My advice to recreational cyclists in 1990 was this: If your name is not Greg LeMond, and you are not riding on a closed racecourse averaging over 30 miles per hour, save the weight and throw those silly bars in the lake. In retrospect, that was bad advice. Aerobars have been a key to my training motivation to this day.
A LITTLE MORE HISTORY
A sport called (generically) Triathlon was gaining momentum about the same time as the LeMond victory and the participants gave loving embrace to aerobars, as they should. Triathlon events include a nice long swim, a bike ride, and a run of various lengths. Some are ridiculously intense including a 2 mile swim, 100 mile bike ride, then the racers run a marathon of 26 miles. The bike race has a rule against "drafting" another cyclist to save energy. Cyclists are on their own, no teams, no help. Time trial bicycles equipped with aerobars and special geometry that makes the aerobars effective are ideal for Triathlon events. But you don't just buy a time trial bicycle and go for a fast ride. The rider must re-learn how to breathe because chest expansion is hindered by the extreme aerodynamic position designed into the frame. Pressure on tender groin regions are multiplied against narrow saddles as well. Time trial bikes are not "comfort bikes". Even when set up correctly they are torture devices of Medieval proportions. But still, novice cyclists go to bike stores asking for "comfort bars" like the ones used in time trials. Ah...marketing. And more bike shop employee finding hatred for aerobars.
The term Geek has evolved from the gear intensive nature of competing in Triathlons. Strange looking bicycles with teardrop shaped frame tubes set up at extreme angles rolling on wheels expensive enough to buy a round of escargot for every patron, waiter, and dishwasher in the most expensive French restaurant every day for a week. Even the smallest components are blasted in wind tunnels, the test results graphed on computers and continually improved.
And then there is the clothing. Teardrop shaped helmets with poor ventilation ride on sweaty heads atop bodies squeezed into colorful ballet tights all the way down to the soles of their shoes. Or Speedo bikini bottoms and sports bras. The professionals then take all of their geekyness into wind tunnels and tweak their equipment further. Every ounce is shaved, every hair is trimmed, every flapping piece of fabric is tightened down, and personal trainers align bodies to bikes with space-age precision. This extreme attention to detail pretty much qualifies a person as a Geek in any profession.
Now you might be thinking about me: "So how is this guy the hunter"? Certainly he would be the hunted, or at least the ignored on TriGeek training grounds. In the pages to follow, I will let you in on every one of my secrets, tricks, and shortcuts so you too may enjoy geek hunting at its finest.
ABOUT MY BICYCLE (Cinelli Supercorsa)
I have enjoyed geek hunting for over two decades on various machines. It's pretty simple. The word bicycle means two wheels. Most of the physics of going fast are tied up in those wheels. So I ride the best wheels I can afford. I have bagged hundreds of TriGeeks on some really trashy frames rolling on fancy wheels. Just about any road bike (10 speed style) will do. Currently I am riding a fancy steel frame hand made in Italy with high end wheels from France. The frame is very retro - it looks 25 years old except for the new paint. Very stealthy - not taken seriously by the Geekdom.
ABOUT THE MOTOR (Me)
First, I picked the right parents. My father played basketball and football, Mom was a professional ballet dancer. I played tons of team sports plus track and field. I was the fastest kid in my high school in the 100 meter sprint and not too shabby at cross country running. I know the view from the podium pretty well.
In 1989 I gave up the car in favor of my road bike. I still do not own a car in 2011. I cycle for every purpose - errands, commuting to work, fun, travel, and fitness. I have cycled across the USA four times. I live in New Orleans where a fit, fast cyclist can get just about anywhere in 20 minutes. I have a high pain threshold, but I don't go looking for it. Without proper motivation i.e., chasing motor vehicles around town or TriGeeks on their training grounds, I could easily slide into laziness. Utilitarian cycling helps me to keep up a nice fitness base. I have a competitive streak mixed with a mean streak of sorts. A friend once told me I was a master of disturbing the comfortable.
