Saturday, December 27, 2008

BMW G 650 GS: dropping the bike

This is just my 2nd dirt road adventure.

And boy, did I come unstuck on this ride. I have no off-road skills and it shows.

First time around, I took the bike on Oracle Control Rd (a dirt road) up to Mt Lemmon and came down the Catalina Hwy (paved). Did fine. See blog entry here.
This time I ventured out on a loop north past Oracle on Route 77, then right onto a dirt road into San Manuel, then down more dirt and a few switchbacks (where I came unstuck) on Redington Rd (also a dirt road) back into Tucson. A 100 mile loop. See GPS track below:

It began as a bright but fairly chilly morning (3-5C). Hardest problem seemed to be clothing selection.

Tried a FirstGear 90W heated liner (right), substituting it for the regular liner that comes with the Alpinestars RC-1 jacket (left). Base layer was a polypro Performance cycling jersey.

The battery had to be wired for the electrically heated jacket liner. This involves taking off the turn signals and all the plastic panels on the bike to get access to the battery. There were clear instructions in the BMW manual.

A 2 hour careful install for me. You could probably do it in 20 minutes.

Taking desert dirt roads affords vistas and serenity unavailable to those on paved roads. An example:

[On the dirt road to San Manuel.]

I almost made it back into Tucson when I crested the top of Redington Rd and on the way down these hairpins turns were the only obstacle between me and Tanque Verde Rd (paved).

On my earlier ride on Oracle Control Rd, the dirt switchbacks posed no problems. But that was going up only.

Coming down was a totally different matter.

When the front wheel just slid out from under me on a descent, that was the first real indication that I didn't know what I was doing.

I was in first gear with throttle closed. Maximum engine braking. It was steep and a little bit loose. I was also a bit intimidated with the momentum the bike still appeared to be picking up. Finally, there was also a tight switchback at the bottom to be negotiated. So I braked. And whoops! Bike down.

[After picking up the bike for the 2nd time.]
I picked myself up, killed the running engine, picked up the bike and switched off the ABS braking, only to immediately wipe out on the following loose gravel/sand turn when I braked again. We're talking first gear here, max 10-12 mph.

The aluminum Jesse bags saved the bike from any damage each time. Now that I've dropped the bike on consecutive descents (into a 180° turn), any confidence I had had evaporated. I was simply incapable of figuring out how to slow the bike further and not wipe out at the same time.

(Only silver lining here: I can pick up a 450 lb motorcycle lying on its side. Had my doubts beforehand.)

Hmm, how do I get down there without further mishaps?

I decided to "walk" the bike down the next hairpin. That was another mistake. It was a titantic struggle against gravity to try to arrest 450 lbs of machinery from not sliding and falling over on loose gravel on a 15% slope. Ended up totally drenched with sweat. And only getting 30 yds down the dirt road.

The next hairpin didn't appeal to me either but I was so tired I decided to sit on the bike and literally inch it down while stabilizing the bike with both feet on the ground. It wasn't pretty. Another 20 minutes. And another 50 yds. I'm ready to bonk now.

An hour after my first mishap, I was finally to ride the rest of the dirt road as it had gotten less steep.

Conclusion: I gotta get myself some off-roads skills before I try coming down Redington Rd again.

And not use that front brake. Every time I squeezed it the bike fell.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Weight loss and dieting

I spent the Fall semester preparing for the Tucson marathon in December (exercise) and actively trying to lose weight (dieting).

The general claim is that:
In general, for every 1 percent loss of body mass, primarily as body fat, there will be an approximate 1 percent increase in running speed.
[Ignoring resting oxygen consumption, the energy cost of horizontal running is 0.2 milliliter of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per meter per minute (ml O2/kg/m/min).]

Sounds good to me: free speed.

I started nearly 100 days before the marathon. And ran 25-30 miles a week. At the same time, I tried to restrict my calorie intake. The results?

See the weight chart below.

Also see my marathon report here.)

I basically cut out about 25% of my usual kcal intake. I found it pretty hard to do.

Until I hit my mid to late thirties, I never needed to diet. Training for an event by itself was more than enough to get me a single digit body fat percentage. Those days are clearly a thing of the past. Now it takes tackling it from both angles for the scale to even begin budging.

I assiduously recorded my weight (charted above). I also took proverbial bathroom pics at regular intervals to track physiological changes.

