Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dutch Lotto jersey?

Dutch Lotto is replacing Belkin as the title sponsor of that team next year. I threw this together during some way too crowded Caltrain commutes. Not too creative. It's using the Pro Cycling Manager kit template.

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The design's been iterated since I first posted this, and is looking more and more like Pantani-vintage Mercato Uno...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Testing the Parlee ESX

Set-up

As I rode my Ritchey Breakaway, with its mix of SRAM Rival, Force, and Red components, to Bespoke Cycles in San Francisco I felt a bit of a fraud. It was Parlee demo week at the shop, part of Parlee's program to publicize its new aero bike, the ESX (web page). More info is in this RoadCycling review.

Designed by Parlee, the frame is built in Taiwan, sold with frame, fork, seatpost, and direct-mount brakes for $5400. That's a lot, making this particular slot in the demo schedule, the weekly Bespoke shop ride, a potentially valuable one for both Parlee and Bespoke Cycles. But it didn't seem probable I was going to buy it. True, nobody had ever asked me if I was planning to buy the bike, but there's surely some moral obligation to have some minimum intent to do so. As I pedaled my Ritchey through the nearly empty San Francisco streets for the 8 am meeting at the shop, however, I wondered what fraction of high-end bike purchases went to those who had been "unlikely to buy". It's a bit like when I feel guilty about taking free samples in Whole Foods, then walk out of the market with $75 more on my credit card bill.

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Ari at the shop set me up with the bike. There were four of us with demos, one to one of the shop employees, two more to other customers. Ari used the Ritchey as a template to match my position. He apologized for not being able to match the handlebar drop on the Ritchey due to the big-stack setup on the size-small Parlee. That could have been fixed: the Parlee has a head tube extender (a spacer molded to appear to be part of the frame) and an additional shaped spacer on top of that. But time was limited, with the ride scheduled to leave @ 8:30 am.

So I felt like I was riding a comfort bike. Some amount of increased bar height can be compensated with bent elbows, but this was a bit excessive. But it was a good test, because the result was surely going to be more, rather than less, wind drag relative to the Ritchey.

Digression: Parlee wind tunnel data

Here's Parlee's wind drag data:

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If I assume an air density of 1.2 kg/m3, and a test speed of 30 mph (standard for the MIT tunnel, and consistent with power data from other plots on the Parlee page), then the drag of 1.75 pounds of force corresponds to a CdA value of 0.072 meters squared, while the Parlee Z5 with a drag of approximately 2.25 pounds of force corresponds to a CdA of 0.093 meters squared. The difference is 0.021 meters squared.

These results can be compared to the tests done by Scott Bicycles, also with waterbottles and also without a frame. I described those results here. In that test, the foil came out with a CdA of around 0.074 m2, while the "round-tube bike" was around 0.087 m2. In extracting these values, I eyeball the variation from a yaw of 0 to 10 degrees, since due to ground sheer on terrain with ground features like trees and buildings, typically low yaw values dominate at the height of a bicycle frame. This difference is 0.013 m2.

I've also looked at results from VeloNews. There a Cervelo S5 compared to a Masi, both bikes with Fulcrum wheels, the near-zero-yaw CdA values were 0.088 m2 for the Cervelo versus 0.104 for the Masi, a difference of 0.016 m2. Note the Cervelo S5 was also in the Parlee tests and tested similar to the ESX.

So in summary, the comparison of the ESX and the Cervelo S5 compared to the Parlee Z5 shows a greater advantage to the aerodynamic frames than does the VeloNews test comparing the S5 to the Masi, or the Scott comparison of the Foil to what is presumably an Addict or similar road frame.

Conclusion: the claimed aerodynamic advantage of this bike is considerable. A typical pro racer has a CdA of around 0.32 m2 according to Tour magazine tests (Veloclinic has reported 0.35 m2 is a good match to climbing data). A difference of 0.021 is 6.6% of this. If wind drag is 90% of total power, as it is on the flats, that's a 6% net power advantage, which is the same advantage as has been reported in experiments using EPO on runners, according to the Science of Sport blog. Nevertheless, I wasn't going to see any such advantage on this ride due to my upright position.

