Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Hetchins Rides Again

Gebhard Ebenhoech of Veloro Bicycles LLC, who lovingly brought my Hetchins back to life. Veloro Bicycles is located at 910 Main Street in Redwood City, California. Their website is Gebhard can be reached at or 650-241-1060. If you have a 1967 Hetchins (or a similar bike) you'd like restored, Gebhard would be delighted to help you. He has an extensive collection of old tools perfect for working on vintage bikes. (He also sells fully modern high end racing bikes, if that's your fancy.)

A year ago, I blogged about how, almost exactly 50 years after I sold it, I got back the Hetchins I used to tour through Europe during the summer of 1967. Or rather, I got back what was left of it, a frame, and not even all of that original. I wrote how I was disheartened by how large the frame turned out to be, that I was far from sure I would be able to ride it. In that post I suggested "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?" That is exactly what I did, and it is rideable indeed! There is not much spare standover (I can put both feet flat on the ground while standing over the frame, but just barely) so it is probably good that I am done having kids, but except for that one unimportant detail, the fit couldn't be better.

Why did it take me a year to do this? I am indecisive by nature, a trait that has gotten significantly worse with age and with the loss of my wife, and simply trying to decide on a plan kept me actionless for much of that time. Should I try to swap the parts from the Centurion myself, or should I pay someone to do it? What should I do about wheels? I was OK with stealing parts from my son's bike since everything was reversible, but my Hetchins came with 700c wheels and the Centurion had slightly larger 27" wheels, so I assumed I would have to rebuild the Centurion's wheels if I wanted to use them, a less reversible step. I have been thinking about building a set of 700c clincher wheels for my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima as a practical alternative to its sew-up wheels, so maybe I could use the same wheels for both? One barrier to building such wheels is that it is hard to find hubs with the now obsolete 120mm spacing (modern spacing is 130mm). I have my wife's old Gitane, which is basically a throw-away at this point, and thought about stealing the hubs from it. As Eroica California approached this year and I thought what bike I could ride in that, I started down that path. Alas, somewhere during its long and eventful life, the Gitane's rear axle had gotten bent, killing that idea. So that got me looking at the Centurion wheels again. I put the Centurion up on my bike stand and pulled the wheels to look at them. I can neither remember nor imagine why, but I then pulled out the Hetchins frame and put the wheels on it. To my astonishment, I discovered that when Mike, the Hetchins' former owner, had the frame rebuilt, he had it rebuilt for 27" wheels - the Centurion wheels fit perfectly as-is! Doing this also allowed me to test the standover, and I fit over the frame, another encouraging result. I had been forced to make a bunch of rapid decisions in order to go to Eroica, so I took advantage of my brain temporarily being in decision mode, called Veloro Bicycles, and took them the Hetchins frame and the Centurion. At that point, it was two weeks before Eroica, and I briefly wondered if the Hetchins could be put together in time to be my ride for that event, but Gebhard disabused me of that notion. He warned me that he tends to be slow, so having given up on riding the Hetchins for Eroica, I assured him that time didn't matter at all, and thus was a several month long project born.

So how is my resurrected Hetchins? Gebhard's work on the bike was amazing! That said, the Hetchins is what it is and ain't what it ain't, which is true of the Centurion as well. This Hetchins of today is not the 1967 Hetchins I remember (while wearing my rose-colored glasses.) It definitely is not as pretty as it was. The ornate Hetchins decals and the delicate gold pinstriping of the lugs are long gone. Gebhard recommended not putting the head badge back on yet, so that is missing as well. The components from the Centurion are all Japanese copies of Campagnolo parts, and to my eye are of equal or better quality. However, a chain guard on the outside of the front gears and a pie plate (spoke protector) on the inside of the rear gears don't do much for the appearance. So far, I have only ridden it home from the bike shop, a grand total of three to four miles, and I will have more to say about the performance when I have ridden this bike more, but what I have noticed already is that the brakes grab a bit. Can I get new pads for these very unique, very dated brakes? Gebhard warned me that might not be easy. In terms of shifting, modern bikes with their indexed shifting are simply better than the best of the classic drivetrains. That said, the drivetrain from the Centurion is definitely the best of its day, and shifting is not bad. The range of the gears is limited, however. The front gears are OK, 52 and 39 teeth, but the rear cluster is quite narrow, 14 to 24 teeth. The low gear on this bike is hardly lower than my Bianchi Specialissima with its notoriously narrow racer gearing. Even my commuter bike with an internal gear hub has two gears lower than the low gear on the Hetchins. The saddle from the Centurion is mediocre at best.

