Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Hetchins Comes Home

My Hetchins! (Or what's left of it.) It is being held by its owner of 45 years standing in his magnificently-equipt workshop.

There is a thought experiment in philosophy that imagines a very old and famous ship named The Ship of Theseus. As the result of repairs over the years, The Ship of Theseus has had every single part replaced at one time or another. Is it still the same ship? That is the question I asked myself as I looked at my Hetchins fifty years after I had last seen it. I had sold the bike to Roger of the Modesto Roadmen in 1968. In 1972, Roger sold it to Mike, the man holding it in the picture above. Mike rode it extensively, way more than I would have, so that the Hetchins has already had a long and useful life. Mike is a real tinkerer, so was constantly swapping out parts; the TA cranks were replaced with Campagnolo cranks, the wheels were replaced and so on. And then there was the day that an inattentive driver ran a stop sign and hit Mike while he was riding the Hetchins and bent the frame. A local frame builder1 replaced the rear triangle and bottom bracket. It was perhaps at that time that Mike made other changes to the frame, getting rid of some brazed-on fittings, adding others, to allow the use of cantilever brakes, for example. What's left of my original Hetchins is the three main frame tubes, the fork, and most of the beautiful detail work on the frame, including the gorgeous lugs. But all things must pass, Mike acquired newer, more functional bikes, his cycling habits changed with age and increasing traffic, and soon what little remained of his well loved Hetchins sat in the attic, a source of guilt rather than joy. At the Modesto Roadmen reunion in 2016, Roger told me that Mike would be willing to give me the Hetchins back, if I wanted it. With so much going on in my life at the time, I declined, but the subject came up again a few weeks ago, and this time I accepted Mike's generous offer; I drove up to his home in Santa Rosa, and picked it up.

The Hetchins, Switzerland, 1967. Notice how little seatpost is showing. We rode them big, back in the day.

So what is the big deal about this Hetchins? Hetchins is one of the most prestigious of the steel frame custom bike brands made back in the 1960's. They are so prestigious that there is a market in counterfeit Hetchins. For me personally, my ride through Europe in the summer of 1967 was one of the transformative events of my life, so this particular Hetchins has great meaning to me. And yet, I never loved this bike. When Spense Wolf and I designed it, the plan was an "all purpose" bike that would work for long distance touring, but which would also work as a racing bike when I got home. This sounds like a very silly idea today, but back in 1967, most bikes were general purpose; the same Peugeot PX10 that I used for racing, I used for our week-long bike camping trips in the Sierras. However, I carried a lot more luggage that summer than I ever had before, and Alf Hetchins designed the bike to do that. This resulted in compromises that made it a rather poor racing bike. Also, to be perfectly honest, as prestigious a name as Hetchins is, there are aspects to that bike that probably should be characterized as "mistakes." There was so much going on during the two months I rode this bike in Europe, and the bike was so heavily loaded, I don't think there was any way I could have had an opinion about the bike one way or another, it worked fine. However, when I got back and started racing, I found its performance disappointing. A few weeks after returning, I competed in the 1967 Tour de Graceada on this bike, I attended the 1968 Great Western Bike Rally on this bike, I competed in a race or three on it in early 1968, but by the 1968 Mountain Loop in August, I had sold it to Roger and purchased a Bianchi Specialissima.


Me, racing the Hetchins, 1968

So what am I going to do with it? Good Question! When I decided to take the bike back, my plan was to build it up as a maintainable, rideable, Eroica-legal bike. Although it would be extensively cronenberged2, I would make it look as much like my old Hetchins as I could by using silver rather than black components, for example, and I would stay within the Eroica guidelines. My thought was that would free me up to restore my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima to be a period correct display bike without worrying about keeping it practical, and riding Eroica on the Hetchins which would be equipped with very low gears to help me deal with the heroic aspects of Eroica. That plan survived until the day after I brought the bike home. Mike and I talked extensively when I picked up the bike, and one minor comment he made during that long conversation was that "the Hetchins was kind of big for me." He then went on to say that the frame size is 24 inches, and he normally rode a 21 inch frame. I found that comment alarming as I, too, normally ride a 21 inch frame. I commented somewhat lamely that "yes, we rode them big back in the day" but made a mental note to carefully measure the frame when I got home. For comparison, I measured the bike I ride every day, my Surly Cross Check. To my alarm, the distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the top tube was an inch and a half longer than the same measurement on my Surly. If you look at photos I took of the bike while riding through Europe, you can see how little of the seatpost is showing, consistent with this measurement. That by itself is not a deal killer, it makes standing over the frame harder, but by lowering the seat, the bike should be rideable. The measurement that concerned me more was the distance between the seat and the handlebars. I find my Surly a bit too long in that dimension, so I was hoping the Hetchins was proportioned differently to make that distance no longer. Sadly, that was not the case; the distance between the center of the seat tube and the center of the head tube measured along the top tube is a full 3 inches longer on the Hetchins than on the Surly! If the Surly feels too long, how did I ever ride the Hetchins?
Hetchins Head Badge

