Wednesday, 26 August 2009


It has been a very, very long week.

And it is feeling even longer as I sit here typing away using only the fingers on my left hand.

But I am here typing so that is huge.

Last Wednesday morning I had an accident courtesy of a lady opening her car door into the bike lane on Grey Street on Brisbane Southbank.

Why didn't I give the car more room so that the opening of a car door would have still missed me. Well, there was the not insignificant issue of a second car beside me in the normal car lane.

Doing 35 kph or so at the front of a group of 5 in single file, I hit the point of her door with my left shoulder resulting in a wound down to the muscle.

The impact of the collision catapulted me against the front fender and wheel of the car to my right and in turn onto the road.

An ambulance ride later had me at the emergency department of the Royal Brisbane Hospital and over the coarse of the next 12 hours in Emergency I was x-rayed, stitched, poked, prodded and x-rayed some more.

Result - 4 ribs broken in 6 places, broken shoulder blade and broken vertebrae. I also managed a punctured lung, be it a minor puncture as far as punctures go.

Several days in Hospital followed and I assure you, being a guest of Queensland Health is an interesting experience of fluctuating emotions. But more on that another time.

The major initial concern was the break in the vertebrae. It was some 24 hours before it was officially confirmed as a stable break and I was allowed to move from being flat on my back. In fact, I still had my cycling shorts on all this time (less the bibs which had been cut off along with the jersey and base layer). I say officially because I had been cleared 12 hours before it was deemed official it is just the necessary piece if paper signed by the specialist could not be located.

Let me assure you, much morphine is needed when you are confined to being flat on your back for over 24 hours while also having a break in your shoulder blade. And with nothing to eat and only a wet piece of paper towel allowed to moisten the lips.

The next concern was the threat of infection of the collapsed lung. There was fluid on the lung and it had to be cleared before I could be considered for discharge. They were suggesting this would take 5 or so days.

Fortunately, the exercises for clearing the lungs were similar to those required post heart surgery and with a concentrated effort, I managed to clear the lungs inside 24 hours and was allowed to go.

It is tough and the constant pain from the shoulder (in particular) and the ribs is very wearing. Sleep is close to impossible.

I am lucky as it could have been much worse. I am not lucky in that the incident should never have happened and the chances of the door opening half a metre in front of me when a car was beside me must be very high indeed.

Also, I must mention Laser Helmets. This helmet is exceptional and proves yet again that we should never economise on our protective gear. What I think separates the Laser from the pack is the fit system which really means it is always properly on your head.

The bike looks like being a write off so I have the fun of selecting a new bike to look forward too.

One thing that has indeed been moving is the support and contact from the cycling community, be it the calls from the Hamilton Wheelers Club Secretary or SMS messages from people I hardly know.

For now, focus is on mending the bones and hoping as each day passes the pain eases a little. It is also to hope that I don't lose all my fitness before I can again climb aboard a bike and go cycling.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Time Trials? Guily

Driving back from Closeburn today, I found my mind wandering back to September 1982 and a game of hockey I played.

It was the State League Grand Final and my club Kew, was up against Yarra Valley for the title.

A game of hockey goes for 70 minutes and at the end of time, scores were level meaning extra time was called for to achieve a result.

After several periods of extra time for a combined game total of 105 minutes, scores were still level and a stroke off was required. (Hockey's version of a soccer's penalty shoot out)

After the mandatory best of five strokes it was 3 all and we moved to sudden death. The deadlock was finally broken at 17 to 16 and unfortunately we lost.

I am a midfield player and played all but about 7 minutes of the final. I also took 5 of the strokes, (successfully). This day represented what I have always considered my toughest physical sporting challenge.

However, today, I have matched if not exceeded this day in 1982.
Today was the Hamilton Pine Rivers Wheelers Time Trail Club Championships, and my first ever time trial. May as well have a go I thought. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Time Trials are tough. It is a test of a cyclist against the clock with lowest time winning.

Sure, you go as hard or as easy as you want. What you do on the road impacts no one else other than you. It is unlike any other cycling event.

I do not have any time trial equipment. I have no fancy aerodynamic wheels, bars, helmet or clothing. I just have me and my old bike.

I also had a plan.

