Tuesday, October 1, 2013

2013 Iron Cross Recap

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
― Marcel Proust
OK, I've never read Proust, but he aptly describes the Iron Cross experience.

I've raced Iron Cross (billed as North America's first ultracross race) in 2008, 2012, and this year. The passage of a year dulls the pain, and leaves only the memories of the epic race.  Two of three times I have been reduced to thoughts of just lying down off the track and giving up. Somehow that experience doesn't keep me from coming back.

The course is mostly gravel fire roads with two (2-3) km long sections of mountain-bike single track. And of course, the signature section of the course is the Wigwam Runup: a 100-m-high goat path beneath a high-voltage power line. My GPS said that the gradient averaged 48%. New  this year was the inclusion of about 10 km of rocky, rutted ATV trail at the end, and the deletion of a long segment of single track that formerly came at the end..

Race Summary

Unlike 2012, I was pretty stoked about the event. Conditions were perfect: shorts, Paceline embro , long gloves and arm warmers. 

I don't like to criticize the course, (too much) but the rollout proceeded immediately into a 2m-wide shale-strewn path. I'm sure that within the first 5km, the leaders were already five minutes ahead.  A longer open section to shake things out would have been fairer. 

The modified course meant that we hit the first single-track section (Lippincote) only about 20km in to the 110-km race. It felt shorter to me this year, and seemed to beat me up less. After a short, fast descent on US30, we hit the base of Wigwam. Like every year, it was one long line of guys, bikes on the shoulders, rear wheel of the guy in front of you threatening to hit you in the face. Step. Plant the toe spikes. Step. Plant. Repeat. And once again using those running muscles just torched my legs. 

From the top of Wigwam the distance just flew by, and suddenly I was back at the start/finish and nearly halfway through the race. I pitted for two minutes at the back of Rob's van to refill my camelback and ditch my vest, gloves, and armwarmers. More flowing, fast, gravel downhill followed. 

I caught Tom Snyder, after buzzing his tire by accident, at the start of the Hogshead Climb. "Hey, Tom." "What are you doing here?!" and then back to grinding. 

I had been a little crampy up to that point, despite eating a Gu every 50 minutes and seemingly having the spigot of my camelback in my mouth the entire way. But I came completely unglued with 20km to go. It was all going well, until almost immediately it was not going well at all. I was forced to ride the (anemic) brakes on one downhill, as I was so bleary that I feared that I would not be able to ride out of a bad situation. I started counting the kilometers to the finish, which is never a good sign.  I rode the next uphill section under reduced power for fear of cramping. My lower back was on fire, and my arms hurt from the combined braking and pounding. 

The finish line was going to involve quite a bit of vertical, and I started praying it was going to be the road climb that we descended at the start. Every downhill seemed to be followed by another little wall of an uphill.Would that final climb never come?  Instead of the road, the finish climb was an ATV trail. I realized that if the finish didn't come at 110 km, I might just get off the bike and lie down.  Finally I could see the inflatable Red Bull finishing arch through the trees, but the climb was too steep. Only 150 m from the end, and I was pushing the bike.  I remounted with 50 m to go, and rolled through.  At least 10 guys passed me in the final 3 km.


I rode the Fuji with what should have been Conti Cyclocross Speed 35mm tires. Unfortunately, while setting up the bike on Saturday I saw that the sidewall on one was slashed,  probably from my second flat at Hilly Billy Roubaix this year. I replaced it with a Panaracer 35mm that I had used in '12. It probably didn't make too much difference. The Fuji has a 46x34 with and 11x28 in the rear. That setup did accomplish some of my course recommendations from 2012, but did not address the one in all caps: NEED.MORE.BRAKES. The TRP cantilevers are just not sufficient for this course.

I had gone back and forth about riding my mountain bike this year, but the course change that eliminated the long single-track section, which convinced me that the road sections would be more efficient on a 'cross bike.  The downhill sections would have been slightly faster, and the lower gearing would have been an advantage with the mountain bike.

The Panache shorts from the '13 NCVC kit are the nicest club shorts I've ever worn. Not quite Assos, but close.

Comparison with 2012

I was faster on every segment I examined. 

2012  2013 Segment
11:39   09:28   Lippincote
07:43   06:49   Wigwam runup
09:02   08:50   Thompson Hollow Descent
14:55   13:46   "Iron Pavement"
17:44   16:15   Hogshead climb

2008: 100 km in 5:14:59 @1:17:39 : 44th/93 starters in the 40+
2012: 100 km in 5:03:17 @1:14:23 : 27th/79 starters in the 40+
2013: 109 km in 5:24:10 @1:12:37 : 38th/94 starters in the 40+ (going backwards...)