Honestly, I have not decided what to do. Should I just hang it on the wall, a bit of memorabilia? Should I build it up for a member of my family who is larger than I? Should I sell it to a Hetchins lover? Would a Hetchins lover even want it, with its frame modifications, and would that be fair to Mike, who gave me the frame gratis? Is there any chance I could ride it after all? Three inches front to back is a lot, but maybe that can be corrected with the right handlebar stem. My original plan would have been very expensive, paying to have the frame professionally repainted (replacing the head badge which Mike gave me and the Hetchins decals) and outfitting it with high end components, and to do that without confirming the resulting bike would be rideable would be insanity, but perhaps a trial build makes sense. My son acquired a 1970s Centurion which he is not using, and to my eye, it looks like many of the components on that bike would be compatible with the Hetchins frame. Could I temporarily build up the Hetchins with parts from the Centurion so that I could see how rideable the resulting bike would be and to what extent I could modify the fit with changes to the stem, for example? So far, my time in California has been massively overbooked, and it doesn't look like that will change any time soon, especially with a second grandchild on the way, but maybe that won't last forever. For now, I think I should store this frame carefully and wait for things to play out. Mike will be disappointed, he was looking forward to seeing pictures of my build. Que Sera.



1) Kimo Tanaka, who is still building frames in Davis, California, under the name Innerlight Cycles.

2) I coined the term "cronenberged" to describe a bike modified to be very different from its original design. A Cronenberg is a highly modified human in the cartoon series "Rick and Morty", named after the director of a genre of horror movies that focus on human deformity, David Cronenberg.

Human Cronenberg
David Cronenberg













Thursday, March 29, 2018

Just In Time? Too Late?

The main results from Howden et al., the paper that inspired this blog post. Middle-aged participants who engaged in aerobic training improved VO2max and left ventricular end-diastolic volume, both markers for reduced incidence of heart disease, whereas participants who engaged in flexibility and strength training did not.

Between ages 21 and 56, my level of exercise was inadequate to non-existent. For a few years thereafter, I went from exercise plan to exercise plan trying to get something to stick, until age 61, when I finally restarted cycling on a regular basis, an exercise program which I have maintained fairly well for almost eight years. Thus, a link on Facebook to an article on BBC News with the title of "Middle-aged can reverse heart risk with exercise, study suggests" had its desired effect: it caught my eye and I clicked through and read the article. Reading the article left me concerned: "...the aerobic exercise regimen should be started before the age of 65 when the heart appears to retain 'plasticity' and the ability to remodel itself." Had I waited too long to restart exercising, or had I managed to just squeak under the wire? Could I really believe any of this anyway? As I have blogged here many times, when encountering an article in the popular press on a scientific study, it is important to go back to the original article from a professional, peer-reviewed journal to make sure that its results were accurately reported, and then to evaluate the study described therein to make sure its conclusions are adequately supported, and that I did. I read the original article and determined that it only investigated people between the ages of 51 and 55. The statement that starting exercise later is is less valuable is in the paper, but it is based on comparing the results in this paper to those in an earlier paper from the same team which investigated people between the ages of 68 and 74. In my discussion of these papers, I will first summarize the claims of the papers, discuss the papers critically, describing their limitations, and finally, I will summarize my "bottom line", what results from these two studies I personally find convincing. (The impatient, who are willing to trust my judgement, should feel free to skip to this Bottom Line.)

Summary


Howden et al.1 is the original paper which formed the basis for the article in BBC News. They ask the following question:
"Poor  fitness in middle age is a risk factor for heart failure, particularly heart failure with a preserved ejection fraction. The development of heart failure with a preserved ejection fraction is likely mediated through increased left ventricular (LV) stiffness, a consequence of sedentary aging. In a prospective, parallel group, randomized controlled trial, we examined the effect of 2 years of supervised high- intensity exercise training on LV stiffness."