My favorite hunting area is Lakeshore Drive in New Orleans - a 4-lane state highway just meters away from Lake Pontchartrain. The road follows a scalloped shoreline for a distance of five miles one way. On weekdays the auto traffic is limited to work and university commuters for a couple of hours each day. The west bound lanes are closed to auto traffic completely on weekends. On Saturday and Sunday mornings the Lakefront is a wonderland for training Triathletes. They can catch a swim, then a bike ride, then a run if they so choose. Weekend mornings are great for cycling because auto traffic is light. Early morning weekdays are fine for cycling as are late evenings when the angle of the sun becomes less deadly.
1. I want to stay trim, in shape, and healthy. Cycling is my sport and drug of choice.
2. Like other human beings, and most competitive athletes, I like to elevate myself by crushing others (figuratively).
3. I adore disturbing the comfortable.
DISTRUBING THE COMFORTABLE
One of my pet peeves in the USA is the fact that cyclists for the most part, thanks to marketing and limited thinking, believe that one must wear a certain sanctioned costume to ride a bicycle. Americans are the only people on earth who wear racing garb on a bicycle when there is no race in sight. I believe this percieived dress code is detremental to cycling for utilitarian purposes. Many prospective bike enthusiasts are not inclined to squeeze into a sausage casing before transporting themselves to the market. But that is how Americans are. We buy jumbo all-terrain vehicles to engage in urban assault on shopping malls, middle schools, and soccer fields. We buy name brand mountaineering parkas for hanging out at bars. We put our goofy bicycles into our goofy cars and drive them to the Lakefront fully clad in our racing kit. We are a society of costume wearers promoted by peer pressure. I hate it.
So when I go geek hunting, I wear street clothes. Cargo shorts and old long sleeved dress shirts. Most come from thrift stores and cost just pennies but not just anything works. For shirts, an open weave of cotton allows the breeze to pass through and evaporate some sweat. Linen is OK too. Shorts are likely to have a bunch of seams crisscrossing right under the crotch area so a saddle with a notch down the center will help give that seam some place to go besides grinding into tender nerves in nether regions. I never have a problem with those seams mostly because my bike is adjusted properly. Padding in shorts is not necessary since my saddle has light padding already. I also have tough skin covering my sit-bones from eons of cycling. I wear synthetic boxers or briefs by Patagonia® and maybe apply a bit of BodyGlide® on problem spots if any develop.
The only cycling specific clothing I wear are clipless cycling shoes, padded gloves, wool or nylon socks, and a helmet with a tiny rear-view mirror attached. Next to fancy wheels, cycling shoes create the largest gain in power and efficiency for cycling fast and far. If I have errands to run after my hunt, I may even have a U-Lock in my back pocket.
My clothing choice serves several purposes: First, I am cooler and more comfortable than the geeks. Second, my loose-fitting street clothes are disarming to TriGeeks because every one knows you can only go fast dressed in a racing costume. The wind tunnel tests prove it. So they don't take me seriously as I am catching up to them, and they don't take me seriously as I pass them by. They start figuring it out when I am several hundred yards ahead with no sign of blowing up. But on a five mile course, there is not enough time to catch me before the end. They have just been crushed by some old guy fifty-something years old on a retro bike wearing floppy clothing. You see, I don't just want to crush them physically, I want to crush every ill-conceived notion about what makes a bicycle go fast. I want to demoralize them and think of them tossing in their sleep wondering why they have been forsaken by the laws of physics. Disturbing the comfortable gives me motivation, dulls the pain, makes me a faster cyclist, and gives me reason to stop hitting the snooze button in the morning.
MY FEELINGS ON TRIATHLETES IN GENERAL
At the gut level, I have great respect for real Triathletes. If I were to enter an actual competition, which always starts with a swim, there would be no need for paramedics on hand. Race organizers would need a flat boat at hand and a couple of men to throw grappling hooks into the water to recover my body. But lets say I manage to back stroke, dog paddle, and tread water until the tide brings me back to shore alive. I would then set a new world record with my bicycle - the fastest anyone has ever cycled home from an event - so I could have a good cry and a nap.