So that's the bad news, what about the good? To put things into perspective, the point of this whole project was to determine if this bike could be made to fit me. If it could, then it would be worth thinking about putting more money into it to bring it closer to my dream bike. The best thing about the current build of this bike is that the fit is wonderful, so mission accomplished. I can even use the drops (lower part of the handlebars) something that is quite uncomfortable on most of my bikes. Again, I will have a better feel for how good the fit is when I have put a few more miles on the bike (I told Gebhard I wanted to ride it 100 miles before making any decisions) but so far, fit couldn't be better. A lot of what is less than wonderful about the bike is potentially fixable. If I replace the rear 14-24 gears with a 14-32 cluster purchased on EBay, the gear range won't be spectacular, but would match my internal-gear commuter bike and my Bianchi Volpe in the middle front gear, the one I use most of the time. If I replace the rear gears, I can have the ugly pie plate removed at the same time. If I wanted even lower gears, I can replace the front cranks for $200 to have gears as low as any bike I own. I am most definitely replacing the saddle with Brooks B17, even before riding those 100 miles, especially since I can temporarily borrow one from one of my other bikes.

What is the future of this bike? It is way too soon to say, but at present I can imagine a few broad directions I could go. Almost certainly the best use for this bike is a bike to ride at Eroica California. It is a comfortable bike that meets all of Eroica's retro-requirements. The two things to consider fixing for that purpose, assuming I want to ride some of the more challenging rides, is lower gears and perhaps wider tires (for the unpaved sections of road.) Assuming that is the purpose of the Hetchins, here are some possible (non-exclusive) plans for it:

  1. Leave it pretty much as-is. That is Gebhard's recommendation. He is definitely of the "is what is is and ain't what it ain't" school. Attempting to replace the rear gear cluster would probably fit on this path. (Attempting? Gebhard has warned me that one never knows with old derailleurs; what works on paper may not work on the bike.)
  2. Maximize appearance. This would involve undoing what Gebhard has done to get back to a bare frame, which I would ship off to a high end restorer for stripping and repainting and adding back the gold pinstriping, adding replacement Hetchins decals, and putting back the headbadge. At that point, one would need to look with a critical eye at all of the components. Is the chain guard on the front cranks unacceptable? What else needs to be changed? There is no way this Hetchins can be restored to original condition, the motorist who ran a stop sign and ran into it, necessitating a frame repair, made sure of that, but I could make it look pretty while giving it an age-appropriate feel.
  3. Modernize the bike. The first step on this path is to spread the rear triangle on the frame from its current 120mm to a modern 130mm which would allow me to use more available modern components. At that point I would have to decide, do I go for full-modern appearance, or do I want to maintain the appearance of period correct? One example of the hard choices this decision requires is that almost all of the best modern drivetrain components are black as opposed to period correct components which are silver.

So, exciting times ahead! Right now, I am days away from the Art of Survival metric century which I will ride on my Bianchi Volpe, so my Hetchins is sitting sad and alone in the garage. The first opportunity I have after I get back, however, I will take it out on my Alpine ride, 23 miles and 1300 feet of climbing. I know its gears (and my legs) can handle the hills because I recently completed this ride on my Bianchi Specialissima which has about the same gear range. Depending how that ride goes, I will come up with other rides to test this bike. I wonder what I will decide to do with it?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Fatigue Debt

This is supposed to be me looking exhausted. Do I? Well, I was exhausted whether I look it or not.

"Dear Zombie, Dear Zombie, you have no complaint, you are what you are and you ain't what you ain't. ... Signed, Dear Abby" [1]

I am almost 70 years old, I should be thankful I can still ride a bike at all, not upset that I cannot ride it like I was still 17. Still, no reason to surrender, and thus this post. What can I figure out that allows me to do as much cycling as possible within the constraints of my aging body?

Even if I am not surrendering, being 70 can be discouraging. By the second post on this blog (back when I was a youngster of only 62) I had already mentioned an issue which has become a recurring theme: I am constantly and repeatedly disappointed in how much less I am able to accomplish on my bike than I hoped I could. Over and over again, I am forced to scale back my ambitions, only to find they are still too high. What makes this so discouraging is that each new repeat of this phenomenon is a surprise. You would think I would have learned by now, but no. Over and over, I sadly face my failure, scale my ambitions down to a new low being certain that this time they are ambitions I can meet, but no, over and over, they are still too high. And guess what? It just happened to me again. I think there are three issues that aggravate this tendency. The first is that problems don't show up immediately, but develop over time. I am able to train for and complete a 200 kilometer long brevet ride, but am so tired afterwards it is a year before I can do it again. I develop a training plan, and for the first four to six weeks, I feel great, but then my fatigue starts to build. The second issue is that, because I love cycling so much, I tend to "cheat" without being aware I am doing so. I have a training plan that seems to be sustainable, but then decide to introduce some sprint workouts, "just for fun", "just when I feel like it". What was a sustainable plan has just become significantly more taxing. Finally, it is my firmly held belief that there is a third issue: that it is very difficult to predict how much stress and thus fatigue a new kind of ride will produce. I will address this third issue in more detail below.

