Tuesday, September 30, 2008

End of season

After TdH, I've managed to go bicycling only once, and it was too cold, less than 10° C, with a significant wind. My fingers, toes and scalp nearly froze off and it wasn't very much fun. The fun was also lessened because the battery of my bike computer ran out, and when I changed the battery, I set the wheel size wrong so it didn't work properly. I like to know my speed when riding.

It seems that the season is about over for me. The season total is about 1700 km, I don't know exactly because the battery ran out. Winter bicycling doesn't really appeal to me, I like to do my bicycling in a temperate environment, like a gentleman, preferably through Mid-European vineyards. If I had a longer commute from home to work, it would be a different matter entirely, as winter bicycling would be practical. But as the trip is slightly over one kilometer, I can travel by lying down with my face to the ground and wrinkling the skin of my forehead and it still doesn't take too long.

So, sports-wise, I have two major objectives for the inevitable, long, dreary winter:
1) practice running to keep in shape and, perhaps, prepare for a marathon next summer
2) look into purchasing a new bicycle for the next season.

I've ran to work a couple of times in the last few weeks, but have taken it relatively easy because there's been a pain in my left knee. It only appears after about 45 minutes of running, so it can't be worn out kneecaps, right? I'm hoping it's a (minor) strain injury and not a permanent injury, because, damn, I don't want to stop running. I like running nearly as much as I like bicycling.

As for the acquisition of a new bike, my financial situation is about to improve, so it might not be totally out of the question. An Olmo Dynamic Plus would be to my liking, or possibly a Bianchi... now, to rationalize this to my wife...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The cost of bicycling

As everybody knows, bicycling, and especially road bicycling, is an expensive and a shamelessly elitist sport. 400 € for just a friggin' saddle! Does it really matter if it weighs 100 or 200 grams? Can't I just compensate by being 100 grams lighter myself?

Anyway, I'd claim that it doesn't have to be. As an example, I'd like to catalogue the bicycle-related stuff that I've bought over the four years that I've claimed to be a bicyclist. (Three of which haven't been very active.)

First, there's the long-term investments. They include stuff that you can't really go in for bicycling without, like, well, the bicycle. And of course you need real bicycling clothes to be a real bicyclist. You don't want to be mistaken for a commuter. Then there are accessories and sports equipment. These investments should be good for a long time, from a couple of years to forever.

Bike & components:
1988 Peugeot Aravis 12 vitesses bicycle Free
SPD-SL pedals (Shimano) 55 €
SPD-SL shoes (Shimano) 95 €
Saddle (Selle Italia X0) 25 €

Cycling shorts (Newline) 50 €
Kraftwerk cycling jersey 45 €
Cycling jersey (Craft) 30 €
Arm & leg warmers (Campagnolo) 80 €
Cycling/running socks 11 €
Helmet (Lazer) 50 €
Cycling goggles (Biltema) 6 €

Beverage holder & drink bottles (3) 20 €
Tool bag (Biltema) 5 €
Bike computer (Pro) 30 €
Pump 22 €
Various tools 30 €
Heart rate monitor (Polar, bought from a flea market) 7 €
Lock 30 €
Backpack (Deuter, from a flea market) 6 €

Category total 591 €

The other category consists of consumables, stuff that you need to keep spending money on continuously (or every year). Here I've roughly estimated what the basic stuff costs in a season (from spring to autumn).

Spare parts & maintenance:
Tires (2) 40 €
Inner tubes (2) 16 €
Handlebar tape 3 €
Brake pads (2 pairs) 20 €
Maintenance (cheap bike shop) 60 €

Sports nutrition:
Sports drink 24 €
Recovery drink 26 €
Energy gels 40 €
Muesli bars 16 €

Other costs:
TdH entrance fee (incl. T-shirt) 30 €
Helsinki Cyclists membership fee (one year) 10 €
Transport by bus 17 €

Category total: 302 €

That's not too bad, eh? The long-term investments total to about 600 €. When divided by four years, the sum per year comes down to a measly 150 €. And the cost just keeps getting lower the longer the equipment is used. The yearly consumables cost no more than, say, yearly membership fees of a gym.

Ok, I got off cheap, because I got my bike for free, as a graduation gift. However, older bikes can be bought for a few hundred euros. You don't have to get a 3000 € carbon fibre racer to become a road cyclist. In fact, I wouldn't want one because there's nowhere I could store it. I don't have a garage, it would get stolen from the bike storage room of the apartment building and my wife won't let me bring the bike to the bedroom, for some reason unclear to me. I think it's better to have a reasonably priced bike, so you can ride it without having to worry about *gasp* scratching the paint all the time.