Halfway through the 100 days:

Compare with after 100 days below. Clearly, there is a large improvement (more skeletal structure is visible):

Unfortunately, graphs can be misleading. If you look at the percentage loss as a function of entire body weight, it seems like a lot of effort for very little loss:

And compare my body fat and unnecessary musculature to a professional cyclist, one of the strongest climbers in the world who puts out an insane amount of power (one who was about to win a recent Tour de France before being tossed for circumstantial evidence of performance-enhancing drug use). Rather impressive diet plan:

Clearly, I'm not even close to being in the same ballpark. My mind boggles at his obvious total dedication.

I think I could stand to try harder next year...

Friday, December 12, 2008

another year: another post-marathon blues

I ran the 2008 Tucson Marathon this past Sunday.

It's my second attempt at Tucson.

I first ran it two years ago, establishing a true baseline time for my first year as a runner: 3:51.

(See off-blog write-up here to see why.)

The course is a bit different this year, finishing up in the town of Catalina instead of Oro Valley:
[At mile 26. Nearing the finish line. Picture courtesy of Jim Montgomery.]

I'd say it was definitely harder due to the rolling terrain to the BioDome and back out to Oracle Rd. And I finished with a better time: 3:41.

Still I'm disappointed. Why? Well, look at my split times:

I was on 8:07 pace until mile 19.3. Then I started walking and hobbling alternately for over an hour until the finish. And that put my finishing pace in the toilet, so to speak. But this wasn't meant to happen this year. I thought I'd fixed that.

Last year, I was bummed because despite training specifically for a marathon, I was shocked to have gone improbably slower in Phoenix (3:56) than my first attempt at Tucson - which I didn't do any marathon-specific training for. (See PF Chang post-mortem lament here.)

This year I'm bummed because 3rd time around I thought I had fixed the PF Chang problems: specifically, an inadequate number of long runs.

In short, I believe I trained well this year. I always start at the end of August (beginning of the Fall semester). Indications were excellent. I met my weight-loss goals: I was lighter than in the previous two seasons. PR'ed every one of my training runs by a significant margin. Faithfully showed up at the midweek training runs. Completed all the weekend long runs except one.

Unfortunately, I did pick up an overuse injury in my lower right leg 4 weeks before the marathon, which I traced back to an over-exuberant training week back in October in which I ran 6 days in a row. That week I was running so well, I decided to run extra. Yeah, it was stupid. I blame the endorphins.

However, I was careful to rest my injured leg. I basically cut out all training runs except the long weekend run. And I was able to complete those. I thought I had kept my endurance.

And for the first 18 miles of the Tucson marathon, I was going exactly as well as I had predicted. Just over the 8-minute mile mark. I wasn't stressed. I was steadily running a minute-a-mile faster than 2 years ago. (In fact, I'm pretty sure I could have gone a bit faster.)

And then I fell apart all of a sudden. I went from running to walking. I had plenty of glycogen left. After all, I was quaffing strawberry cliff bloks like candy. No bonk possible.

But then I started feeling my injured leg stiffen a bit. That's not so bad I thought: I can manage one dodgy leg. But then my uninjured leg started cramping and seized up. Electrolytes perhaps? Anyway, the result was another meltdown:

Sigh. How many years will it take? When will I get the training and race day execution right?

A few things are clear:
  1. I need to find a training program where I can pile on the miles and not get frustratingly injured. Injury is definitely a limiter in marathon training.

    (Someone just told me about Jeff Galloway's run/walk philosophy.)

  2. Maybe I need a running season longer than just late August to December, i.e. come in with more base.

  3. I could do with some speedwork. I only managed one speedwork session all semester.

Until next year when I get to try this all over again...

P.S. This year, they had disposable timing chips. Just a printed label that wrap around the shoe laces:

No need to cut the chip off at the end of the race. The underside contains just a simple induction loop:


As a new motorcycle rider, I'm acutely aware of the statistics mentioned in the Arizona Motorcycle Handbook:
More than half of all crashes occur on motorcycles ridden by the operator for less than six months.
No citations. But I guess these and statistics much like the following one:
In single vehicle accidents, motorcycle rider error was present as the accident precipitating factor in about two-thirds of the cases.
originate from the 1981 Hurt study funded by the NHTSA about Los Angeles area motorcycle accidents.

