Wednesday, October 26, 2011
What To Measure?
I got out of the canyon and realized that even down here the weather had turned colder and the wind had picked up substantially. It was now a strong wind from dead north and quite cutting and cold. I had no way to measure the wind speed, but it felt like 20 mph and was slowing me down noticeably. Unfortunately, my whole ride back home was going to be spent struggling against this wind and I looked up to visually measure the last hill of the day. 3.99 miles and 1058 feet of ascent and all pushing this wind. I decided to keep my rain jacket on and the cap under my helmet too and only stop and take them off before I started the climb proper.
Right before turning right and heading straight north against the bitter wind, and straight up the climb, I stopped and took an hour of paid time off from work. Thank goodness for windows phones. I had taken another visual measure of the hill and a physical measure of the wind, felt the cold and the fatigue in my legs and shoulders and lower back and realized that I was probably going to be getting home later than planned, and probably wouldn't be at work on time either.
Without the jacket and the cap, the wind was biting even harder, cutting through my arm warmers and jersey, evaporating the sweat that was there and taking things to another level of cold. It looked like the sun had about an hour's life left, but it was hard to tell with the slate grey sky that gets that way from just bringing a rub of storm clouds down close to the ground. I wondered if I was in store for more rain, and the wind had already dried me out and thoroughly cooled me down.
Once heading straight north and up, the bitter wind intensified. It was no longer pushing me back and slowing me down, it was now fighting me, howling in mockery and bitterly cold. It was pushing so hard against my efforts that I couldn't hold the bike in a straight line and I hoped I wouldn't stray into an overtaking side-view mirror. It wasn't steady either, instead gusting frequently like punches, as if rushing down this hill made it want to frolic and play even more. I used every gear I had and wished I had another as I ground my way up the hill fighting gravity and the force of nature.
It takes a bit of time to go 3.99 miles at around 4.5 mph, so I had plenty of time to think. As I watched my cadence, I was amazed at how few revolutions per minute I could actually eek out without tipping over. It felt like with only one or two more percent of grade, the pedal strokes would stop and I would be laying on the ground wondering if I had scratched anything on my bike. There's only a few songs that echo around in my head when I ride, and since I only know a few verses and parts of the chorus, its a pretty monotonous concert to myself. Fortunately the message is always a good one.
When you're going up a hill and the wind is whipping down, it gets accelerated along smartly by the road cuts, ravines and any other funneling device it can find in order to conspire against you. I settled in to the uncomfortable grind and pushed and pushed and pushed. I could feel the lactic acid building up in my legs, in spite of my slow cadence. Sweat was dripping off my nose and chin, and I was amazed by that in the cold and wind. This was hard work. And cold.
I remember this climb well. I've been up the front and back side of this hill many times. The back side is easier - 1.01 fewer miles and 450 less feet of ascent. I like the back side a lot better, except when I don't. And, today I don't. It feels twice as long and twice as steep as normal with the bitter wind conspiring with my enemy gravity. My legs are hurting. I'm wondering why I go on rides like this. Why do I need to tackle 4580 feet of ascent, especially on a day that is this cold and windy? I spit and realize I can't feel my lips any more.
I remember climbing this hill on the old bike and I am grateful that today I'm on the new(er) bike. Gearing is my friend, and while it hurts going up this hill no matter what bike I'm on, somehow the hurting is a little more sufferable on this bike. My last ride on the old bike, there was only 1050 feet of elevation gain and nothing over a 6% average grade, and that was hard enough. The old bike is an old bike. The frameset is from 1995 and all of the components are the Dura-Ace 7400/7402/7403/7410 series from the late 80's early 90's. The old bike is 100% alloy and "heavy" at 20 lbs. The old bike has a standard crank and a 12/23 HG90 cassette. It is hard for me to pedal the old bike up hills.
I love the old bike. From a distance of three feet, it looks almost brand new. Closer and you can spot the use. I call it my museum piece - my tribute to Shimano Dura-Ace and William "Bill" Lewis of the Quattro Assi brand. For some, it IS about the bike, and for those kinds of cyclists, there is a level of appreciation bordering on awe when they admire this bike. I can't ride it around other cyclists without receiving compliments and it is a pleasure to have it out on a ride. The precision and crispness is amazing and it feels like a brand new machine.