The bike

The bike was set up with the following:

  1. Ultegra Di2 "Ui2" electronic shifting.
  2. Ultegra direct-mount brakes, a conventional position on the fork for the front, a chainstay mount for the rear
  3. Ultegra 165 mm crank. I was surprised and pleased when I realized it was 165, which I didn't check until most of the way through my ride.
  4. Shallow drop & reach 38.5 cm/40 cm handlebars (narrower at the hoods, wider on the drops).
  5. Ultegra Al-rim clincher wheels with 25 mm Michelin tires. I would have liked to use my Powertap wheel I had mounted on the Ritchey but that was 10-speed and wasn't compatible with the 11-shifting on the Parlee.
  6. Barfly forward mount for my Garmin Edge 500.

The ride

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We rolled out from the shop on Clay Street and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. There's almost always some cross-wind on the bridge, but the real cross-wind test came immediately after: the descent of Alexander to Bridgeway. With gusting winds sweeping across different relative headings as the road curves, this section can get a bit sketchy. A common concern about aero frames is how they'll handle cross-winds, but the Parlee passed this test no problem. The key is to avoid "stalling", where the wind force increases substantially when yaw angle increases a relatively small bit, and poorly designed aero bikes can experience this which yields instability. The Parlee was great, though. If anything it was better than my Ritchey with its 1-inch steel tubes. Besides the aerodynamics of the frame, geometry (trail) and wheels also play a large role in cross-wind handling.

The next test was on the same section of roads: rough pavement. Aero frames have a reputation of being harsh. No problem here: while perhaps not as plush as some carbon bikes, including perhaps the Parlee Z5, it was fine. Perhaps part of this was due to the seat-post design, which has a double cantilever design near the clamp to provide for vertical compliance. The 25 mm tires were if anything slightly narrower than my usual 26 mm Grand Bois tires on the Ritchey, so it wasn't the tires. Part of this is acoustic: the Ritchey tends to rattle with the cable couplers hitting the frame on rough roads. But the feeling was the Parlee was taking out the high frequency component of the vibrations.

The next test was climbing. We hit Camino Alto from Mill Valley, my favorite 5-minute fitness test, and I left the group to try for a good time. The wind felt fairly neutral (best times come from a strong tailwind, but a strong headwind is fatal). The bike felt really good going uphill. I was in the drops due to the high bars and shallow drop. The 165 mm cranks spin easier than 170 mm. But there were two additional factors which were nice. One was the electronic shifting. On the rear, no real difference, but on the front it was easier to drop from the big ring into the little ring on the one steep section, then shift back when it was done, relative to my usual SRAM 10-speed mechanical shifting. This wasn't that big a deal: on the SRAM instead of going big-small-big in the front I might have gone big-small then upshifted in the rear instead after the steep bit was passed. But getting back up into the big ring right away was preferable.

Another advantage on the climb was how it handled the rough pavement. Bouncing over a rough surface disruptive to power generation and I felt as if I could keep the power higher on the Camino Alto pavement.

Then there was the bike mass. I unfortunately didn't weigh it, but it was almost certainly lighter than the steel Ritchey, since the Parlee frame is spec'ed at 950 grams for size medium, and I was on a small. Everything other the frame and fork and rear wheel (Powertap on the Ritchey) was likely heavier on the Parlee, but the Ritchey is around 1600 grams for the frame, 8.1 kg with components, so I'm going to guess the Parlee was maybe 7.5 kg. One downside on the climb was enormous bike traffic: I had to work my way around or through several large groups of riders. Despite this I posted an above-average time (13/34 of my efforts on Strava) for the climb, despite less than impressive fitness right now and despite having run the day before. So it definitely passed the climbing test.

After the climb came a technical descent of Camino Alto to Corte Madera.

I waited for the others to reach the top, then followed them on the descent. It seemed to descend fine. This was a combination of the smooth wind flow and the handling of the rough pavement, I'd suggest. The trail, which I calculated from the geometry data to be 62 mm, was unexceptional: between my Ritchey and my Fuji. No-hands it rode fine.

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The rest of the ride included pacelining out near China Camp over rolling terrain, then riding back via Larkspur using bike paths and a relatively new bike/ped tunnel. There was some delay due to multiple flats, including Ari blowing a tire off his carbon rims twice. But that was all resolved and after a peak-tourist-season crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge, we were soon back at the shop, a too-soon end to what was a wonderful ride.