And you'd think the great state of Arizona with its vast emptiness would have a low accident rate. But it's perineally in the top 3 or 4 when it comes to fatality rates, see official stats for 2006 below (and 3rd worst state for cyclists):

As a newbie on a brand-new bike with questionable skills, clearly the odds are not in my favor. Moreover, given:
Most crashes happen on short trips (less than five miles long), just a few minutes after starting out.
the only logical conclusion is All The Gear All The Time (ATGATT).

And All The Gear means street clothing and jeans which provide essentially zero protection (even against sliding) are out no matter how short the Starbucks trip. You can seriously hurt yourself falling off at 25 mph. Ask any road cyclist with lots of scars, e.g. me. (BTW, it's possible to google and find pictures of even kevlar-reinforced jeans wearing through on 30-40 mph get-offs.)

Instead, it makes sense to have head-to-toe coverage of body parts against abrasion on tarmac from the use of motorcycle grade leathers and impact mitigation in the form of body armor.

From the wikipedia entry on Motorcycle Safety:
One of the main reasons motorcyclists are killed in crashes is because the motorcycle itself provides virtually no protection in a crash. For example, approximately 80 percent of reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death; a comparable figure for automobiles is about 20 percent.
In other words, if I come off that motorcycle, chances are, I'm getting hurt.

Of course, accident avoidance through vigilance, formal training and practice are paramount, but ATGATT is the only backup left when an unfortunate chain of events happens, either through operator error - be it brain fade or inadequate skill - or because of circumstances beyond my control - automobiles violating the motorcyclist's right of way being the most common cause of motorcycle accidents.

Okay. My gear? Here's what I came up with given a combination what was locally available to try on and internet shopping. (Since fit is critical for optimal safety, I bought everything locally except for the pants.)

I appear completely overdressed and totally uncool compared to the majority of riders I see in Tucson on their sportbikes but I believe this gear should have significant advantages. Here is a breakdown:

Equipment Description Cost
Helmet Shoei RF-1000. Size S. The middle helmet of their full face line. Has reinforced fiberglass, sophisticated venting/anti-fogging and comfort features.

Must fit tightly yet be comfortable. Squishes my cheeks.
Jacket Alpinestars RC-1 jacket. Size 48. Full-grain 1.2-1.4mm leather. Elbow and shoulder armor. Soft chest protector.

Surprised only a foam back pad included. Yet has an aerodynamic hump. Go figure.
A higher-end model than I'd set out to buy, but at the local store they had a special order error. Came in my size, european 48 (really small). As a result, it was on sale for $100 off.

I added a hard Dainese spine protector ($79).
$400 + $79
Pants Alpinestars Bat leather pants. Size 48 (american 32). Has soft knee protectors and a couple of other minor bits of padding only.

Hmm, Alpinestars doesn't claim full-grain 1.2-1.4mm leather for this model. Nor does it have any cushioned hard plastic protectors. But it does integrate with the RC-1 jacket - they zip together - and it was on close-out at $100 off in my size.
Boots Alpinestars Web Gore-tex leather boot. Shin guard. Toe and heel bits. Minimal ankle protection.

I worry about the ankle protection here and there is nothing in the back either. But it's a lot less expensive than fully-featured race boots, which are probably uncomfortable to walk in.
Gloves Alpinestars SP-2 full-grain leather gloves with extended wrist protection. Has carbon-fiber knuckles. And finger knuckle protection. $89

I am not going to total this up :-)

Despite the cost, apart from the jacket, surprisingly nothing is quite top-of-the-line in terms of armor etc.

(And, I forgot to include my Nathan safety vest for nighttime riding. Well, that was $25, a veritable bargain.)

Despite the sticker shock, I'd much rather spend $1K on safety gear than $1K more on the motorcycle. Still, the cost involved is only slightly less frightening than the prospect of a motorcycle accident without such stuff.

A view of the cosmetic (?) aero hump, wonder if it offers any additional protection:

Finally, not only does it look supremely dorky, I'd like to point out none of this is especially comfortable to walk around in either.

First, everything is pre-curved for the riding position down to the knuckles. Secondly, it all weighs a ton - well, I checked this morning on my bathroom scale:

Description Weight
Me 66.9 kg (147 lbs) - post-marathon bonus.
plus base layer 67.2 kg (148 lbs)
plus ATGATT 76.0 kg (168 lbs)

That's 20 lbs of motorcycle gear! And I hope I never need it.