The one training book I still use, "Distance Cycling" by Hughes and Kehlenbach, says "The most successful athletes listen to their bodies rather than slavishly follow a plan. Keeping a training log will help you monitor your performance over time." For the past three months, I have been recording the same phrase over and over again in my training log: "still tired." At the same time, my performance is down. One advantage of having standard rides is that by doing the same ride over and over, week after week, my average speed on that ride becomes a useful indicator of how I am doing. During those same three months, my average speeds on standard rides has been consistently low. The concurrence of these two symptoms, feeling tired and riding slower, seems to me to be pretty unmistakable evidence that once again I am training more than my body can tolerate. How did this happen and how should I respond? The obvious answers to these two questions is "I rode too much" and "ride less." To see if these answers make sense, let's start with my reasons for cycling, which are, in order of importance, Health and Fun.

For Health (mental and physical), my doctor tells me I ought to be riding 300 minutes a week. There are many blog posts that I could write (and might write and to some extent have written) about the arbitrariness of this number, but that said, I can't think of a better one, it has stood the test of time, and it seems reasonable. Over the past year, I have averaged 334 minutes a week of cycling. It's hard to go much lower than that while still meeting my medical prescription. During the three months that I have been feeling tired and riding slow, I have averaged 360 minutes a week, a bit higher for sure, but it is hard to believe that a 10% increase is the cause of the problem. But maybe it's not about the minutes but the intensity. The 300 minutes a week are supposed to be ridden at moderate intensity, a somewhat loosely defined medical quantification. It would be easy to accidentally ride more intensely than I ought, accumulating much more fatigue than the medical community had in mind. In the past, some of my readers have suggested just that, that my "easy" rides might be harder than I think. So maybe the answers to the questions is not so much "I rode too much" and "ride less" but "I rode too fast" and "ride slower."

How did I manage to "ride too fast"? It took me a while to figure it out, but looking back at my training log, I think I may have found the villain: my new sprint workout. This may seem obvious, but the heart of this workout is three one minute sprints. It was very hard for me to believe that three minutes of cycling could impact my fatigue levels for weeks, but after thinking about it carefully, I think that is exactly what happened. I don't think that this sprint workout is bad per se, but I think that, at first, I did it too often, developed chronic fatigue, and have been trying to dig out of that hole ever since. What made this hard to figure out is that everything played out over weeks, and in that time frame, a lot went on to confuse the issue; I got sick, forest fires polluted the air making it unsafe for me to exercise, I had travel and other commitments which prevented me from cycling, and so on. A key insight that has helped me understand this complicated set of interactions is that not being able to ride is not necessarily bad for my cycling ability. I think that, ever since I got to California 20 months ago, I have been teetering on the edge of overtraining. I think I underestimated how much more difficult riding the hills of California is than the flats of Houston. I think I am still in the process of finding my steady state in California. What obscured this a bit is that periodically one of these interruptions would occur, forcing me to take the rest I didn't realize I needed, and I would unknowingly "pay back" the fatigue debt I had accumulated. What happened to change that? Two things, both good. First, my life in California is settling into a routine so I have fewer of these accidental rest breaks. Second, I think I have gotten much better about "listening to my body" such that I now recognize the symptoms of fatigue debt much sooner. I think my latest "setback" might actually be something more positive, a sign that I am more effectively reading the signals from my body so can more carefully modulate my exercise load and get back to a steady state.

What I think I did wrong is the following: In January of this year, I became interested in adding a sprint workout to my schedule. Many of the training schedules out there include one such sprint workout each week, so that's what I did. However, as many of my readers have noted, such schedules are not meant for a 70 year old man like me. For me, one sprint workout a week was too much, a fact I quickly recognized when my performance in week three was dramatically worse than in weeks one or two [2], so I reduced the frequency of these workouts to one a month. What I failed to realize is that I had, at that point, built up a fatigue debt, that I should not have just gone back to my old workout, but rather I should have gone back to an even easier workout until I had paid that debt back. Worse, I decided to participate in Eroica California in the middle of this already too active "rest" period, making my debt worse not better. Fortunately, I recognized my fatigue after Eroica and reduced my riding, but despite that, I have not yet fully paid back my fatigue debt. How certain am I of this explanation? Not very, it is only a best guess.