Fujimoto et al.2 is the earlier paper from the same group. They ask, what is to my eye, a functionally equivalent question:
"Healthy but sedentary aging leads to cardiovascular stiffening, whereas life-long endurance training preserves left ventricular (LV) compliance. However, it is unknown whether exercise training started later in life can reverse the effects of sedentary behavior on the heart." 

The group that published these two papers is a cardiology group. I have no expertise in cardiology so cannot comment critically on this part of their work, I simply have to take the authors at their word. Given that, my understanding of what they are saying is that one form of heart failure is associated with a decrease in left ventricular end-diastolic volume or LVEDV. LVEDV decreases with age, but is higher in the elderly who have exercised their whole lives ("master athletes"). The question both papers are asking is, for one of those unfortunates who have not exercised, does exercise later in life reverse the decrease in LVEDV? The hope is that if exercise can increase LVEDV, this will result in a lower probability of the development of this one kind of heart failure and thus increase longevity.

In addition to LVEDV, the authors of both papers measured a number of other parameters. The one that caught my eye was VO2max, because VO2max is probably the most common biomarker for the beneficial effects of exercise on longevity, one that I have discussed quite often on this blog. The authors barely mentioned their results with VO2max, but I will devote significant attention to them.

The reason for considering Howden et al. and Fujimoto et al. together is the assumption that they did roughly equivalent studies on two age groups and got different results, thus the statement in the BBC News article that exercise after age 65 may be too late to reverse heart damage. There are, however, other differences between the papers that weaken this conclusion. A partial comparison of the two papers is in the next figure:


What we note is that the age groups studied is different and that for the younger age group, LVEDV increases significantly, whereas for the older age group, the difference is not statistically significant. We also note that Howden et al. had many more participants, which by itself will increase the statistical significance of their results, a fact I will discuss in the next section. Finally, we note that VO2max, the workhorse biomarker used in a large number of studies as a proxy for health benefits increased in both studies by similar amounts. (Not shown in the figure is that both increases are statistically significant, P=0.0001 for Howden et al. and P=0.001 for the smaller study reported in Fujimoto et al.)

Another difference between the two studies is that they used different exercise plans:

The first number in each column in the above is the number of rides of this kind done per month. The intensity of the ride is given in the column header. Thus, 15 @ 25 min in the Base Pace column means that 15 rides a month are done at Base Pace, where each ride is 25 minutes long. For Intervals, 3 @ 8 x (30 s "on" 90s "off") means that 3 times a month a ride is done consisting of 8 Intervals, where each interval consists of 30 seconds at Interval Pace followed by 90 seconds at Recovery Pace. Base Pace corresponds to the Heart Rate Zone (HR) 3 and 4 that I use on this blog. MSS corresponds to the boundary between HR 4 and HR 5. The "on" part of the intervals are done in HR 5c. Recovery Pace (ridden during the time between intervals and during a recovery ride done the day after intervals, not shown above) are done in Zones 1 and 2. These HRs are so high, I worry that I have misunderstood the authors, I would find it difficult or impossible to complete the workouts above if this is correct. That said, because of these concerns, I read this part of the papers carefully, and can find no other way to interpret what the authors are saying.

The exercise plan in Fujimoto et al. was one year long as compared to Howden et al. which was two years long, but Howden et al. collected results after ten months and all the benefits of exercise had accrued by then, so I only show the results of this first ten months. Fujimoto et al. described their exercise protocol very clearly, so that it was easy for me to put it into the figure above and I am relatively confident I correctly described it. In contrast, I found the description of the exercise plan in Howden et al. ambiguous and confusing, so I am less confident I have accurately described it.

As noted above, I am not a cardiologist so cannot comment on the protocols used in the two papers to measure cardiac parameters, but to my untrained eye, it seemed that the two papers used different protocols.

Finally, there are differences between the papers that concern parts of the studies not relevant to this blog post. Fujimoto et al. also compared active, age matched (elderly) participants, known as master athletes, to the healthy but sedentary participants in their study, and Howden et al. compared the effects of yoga plus strength training to that of the aerobic training. I am  ignoring these parts of the papers.

Critical Analysis 


The two sentences in Howden et al. that inspired the BBC News article are as follows:
"Epidemiological studies show that a measurement of  fitness in middle age is the strongest predictor of future heart failure. Moreover, in observational studies, the dose of exercise associated with reduced heart failure incidence is much higher than that associated with reduced mortality. However, if exercise is started too late in life (ie, after 65 years) in sedentary individuals, there is little effect on LV stiffness [reference to Fujimoto et al.]"

