Pinning Race Numbers: A Commentary

How to pin on race numbers—it's a topic I love, some for the rhetoric of the argument, but also because I think it demonstrates a person's perspective on bike racing and their ability and/or willingness to see it from different perspectives. So a little commentary on the topic....

(The following addresses the #1 technique for quality number pinning, but for a more instructional and comprehensive coverage of the topic, check out the original Race numbers: Pinning and Placement.)

Bike racers want their numbers to lay flat and not flap in the wind. They think that crumpling their number helps this. Let me give you the secret: 8 pins. Not 4 pins (and absolutely not 4 pins using the provided holes—this is cycling, not sailing club), not even 6. You get a handful of pins at nearly every race. Save a few. Then don't be lazy, don't whine, use 8 and this entire official/racer argument goes away, save the lazy bike racer.

But of course, bike racers are (by definition, I believe) lazy. So we have a problem.

For officials, seeing the numbers on riders whizzing by 5 deep at 25+ mph is an exercise in futility. A single line at 30 mph is no better, but this is the job of the official. Some officials are lazy, too (former racers?), and don't actually try to read all the numbers every lap, so they don't care how numbers are pinned. These officials should be stoned—they are the ones that take a millennium to figure out results because they have no practice at picking out 10 places in order at the finish. But most officials do care and spend the entirety of a race trying to decipher the perspective-bending Dali-esque attachments racers manage to make with their numbers. For them, crumpled numbers are the emblem of their nearly-futile task, not the cause of it. Sure, the stickler quotes the rule book, but one of the jobs of an official is educating riders. Aside from the occasional power trip, it's just part of the job.

So we have lazy bike racers and officials who've found a scapegoat for the nearly impossible task of reading thousands of numbers during a day.

The reality is that the rule is stupid for three reasons. First, like all other riders, I pin on my number, warm up, go to the bathroom, sit down, load and unload my rear pockets multiple times, and perform numerous other actions that WILL crumple my number whether or not I did it intentionally.

Second, the Tyvek material used for numbers reflects sunlight pretty well if you get the right angle. A poorly crumpled number (intentionally or incidentally) will probably have a few surfaces that reflect light and reduce the visibility of the number. However, a pristine number can reflect light across its entire surface rendering it completely illegible.

This illustrates the third point that proper placement of the number is usually far more important than the surface smoothness for visibility of the number. Up on the back: bad. Down along the side of the jersey: good. Right side up? Yeah, I'm talking to you, genius—put your number on right side up. (Cat. 2 - Cat. 5 — I've seen them all do it this season.)

That all points to the fact that you need to learn how to put on a number like a pro. When you crumple the number, don't just wad it up and be done. You need to decimate it! So get comfy and start crumpling. And rolling. And flexing. Now repeat. Finally, find a nice edge and smooth it all out. Hey, don't rip it—that's way amateur. But when you're done, the thing should feel like silk and lay on your jersey like your head on a 600 thread-count Egyptian cotton pillowcase.

Once you take the pro approach the officials won't notice a thing but the high resolution outline of your number. Unless it's upside down. Or on your back. Or flapping like a sail from 4 pins poked through the 4 dummy holes.

So just use 8 pins, put it on your side, and get the race started already.

Standing Causes HR Increase

It's common to see riders standing when they are riding, whether it's going up a hill, accelerating, or stretching out. But if your goal is conserve as much energy as possible, it's also good to know to that your heart rate will usually increase when standing, even when putting out the same power.
Red = HR, Blue = speed
Yellow = power, Green = cadence

This graph from a recent ride caught my attention because it shows this tend very clearly. HR increases slightly while power, speed, and cadence all decrease noticeably during each of the three periods of standing. This graph is from a roller ride so the conditions are different with regard to speed and power change; speed and power wouldn't decline like this on the road, but I like to remain on the rollers so this naturally what happens when I'm stretching out. While the increase in HR is small, it's still noticeable and all the more telling since power declines.

The reason for this increase in HR is that you are activating additional muscles to do work, and a rise in HR can be expected when recruiting additional muscles to do work. But similarly, it means that you're using additional energy to supply these newly working muscles that aren't necessarily putting more power in the pedals.

So keep in mind: when max power is the goal, standing may be your friend. But when it's time to conserve energy, seated is the way to go.

Being a Bike Racer is a Lifestyle

While the focus of bike racing is often on a rider's talent, training, skills, or equipment, the often over-looked fact is that to be a bike racer requires a particular lifestyle. Hard work, lots of rest, singularity of focus, discipline, travel, lots of time away from home, sacrifice, compromise, good attitude, good team player, and not least of all, family and friends to support you through it all.

Because this lifestyle is one of the least talked about but most challenging parts of being an aspiring professional cyclist, I always enjoy hearing various stories the provide some insight. A recent story about Michael Creed entitled Why I never doped and my future in the sport does the obvious in talking about his perspective on doping, but I think the insightful part of the article is what you learn about his lifestyle as a new pro in Europe and what he's willing to do and not do for the sport. A view of a Tour de France hotel room (via @andykloedi) can be pretty insightful, too.

