Monday, May 30, 2011

Biathons Are Great! (Except for the Running)

I finished my first real biathlon this morning in Highland, Illinois.  The race entailed a 5 mile run followed by a 15 mile bike segment.

Well, it was hot and windy.  I was nowhere close to my target time of 1:30.  I thought it should be pretty easy to knock out 9-minute miles and then a 20 mph average on the bike.

It wasn't that easy.

My run time ended up being about 3 minutes slower than target and the bike ended up about 3 minute slower.  And I had forgotten about the transition which added another two minutes.  The weather conditions were hot and windy.  Hot made it tougher on the run, windy made it tougher on the bike.  After about 3 miles, I was really wishing the run had been a 5k.  I was overheating and slowing way down.

Once I got on the bike I felt light and fast.  It's much more of my natural habitat.  The windy sections made it slower, but the stretches of road where we were going directly into the wind are where I had done most of my passing of other competitors.

The Lion's Club of Highland did a good job with the race.  And as a bonus, I managed to finish in the top half of the competitors - by one person.  Good day overall and now for a nap and some barbecue and beer.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The National Barbecue of St. Louis

Let's be honest.  St. Louis is not known as a great barbecue town.  Now there are some decent places, but not nearly as many as Kansas City, Austin, Birmingham, or Memphis. 
But St. Louis does have one unique barbecue style that's not common elsewhere.  And that is the pork steak.
Pork steak?  What the heck is a pork steak?
Well, it's not really a steak as we know it.  Pork steaks are cut from the pork shoulder.  The butcher uses a band saw and slices the shoulder across the grain, about 1/2 inch thick.  There is bone in the steak and it's a fairly fatty cut of meat.
The locals cook the pork steaks by firing up a hot charcoal grill.  They liberally season the steaks with salt and pepper and toss them on to the hot fire.  It doesn't take long before the fat starts to melt and drip onto the hot coals and flame up.  Pretty soon the grill is awash in smoke and flames.  Since the steak is thin, it doesn't take long to cook.  When it's nearly done, the steak is slathered with barbecue sauce and the sauce is allowed to caramelize on the steak.  Only one sauce is acceptable, the national barbecue sauce of St. Louis:  Maull's.  This is a tangy, tomato-based sauce.  It does work well with the pork steaks, although it is not as sweet as some of the sauces that I like with pork.
Now these are tasty steaks, but they are a bit chewy.  Note that these are cooked fast off of a very tough cut of meat.  The only saving grace, as far as tenderness goes, is that the shoulder is sliced thin across the grain, resulting in a very short fiber that makes the meat seem less tough.
However, I have an improvement!
I take the pork steaks and one by one, layer them in a large pan suitable for placing in the oven.  As I layer the steaks, I liberally season them with a barbecue rub.  I then seal up the pan tightly with aluminum foil and place the pan into a 225 degree oven.  I'll leave them in the oven for 4-6 hours.  This time spent at low heat in a moist cooking environment allows some of the connective tissue to convert to gelatin, making the steak much more tender.  After the time in the oven, I toss these on the grill and finish off with a hearty dose of smoke and barbecue sauce.
Cook up a batch this weekend.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Create Better Gearing for Your Road Bike

Let's just start off by saying that the gearing that comes standard on road bikes is just way too high.  Seriously, how many of you can truthfully say that a 53/39 with a 12-23 cassette is perfectly geared.  If you say this you are either:

A.  A Cat 2 criterium racer who lives and races in the flatlands.
B.  A small Spaniard climber on a continental team.
C.  A delusional wanna-be with blown-out knees.
D.  A liar.

Most of us would be much better off with reasonable gearing.  The problem is that we either as compelled to use racing gearing or touring gearing.  Road bikes now tend to have 50/34 chainrings and a 12-25 cassette.  True touring bikes usually employ a mountain bike crank (44/32/22) with a wide range cassette (11-34).  We usually need something in between.

With the advent of the compact double crankset, we now have a chance if we want to be fast and have reasonable gearing.  How do we do it?

First, let's start with the 50/34 compact crankset.  A 50 tooth chainring is plenty big when paired with a 12t cog.  This is actually a higher gear than the 52/13 that was a common top gear thirty years ago.  If you're sprinting with a 120 rpm cadence in this gear, you'll be going 41 mph.  Not many of us can sprint that fast.  Including Cat 3 racers.