General impressions

  1. The Bar-Fly mount is great. I really liked having the Garmin in a more forward position. It reduced the perturbation to my normal position to look at the Edge display, keeping the road ahead in my peripheral vision, which I view as a major safety advantage as well as a convenience. I'd get one for each of my bikes except my road bikes have 26 mm bars. The Garmin forward mount has an adaptor for 26 mm, so I may look into that, but it's considered inferior to the K-Edge or Bar-Fly.
  2. The electronic shifting was nice, but I don't think it was substantially better than my mechanical system in the rear. My pre-"yaw" SRAM front shifting, however, is inferior. Most important is the worry about throwing the front chain. That happens a lot less since I got a Deda chain keeper, but the chain keeper isn't perfect, and in particular it shifted on me when I recently traveled with the bike, something I didn't realize until I threw the chain on the Wednesday noon ride last week. For a time trial bike, I think the electronic shifting would be a greater, but still small advantage.
  3. The 165 mm crank was nice for spinning, but I like having that little bit of extra range of motion on the 170's. At one time I used 167.5 mm, which work well, although 170 may offer a small advantage on steep roads. I'll stick with 170.
  4. I like 38-39 cm bars: they fit my shoulder width well. The flared bars with 38.5 cm on the hoods and 40 cm on the drops, were okay, but I felt slightly spread out when on the drops. I like my arms to extend out straight from my shoulders. I feel this is the most stable position.
  5. I didn't like the shallow drop. Why bother moving to the drops if my position barely changes? And as I noted I'd have preferred the bars being several cm lower.
  6. The brakes were fine. In theory the direct mount brakes are stiffer and lighter. All I know is they worked as well as I could want, including the chainstay-mounted rear brakes.

Post-ride

I was curious what it would be like going from this top-end $5k+ frame with electronic shifting back to my modest Ritchey Breakaway, the frame/fork purchased in 2008 for around $1.1k including a travel case, topped off with a mix of SRAM parts of various vintage. Would I get on it, take a few pedal strokes, and think "oh, my, what a dog! I can't believe I'm riding this thing?"

Quick answer: No. The Parlee was a wonderful experience, for sure, but the Ritchey was fine as well. The better position helps, of course, but I don't feel there's much sacrifice in riding the Ritchey except for the additional mass and theoretical higher wind resistance, both of which show up only primarily in Strava segment times but not so much in the ride experience.

Super-thanks to Ari and Bespoke for hosting the Parlee demo and for setting me up with the bike! I'm definitely a Parlee fan now. They know their stuff.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

2003 Saturn Cycling team

It's been commonly recognized that European cycling was deeply contaminated by oxygen-vector doping from approximately 1993 until the CERA test became available in 2008 and the biological passport screening started in 2009. However, many considered the United States domestic scene to be clean. After all, there was less money to be made in the sport and therefore the investment of oxygen boosters wasn't worth it, people argued.

That naive view has long since been disproven. But the issue came up again as VeloNews just published an interview with Will Frischkorn, who's been considered a member of the "lost generation" of talented riders unable to make the jump to Europe because of an unwillingness to embrace the dark side. A key quote:

But Frischkorn suggests that there were also several other American riders who decided to take a different direction. He cites some well-known riders who were utilizing EPO programs during the Saturn years (he joined Saturn in 2003), and who had “unnatural” performance breakthroughs. “People knew it — that EPO could really change their performance.” Frischkorn tells of one older rider — still active in the professional peloton — who essentially explained to him the ropes of EPO usage; where to buy it, how to store it, and how to use it. “It wasn’t anything really dark or evil, and nobody was pressuring anyone. It was more just like your big brother showing you how to do something — just kind of trying to take care of you.”