Keep an eye out for stories about cyclists and how they live day to day, between the races, at the races, when they see family and friends, and other insights that share about the lifestyle of full-time racers domestically and abroad.

What a Roadie Needs to Know to Race on the Track

Dan Currell and the crew at the National Sports Center Velodrome in Blaine, Minnesota put together a great guide for riders interested in trying out racing on the track. The guide is really designed for riders familiar with riding the road, but who need to know the differences and subtleties that will make learning to ride on the track a successful transition.

It covers differences of riding a road bike versus a track bike, the markings on the track, some basic rules of the “road” when racing on the track, equipment, gearing, leg speed, events, and more. If you're interested—or simply curious—about racing on the track, it's definitely worth a read.

Track Cycling – An Introduction: What a roadie needs to know to start racing on the velodrome by Dan Currell

Patience and Race Strategy

Author and coach Joe Friel has a great post over on addressing the often overlooked racing topic of patience. Road racing is not a sport of simply going harder the next guy. If you're looking for that try mountain biking or time trialing. But if you toe the line at a crit or a road race, it's good to understand that when you expend energy is very important to your success. The article talks about this in reference to a stage race, but the principle applies whether you're racing Le Tour or trying to make it to the end of the group ride for the first time.

Favorite new tool: Kool-Stop Tire Bead Jack

If you’ve learned how to change a tube, then you know about tire levers. They’re small and get the job done, but I don’t know anyone who likes them. You fight to get a grip with one, then fight to get the tire where it needs to go. If you’re trying to mount a tire that is especially tight, this can be a long, finger numbing battle ... one that I haven’t always won, and I bring a good amount of skill and experience to the process.

I happened to run across a comment about a tire jack tool. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was referring to but with some quick digging I found it! The Kool-Stop Tire Bead Jack might not replace your set of tire irons on the road—although, it’s small enough that it’s possible—but it’s a dream for your toolbox to use at home or out of your car.

Anyone who’s changed a tire knows that slippage on the tire and/or rim while using tire levers is just part of the trial and error process of mounting a tire. No longer! The Tire Bead Jack provides a secure hold of the tire and a very secure fulcrum point for lifting the tire onto the rim.

At about $12, it’s not expensive. You might not use it every day, but if you plan to keep riding your bike, you’ll probably see how a tool like this would be a great asset to avoid those tire mounting struggles.

A chamois for the office?

Who said you couldn't kit up at the office? I guess it helps if the office is a parking lot with a van and a few folding chairs. 

TrainingPeaks WKO+ 3 with CrossOver Mac 8

[Update Jan. 29, 2012: The usefulness of running WKO+ on Mac via CrossOver has run its course. Updates to CrossOver Mac (v. 9–10) have rendered the process described below unusable and Mac OS (10.7 Lion) requires you run CrossOver Mac 10. Unfortunately a functional work around has not been found. Unless you have access to running the versions of software noted below, this process is no longer recommended; it may appear that everything is working properly until the final steps where you actually try to run WKO+ at which point it fails. And as the comments show, many gotchas have popped up over time as new devices come to market that have made a working CrossOver setup a fast moving target to pin down.

As result, I am now running WKO+ on my MacBook Pro by using Windows 7 Professional running inside the VMware Fusion 4 virtualization software. I have also heard from multiple people that Parallels Desktop 7 virtualization software works well. It is important to note that I have 8GB of RAM installed—lots of RAM will make a huge difference for running a virtualization set up for WKO+. This setup isn't as clean as it was with CrossOver but I can still manage just one computer for my primary work. I do have a recent model basic Windows laptop running Windows 7 Home Premium with another install of WKO+, and I can say that my VMware setup runs much faster so overall this Mac setup works great.

[Update Jan. 24, 2011: Updates have been made to this post since it originally was posted in January 2010 to include some subtle updates. The following information presents using version 8 of CrossOver Mac. Version 9 is now the current version but has been generally reported to not work well with WKO+. If you've had success with version 9 of CrossOver Mac, please post your experience in the comments.]

Let me cut to the chase: running TrainingPeaks WKO+ 3 with Mac CrossOver 8 is pretty easy. You have a Mac and want to run WKO+ without messing with Windows? Just keep reading.

Some background...

In early 2009 I posted step by step instructions for running TrainingPeaks WKO+ on a Mac using only CrossOver Mac—no Bootcamp, Parallels, or other installations of Windows needed. I figured it could be helpful for others but was surprised at just how popular, especially considering it wasn’t the most straight forward process. Success varied, but it showed there was a big interest for Mac users to run a Mac-only solution.