To my eye, both Howden et al. and Fujimoto et al. seem to be well executed studies and the narrow conclusions that the authors draw from their results seem justified. The focus of my critical analysis will thus focus on the comparison between the two papers, made in Howden et al., that is the basis for the assertion that exercise at age 65 and older to too late to protect against one kind of heart failure.

Before starting, note the narrowness of the assertion: the authors do not deny that exercise for those of us older than 65 can decrease mortality overall, but rather that it may be too late to reduce the incidence of one particular disease. In fact, the VO2max results reported in Fujimoto et al. actively affirm the value of exercise for us old folks. That said, is this narrow assertion supported by the results?

The first reservation comes from the fact that these are biomarker studies. What the authors care about is the effect of exercise on the incidence of one kind of heart failure. What the authors measure is LVEDV. How good is the evidence that reducing LVEDV in late middle age (51 to 55) will result in a reduction in heart failure? Note that just because low LVEDV is associated with heart failure does not demonstrate cause and effect. Howden et al. might, in fact, be in a position to test this hypothesis. If they were to follow the 61 participants in this study, the 28 who did yoga and strength training vs the 33 who did aerobic exercise, and if they found that the aerobic group had a lower incidence of heart failure, this would go a long way towards demonstrating the value of exercise in middle age, but of course that study has not (yet) been done. For now, we must accept uncertainty as the inevitable limitation that result from this being a biomarker study.

Even if we accept that the increase in LVEDV caused by exercise results in a reduction in heart failure, the assertion that age 65 is too late for this benefit is suspect. The basis for this assertion is that no improvement in LVEDV was seen in the older participants of Fujimoto et al., whereas improvement in LVEDV was seen in the relatively younger participants of Howden et al. The problem with this assertion is that there are other explanations for the differences observed between the two papers. Firstly, Holden et al. had many more participants than Fujimoto et al., 33 vs 9. Thus, Holden et al. had much more statistical power. There may have been an increase in LVEDV in the older patients in Fujimoto et al., that was hidden by statistical noise, that would have been seen had they looked at more patients. Secondly, if I am correct that the two papers used different techniques for measuring LVEDV, that could also explain the differences. Finally, and most relevant to this blog, the difference between the two papers could be due to different exercise protocols. A lot of the papers I cover here are about precisely that, which exercise protocol produces the the greatest benefit?

Because this is an exercise blog, I'd like to spend a bit more time on the exercise protocols, specifically, how intense they are. (The legend of the figure describing the exercise protocols contains a translation of the intensity scale used in these papers to the heart rate zones I use on this blog.) During the five years I have been writing this blog, I have found the translation of light, moderate, and vigorous exercise intensity recommendations of the medical community to something I can use problematic. That said, I have developed a consensus translation: Light = Heart Rate Zone 1, Moderate = Zone 2, and Vigorous = Zone 4. By that standard, almost all the recommended exercise in these papers would be classified as vigorous. At 5 to 6 hours a week of exercise, this would be more than twice the maximum amount of exercise recommended generally by the medical community. At that level of exercise, I am astonished at the 88% compliance reported.

Bottom Line


The report on Howden et al. in BBC News is overly sensational and in fact adds almost nothing to our understanding of the value of exercise at different ages. Some of this is because the article fails to explain the narrowness of the conclusions of the underlying scientific paper, that it applies to only one kind of heart failure, not overall longevity, and some of this is because of limitations of the paper itself weaken even this very narrow argument. There is extensive evidence in the literature in support of the value of exercise at all ages for increasing longevity, and in fact, when properly interpreted, even the claimed negative result pointed to in the BBC News article supports this conclusion. Thus, even at my ripe old age of 68, I should definitely keep riding.



    1) Howden et al: "Reversing the Cardiac Effects of Sedentary Aging in Middle Age—A Randomized Controlled Trial.
    Implications For Heart Failure Prevention." by Erin J. Howden, Satyam Sarma, Justin S. Lawley, Mildred Opondo, William Cornwell, Douglas Stoller, MD, Marcus A. Urey, Beverley Adams-Huet, and Benjamin D. Levine. Published in Circulation volume 137 [Epub ahead of print]. Year: 2018.
    2) Fujimoto et al: "Cardiovascular Effects of 1 Year of Progressive and Vigorous Exercise Training in Previously Sedentary Individuals Older Than 65 Years of Age" by Naoki Fujimoto, Anand Prasad, Jeffrey L. Hastings, Armin Arbab-Zadeh, Paul S. Bhella, Shigeki Shibata, Dean Palmer, and Benjamin D. Levine. Published in Circulation volume 122 page 1797. Year: 2010.

