Saturday, July 30, 2011

Feed Zone Etiquette

So any bike race longer than 50 miles is going to have a feed zone in it.  This is an area where riders can pick up water bottles and throw away empty ones while racing.  This can lead to some dangerous situations, so here are a few rules to try to keep people from hurting themselves.  My wife, who is every bit as judgemental as I, is gracious enough to spend hours at a time driving to feed zones and waiting for me to ride by them.  She is quite adept at feeding me, and has contributed enough wisdom for me to produce 2 sets of rules: 1 for the feeders, and another for the cyclists.  I'll start with the cyclists.

Besides basic human decency, there's a reason for this:
The "volunteers" aren't doing this out of their love for racing.  There is often an organization that does this in order to raise funds for other sports teams, to which the race promoter makes a donation, or payment, or whatever.
This means that the people handing you bottles are members of a high school lacrosse team, or a bunch of soccer moms.  They are most likely doing this for the first time and are learning as they go.  If you make the experience unpleasant by yelling at them, they aren't going to want to do it again, and we'll all suffer a new crop of clueless rookies next time.  These people can't tell the difference between you and Lance Armstrong, so be nice to them, and they'll appreciate it.  Say "thank you" if you can breathe.  If you can't, say it to someone after the race.

Get to the right side of the road.
Feeding from the left is against the rules, and it's dangerous and stupid.  Throwing/catching bottles is also dangerous and stupid.  If you want a bottle, get as far right as you can without hitting anybody.

Slow down.
Especially if you aren't climbing already.  Missing a bottle at 25mph sucks for you, but it sucks a lot more for the 50 people behind you who have to dodge it.  Don't be the guy that caused the crash in the feed zone.  Plus if your first bottle ends up on asphalt, you have to slow down and try again anyway, or get nothing.

The ideal feedzone situation goes something like this:  You anticipate it, and get to the front of the group on the right side of the road.  You throw your existing bottles where they will be easily found, but won't hit anybody or anything (like my wife or her parked car, douchebag). Grab the first 1 or 2 (depending on what you need) bottles and get to the left side of the road as safely as possible.  I tend to hold the first bottle in my teeth while going for the second.  It's easier than trying to put it in the holder while watching where you're going.

Granted, this isn't how it's going to be every time, but if you REALLY want your feed, this is how it should be done.  Otherwise, you need to be ok with the possibility of missing it, and it will be nobody's fault but your own.

For the Feeders:
My wife has been to almost as many bike races as I have, and she's gotten to know the way that feedzones work.  There is always 1 person who thinks they're in charge, but they often have no clue what they're doing.  Here is what you need to know, and don't listen to the bossy idiot.

Right side only.
Again, it's the rule, and its unsafe any other way.

If it's cold outside, sometimes people don't want to stand in the middle of the road for hours waiting for riders to come by.  A cooler or a stack of bottles on the shoulder acts as a place holder.  Respect it.

Hold the bottle by the top nipple thing, and let it hang straight down.  This makes it easiest to grab, and least likely that you'll be holding onto it when they grab it.  This does make it easy to knock the bottle out of your hand and onto the ground, but if this happens, it's the cyclist's fault, not yours.

Stand Still.
Don't run.  Don't move.  Don't swing your arm and try to match speed with the cyclists.  Trying to get a bottle from a moving target is way harder than a stationary one.  Plus you're running and looking back at the cyclist, and not the other feeder you're about to slam into...

If you're neutral, say so.  If you aren't neutral, say the name of the team you're supporting:
Otherwise, I'm going to try to grab the bottle, you won't let go, it'll end up on the ground, and nobody will be happy.

I think that's it. 

Feedzones are hectic.  Riders anticipate them for as long as volunteers are sitting around waiting for the riders to show up.  The entire ordeal lasts only a few seconds, but has the potential to ruin somebody's race.  Just keep in mind that we're all doing this for fun, and that staying calm and being prepared are the best ways to promote success.  Freaking out is only going to make everything worse.

Monday, July 11, 2011


So I feel the need to explain how bottles should work. 