An important US stage race in those years, during a time of scarcity in US stage races (post-Coors Classic, pre Tour of California, Tour of Utah, Tour of Colorado), was Redlands. The 2003 Redlands Classic results are available on Cyclingnews. Here's top 10 overall:

General classification after stage 5
 
1 Chris Horner (USA) Saturn Cycling Team            14.12.05
2 Nathan O'Neill (Aus) Saturn Cycling Team              0.01
3 Tom Danielson (USA) Saturn Cycling Team               0.59
4 Jonathan Vaughters (USA) Prime Alliance              13.25
5 Danny Pate (USA) Prime Alliance                      14.24
6 Glen Mitchell (NZl) Navigators Cycling               14.33
7 John Lieswyn (USA) 7Up/Maxxis                        14.56
8 Matt Decanio (USA) Prime Alliance                    15.36
9 Jacob Erker (Can) Schroeder Iron Pro Cycling         15.42
10 Ben Brooks (Aus) Jelly Belly/Carlsbad Clothing      15.48

Let's see... #2 was involved of EPO trafficking, #3 has admitted to doping, #1 was claimed to have been a redacted name in the USAC "reasoned decision" on Lance Armstrong but denied it. #4 had returned to the US to race clean, #5 is considered clean, #7 has always been outspoken against doping and has never been caught in any scandles, #8 was an outspoken "doper's suck" activist and was almost surely clean.


Genevieve Jeanson won the women's GC by 12:52. She was later found to be using EPO. CyclingNews photo.

I think to fair approximation here, given that Vaughters had a world-class cardiovascular system and almost certainly could have competed for the overall with supplementation, the "doping advantage" in this race was around 13-14 minutes of 14 hours -- that's around 14/852 minutes, or 2% speed. The race was truly a "peloton of two speeds". There was the top 3 (Horner may have been able to go along for the ride; I won't say one way or another), and the remaining 7 of the top 10.

2% speed is around 6% power in the wind resistance limit, which is what Science of Sport has claimed to be the approximate benefit of EPO. Of course this analysis is silly: Redlands is mass-start and not a time trial, and the power isn't all wind resistance; climbing accounts for a lot of time difference. But the numbers are at least in the right ballpark.

Friday, July 25, 2014

fitting power-duration data, mean versus envelope fit example

Andrew Coggan published the following data on Twitter, showing a cyclist's power-duration data from two separate years:

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In the above, FTP is power which can be sustained for 1 hour. FRC is "functional reserve capacity" which represents how much work over FTP can be done. I've never myself tried to extract that, but it's a nice concept: similar to anaerobic work capacity in the critical power model.

I extracted the data as best I could from the plot using PlotDigitzer, then fit my 4-parameter model using an envelope fit:

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The philosophy on the envelope fit is that only a limited number of durations represent a rider's best effort; most durations are part of longer efforts and so are sub-optimal for that particularly time duration. The fit only has validity if there are actually as many quality efforts as there are parameters in the model. So a 4-parameter model requires at least 4 quality efforts.

The philosophy on the mean fit is to treat all durations essentially of equal importance.

Anyway, the result is that with my envelope fit, it's clear that year 2 has more short-duration "anaerobic" power, but the modeled FTP (1 hour power) is much closer for the two years than it is with the original fit.

I tried two alternate ways to determine FTP. First, I eliminated the iterative weighting from my fit to make it a mean fit, rather than an envelope fit. This yielded values of 2.91 W/kg for year 1, and 2.85 W/kg for year 2, a difference of 0.06 W/kg. This is larger than the difference of 0.02 from the envelope fit. Another approach is to interpolate the 1-hour data directly from the curves. This yields 3.09 W/kg for year 1, and 2.93 W/kg for year 2, a difference of 0.16 W/kg. So the 3 approaches yield substantially different conclusions about the magnitude of the change in 1-hour power: 0.02 W/kg, 0.06 W/kg, or 0.16 W/kg. Coggan's fit yielded a fourth difference, 0.13 W/kg, since he uses a different model and different fitting algorithm. Personally I like the envelope fit, as I think it's more predictive. The best case, though, is to use the same standard intervals for fitness testing in both years, thus avoiding comparing interpolated to direct estimates.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

stuck in a fitness vortex: another OLH

The past weeks have been dominated by priorities other than cycling or running -- the occasional ride, including a few in the gorgeous Amalfi Coast of Italy, but a lot of moving to a new neighborhood in San Francisco, travel, recovering from jet lag, and solving problems at work.