This brings me to the second question I opened this post with; How Should I Respond? Most experts would advise me to take a few weeks off the bike. I don't want to do that because of the medical benefits of riding 300 minutes a week. On top of that, I am committed to a metric century just three weeks from now. Fortunately, I don't think my fatigue debt is too deep and I feel like I have made some progress at paying it back, so I hope to be able to juggle these competing priorities. However, to be able to accomplish this I need a better understanding of the fatigue cost of my various standard rides, and here is my current best estimate for these costs:
  1. Very High: Sprint Workout.
  2. Medium: Alpine Ride.
  3. Low: Neighborhood Ride.
  4. Uncertain: Long Ride.
  5. High: Hill Climb.
These fatigue cost estimates are on a "per minute" basis. That is, if I were to repeat this ride for a total of 300 minutes each week, how much fatigue would I build-up or pay off? I think that 300 minutes a week of my Neighborhood Ride is below steady state; if that is what I do, I will slowly but surely pay off a fatigue debt. Obviously, the rate of payback will be slower than if I just took time off the bike, but doing it this way has the advantage of meeting my medical prescription and maintaining a fair fraction of my peak fitness. I believe that 300 minutes a week of my Alpine Ride is just below steady state, that I could ride that indefinitely and still not build up a fatigue debt. On the other hand, were I to ride 300 minutes a week of my Alpine Ride, I would not significantly pay back any fatigue debt that I had. I believe that my Sprint Workout is a huge source of fatigue, such that considering it on a per minute basis doesn't even make sense. I should think of this workout as a fatigue bomb, one with possible significant benefits but a workout I should only do when I am in a position to tolerate its fatigue impact. I current best guess is that under the most favorable of circumstances, I could not tolerate more than one of these workouts per month. Next, there is the Long Ride. Actually, this is not a single kind of ride, but rather a catch-all term for extending the distance of one of the other rides. Currently, there are two kinds of long rides I do. The first is done on the flats of the east side of the San Francisco Bay peninsula that are basically an extension of my Neighborhood Ride. The second is done in the Santa Cruz mountains that run down the middle of the Peninsula, and are basically an extension of my Alpine Ride. Is one three hour ride equivalent to three one hour rides? I don't know, which is why I put Long Ride into its own category. At a minimum, I think these have the same fatigue impact per minute as the Neighborhood and Alpine rides respectively. What I don't know is if they incur a fatigue debt greater than that. Finally, there is the Hill Climb, rides up Old La Honda Road or Kings Mountain for example. I am pretty sure these generate more fatigue per minute than my Alpine Ride but probably less than my Sprint Workout. For now, I will treat these rides like my sprint workout, as rides I will only attempt when my fatigue balance is in the green. Final point: my plan to ride a "metric century a month" [3] provides a lot of fatigue both from the ride itself as well as from preparation for that ride; experts agree that when preparing for a long ride, there is no substitute for long training rides. Since I am committed to a metric century in three weeks, I am going to have to somehow work some long rides into my schedule and deal with the fatigue later.

Given all that, what is the plan? I just completed a rest week during which I rode only Neighborhood rides and just barely met my 300 minute prescription. For the next two weeks, I am going to have to work in long rides, and I should get some practice on hills and on the bike I will be riding in my metric century, so these will be longer versions of my Alpine ride. There is no getting around the fact that these rides generate fatigue, so to minimize the impact of that, the remainder of my rides for those two weeks will be neighborhood rides selected so that my total time stays as close as possible to 300 minutes without going under. The metric century by itself will generate most if not all of my 300 minutes for the week in which I do it, so I will only do a few short neighborhood rides that week to keep loose. The first week after this ride will be a recovery week of just neighborhood rides barely totalling 300 minutes, with as many additional such recovery weeks as signals from my body suggest are necessary.

What about longer term? The next major goal I have is in July. My older son Michael had been urging me to ride "The Death Ride" in honor of my 70th birthday, and I have finally acceded to his urging; I am signed up to die. It really isn't as bad as all that, the eponymous Death Ride goes back and forth across five major Sierra Nevada mountain passes for a total of about 15,000 feet of climbing and over a hundred miles of riding, but for those of us of lesser fitness, there are options for doing fewer passes, and I am doing just one. That results in a ride no harder than my Kings Mountain ride, well within my capabilities. That said, I should be both rested and prepared for that ride which will take careful fatigue management. As of today, I have no metric century scheduled for June. Depending on how I feel, I could skip my June metric century if needed to manage fatigue. But as they say, no plan survives contact with the enemy, so stay tuned.

[1] Adapted from the song "Dear Abby" by John Prine

[2] In my previous post on this workout I talk about two workouts a week apart. Actually, there was a third workout of somewhat different design the week before these two.

[3] I plan a future blog post revisiting my plan of riding a metric century a month.