    Monday, March 12, 2018

    70 and Done?

    Log of my last seven months of cycling. I will comment on this record over the course of this post.

    I confess I have a Facebook addiction. The silver lining is that my compulsive reading of Facebook helps me keep up with some of my friends. My high school friend Paul (previously referred to as Peter* on this blog) doesn't have a Facebook account, but his wife Susan does. Thus, it was on Facebook that I found out about Paul's bicycle accident. I also read Susan's comment: "I told Paul his road riding days are over. He agrees." Of course I telephoned Paul to offer him my condolences, and he told me that this was not such a big deal, since he had already had planned to retire from cycling at age 70. Since Paul and I are roughly the same age, this is less than two years away for both of us. Is that a thing, off the bike at 70?

    Like Paul, I am also at a moment of truth, albeit a less acute one, and one based on physical fitness rather than safety. (I will return to the issue of safety at the end of the post.) As a result, I took Paul's remarks more seriously than I might have otherwise. My "moment" of truth (a moment that has lasted weeks) can be seen in the chart at the top of this post just by looking at the color of the "min/wk" column near the center of the chart. This color is based on the medical community's exercise recommendations. Weeks where I met the optimum recommendation of 300 minutes per week are are flagged in this column with a yellow background, those where I met the minimal recommendation of 150 minutes a week in green, and those where I didn't meet that minimum in white. My previous cycling routine had been devastated first by my wife's end of life care, then by her death, finally by the need to sell my house in Houston and move to California, with Hurricane Harvey making that difficult experience even worse. It was not until the week of 10/9/2017 that I was sufficiently moved into my new house in California that I could restart a cycling routine. For the next nine weeks, I managed to not only meet the optimal medical recommendation, but go well beyond them to a level of fitness that I hoped would easily prepare me for the Eroica California this spring and perhaps even riding with a local randonneuring club. And then, beginning the week of 12/11/2017, everything fell apart. What happened? In homage to the childrens' book series, I will describe it was A Series of Unfortunate Events.

    The first series of events, not unfortunate overall but which had an unfortunate effect on my cycling, was an uptick in my social life, a combination of out of town trips and visitors. During the nine weeks I was riding regularly, I found that cycling plus routine chores (cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning) consumed 100% of my energy and time, leaving no time to take care of anything else. Thus, when I had to prepare for two weeks of somewhat challenging travel, the only way I could do that was to abandon my cycling.  During the following weeks, much welcomed house guests, babysitting, and dealing with my wife's estate kept me from reestablishing my routine. After four weeks of that, a truly unfortunate event occurred. My granddaughter developed a respiratory syncytial virus infection, and as sometimes happens, it was severe enough to send her to the hospital for a week. During that week, between running errands for her parents and visiting her in the hospital, I had little time and no energy left for cycling. And then, of course, I caught her virus and I was sick as a dog. As I write this six weeks later, I am still coughing.

    When I first became ill, my symptoms were severe; I had a fever, muscle ache, and did nothing but rest in bed. After a few days, I got over the worst of my symptoms and felt like I had nothing worse than a bad cold. In response, I started riding again, albeit extremely easy 30 minute rides around my neighborhood. Despite being so easy, they turned out to be too much; the day after even those easy rides I found my symptoms reproducibly got worse. So, I stopped trying to ride altogether, and it was only two weeks later that I resumed easy rides. They seemed to go well, so I resumed my "medium" (Pace) rides, my standard 2 hour/23 mile ride. My son had been urging me to try yoga for some time, so I did yoga on one of my off days as well. This was a disaster! My illness got much worse, and I have completely stopped riding again until I am symptom free. This means I will have lost a great deal of fitness, and worse, gotten out of the routine that I had worked so hard to build, but I don't see that I have a choice.