So after resolving to "make time" for yesterday's Noon Ride Old La Honda, my rational expectations, my self-assessment of fitness, were low. Indeed, after having missed the Red Kite Patterson Pass Time Trial the weekend prior, an event I normally would have been excited about especially since it had a 3-4 master's category in which I'd have the reasonable hope of getting a top 3, I wasn't too disappointed. I'd not even looked at the racing schedule. I don't believe in racing without proper preparation. Long rides? Nope. Interval sessions? Not unless you count one ride in Amalfi. Extended climbs? Virtually none. At least my weight was fairly good, within 1 kg of my 57 kg target.

That morning I had little margin for making the train, and thus had to grab the Ritchey Breakaway and roll. Tire pressure was low (approximately 65 psi versus my nominal 70-85 psi in 26 mm tires, although I'd take that up to 90 psi if I was planning on doing OLH) and the chain was filthy: the Pro Lube I'd been using seems to pick up more dirt than the Rock & Roll red that I'd used before. Rolling resistance from low pressure would at least show up on my Powertap, but drivetrain loss is truly lost to the black hole that is unrecorded power.

But OLH beckoned, so off I went.

At the start, I failed to recognize most of others. Stefano from Low-Key was there, as was Chris. Both were clearly stronger than me: I've been closer to Chris than to Stefano, but certainly not now. Stefano had a teammate in a UC Santa Cruz jersey.

As we rolled, Stefano told me he'd been training for duathlon world championships in Switzerland, although now he'd not be able to go. Still it was clear he'd be fast. I was shocked when he told me he'd never before climbed Old La Honda. Experience on the climb, like virtually any climb, counts for a lot. I was interested what sort of time he'd do.

Unlike in previous Wednesday Nooners this year, I didn't feel compelled to take any pulls prior to the base of the climb. The pace was decent but not challenging: probably ideal for doing a decent climb. I turned onto Old La Honda toward the front, in good position. And then the explosion occurred.

Stefano's Santa Cruz teammate took off in a full sprint, Stefano and Chris in tow. Behind there was a wake of destruction, riders trying to follow. I simply shook my head. No way... simply no way.

I was basically solo from here. I looked down at my Garmin twice in the opening 500 meters: first I saw 290 watts, then 310. The third time I looked at the average power: 262. 262??? How was that possible. This was an extreme example of sampling bias: I tend to look at my power when I'm producing relatively more of it. I made an effort not to increase my harder efforts, but to spend less time slacking.... not that I recalled slacking, but the average didn't lie.

Tracking average is a dangerous thing. It's very easy to over-correct. Average's too low, so go hard until it's back where you want it, but in so doing you've dug yourself into the red zone, and then it fades again. I didn't want to make that mistake.

But I sort of did. The average quickly rose to 268... 270... 272. And then it stopped... then reversed. 271 ... 270 ... (ouch!) 269. By this point I'd hit 5 minutes to go, when I knew I'd get the end-game boost, unless I'd totally fried myself. Sure enough... 270... 271.

Toward the finish, I had Stefano's teammate in my sights, closing the gap. He'd done his job toward the bottom, and was on survival mode now. We finished fairly close.

My final numbers: 18:52.14, 271.48 watts. The more things change, the more they stay the same. All 4 OLH's in June-July have been within a 17 second, 6 watt window, with the last 3 within a 5 second, 3.3 watt window. I've been remarkably consistent.

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The accumulated average power plot is one I used to really like, and I still think it's useful. But the limitation is that just because your average power is below target, or even below the eventual average, doesn't mean you're not riding too hard. As an example, if I coast for the first 10 seconds, then go 10% over target for the next 90 seconds, I'm still at only 99% target power for those 100 seconds, yet I've obviously been riding at an unsustainable pace for the preceding minute and a half. The smoothed power will show this. On the other hand, smoothed power loses some of the big picture, making it hard to separate the trend from the short-duration fluctuations which naturally arise from variations in the slope.

I had a bit of goal creep on this sone.. I went in hoping I'd limited the fitness loss to a minute, but ended up, completely without justification, frustrated at my lack of ability to crack the 18:50 barrier:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Week @ Amalfi Coast

I went to Italy. It was fun. The espresso was good.

