Monday, August 27, 2012

Lance: A Lot

So, what's my take on the whole Lance Armstrong thing?

For starters, a person can never prove that they haven't doped. Failing a drug test is proof that one has doped but passing a drug test is not proof that one hasn't doped. Proving a negative and whatnot. However, given the hundreds of drug tests that he has passed, and given that he hasn't failed any of them, I'm going to have to give Lance the benefit of the doubt on this one. He has stated unequivocally that he has not doped (no weasel words) and I have no reason to disbelieve him.

Some would argue that winning the Tour de France seven times is proof enough that he doped. I would argue people forget that Lance Armstrong is an extraordinarily gifted athlete. A professional triathlete at age 16. Won the world cycling championship at age 21. Etc. He's just a freak.

As for the allegations, whenever international conspiracies get mentioned, I start rolling my eyes. USADA alleges that, not only did Lance's teams conspire to dope but that the UCI itself, cycling's governing body, was part of the conspiracy to cover up the doping. Really? The same UCI that stripped Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador of their Tour victories? The same UCI whose President has a huge beef with Lance's team manager, Johan Bruyneel? Why would the UCI cover-up for Lance Armstrong?

Okay, so say I believed that Lance doped during his Tour victories. USADA also allege that he doped during his 2008-2011 comeback. Why would he do that? He was already a multi-multi-millionaire, his Livestrong organization was really ramping up, he already had his Tour victories, and he had to have known that the chances of another victory at the Tour de France were really slim (though he did take 3rd). Then there's the matter of being under a huge microscope because of his stature, age, and lingering suspicion of prior doping amongst some in the cycling world. Given all that, why would he risk it by doping? He had so little to gain and everything to lose by doping during his comeback. He'd have to be nuts to dope in that environment. Lance is not nuts.

Then there are the allegations that his blood tests while with Astana, all of which he passed, look like he used EPO precisely because they don't look like he took EPO and, besides, USADA has (presumably immunized) witnesses. Then why even bother with the drug tests?

My take, in a nutshell: Lance says he never doped, he passed all his doping tests, and USADA's allegations don't pass the smell test.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If the Bike Fits, Ride It

I have known that my old bike didn't fit me for a while. I had to raise the seat quite a bit to fit my long legs. The reach to the handlebars, which seemed a bit long already, was made worse by me having to lean down so much due to the high seat post, putting pressure on my hands. The bike's size was a compromise between my long legs and short torso but I knew that someday I could do better.

While the accident totaled my bike's frame, the components (except the wheels) seem okay. That has allowed me to spend the money that would replace the bike with just a frame and have the components transferred over to it. What kind of frame, though? First, I don't want to mess with carbon. Carbon broke on the last bike and I don't want to deal with it being so fussy with its care. Plus I read about carbon frames having a lifespan of just several years so I don't want to deal with the hassle. Aluminum? Yeah, I could but I have a bit more money to spend than that. Titanium? Now we're talking. Even if I get hit again, titanium is really rugged. It's as light as carbon, too. Reviews of titanium frames are always positive. Okay, titanium it is.

First off, though, I wanted to get a professional bike fit. Not a shop fit but by someone whose job it is to do bike fits. Get fit first, then get a frame based on that fit, then when the bike is assembled put the finishing touches on the fit while on the new bike. How does one shop for a bike fitter? I did it on the internet. I looked for a fitter that used Retül and was F.I.S.T.-certified. I was going to be getting a road bike but if I want to get a tri bike down the road, I'd like to go to the same place. Then, once I got a (short) list, I visited the fitters' websites and checked online reviews. The fitter I came up with was Jim Manton at FinalFit, down in Long Beach.

The fit was interesting. You start off on the Retül rig, which isn't a bike but you "ride" it like a bike. All parts of the rig are adjustable while you are riding, so your fitter can, say, move your seat up and down while you are pedaling. Oh, they also put motion capture dots down my right side. That allows them another view of my riding style. For instance, one of the things they measure is how much your knee moves from side-to-side while pedaling. It turns out mine only move a freakishly low 8mm, which is a good thing. At the beginning the focus was on seat position but I was anxious to get to the reach to the handlebars, which I knew was way off on the rig (like my bike). We did adjust the seat here and there and it did make a difference (I remember on one particular adjustment we could all hear me pedaling better). I ride 175 cranks and we even tried 177--too big; I was bouncing all over the place. Finally we got to the handlebars and I was so happy when we started moving them closer...and closer, and closer. We finally reached a point that felt great: I could lift my hands off the handlebars and not fall forward. Nice.

I was able to have Jim tweak the cleats on my Giro Trans road shoes. I had one nailed but couldn't seem to get the other one positioned right. Jim got it. Then he turned his attention to my Specialized Trivent Sport triathlon shoes, which I could never get adjusted right. Jim pointed out that the cleats on those shoes are positioned farther in than my Giros. He did his best but they still didn't feel as good as the Giros. Jim mentioned that Shimano shoes are even worse (for me) than that. Good thing Giro has started making triathlon shoes. Something to keep in mind for the future.

I should also mention that the fit wasn't simply about dialing in number on the rig. They evaluated things like my flexibility and I filled out a questionnaire and discussed the type of riding I do and goals I have. For instance, was I interested in bike racing or did I just want to cruise around the neighborhood? It would make no sense for me to get a bike frame with an aggressive geometry that was great for racing criteriums when I don't do that.

Two hours later, we had a position that we were happy with. End of part one. As Jim said, "Today we deal with centimeters. When you bring your bike in, we'll deal with millimeters." Now I had to order a bike frame and once that came in and was assembled, I would bring it in to get fitted on that. But what bike frame to order? Since I wanted titanium, the best place to go was also in Southern California: Adrenaline Bikes in Tustin. I had looked at their website and a couple of very good options in my price range caught my eye: the Sabbath and Carver frames. Looking at my fit measurements (long leg, short torso) and after having talked on the phone with them, Jim suggested that I go with Carver. They impressed him during their conversations and could build me a custom frame in my price range. Why would I not want a custom frame?