So the high gear is good, even more than we need.  Let's look at the low gear.  If we have a 34T small chainring paired with a 23t cog, this gives us 39 gear inches.  If you don't know what gear inches are, don't worry.  We'll only use these as comparison.  Let's move to a 26t rear.  SRAM sell a nice 12-26 cassette that's relatively inexpensive.  That gets us down to 34.5 gear inches, an improvement of 12%.  Okay, much better. 

But we've got this one really steep hill...

Okay, how can we get a lower gear.  We can change to a triple crankset.  That's expensive and adds weight.  We can change out the rear derailleur and cassette to accommodate an 11-34.  Good idea, but still expensive and maybe a bit of overkill.  We can use a larger rear cog.  No, the cogs all connected together and they don't make them any bigger that a 12-27.  Besides, it says my rear derailleur won't work with a cog bigger than 27t.

Hah!  Here's what we'll do.  First of all, a short cage derailleur will work okay with a 29 or 30 tooth cogs.  A little adjustment may be needed.  Second, we can take apart these cassettes.  On a SRAM PG950 cassette, these are three screws through the body that can be removed with a 1.5mm or 2.0mm Allen wrench.  So if we take apart a 12-26, we have 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, and 26 tooth cogs, assuming we have a 9-speed.  I think the 14 is of little use to us.  Let's pull that out (along with the spacer) and get a 29T Miche cog.  Yes, they do make one and it's only about $8.  Re-assemble the cassette to the wheel (don't worry about replacing those little screws) and you're ready to go.  Now you have an 11% lower gear than the 26t and a 21% lower gear than the 23t. 

I may be the only person in the State of Illinois riding with a 12-29 cassette, but it's certainly much more practical than the 12-23.  Now I know I'm not the only person in the country with one, since I set my brothers bike up the same way.
Now you know there are more options for gearing out there.  Don't be stuck in a gear too high.

P.S.  SRAM has just come out with their new Apex group.  With a standard setup, you can have 50/34 paired with a 10-speed 12-32.  And if you're willing to swap to the MTB rear derailleur, you can go with a 12-36 cassette.  A salute to all of you at SRAM! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Alternate Food and Drink Suggestions for Bicycling

We've all seen the advertisements and some of us have succumbed to them.  All of these companies trying to sell us the latest in cycling food and recovery food and drink.

Well I say "Fie!"

Here are a list of things that I like to eat during long rides.  These have many benefits, primarily that they taste good.

-- Chocolate milk - great substitute for Gatorade at the 50 mile mark of a century

-- YooHoo - same as chocolate milk

 -- Oatmeal cream pies - These babies lie flat in your jersey pocket and go down easy

-- Brownies wrapped in bacon - the adventure racers made these popular, claiming the right amount of fat, carbs, and protein

 -- Ham & cheese biscuit - I actually ate one of these in the middle of a Cat. 3 road race, still better than a Powerbar

-- Beer - see any references to RAGBRAI

 -- Bratwurst - see any references to Wisconsin

-- Barbecue - ate a massive plate 50 miles into a 110 mile ride in Georgia, felt okay again at about 60 miles

 -- Donuts - Tour de Donut, Staunton, Illinois, July 9, 2011

I have probably eaten a lot of other things while out bicycling, and I still say they're all better than Powerbars.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Biking Season Begins in Earnest

Man, I have been negligent on my posts for the past few weeks. 

Last weekend, I went over and ran the Kentucky Derby Half Marathon in Louisville.  This is a great run, that is, if you like running.  I decided at around the 8-mile mark that I did not like to run any more.  I had made the cardinal mistake of not drinking enough water prior to the race.  I was walking around the starting line already thirsty.  By the time I started to drink at the first water stop, I was already doomed.  I was fine through the first eight miles, but the last five were a booger.

Nonetheless, I managed to finish 25 minutes faster than last year, which only goes to show you how slow I was last year.  2:10 is not a bad half-marathon for a non-runner, but I would have liked to finish under two hours.

Tomorrow is the annual "Tour de Stooges" over in Highland, IL.  Roger Kramer ( does an excellent job with this ride each year.  My riding companions for this year only want to take on the 42-mile route.  They don't think that they have enough miles in for the 65-mile route.

Next on the race schedule is the Highland Memorial Day Biathlon.  This is a five mile run followed by a 15-mile bike ride.  See if you are interested in participating.