The last time I rode the old bike the computer stopped working. It still measures cadence, but the battery in the other sensor died and I finished the last half of my ride without data. That bothered me. Then I wondered if I should just take the computer off the old bike and when I ride it, just ride it for the simple and plain enjoyment of riding? What do I really need data for anyway? What am I really trying to measure on the old bike?
Do I really need to know that I put 2,859 miles on the old bike this year? Does that matter? Do I really need to know that my all time top speed on a seventeen year old bike with tires less than an inch wide is just a tick over 57 mph? Does that matter? What am I really trying to measure on the old bike? Can my computer tell me if I'm improving as a cyclist? Does that data mean more than my wife telling me that my legs are looking really good. I love my wife. That's good feedback! Can a computer measure how hard it was the first time I rode up a false flat and had to use the small ring and the 25 tooth cog? Can a computer remember that I couldn't even walk up three steps from the garage to the kitchen without taking a breather when I got out of the hospital right before Thanksgiving two years ago? Can a computer measure the cramp in my leg bicep I got while doing that?
What am I trying to accomplish on the old bike and does a computer help me do that? Is it measureable? Is a computer going to give me an extra minute or two, an extra week or two, or an extra year or two on my lifespan? My baby is eleven months old and when he's 21, I'll be 70. My bike will help me get there, but can a computer measure that on my old bike? Can it measure the feelings or sensations of a great ride? Or a hard ride? Or skipping a ride?
Is riding the old bike about miles, time, average speed, current or average cadence? Does it make the ride on the old bike any more enjoyable, or painful, or prettier or anything when I know that data? And how about the new(er) bike? Has knowing that I've ridden the new bike 2,028 miles since I built it (thanks Laketown Bicycles) this spring make those miles any better than they would have been without knowing them?
I've spent 136 hours riding the new bike around this season, up and down hills, against and with headwinds, around the city, in the country, up and down the canyons, and even in the ball field parking lot doing sprints near my house when I'm real short on time. I've spent 191 hours riding the old bike doing the same thing. That's 327 hours this year riding my bikes. That's 13.625 days worth of time. Almost two weeks. Is a computer going to make that two weeks even better? Any better? Is a computer going to make sure that I get that investment back on the tail end of my lifespan?
No wonder my wife asks me "how long are you going to ride this time?" every time I go out. I love my wife. Does she have a computer that is measuring whether or not the time away from her and the family is going to be worth the time away from her and the family? Can a computer measure that? Is that two weeks so far this year going to mean an extra two weeks when we are growing old together? Or an extra two years of growing old together? Or a decade?
As I top the hill in the windy cold, dripping with sweat, greatful that I'm on the new bike and not the old bike, and stop to put back on my cap and rain jacket, I decide that I'm going to take the computer off the old bike. It doesn't really "fit" on the old bike. It doesn't really measure what's important on the old bike. I'm going to keep it though, just in case I decide later that I want to put it back on after I buy a new battery for the sensor. But, I'm going to take it off the old bike. I have decided that the things that are important when I am riding the old bike, the computer can't really measure anyway.
I notice that at the top of this hill, it seems less windy than it was coming up this brutal hill. And, once I'm ready to go and glide down the 1508 feet over the next five miles of descent, I realize that the wind, while still blowing pretty good, might be calm enough to really reach some good speed on the way down. Yes, I'm definitely going to take the computer off the old bike I decide as I clip in and quickly shift down the cassette to the 11 tooth cog.
Five miles go by pretty quick at over 40 mph. The descent is over much too soon, the gusty wind and bitter cold and steady rain long and quickly forgotten. With a numb face and salty tear streaked eyes and cheeks at the stoplight at the bottom of the hill, I quickly scroll through the computer on my new bike as I wait in line with traffic for the light to change for my left turn to head home. Six miles to go and 47.54 mph on the way down. Somehow knowing that has suddenly made this descent, these hills and climbs and other descents on this 58 mile ride seem just a little bit better, a little more special. I scroll through again. 47.54 mph with a headwind and traffic.
When I get home and put the new bike in it's stand in my office, I look over at the old bike hanging from the ceiling. I look at the computer that is still on the old bike and pop of the head unit. I scroll through the data - look at the measurements - remember my last ride on the old bike. I put the head unit back on and remember that I decided, while grinding my way up that last hill against a killer headwind with sweat dripping and with my thighs screaming mercy, that I am going to take it off the old bike. And, I am going to take it off the old bike. I am.
Posted by Steve Wilson