BMW G 650 GS: One week anniversary

I bought a motorcycle for commuting last week, see previous blog entry.

One week later, I took it for its first non-commute ride to celebrate my first week of motorcycling. Mt Lemmon was the destination.

From Tucson (2595 ft). Ascended the back side of Mt Lemmon (peak: 9157 ft) to the village of Summerhaven (around 8000 ft) using the unpaved and unmaintained Control Road from Oracle. Basically dirt, mud, some snow and rocks. In parts, just one lane wide: hence the name "Control Road". Nothing that would faze an experienced rider, but it kept a beginner like me fully occupied keeping it rubber side down on some muddy/rocky 180° turns. Another first down: a non-tarmac experience.

After a traditional slice of pie at the Mt Lemmon Cafe in Summerhaven just before it closed at 4pm, it was down the well-paved and maintained Catalina Highway back into Tucson. The (standard) heated grips came in handy.

Still learning how to ride, I corned gingerly with not much throttle roll-on. At the low speeds I'm currently employing to avoid overcooking a corner, it feels a little strange.

Having descended the Catalina Hwy many times flat-out on my road bicycle, barely braking even for the 180° hairpins, everything feels much more deliberate and ponderous on the motorcycle. Maybe it's due to the environmental isolation afforded by full motorcycle leathers, gauntlets and full-face helmet compared to polyester/lycra and a helmet with more holes than a kitchen sieve. But it actually seems less fun.

Total: a scenic 100 mile loop.

[D: University of Arizona, C: Summerhaven. B: Oracle.]

A brief stop halfway down at Windy Point on the Catalina Highway to admire the sunset:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

BMW G 650 GS

A week after taking the MSF Basic RiderCourse and getting my motorcycle endorsement, I bought a BMW G 650 GS dual purpose motorcycle for commuting.

Versatile. I've found it can do dirt roads comfortably as well as paved ones. It has significantly more suspension travel than pure street machines (6.7" F, 6.5" R) plus suitable tires. In any case, in off-road situations, the limiter is clearly me.

Insurance is many times cheaper than a car and parking fees are also but a fraction of the cost for a car at the University. No more driving to work. Either a powered or a pedal bike instead, depending on whether I have a workout scheduled for that day.

It happens to be the simplest and least expensive motorcycle that BMW makes. It has a single cylinder engine, a thumper, displacing 650cc. The engine is outsourced to China for cost-savings. Primitive, reliable and hopefully cheap to maintain, though it does have modern-day EFI (electronic fuel injection).

Heated grips for winter and ABS (not yet commonplace on motorcycles) are two notable features that come standard. The aluminum Jesse bags shown above were an option installed by the dealer. Mine also came with a centerstand.

More importantly, it only has 53hp and is not super-heavy at 387 lbs (dry) and 425 lbs (wet). After all, I'm a motorcycling newbie. Still, I'm not sure I can pick it up. And with a seat height of 30.7", unusually low for a dual purpose motorcycle, I can actually touch the ground with both feet (not completely flat footed though). (I don't have the optional lowered suspension and seat, which drops the height even further to 29.5".)

[A couple of weeks after I bought mine: reviews started appearing in the press, e.g. and]

Iron Horse Motorcycles had two 2009 G 650 GS bikes: one in red, the other in black. I was offered a test ride. It was the first time I've actually ridden on a road. My only other experience on a motorcycle was the MSF course mentioned earlier in a parking lot, see previous blog entry.

I need urgently to practice and improve on the skills learnt in the Basic RiderCourse. On the evening I took it home, at the tail end of rush hour, I took it very gingerly and only stalled it twice. My friend Jim drove sweep using his Dodge Caravan to keep cars off my tail. The next morning I took it solo into rush hour traffic for my 30 mile round trip commute. Trial by fire if you will.

Nearly one week in I have 210 miles on the odometer. I've dropped the motorcycle twice on its side at 0mph in parking lot situations due to the engine conking out before I could completely bottom out the clutch lever (an adjustment in order perhaps?). Extremely embarassing but I've learnt when the revs get low, the thumper conks out. In both cases, the aluminum bags saved the bike from damage. I'm learning quickly I think. But it's only week one.