On the other hand, with the picture of me flailing about in the surf and about to go down for the last time in your mind's eye, it should be easy to imagine how a swimmer on a fine racing bicycle looks to me. Sad, but hysterical at the same time. Just like I know better than to go for a two mile swim in open water because I have not taken competitive swimming lessons, I feel like swimmers should at least read a book about cycling and perhaps…no - DEFINITELY - pay a professional to set up their bikes for them. A fit athlete on a beautiful, technologically advanced, expensive bicycle should not look like a black bear riding a two-wheeler under the big top.
Hey, this is a confession remember? There would be no need for confessions if I had no sins. My sin is an unhealthy disdain for goofy cyclists trying to look like racers. I have no problem whatsoever with goofy cyclists in general. I own a tiny folding bicycle myself. I look goofy on it. I wear a clown costume at Mardi Gras and ride my clown bike at least once a year. But I would look even more goofy wearing ballet tights emblazoned with Italian dish soap company logos as well as logos of all the other companies that will never sponsor me while riding that bicycle at a pace well below the speed of sound.
It should now be easier for you to understand my motivation for wanting to destroy every aerobar-leaning swimmer on a bicycle I come across. They make my favorite sport look even more goofy than it already is. (This coming from a guy who wears a little mirror sticking out from his already dorky looking helmet) I know that I am not alone with these feelings. So for those of you out there wanting to fine tune your geek hunting skills, this is how I do it:
HOW I DO IT - TRICKS, TIPS, and TECHNIQUES
1. There is no substitute for speed and endurance. I live on a bicycle and have been an athlete my whole life. I ride a bike that is literally a secret weapon. There are no shortcuts to these steps. Get in shape and ride a fast bike that fits you.
2. There are no professional cyclists training at the Lakefront. There are a fair number of fit, strong, fast cyclists out there, but the vast majority are poseurs. They do not ride regularly, they drive to the lakefront in their cars with bikes on racks. Once they saddle up, they have to warm up on the course. Then when they are done, they have to cool down on the course.
3. I ride my bike to the Lakefront. I show up ready to rock and roll. I cool down on the way home. If I am at the Lakefront, I am ready to fly. Consequently, I overtake loads of good athletes during their warm-ups and cool-downs. Trust me, they do not like it regardless. Some will engage in battle anyway.
4. Many of the poseurs do not have their bikes adjusted properly or have attached aerobars to bikes not designed for them. As the hunter, I am always looking for prey at a physical disadvantage. Another factor is body type. My eye is tuned to every detail of potential prey in search of that tired or inferior gazelle: A little flab around the middle. A spare tire. Tree-trunk legs. No waistline. Bodybuilder arms, shoulders, and backs (blood has to feed oxygen to those non-cycling muscles too). I look for improper posture due to poor bike setup and of course - AEROBARS. All of the above are hallmarks of prey waiting to be taken.
5. I don't just sit tight waiting around for riders I know I can beat. That defeats the whole purpose of my workout. I want to find someone with game who will put up a good fight. At the same time I don't want to waste my energy on the weak. I want to identify those weaklings and just pass them with the least amount of effort and stay in front of them without killing myself. I am pretty good at visually assessing cycling talent. Interestingly, I never take into account how much they spent on their bike. Disposable income is usually indirectly proportional to fitness anyway.
6a. Catching up with fast riders is done with a trick or two. To overtake a worthy opponent and not be too dead to dance when I catch up is where a lot of technique comes into play. The best method is to shorten the course for me, but not for them. Lakeshore drive is a wide, circuitous four-lane highway with a nice surface. Every rider out there bikes on the edge of the road near the right fog line. They follow the contour of the curb exactly. When I ride the course, I take the "time trial" line - the shortest possible route from curve to curve. I always try to position myself on the inside track, even if that means riding contraflow when the roadway is free of other traffic. Basically, I try to straighten out the course and cut through on the shortest possible line. This technique would not be easy without my helmet-mounted rear-view mirror. I also double check with a quick glance over my shoulder for cars overtaking from behind before every lane change. Another key technique is to stand on the pedals and speed up on any levees or bridges, then fly down the other side fast as I can all the while trying to maintain as much momentum and speed as I can for as long as I can, shifting down gear by gear until I resume my cruising speed. This climbing surge really closes the gap on most riders out there. You see, because the TriGeeks are glued to their aerobars it never occurs to them - and is actually impossible for them - to stand up on the pedals and power over the bridges and levees. Another example of aerobars making a cyclist slower through bad technique and extra weight.