After connecting through Zurich airport, then over-nighting in Rome, we took the Trena Italia "Frescia Rossa", which stopped only at Naples en route to Salerno. From there we waited an hour for a close-to-one-hour bus to Amalfi, and from there waited another 20 minutes or so for a bus to Praiano, our destination. The more typically recommended route would have probably been faster: the Frescia Rossa to Naples, then transfer to a local train to Sorrento, then a one-hour bus to Praiano. But better still would have been a ferry from Naples to Positano, and a much shorter bus segment from there to Praiano, although this may have involved more hauling of bike boxes.

I had my Ritchey Breakaway and Cara my old Bike Friday Pocket Rocket, which I stopped using much in 2008 when I got the Ritchey. The Pocket Rocket is still a better choice on really short trips where the longer assembly-disassembly time of the Ritchey, along with the increased bulk of its case, is harder to justify. But in 2008 I took up running, so on shorter trips, I have the option of running for my exercise instead of cycling. So the Pocket Rocket has been neglected.

Praiano is one of the quieter towns on the Amalfi Coast, mid-way between Positano and the town of Amalfi. It really was a wonderful time staying there, although the hiking is better than the riding. The coastal road, while attracting plenty of riders, is too busy for its two narrow lanes, not so bad if it only served local car traffic, but the full-size tour buses are too common, making the many blind corners on the roadway a stressful experience.

Better are the steep roads which extend up the mountain side. I rode local Praiano Roads, some roads above Positano to Nocelle, and the climb to Ravello. Each of these offered spectacular views and were remarkably free of the tourists who seem to restrict their flocking to the direct coast. And there was nothing subtle about these roads: 15% grades were commin, although the 20-30% grades which are often found in San Francisco weren't observed. So these roads had a lot of attraction. But still, car traffic was heavier than I would have liked.

One positive was the drivers there are much more willing to accomodate cyclists than U.S. drivers, even those of San Francisco where cyclists are so ubiquitous. It's a fundamental cultural issue. That said, passing distances were typically less: there simply wasn't room for the more than one meter buffer which is typically recommended and often mandated. But speed kills, and drivers passing which such small margins were typically going relatively slowly. Still, constant alertness was mandatory. I tend to assume if I'm on the right side of my lane I don't need to worry about what's ahead of me. There it was common for oncoming passing vehicles to be on a head-on-collision for anything short of riding in the right-hand-gutter. In one case, I had to slow to allow an oncoming sports car, speeding past a line of vehicular traffic, room to get back into its lane ahead of the leading car. In another case, I went around a blind corner with a brief "honk" my only warning of an oncoming tour bus taking the entire road, including my lane. But unfamiliarity breeds an overestimation of risk, and with no shortage of local riders, I saw no evidence of carnage.

Better than the riding was the hiking. The towns have an incredible network of paved walking lanes. Beyond the town boundaries, paved lanes give way to trails in various states of repair, from paved (the trail from Praiano to Convento San Domingo) to overgrown and rugged (the path from Praiano to Santa Elia). I was amazed at the evidently light use some of these trails experienced: given the enormous tourist traffic as well as the availability of bus service between towns, I'd have expected them to be crowded, and never over-grown.

We spent two days elsewhere. One was on Capris, an island perhaps better known for its super-expensive shopping options than anything else. For me this was an opportunity for more hiking, starting (with Cara) up the Phoenecian Steps, at one time the primary route from Capris (the lower city) to Anacapris (the upper city). From here, Cara took the ski lift to the summit of Monte Solaro, while I ran/walked the trail, mostly walking upward due to the steepness and the roughness of the trail, but then running most of the way down. Another day was spent at Pompeii. That was a tiring day due to the heat and the lack of shade, Given the conditions one unfortunate day in August 79 AD, however, I wasn't complaining. Pompeii simply amazed me: the sense of history there is overwhelming.

Just when I was fully adapted to Central European Time, though, it was time to fly back home to San Francisco. At Cara's preference we took a car over the hill directly to Pompeii, then after around 4 hours there, a remarkably seemless series of connections via the local train to Naples and from there the Frescia Rossa to Rome.

