, but apparently I have better bike control skills and the dude behind me, because I never see him again even though we still go through some really good places for visuals.  Oh, snap.  I'm catching someone too!  So I dial it up a half notch....oh crap, DIAL IT BACK.  Don't need the half notch.  This rider is toast, apparently.  Oh, it's the female rider from earlier!  She says "come on by whenever" as I get to her wheel, and I respond with "passing on the left" and try to pass on the left.  Only she forgets to actually, oh, LET ME BY and I have to make my own trail through the woods. 

She realizes her error and does yell an apology, and I say no worries and pedal on.  We are only about a mile from the end of the singletrack, and she picks it up a notch (she probably wasn't familiar with the trail, and it's WAY easier to pick it up a notch when you are following someone than when you're solo on unknown singletrack) and loses ground only VERY slowly through to the end.  I was probably 50 yards ahead of her when we got back to the road, but then she really was dead and I pulled away on the road section by another 200 yards or so.

The road section was literally an out-and-back that required a U-turn IN THE ROAD.  At the start they had someone stationed there sitting in a chair that you literally road around.  At the finish?  Nothing.  Just paint on the pavement.  I almost blew right past it!  Saw it just in time, thankfully.  Oh, and Alan?  I figured he blistered me.  Turns out while he was ahead of me, it was only by around three minutes as I passed him going the other way just as I was heading out on the road. 

But this was a learning event, not so much a goal race for me.  What did I learn?  Well, I'm still building base, which means I don't have much speed nor much climbing power.  That means I need to moderate attempts at those, or I might kill myself.  I learned a lot about gear.  I learned a little bit about trying to eat food in the arctic. I learned to practice using my gear.  I learned that you probably SHOULD be cold before a race starts, not toasty already.  Most of all, I learned to pay better attention to what is going on early to keep from going nuts and hurting myself early.  Wait, I knew that.  Crap, I hate re-learning things.  Especially the hard way.

A quick view of the data shows 202W average.  I've done that on two hour TRAINING RIDES.  sigh  On this day I just didn't have any more than that, though.  I had figured I'd be in the 215-225W range.  Could have been, too, I think.  If I could have pulled off 225W I would have been maybe 15 minutes faster. That may have been a little bit of an ambitious goal, hard to say.  I think I finished about 40th and Alan 35th or so (out of about 90 riders total).  I covered the distance in 2:45, though my goal was closer to 2:30.  Now, about that cookie...

Here I am at the glorious finish.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Zero to 60 in just under five hours

So it's another Leadville training milestone.  My prescribed long ride today was for 4:45, and without going over I was able to go 60.9 miles on all gravel trail.  In fact, my coaches exact words were "Ride EASY, keeping everything zone 3 or lighter if possible."  Looks like I was able to make that happen quite well. 

Not only was it further than I've gone before, but it was also faster than my last two long rides at the same location.  It was definitely near perfect temperatures and a beautiful day.  I really couldn't have asked for more from myself.