The original post used TrainingPeaks WKO+ 2 and CrossOver Mac 7, and both have since moved to newer versions. I was very interested in upgrading to TrainingPeaks WKO+ 3, but I was afraid the setup wouldn’t work. Given all the advantages of my working set up (not installing, maintaining, protecting, backing up or running Windows in any way), I was hesitant. But as with all things foolish I figured, “Let’s just see what happens?” Since then I've updated again to the latest version of WKO+ 3 and am now seemlessly syncing my WKO+ data for multiple athletes between my Mac setup and Windows setup using Dropbox. Drop me a line if you're interested in more details on that. If you want more background on the project, check out the original post.

The process...

I said this was pretty simple. But it’s not Steve Jobs simple. Downloading from your device directly to WKO+ doesn’t work out of the box, so you’ll need a separate Mac-native application to do that. But generally, all you need is:
  • Desire to run WKO+ without ever starting up Windows
  • Mac with an Intel processor
  • TrainingPeaks Device AgentGoldenCheetah, Garmin Training Center, PowerAgent, or other software to download data from your power meter or heart rate monitor. I recommend TrainingPeaks Device Agent for it's simplicity of installation (included needed drivers for various devices) and the fact that it supports lots of devices. The drivers Device Agent installs will work in GoldenCheetah, too, if you choose to use it.
  • CrossOver Mac version 8 (30-day free trial, $40); version 9 is the current version but those buying a license should be able to access version 8 and the old version may be available by hunting around the Codeweavers website
  • TrainingPeaks WKO+ 3 (30-day free trial, $129)
The original instructions were lengthy, it helped to be running specific builds of WKO+, and a little digging in Windows was needed. This year’s process is A LOT easier.
  1. Install TrainingPeaks Device AgentGoldenCheetah, Garmin Training Center, PowerAgent, or whatever other software you want to use to download data from your device.
  2. Download the TrainingPeaks WKO+ 3 installer
  3. Install CrossOver Mac.
  4. Install Internet Explorer 6 in CrossOver (optional step, but I did it, everything works, so I’m including it). In CrossOver, select Configure > Install Software..., then select Internet Explorer 6 from the list and install it in a new bottle of its own following on the onscreen prompts. A standard install works fine—no need to customize it.
  5. Install TrainingPeaks WKO+ 3 in CrossOver. Select Configure > Install Software..., then click “Install unsupported software...” and install it in a new bottle of its own. When asked for the installer file, find where you saved the WKO+ installer and let it go through its paces.
That’s it. No tweaking needed. Launch WKO+ and go to work. I was able to upgrade from my previous WKO+ 2 license and activate in version 3 right in the new install—no fancy work around needed like in the original setup (I left that part out of the original post's already lengthy directions).

To get files from a previous version of WKO+ I recommend reviewing the online help topic “Migrating Your Data...” at WKO+ Start Up Guide: First Hour. This will give you the needed background for migrating data, but I found a slight modification to those directions that works better:
  1. Manually create a new athlete in WKO+ 3 with the same name as the data you want to import
  2. Exit WKO+
  3. Find the folder created for that athlete’s data (should be at /user home folder/Documents/TrainingPeaks/WKO/Data/). 
  4. Drag the old .wko files into that folder
  5. Launch WKO+ again and ta-da! This only seems to work, though, if you manually create the athlete in WKO+ first.

To get new files into WKO+, you’ll need to use TrainingPeaks Device Agent, GoldenCheetah, Garmin Training Center, PowerAgent, or whatever other software you want to use to download data from your device. Then find the file you downloaded in that application (or export it from that app), and open it from within WKO+. Unfortunately, dragging and dropping a file from the Finder onto WKO+ doesn’t work when using CrossOver as it would when using WKO+ in Windows.

Since using this setup for nearly a year, I've found one caveat. The data comparing different files in the multi-file/multi-range analysis tool doesn't work. The graph displays the comparative data just fine but the numerical data isn't displayed.

Got all that? Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the fact that you have one less reason to run Windows! Unless you're me and had to buy a Windows computer for another use and are now syncing and maintaining both anyway. I still do 95% of my WKO+ work on the Mac, though.

Testing is training

A number of riders I talk to are resistent to doing a fitness test. Maybe it's the name, "test," that gets them nervous. What else could we call it? Evaluation? Assessment? Masochism? OK, maybe that last one's not helping.

It seems some riders want to be in peak form before they do a fitness test. Get over it. Do the test already. It's probably better training than you do most of the time and the purpose is to assess your current fitness—not your ideal performance—in order to improve your training. It's not so you can tell your friends how much you bench (power is today's cycling equivalent of the meathead weightlifter talk).

So if you have a fear of doing a fitness test, do like I said: get over it and do the test already. If you think that disappointing numbers are going to ruin your future in cycling, you need a shrink not a training plan. So instead, use the data from the test to determine where you are now, how your current performance compares to a similar time last season, and what you can do to improve your performance for the future.

There are lots of fitness tests out there. If your coach prescribes one, follow those directions closely. If you're doing your own, just pick one and stick with it so you can compare your results over time. Two popular training books, The Cyclist's Training Bible by Joe Friel and Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Allen & Coggan each describe some assessments.

In short, use a fitness test to challenge yourself and plan your move forward. Save the psyching out for your competition at the races.