The TT course is an out and back layout totalling 33.5 kilometres. It is conducted on dead, largely rough roads starting at Closeburn just outside Brisbane to the north.

My plan was to ride to the half way or turn around point keeping my cadence at around 95 but without spending all my matches while also being attentive to my heart rate (boring restrictions and all).

At the half way mark, I was to flick the bike computer to show average speed and then achieve incremental increases in the average speed on the way home.

And that is what I did (basically). Average speed at the turning point was 32.7 kph.

It had occurred to me on the way out there was more road going up than down i.e. in nett terms we gained elevation. We also were at times seemingly going into a head wind be it not a strong one. Therefore, the run home should make for more speed.

So things were looking good.

I progressively built my average speed up and reached a high of 35.2 kph with the last two uphill sections to go. And Bang - I suddenly just had about nothing left.

On the first of the last two rises I was out of the saddle very early and eventually dropped back to the 39 chain ring. In the saddle, out of the saddle, up a gear, down a gear, concentrate of pedal stroke, relax but it was still a struggle, suddenly.

A funny thing about average speed; it goes down way quicker than it goes up. Half way up the last rise the average was back to 33.0 kph and I flicked the computer on to distance to avoid the depression. (And then stupidly did not check the average speed until into my warm down).

My time was a few seconds over 1 hour 1 minute.

Happy? I guess. I managed third in my category however to put that in perspective, the second place getter finished in 56 minutes and some seconds so it was not at all close. (but he did have a full Time Trial rig plus helmet etc).

I also learnt a great deal.

Firstly, when training or simply out for ride, if it starts to hurt or get hard, you just back off a little. In a Time Trial you do not do this. You push through because it is a race and it hurts and keeps hurting but you feel compelled to keep pushing and keep hurting. I don't think I have ever been muscle sore straight after a race before. It felt like the next day usually feels when you go running and have done no running for ages. And it felt like this straight away and still does now.

But how do you train for this. I doubt if I have ever ridden as hard as I can for 60 minutes. Is this what needs to be done in training to prepare for time trials?

Secondly, when do you drink during a time trial? Is it on the downhill when you are going full bore in top gear, on the uphill when you are going flat to maintain reasonable momentum or on the flats when you are working at full tilt? I realised at the half way mark that I had not taken a single mouthful of liquid. I did get through most of my bottle by the end of the race but it was perhaps a case of too much, too late.

And what do you eat? I foolishly put a Gu in my pocket. Like I was going to be able to have this during the race. I also took along 6 or so glucose jelly beans and resorted to some of these on the second last rise a few kilometres from the end.

Finally, I also realised my pre race preparation was anything but ideal. I actually had some meat for dinner last night. It is not only an extremely rare event for me to have red meat, it is almost unheard of the night before a sporting event. Perhaps the three or four of glasses of red wine last night were also not ideal. And maybe a little thought could have gone into breakfast. The usual weetbix could probably have been either substituted or enhanced.

However, I am hooked. TT's are a great event and I certainly want to do more of them and want to improve.

Which bring me to another matter. Fundamentally, I just ride. It is time I put a little planning and structure around what I am doing with my cycling? I think so.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Competing Parties

There is a battle raging between three parties. I am one of the parties but wear two hats so does that actually make it four parties?

The parties are:

1. The Cardiologist

Who will not give me the ok to race a higher grade. He apparently thinks I tend to be competitive and does not trust me to keep generally to my heart rate restrictions in a race situation. He is ok for me to exceed the limits for 10 or 15 seconds at a time but not for any extended period. Not sure where he has gleaned the idea I am competitive from, even if it is true.

2. The Handicapper

This is the person who determines what grade a cyclist should be contesting. He is of the opinion that I should be racing higher than I am.

3. Me (the cyclist)

I agree with the handicapper and also think I should be racing a higher grade. I also agree with his reasons and rationale. I think I am certainly fit enough and strong enough to race a higher level and do not think I will overly blow by heart rate limits in doing so.

4. Me (the patient)

It doesn’t really matter what I think because ultimately, to ignore the expert advice of my treating cardiologist would be stupid and foolish.

The Dilemma

I managed to win a race on Saturday. It is the first race I have won in 5 or so months While I have been regularly racing, I have been doing so in such a way to pretty much ensure I finish fourth. I have been soft pedaling at the end of races to ensure I meet the requirements of both the handicapper and the cardiologist.