6b. While on the topic of standing on the pedals, I want to make another important point. First I have to give you the world's shortest muscular physiology lesson: Hard working muscles need two things - fuel and waste removal. Any athletic performance is certainly limited in duration by how well the body supplies food and oxygen to working muscles. But more crucial to speed on a bicycle (as opposed to just casual long distance riding) is waste removal. Lactic acid is a by-product of a muscle as it metabolizes food and oxygen. The acid must be removed as fast as it is formed or burning pain and loss of muscle performance will be the result.
Even elite athletes with bodies well conditioned to remove lactic acid from muscles rapidly can easily push themselves to a level of exertion where acid will be produced faster than it can be removed. The only solution is to stop using those muscles and allow them to rest. But a racer can't stop in a race, and I don't want to stop during a geek pursuit. Just like cutting corners to shorten the race course for me, I use the lactic acid problem to my advantage and to the geek's peril.
Time trial cyclists at the Lakefront rarely use any cycling position other than laying out on their aerobars. With the wind in their faces, or the wind to their backs, uphill, downhill - it does not matter - they stay mostly in one position and pedal whatever cadence they think they can maintain over the distance they plan to train that day. They are working one group of muscles over and over, mile after mile. If they try to ride at a faster speed for more than a minute or two guess what happens? Yup. Lactic acid builds up in that set of muscles, makes them hurt, and makes them slow down.
When I ride at the Lakefront, or anywhere else, I bring at least two other riders along with me on my bicycle - figuratively speaking. They do not weigh one extra ounce, but they give me three times the lactic acid threshold and allow me to ride faster over long distances than an un-savvy aero-geek, even if he is the superior athlete. Instead of riding in one position and pedaling one cadence for ten straight miles I alternate three, sometimes four muscle groups. 1. My normal riding position and cadence; 2. My most aerodynamic position combined with my fastest cadence; 3. My standing up position turning an easy gear, and 4. My standing up position turning a big gear. These four riding positions activate different muscle groups, and different muscle fibers - short and long twitch - over the course of a ride. Alternating cadence and posture on my bicycle allows me to run my lactic acid levels to the max, then, instead of stopping or slowing down I just change to a different muscle group and work that group as the lactic acid levels drop in the former group. In effect, I am giving rider number 2 a turn while rider number 1 recovers. My bicycle never knows the difference and never slows down. External conditions determine which of my four riders get a turn - headwind, tailwind, up the bridge (or levee), down the bridge, as well as what is going on with the rider I am hunting at the time.
Complete information about these techniques are beyond the scope of this article. Volumes exist in book form, magazines, and online concerning racing technique both physical and mental. I discovered my particular style by watching videos of professional bicycle racers and paying close attention to what they do and when they do it. Then I joined training rides with friends who race and learned more. Finally, I put various concepts to work at the Lakefront to fine-tune my style and condition myself for each of the four roles.
7. When I find myself closing in on a gazelle, I am going to need to recover a bit before passing. So I just pace my prey from about a hundred yards back. I want to determine his/her normal cruising speed. This often gives me insight about how fast they can go top end. I never have insight into how long they can hold their fastest speed. So catching my breath here is crucial.
8. Once I recover somewhat and shed some lactic acid from my leg muscles, I start reeling them in slowly. I do not want to be worn out when I catch up to them. Even if they notice me and start speeding up I stay patient and slowly narrow the gap between us.