Two weeks later I made my way down to Adrenaline to place my order. I could have done it directly with Carver over the web but a) support your local bike shop when you can, b) going through Adrenaline wouldn't cost any more than going directly through Carver, c) easier to handle warranty issues with the LBS, and d) there are so many options when building a custom frame and I don't understand the pros and cons of most of them. The gang at Adrenaline were very helpful, patiently explaining each relevant option, and even recommending not adding options when they didn't make sense with other options. In the end, I ordered a fairly basic bike with curved seat stays. It will take 8-12 weeks to arrive (on a slow boat from Taiwan). Another post when that happens (late October, early November).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Accident

I call it "The Accident" because I hope there's no "The Next Accident" but we never know, do we?

On May 24, I was just a few miles into my weekly 28-mile ride home from work. It's a pretty good route, mostly bike lanes. There are a few sketchy parts where I wish the road was more bike-friendly but it's fine. I was at a two-way intersection with a car across the way (a Ford Escape, actually). Cross-traffic had cleared so I looked at the car to make eye-contact with the driver. However, I couldn't see him so I started to slowly pedal across. He didn't move so I assumed he saw me so I kept pedaling. Then he started moving...right at me. He was headed so at me and was so close that the only thing I could do is go "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" and hope that hitting me broadside was the best of my options.

So I get hit. It was a pretty slow speed hit (I'm guessing at most 20 mph) but it turns out your body does not like being hit by big hunks of metal at any speed. I was hit on my left leg. I remember flipping over my handlebars, maybe even the car's hood. I'm not sure what part of my body I landed on or on what I landed on but the large bump on my lower back suggested that I landed there. I don't know about you but the first thing that goes through my mind afterwards is, "OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! OUCH!" All my brain feels is pain. I knew my leg hurt but I didn't feel anything specific, just pain. The driver is apologizing to me but I can't say anything. All I can do is limp, trying to walk the pain off. After a few minutes I am able to ask that somebody move my bike out of the road.

Okay, time to take inventory. Leg hurts. Shoulder hurts near the collarbone. That might not be good. Felt the collarbone but couldn't feel anything broken. Notice that the tip of my right pinkie is in an unnatural position. Okay, that's either broken or dislocated. Hey, where did that blood on my jersey come from? Oh, my left thumb got scraped up, that's all.

I didn't call the police because, while I was injured, I figured urgent care would be enough for me. In L.A., you don't call the police out for every car accident. After exchanging information, including that of a witness, I ask the guy who hit me if he can take me back to work (I drive my car to work with the bike, then I ride home, then take the train back to work the next day (though I was toying with the idea of riding back to work this time)) so I could drive home. He did. If I had to be hit by someone, I was glad it was this guy. Apologetic and very helpful.

I was at my car and now comes the hard part: calling my girlfriend. She gets nervous about me riding my bike anyway and now I had to tell her that, not only did I have an accident, but that it was with a car rather than solo. It's nice to have someone at home that worries about me.

I drove myself home, changed clothes (didn't want anybody slicing through my cycling clothes), and drove to urgent care. They took x-rays of my left leg/ankle/knee, lower back (which was already spectacularly swollen by this point), right hand, and right shoulder. Nothing broken. The Doctor did smush my pinkie back into place (ouch) and splinted it up. Got a precription for big ibuprofen and a muscle relaxant (both of which came in handy at bedtime) and I went home.

This was the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend so I took Friday off, since I wouldn't be able to concentrate on my job anyway, and spent the weekend mostly on my back with my left foot elevated (my whole lower left leg was nicely swollen). When I went back to work on Tuesday, I was in sandals because my foot was so swollen. Stayed in sandals for the rest of the week (good thing this happened in spring). I was able to use a previous experience with leg swelling by getting on a (stationary) bike to help get rid of my leg swelling. Worked, too, but not right away. I had to wait a couple of weeks for my body to want to get rid of the swelling.

I did take my bike into the local bike shop to inquire about repairs. It was while I was unloading the bike from the car that I noticed one of the carbon seat stays was badly damaged. Nevermind that the wheels were pretty messed up, too, if a seat stay is broken, then the frame is toast. The wrench at the shop confirmed this. The components seem okay but I, at the very least, needed a new frame (weeks later, I noticed a pretty good dent in the aluminum top tube, too).

Followed up with an orthopedist, which eventually resulted in an MRI of my left knee, because he was afraid I had torn my ACL. The MRI showed no tearing, so I just stretched it pretty good. Found I had a sprained left ankle, too. Originally my left leg hurt so bad that I hadn't noticed the sprain. Funny. The pain in my left leg also blotted out the right IT-band pain I had been having. The doctor recommended I just have physical therapy.

I had been in irregular contact with the driver who hit me and once the bills started piling up (totaled bike and PT), he turned it over to his insurance company. That was great because his insurance company loved writing checks to get things cleared up.

Where I stand today is that this past weekend I went to a bike shop to order a new frame (more on this in another post). That will take a couple of months to show up. In the meantime I have started to ease into running. I am done with triathlons for the year, of course, so now the focus is on doing the Full Vineman a year from now. I am skipping doing a HIM between now and then but I do want to do a marathon in that time. My left knee feels a bit unstable, my left ankle gets better every day, as does my shoulder (albeit more slowly).

I have newfound empathy for any pedestrian or cyclist who is hit by a vehicle. I was lucky, in that my accident happened happened at a slow speed. It could have been much, much worse.