    So what about Eroica California and randonneuring? Eroica California is another unfortunate event. As it happens, I had drastically underestimated the difficulty of this ride, even in its shortest, 40 mile incarnation. What alerted me to my error was some posts on a bulletin board I follow, the Classic and Vintage (C&V) group of the Bike Forums site. Eroica California, which is modelled after the original Eroica held in Italy, is a ride to celebrate "classic" bikes, which is defined as bicycles built before 1988 which lack indexed shifters, clipless pedals, and other modern abominations. What I hadn't realized is that Eroica also features extremely difficult rides with unusually steep climbs on dirt roads; Eroica is derived from the same root as the word heroic. This Bike Forms member was posting to C&V to ask about options for putting sufficiently low gears on a classic bike to be able to make it up those climbs. "How bad can they be?" I asked myself as read his post, so I went to the Eroica California website and got my answer: up to 12% grades on rutted, muddy roads - and that's on the shortest, easiest ride! This is almost certainly more than I can manage on any bicycle (mountain bike included), and is out of the question on my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima with its very limited low gear options. So a few weeks ago, I notified my fellow Modesto Roadmen that I would not be joining them on this ride.

    How about randonneuring? I think I understood randonneuring better than I did Eroica, and so to the extent randonneuring was an option in 2017, it remains one in 2018, which begs the question of how realistic an aspiration it was in 2017. I may be learning that there are limitations imposed by my age which might not present themselves immediately or in the most obvious ways. I love bicycling, but it does makes me tired. Some of that tiredness is immediate; once I do a bike ride, I find it difficult to do anything else for the rest of that day. Some of that tiredness reveals itself only over time. If I push my bike rides day after day, I am more likely to pick up a virus that can knock me out of cycling for weeks. It can also leave me so tired that I can't get anything else done even on those days I don't ride. So, we'll see. I am going to concentrate on finding a sustainable ride schedule that optimizes my ability to deal with my long, long ToDo list, and take it from there.

    In summary, I am not setting my 70th birthday as any kind of deadline. I plan to ride as much as I can both before and after that date. I expect the amount of riding I will be able to do each year will be less than the year before, but I make no hard rule about that either; what I find I can do, I will do. There is one other concern; my friend Paul is not giving up cycling because he can no longer manage it physically, but because he no longer feels safe on the road, and safety is a separate, very important consideration. I already feel less safe on the road than I did in my prime, and in response, I am much more careful. Thus, I need to be willing  to face reality when the decline of my faculties make it unsafe to continue road cycling. To know when that is, I will both have to watch myself as well as solicit the advice of friends and family to tell me if they think the time has come. So, should I not die of something else before then, the day will come when it is time for me to hang up the bike. But rather than try to guess in advance when that will be, I will wait for the signs that tell me when I have gotten there, whether I it be at age 69 or 99.



    * Originally, I used pseudonyms to refer to my friends on this blog, but as I had a chance to talk to them, I decided this was unnecessary and have switched to referring to them by their real names.

    Sunday, February 4, 2018

    Berkeley Wheelmen Newsletters

    The front page of one of the newsletters I edited. The newsletters varied between 8 and 12 pages. The pages were created by folding a standard 8½ x 11 sheet of paper in half. By photocopying on both sides, each sheet of paper yielded four pages. Photoreduction and other techniques were used to assemble each page. The photo the members received was of much lower quality than that above due to the primitive consumer-grade photocopying technology available at the time. I scanned the master page, used to create those photocopies, to create the image above. The artwork, some of it quite brilliant, was supplied by my roommate, Paul Rail, another UC Berkeley student who had no interest in bicycling or the Berkeley Wheelmen but provided the illustrations as a favor to me. Paul is a very gifted artist, I have some of his paintings hanging in my home.

    While unpacking from my move from Texas to California, I uncovered another treasure trove of historical data relevant to my early biking history: 14 issues of the Berkeley Wheelmen Newsletter, dated between January, 1970 and March, 1971. I was the editor of the first 10 of these.

    What is in these newsletters that makes them interesting to the reader(s) of this blog? One of the areas this blog covers is the history of cycling as I observed it, focusing on what was going on in the 1960s and 1970s. One set of posts on this topic were titled "Cycling in the 60s:..." and "Cycling in the 70s:...". These newsletters fill in a gap between those two series, detailing my cycling as a college undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, as a member of the Berkeley Wheelmen bicycle club.

    So what did I learn? I learned that I did a lot more racing in college than I had remembered. I learned that, at the Senior level, many races had a Senior A race for the strongest riders and a Senior B race for riders like me, which may have been one reason I maintained an enthusiasm for racing. I learned something about the bicycle racing culture of the time; the number of riders in a race, the number of members in a club, the price of dues, entry fees, and the level of prizes offered. And finally, I learned something about the status of my high school bicycle club, the Modesto Roadmen, in 1970, a subject about which I previously knew nothing.