The train was a remarkable experience. The local train was on narrow-gauge tracks. The Pompeii platform was exceptionally short, with the eastbound and westbound sides offset. I expected a short consist, but it was full-length, and thus only two cars opened at the stop. There were full-local trains, "direct" trains with limited stops, and "directissimo", with even fewer stops. We lucked out and arrived within 10 minutes of the next scheduled directissimo. It made excellent time to Naples. There we walked maybe 500 meters from the Girabaldi station to the Centrale, where we bought our tickets 7 minutes before the departure of our Frescia Rossa to Rome. That train is truly impressive, with video displays, when they're not showing ads (most of the time), would occasionally display the speed and position of the train. I saw 300 kph peak, but more often it was in the 260 kph train. The ride was super-smooth. Unfortunately, some of the considerable time gained by the high peak speed was lost when the train would slow to a crawl for no obvious reason. Those with expectations honed by the trains of Japan, Switzerland, or Germany might have found this frustrating, but my expectations are established by Caltrain, where slow-downs and schedule delays are common. In any case, the train was such a pleasure that I was disappointed to finally arrive in Rome, the area near the station rather unsavory, even predatory: I managed to deter one apparent pick-pocket attempt, for example.

It was way too soon, although the 8 days we spent there were very worthwhile. I love Italy.

Postscript: after arriving home, inspired by having adapted as a staple of my diet there, fresh mozzerella (in particular "mozzeralla buffala") soaking in brine, I purchased a nominal similar thing at the local market. It was, in comparison, a tasteless prop, something to be consumed mindlessly and typically in excess. The Italian version, in striking contrast, is an explosion of fresh flavor with each bite. People tend to think of travel food as eating in excellent restaurants, but to me there's nothing better than eating truly fresh, local food.

Some random photos:

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And a selection of prominent Strava activities:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Highest rated climbs in Low-Key History

In this Coordinator's Choice era of Low-Key Hillclimbs the balance of the schedule is left more to chance than to any grand plan. In this case, a few late-game changes in venue resulted in a schedule which is rather heavy at the top end. And as far as I'm concerned, that's fine: it's good to mix things up.

One of these is week 6's Hicks Mt Umunhum. We've done this climb before. The first time was in 1996 when we started well ahead of the creek marking the steep climb of Hicks, then climbed up to the gate on what was then known, at least according to Peterson and Kluge, as Loma Almaden Road. I think now, however, a more common name is Mount Umunhum Road. In any case, we returned in 2008, starting at the base of the Hicks climb, ending again at the gate. Thanks to the excellent work by coordinator Will Van Kaenel, however, this year we go beyond the gate to the white line marking the beginning of what may be the beginning of private property. Honestly, though, nobody seems to be definitively sure on that matter.

The extra distance between the gate and the white line takes what was already a challenging climb and makes it even better. Indeed, it becomes the hardest-rated climb, using the Low-Key rating system, in Low-Key history, beyond even the Welch Creek, the various flavors of Bohlman, and Mix Canyon Road:

Here's the ranking:


rankclimbrating
1Hicks - Mt Umunhum (white line)248.714
2Bohlman - On Orbit247.289
3Mix Canyon Road244.349
4Alba Road235.148
5Mount Diablo (N)233.151
6Bohlman-Norton-Kittridge-Quickert-On Orbit-Bohlman229.21
7Kennedy Trail221.107
8Welch Creek Road213.101
9Soda Springs Road211.57
10Hicks - Mt Umunhum211.141
11Mt Hamilton Road209.403
12Mount Diablo (S)209.14
13Mt Hamilton206.548
14Quimby Road199.764
15Montara Mountain from Grant Ranch197.544
16Montevina + dirt195.796
17Sierra Road187.81
18Black Road + Skyline to Castle Rock171.1
19Marin Ave154.964
20Montebello Road152.868
21Bonny Doon - Pine Flat Rd.151.985
22Montebello150.449
23Jamison Creek Road149.501
24Montevina Road149.33
25Highway 9146.967

It's interesting, because while the climbs is certainly steep, it's never in the super-steep zone above 20%, or even 18%. Where it wins is on a combination of sustained grade and altitude gained: 657 meters or 2158 feet. There's not many climbs in the Bay area which push beyond the 2000 foot mark, and none of them spend that much time over 10%.

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For comparison, here's Mix Canyon Road. It's a brutal finish but the start is relatively gradual.

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