9. OK, once I catch up, I never take their rear wheel to get a rest. I find it bad form to draft a stranger - especially a TriGeek who does not know how to draft me after I pass. So I just ease on by, admire their machine, and say "good morning", "howdy", or some other greeting (which is almost unheard of and rarely returned). I make sure to pass with a respectful distance between us, and make sure I am well ahead of him/her before moving to the right, all the while glancing in my mirror to see their reaction. God how I love when they drop down onto their aerobars! As soon as they drop down, I shift up a couple of gears, get my fanny out of the saddle and sprint up to create a hundred yard gap. Then I do whatever it takes to keep that gap. This move is so shocking to someone who is 100 percent aerodynamic - getting destroyed by some old dude wearing a dress shirt flapping in the breeze - that often they just give up completely demoralized wondering if they belong to the wrong church. What they failed to research is the physics of floppy clothes. At the relatively low speeds we are cycling (as compared to pro racers) my floppy shirt and cargo shorts don't make much difference over a five mile course, and don't make ANY difference if we have a tailwind.
10. I attack with the wind to my back. The beauty of Lakeshore Drive is the length of it. Only five miles end to end. There will be a headwind one way and a tailwind the other. Even a skilled, strong rider on a time trial bike has no use for aerobars with a strong tailwind. The aerobar might as well be a 400 gram booger. And my floppy shirt might even act as a sail. For certain my bike is fast and comfy versus fast and torturous. So all talent being equal - that rider is cooked.
11. On the rare occasion when a rider sneaks up on me, I notice them in my mirror first. Generally I pick up the pace enough to let him/her know that I am not interested in getting passed up. From that point, if the rider is still roaring up behind me like a runaway Amtrak train, I am just going to let him go by. Then after allowing a twenty yard gap to develop I will crank up my speed as much as I know I can endure for five to ten minutes. Either I eventually reel the rider back in or sadly, this hunter becomes the prey. This result is rare, but it does happen now and then. Getting schooled motivates me to never miss a training day. It's all positive outcome.
12. The speed limit on Lakeshore Drive is 35mph. Most motorists abide. With a little luck, and a sightseeing motorist, I might be able to catch a draft behind them for a bit and really cover some ground during a hunt.
13. I never really know what the other riders have already done that day. It could be their first mile or their twentieth. They could be warming up or cooling down. Maybe they just finished a two mile swim. Or perhaps they are setting out to ride fifty miles, then run twenty six and need to conserve energy. Almost for certain they are going to do more than I am out there. I am going to hit it hard for one lap and some change (about 12 miles). My warm up and cool down (on the way to and from the Lakefront) adds eight more. So the advantage goes to me as I can burn all the gas in my tank over those twelve miles at the Lakefront, whereas the hunted are probably conserving fuel for the long haul. Nevertheless, when they get passed none of them like it and very often throw their training schedules to the wind and go to the dance with me.
14. I could just stop and wait for my prey to ride by and ambush them, or cut a U-turn to pursue a likely candidate going the opposite direction, but I almost never do this. The reason I don't cherry-pick the herd is because while all this is going on, I am playing a game inside my head. My rules state that I must ride to the very end of the road before turning around.
The Game, as I call it, was developed by me twenty-five years ago as a workout trick. Once I start my ride on the Lakefront the game starts. For every rider I pass (on a racing style bicycle) I award myself one point. For every rider who passes me, I lose ten points. I can recover all ten points by passing that same rider before he quits or turns off the route. The only exception to this scoring is when a group of riders - working together - passes me. I lose one point per rider and I recover only one point for each rider if I overtake any of them later.
The Game does little to increase my motivation to destroy people leaning on their aerobars. The Game makes me keep a number in my head. As I ride I am repeating to myself: four… four… four… four… five… five… five… five and so on. This is a form of self hypnosis that reduces pain. My lungs could be trying to fly out of my mouth but my brain is too busy repeating the numerical mantra to register the full agony.
After a successful hunt and my cool-down I ride to City Park and run through a stretching routine. When my stretches are done I like to just sit in the hot sun for a few moments. Sometimes I imagine myself as a wild cheetah sitting over the kill, my thirst for blood slaked and my hunger satisfied. The sounds of noisy Monk Parakeets fill the air as they chat with one another in giant palm trees rocked by a hot sub-tropical breeze. I close my eyes and imagine vast herds of gazelles stretching to the horizon. Hunger is not a transient motivator. Not for long anyway. It will return soon enough.
No animals were harmed. Geeks?...well, maybe just a little bit!