    My Racing in College


    The racing season ran from approximately April through October and these newly discovered newsletters reveal that I rode throughout most of the 1970 racing season. During that season, I rode in four road races and one time trial. There were about 14 road races in which I reasonably could have competed, so I was certainly did not race as much as I could have. The Berkeley Wheelmen had an annual competition for which of their riders did best in road racing. One acquired points for placing in races, 10 points for first, 9 for second, on down to 1 point for 10th. I never placed except in Senior B events, so comparing my points to those who won their points in Senior A events says nothing about who is the better cyclist, but it does represent some kind of measure of activity, and by that measure, I was about middle of the pack. Of the 30 or so members of the Berkeley Wheelmen, 21 accumulated points in road racing. Of those, 12 had more points than I did, and 8 had fewer.

    How about before and after 1970? As documented in photographs, I raced extensively in 1967 as a member of the Modesto Roadmen, especially during the first half of the season. Although I have little data as to my level of participation during the 1968 and 1969 seasons, I do have pictures of me in a couple of races in 1968, so I think the most reasonable assumptions is that those seasons were similar to 1970. On the other hand, I didn't race at all in 1971, and in fact I didn't even renew my Berkeley Wheelmen membership. The reason was that I was increasingly focused on my future career in science to the exclusion of everything else, a fact that continued and resulted in a 30+ year neglect of cycling. In summary, the evidence indicates that I was a hard core bicycle racer 1965 through 1970, inclusive.

    Bicycle Racing Culture of 1970


    The bicycle racing scene, in Northern California at least, seems to have consisted of a bewildering array of small clubs whose names change and who appear and disappear rapidly. The Berkeley Wheelmen would appear to be one of the larger and more stable clubs, so in that context, the fact that we had about 30 to 35 members is perhaps interesting. Annual dues for our club was as follows: $10 for Seniors, $5 for Juniors, and $5 for Women. In addition, to race, one needed to be a member of the Amateur Bicycle League of America (ABLA) and dues for that were: $8 Seniors, $5 for Juniors, and $5 for Women. Entry fee for a race was $1 to $2. The total prizes for a high end race totaled a few hundred dollars in value. (For reference, First Class postage was 6¢ and a top of the line racing bike cost $200.) More popular races had between 50 and 100 Senior rides, with fewer number of Juniors and Veterans.

    The Modesto Roadmen in 1970


    By 1970, I had completely lost touch with the Modesto Roadmen. Everyone I rode with had graduated High School and moved on with their lives. According to former Modesto Roadmen member Roger Farschon, the club's center of gravity had moved from Thomas Downey High School, which I had attended, to Davis High School. Thus, it was of interest to see riders listed as members of the Modesto Roadmen showing up in race results printed in the newsletters. I counted six distinct Modesto Roadmen. (To be listed in the newsletters, they had to have finished in the top 10, so there have been more participants than that.) I was able to identify three as Juniors and one as a Senior B, the other two only show up in a handicap race so I was unable to determine their class. Of these, only one was someone I had ridden with "back in the day", the remaining five were riders I didn't know. I don't have the data to be certain, but based on these newsletters and my memories, I am pretty sure the 1970 Modesto Roadmen had a better racing record than we had when I was a member, during the 1965, 1966, and 1967 racing seasons.

    Also of interest, in the list of races of 1970, I see no mention of the Tour de Graceada, or any race sponsored by the Modesto Roadmen. Was there a lapse in sponsorship of that race? I did note the mention of a "Modesto Criterium" in a tentative list for the 1971 season.

    Who Cares?


    I get that this is a lot of arcane history, and that some will find it of little interest. Hopefully those folks stopped reading a number of paragraphs ago. The reason I find it of interest is that it is a glimpse into the origins of bicycle racing in the United States, of the very active and successful bicycle racing teams and riders that we have the good fortune to have today.



    Friday, January 5, 2018

    King's Mountain

    "Without a picture, it didn't happen." My faithful Bianchi Volpe at the top of the King's Mountain climb.