Because it had been some time since my last win and because the event was at the more challenging Lakeside Motor Racing circuit, I decided to work hard during Saturdays race and to then have a crack at a win.

During the race, I set the pace or did the work on the front for perhaps 50 to 60% of the time. I am happy to do this partly for the workout effect and partly because I tend to think the others appreciate it. However the field split quite early on.

I went on to win reasonably comfortably and was rather thrilled when a number of very experienced cyclists congratulated me on the ride and commented that I deserved to win. I was pretty happy with myself.

Looking back though, I am not quite sure about it all.

I am racing at a level below where I think I should be, so of course I should win.

But I am also doing most of the pace making so surely that is effectively a self imposed handicap?

During the race, I was aware of many others competitors breathing very heavily, struggling for oxygen. Up until the last 200 or so metres I was not even slightly out of breath.

I set the pace but in doing so, destroyed the field or half of it anyway.

So, I am racing at a level below my capabilities, winning the money and ruining the race for most others.

I am not sure this is something I can be in any way happy with or can allow to continue.

Everyone going around in the lower grades of club racing is doing so for fun.

All racers have the right to believe they have a even shot at winning or at least being ‘thereabouts’ towards the end of a race. It is not their fault my cardiologist refuses to ok me racing higher. However, for me, simply following wheels would not be much fun at all.

There are three simple solutions:

1. Ignore the recommendations of the cardiologist and go up a grade anyway
2. Attain a level of fitness such that I can prove to my cardiologist I can race higher and within his required heart rate restrictions
3. Stop criterion racing and concentrate on time trials and road races.

The handicapper is a survivor of open heart surgery himself and is very supportive of my situation. However, he has a responsibility to all cyclists to have properly balanced fields.

The cardiologist is the expert and knows what I should and should not be doing. He is also a cyclist and former racer and has an understanding of the different grades of racing. His recommendations are therefore fully informed.

I enjoy the racing and the people involved in cycling and want to continue. I cannot however to totally oblivious to their enjoyment or right to a fair go.

It is a catch 22.

Although here is another solution. If I stop training, lose fitness and put on weight, I can attain the fitness required to justify to all racing at the level I am currently competing at.

I suggest however this would have other negative implications.

Better go; I have a training session to make up for having missed this morning.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Is it all about the bike

It seems to come in waves.

There is a lull for a month or two and then whamo, I get a rush of grief about my bike.

When are you upgrading?
Why are you still riding that old thing?
I see your riding your training bike today........
And from the bike shop, there are not many of these still going around.

However, I admit I am giving it some serious thought.

I have always said that I see no reason to upgrade until I get the impression or feeling that my current equipment is restricting me in some way - or it wears out.

Perhaps it is doing a little of both.

I booked a service with the bike shop last week. I was aware it was some time since my last chain change and felt my cassette might also have fulfilled its life. I also had an increasingly annoying "thump, thump, thump" going downhill under brakes.

Initial Outcome - new chain, new cassette, front wheel re-build and news that rear wheel has about 1000 k's before it also needs a re-build (or about a month)

Plus, 2 days later, new 39 chain ring.

This lead to discussion about the relative cost/benefit of re-building the wheels versus replacing the wheels.

I was surprised to learn what performance benefits I could obtain by purchasing new wheels rather than re-building the ones I have. And for a not much greater cost too. So I decided to do both. Re-build my wheels and keep them as a spare set and buy a new set that will be suitable also when I eventually upgrade the frame.

The wheel discussion then followed a logical progression and we were discussing frames.

My problem is that I simply do not like the aesthetics of sloping geometry and to the extent that I am not interested in hearing about any of the benefits such geometry has (or has not) to offer.

And right now, there are very, very few bikes available out there that do not have sloping geometry.

Yes, Pinnarello is an option but I don't like the look of their forks.

So, in the meantime I will stick with the frame I have, upgrade the wheels and wait for the fashion trend to change - and keep my eyes open for viable traditional frames in the market. And I do like the work of the Melbourne based Baum factory and the Colnago Master X-Light has always had a certain appeal. Shimano, Campag or SRAM to go with the frame. Lets wait and see.

In the meantime, I will continue working on improving the legs and the power to weight equation.