We aren't Pros.  We wish we were, but nobody is handing us bottles from a team car, so the small euro-style bottles aren't very useful, because you're going to run out of water.  The added weight of the slightly larger bottle is inconsequential.

There are 3 types of acceptable bottles:
The gold standard:
These are cheap, easy to find, have a wide opening at the top, and are completely interchangeable as far as the tops go.  They're the most popular bottles in the (american) bike racing scene for a reason.

Also acceptable are the Camelbak bottles:

 These are almost as good as the standard bottles, except that the nozzle is harder to clean, harder to operate, and it leaks.  It also seems to have a lower flow rate than the standard bottles.  These are also more expensive, which is a problem I'll discuss below.

My favorite bottle lately is the Specialized Purist:
 The nozzle is removeable and easier to clean, but the best part of these is that they're designed to not absorb flavors, odors, or mold.  They stay clean longer than any others.  The only downside is that they cost $10 each.  That isn't a lot of money in a world where a good wheelset can cost over $2k, but let me explain why this doesn't work.

When you go to a bike race that's longer than, say, 50 miles, you need to get more water during the race.  This is done in a feed zone (hey I should do a post on feed zone etiquette).  Anyway, when you get to a feed zone, you chuck your bottles, and pick up a full one from a generous volunteer, a teammate who has already dropped out, your wife, or your mom.  The thing is, you get whatever bottle you get, and you don't get your old one back at the end of the day.

At the end of the race, often you can sort through a big bin of used bottles and take a few home with you.  The honor policy here is that you don't take more than you threw away, but it stops there.  There is absolutely no guarantee that you get your own bottle back.  That means when I'm picking through the bin, I'm going to find the nicest/cleanest bottle I can, and be on my way.

If you want to buy the super cool $10 purist bottles, good for you.  But if you take them to a bike race and chuck them at a feed zone, chances are slim that you'll ever see them again.

Buying water bottles is like buying into communism.   You aren't buying a specific bottle as much as you're buying admission into the bottle system.  The best thing to do in this case is buy the cheapest bottles that will get the job done, and those are the gold standard.

A few other notes:
Clear is the only acceptable color.  Clear blue, clear grey, or clear whatever are also fine.  An opaque bottle makes it impossible to tell how much is left in it, and makes it really hard to see mold growing on the inside.  You should be washing your bottles with a brush after every use, but lapses happen, and should you leave an inch of perpetuem in the bottom of a bottle for a week, mold is going to be there when you get back.  You're going to want to see it so that you can scrub it out.

Small bottles are acceptable for short races and recovery drinks.  They aren't very useful in a road race if it's going to last longer than an hour or so.

I think that's it for now.  Please, keep buying those Purist bottles and discarding them at feed zones.  Just don't ask for yours back if you see me with it at the next race.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Nobody cares about cadence.

Nobody cares if you mash or spin, what matters is how fast you go. If one focuses on going as fast as they can (for the particular time interval involved), their cadence will figure itself out.

You should definately experiment and see what works best for you.  Just understand that what works best for you has nothing to do with anybody else.

In general, mashing will make your muscles work harder, while spinning will make your cardiovascular system (lungs/heart) work harder. You should be able to find a balance where both systems are working as hard as they can at a particular cadence for a particular effort.

Interesting (to me) anecdote: I live at altitude, in Denver, about a mile up.  I've found that when racing at sea level, my ideal cadence is higher than it is at home. This doesn't happen naturally, but with a little bit of conscious effort, I can eek out a little bit more power per effort by shifting down and spinning faster than I usually would. My explanation is that the higher oxygen content at sea level allows my cardiovascular system to do more work, and shifts that ideal cadence to a slightly higher number.   I admit that this might all be in my head, but I'm pretty sure there's some truth to it.

So don't talk about your cadence like there's some magic way that changing it is going to make you faster.  Don't tell me that I need to change mine.  Especially if I'm faster than you; I don't need your advice, you should be reading mine.  Train more, train harder, train as fast as you possibly can, at whatever cadence it takes.

That is all.