    Last post, which was about my plan for my second six weeks of training, I said "If I get comfortable going up Old La Honda Road, then what?" but then concluded with "I am trying to ignore such questions for now". As it happens, I was unable to ignore that question; it is something my son and I ended up talking about. King's Mountain and Old La Honda Road are nearby roads over the same mountain range and he has ridden both. He concluded "King's Mountain is about 30% harder than Old La Honda. Let me know when you are ready to try that." Ready or not, here I come. In just my second week of including Old La Honda as part of my weekly workout, my son and I got to the base of that climb only to find it closed for road repairs. What to do? With an impish grin on his face, he casually mentioned "Well, we could try King's Mountain..." What kind of cyclist would I be if I ignored a challenge like that, even considering the bonus miles we rode by going out of our way to the base of Old La Honda? So ride it we did, and a delightful ride it was.

    I have merged the Old La Honda and Kings Mountain rides onto a single map. Because they are so close to each other, much of their routes are in common. The common part of the ride is shown in yellow, the part of the ride unique to the Old La Honda route is in blue/purple and the part of the ride unique to the Kings Mountain route is in red. For the Kings Mountain route, the best ride is to ascend and descend on the same road. In contrast, although Old La Honda Road is a great ascent, it is not a good descent so that ride is a loop, up Old La Honda, down Highway 84.
    The map above compares the Old La Honda ride (in purple, which we could not do) to the King's Mountain ride (in red, which we did instead.) This diagram does not show the ride we actually did, which included an extra and unnecessary extension to the base of the Old La Honda climb, it shows the King's Mountain ride as we would have done it were that the intention from the beginning.

    It is not obvious from the map why the King's Mountain climb is an "upgrade" from the Old La Honda climb, but it is. The Old La Honda climb is 3.7 miles long and ascends 1420 feet from the base of the climb to the top. (The summit is at 1587 feet.) The King's Mountain climb is 4 miles long and ascends 1634 feet (with a summit at 1860 feet.) Because it is closer to where we start our rides, the total ride up King's Mountain is shorter, 18 miles for King's Mountain vs 23 miles for Old La Honda, but that has a relatively minor impact on the difficulty of the ride. (Because we rode the bonus miles, our ride was 24 miles.) Granting that it is an upgrade, objectively, it would seem like a small one, and that was my subjective opinion as well.

    Overall, the ride was lovely. If anything, the scenery of King's Mountain is even better than that of Old La Honda, already one of the prettiest rides I know. Maybe it was just the day or my mood, but the forest through which we climbed seemed a little nicer, but more importantly, the King's Mountain climb includes views out over San Francisco Bay that Old La Honda doesn't. It is hard to accurately compare the difficulty of the rides. The week before, I had underestimated the difficulty of the climb and did not pace myself properly and think that was a big part of why I found that ride so draining. My goal for this week was to work on pacing, to complete the climb in as much comfort as possible, and I maintained that goal when we switched from the Old La Honda to the King's Mountain climb. I think that made a big difference. Make no mistake, it was still a very difficult ride. By the end, my legs were in a fair amount of pain, I had to go very slowly on the ride home, and my legs remained sore for days afterwards. That said, I did not experience the overall exhaustion of the week before, and this week's ride seemed more like a challenging training ride and less like a death march. In summary, I feel like the King's Mountain and Old La Honda climbs are sufficiently similar that I could freely interchange them in my training regimen, that how hard I push will have more impact on how tired I get than the difference in the climbs.

    Total climbing for the day was 2808 feet for the King's Mountain ride (including the climbing included in the bonus miles) as compared to 2420 feet for the Old La Honda ride the week before. This is getting into the ballpark of the 4200 feet of climbing included in a 112K/70 mile populaire ride with the San Francisco Randonneurs bicycle club. The various training programs I have considered suggest that the longest training ride to prepare for a long, challenge ride is between ⅔ and ¾ the length of the challenge. Thus, to prepare for a Century ride (100 miles), the longest training ride should be between 67 and 75 miles. Using a value of 70%, my longest training ride to prepare for that 112K populaire should be 49 miles. But what about climbing? Interestingly, none of my training books talks quantitatively about how to prepare for the climbing of a Century ride. I think it is reasonable to say that ideally, the training rides used to prepare for a Century ride should be through the same kind of terrain as that century, so if the mileage of the longest training ride is 70% of the ride, then the climbing should be about 70% as well. That means my 49 mile training ride for the 112K populaire should include about 2940 feet of climbing, not much more than the 2808 feet I did during my first ride up King's Mountain. If I simply added more miles to that ride without adding any major climbs, I should easily meet that goal. I am starting to think that a populaire might not be beyond my abilities. Stay tuned.