TdH pic

Here's a picture (courtesy of Jukka/HePo) of Yours Truly at Tour de Helsinki, after 108 km of riding and 32 km to go. I'm the one who's dressed as the flag of France.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Le Tour

My cycling season culminated yesterday in Tour de Helsinki. Man, what a great event! I had a vague aim of riding the 140 km route in less than five hours, which I achieved by doing it in four hours and 38 minutes.

It was certainly thrilling to ride in a huge group of cyclists. At first I was just looking around at others and enjoying the feeling, so much that I forgot to find the pacesetters of the 30 km/h group that I had planned to ride in. When the real "race" began after a 11 km stretch of riding at a limited speed, I realized that I was behind the 28 km/h group. I caught up with a faster group, which went at 30+ km/h speed, but I never found out if it was the official 30 km/h group or some other group.

Being a newbie, I'm sure my group riding skills were somewhat lacking, but I suppose I didn't cause too much dangerous situations either. I tried to ride straight and at a steady pace, and repeat the hand signs shown by the riders before me. Even though I didn't dare to ride very close to anybody, I was still able to draft enough that riding in a group felt very light. A little too light, even, as I often would have liked to go slightly faster in ascents.

I stopped to eat twice. I ate bananas, pickles, raisins and filled up on sports drink. I had my second pit stop because I had to urinate, but the group didn't stop, unlike I had assumed. Well, there was no time to think, I barely had time to brake and turn when the pit stop appeared behind a corner.

After the second stop I rode solo for about 20 km, until the next pit stop. Some guys left at the same time as I did, but apparently I was going too fast for them, as they were left behind. At times I saw a large group in the distance, but it was just impossible to catch it alone. However, it was exciting to ride alone for a change. I am a bit of a lone wolf kind of a guy, if you pardon the expression. The middle part of the trip had been kind of uneventful, just long stretches of riding steadily in the middle of a group.

I figured that at the final pit stop at 117 km, I'd find some company, and I was right. Four guys, some of which I'd already seen riding in the same group as me earlier, left the pit stop just as I passed it. They were going rather fast, at 35-40 km/h, I suppose, and it was perfect for me as I'd gotten into racing mode myself. I even pulled for a while. It felt good, like I did my part of the work, even though it wasn't nearly as much as the other guys did.

The last 20 km were great as we were riding at speeds I haven't before been capable of, in the middle of the road, as opposed to the side of the road or the cycle path. The road wasn't closed for cars, and there were quite a lot of them, but for once it felt that they were forced to consider the bicyclists.

I passed several cyclists on the last few kilometers. I'm glad that I started the race so lightly, as it was so much fun to go full throttle in the end. The last few corners were a bit dangerous, but I knew what to expect, as the route went directly beneath my balcony. Arriving to the finish at the prestigious velodrome felt ceremonious, the highlight of my humble cycling career so far. There were even a few dozen spectators applauding to the racers. It felt really nice. So did the compliments from an organizer at the finish line, who expressed his approval towards my Kraftwerk cycling jersey.

The whole event was just excellent. A few weak points here and there, but the organizers did a great job. A communal feeling was evident. I can barely wait for next year to do it again!

Distance: 142 km
Time: 4:38
Avg: 30.6 km/h

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Preparing for TdH

On Sunday I had a dress rehearsal for TdH, which is next Sunday. I rode the route counterclockwise about halfway through, then turned back and returned via Vanha Lahdentie. There were several other cyclists and groups of cyclists also riding the route, undoubtedly rehearsing for TdH as well. The countryside scenery in Sipoo is very nice indeed. Why haven't I ridden the route before? There were several harvesters on the road, behind one of which I was stuck for a while, going at about 20 km/h. The road was often littered with dirt, or possibly cow dung, but that should not matter too much, unless you happen to land in it face first.

My wife imposed a strict four hour time limit for my ride, which I exceeded by half an hour. I might as well have ridden the whole route through, as the trip would have been only 15 km longer, but I didn't want to risk getting yelled at too much. Note to self: learn to negotiate looser schedules with the wife.

The wind was blowing from the north, which was okay, because returning back south was light, even though going north was ridiculously hard at times. The weather wasn't too warm either and some kind of a wind resistant vest or jacket would have been appropriate. When I stopped to eat twice, I got really cold in just a couple of minutes of standing still. Note to self: check out if you can find a windproof jacket at a budget price before next Sunday.

I think I've learned the two essential lessons that must be learned when riding long distances:

a) don't ride faster than your resources allow

b) eat often enough.

If I can remember these things, everything should go well on TdH. I guess I'll aim for the 30 km/h group, because I seem to be able to go the distance at about 28 km/h solo, and they keep telling me that it's easier to ride in a group. Unless the weather conditions prove to be ridiculous, i.e. raining s**t and a force 10 gale, in which case I'll opt for the 28 km/h group. Exciting!

Distance: 124.6 km
Time: 4:18
Avg: 28.9 km/h