  • Drove up in Rob Campbell's van with Tom Snyder. Left from the Exit 11 park and ride. Took just  about 1.5 hours to get to the parking area. Plenty of time.
  • My heart rate trace (no power data) was pretty consistent after the first 20 minutes: 158 bpm average. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

2013 Fall Bike Tour


Tom Snyder and I have been taking a fall weekend bike tour since 2009. They've usually ended up on the slightly to the excessive side of epic. In 2011, we finished day three with 128 miles on the GAP trail and the C&O towpath
For 2013, I tried to dial it back some, and get some better buy-in from Tom on the route.


I used the same bike from 2010 and 2012, a Reynolds 531 Zeus from the mid-70s. I did spend nearly an hour looking for the panniers, which I had very carefully stored in an unlabeled box in the attic. Why?

Day 1: North Potomac, Md to Caledonia State Park, Pa

We  had planned to leave at 8:00AM. At 7:15 I  wheeled my bike out to the car, and noticed that the front brake was dragging. At 8:00 I was still trying to replace the front canti with one stolen from my spare parts box. Apparently I had sheared off the pin that sets the spring tension. Maybe that's why it was such a drag when I rode it to work the day before.
We finally rolled out of Tom's house at 9:00--only an hour behind schedule. Our history of military-precision departures was over. Within 45 minutes were were lost in Clarksburg. None of the roads were the same as when Tom Hoeger promoted the district road race there.  Eventually we found our way to the first waypoint of they day: the ford on Prices's Distillery Rd.
Luckily, the water was low. I remember tipping over crossing this same ford in the early 90s, and going completely underwater. It was an absolutely glorious, wonderful day to be goofing around on a bike.
After an unpleasant, traffic-filled detour around Frederick, we lunched at Loys covered bridge.
From then, on to Emmittsburg where we picked up dinner.
We knew the last 20 miles would be the hardest, as we would climb up onto South Mountain. Cold Spring Rd did not disappoint: long stretches of 5% interspersed with ramps up to 18%. The road wound up through commercial apple orchards, all of which were still harvesting.
Appropriately we finished the day on a dirt road. The combination of the loaded back end and the anemic front brake made the descent to US 30 a little dicey and not as fun as it could have been.
The tent sites at Caledonia State Park were all gravel. I had an inflatable pad, but Tom enjoyed tested his back on the  gravel. Dinner for me was peanut butter and salami sandwiches. Tom ate hobo soup.
Distance: about 80 miles in 8 hours total.

Day 2: Fort Frederick State Park

The weather forecast for Saturday did not inspire confidence. Fortunately, we had scheduled a short day from Caledonia to Fort Frederick. We'd be racing the rain.
   We dropped down on the west side of South Mountain. Immediately the farms and terrain changed, and were reminiscent of my '86 tour of central Germany. Frequently, the corn and soybeans were planted right up to the edge of the pavement, and when they weren't, the strip of grass was manicured to golf-fairway level. The lawns of every house were similar: manicured right up to the edge of the pavement. The answer was quickly revealed, when we saw a woman in a long brown dress mowing her lawn: Mennonites.
The first raindrops were falling while we were still on the C&O towpath, and Tom set up the tent in the rain, while I paid for the space.
Fort Frederick is a stone star fort from the French and Indian War era, when western Maryland was the wild west.
The rain drove off the tourists, so we had a private tour of fort
given by this delightful English re-enactor (whoops, "living history ranger"). We even got some of his backstory: English Medieval History Ph.D. meets American astrophysics Ph.D, falls in love, and moves to Hagerstown for love. The backstory on the restoration of the fort was similarly interesting. After being abandoned in the late 18th century, it was farm until the great depression when the Daughters of the American Revolution turned it over to the state.
We hung out in the rocking chairs on the veranda of the gift shop until dark avoiding the rain, but eventually we had to return to our tiny tent. We had chosen our site poorly, and were stuck next to two rednecks. These guys seriously need to attend a story-telling workshop. I thought the pointless story about "I'm not go-in to have my dawg faht yer dawg" was never going to end.
Distance: about 55 miles.

Day 3: Fort Frederick and Home to Gaithersburg

Sunday dawned again like Friday. Another amazing day to be out on a bike. Just outside of Williamsport, we turned off the main road, and I spotted three VW van hulks outside what looked like an auto repair place. Knowing that Tom was a VW freak, I pointed them out and we circled back to Cookers Vdubs. A couple minutes later, Cooker himself was showing us around the bays.  I was amazed that there were any VW vans to refurbish, but the owner pointed out a hulk outside the shop that he said the owner had paid $55000 for, sight unseen. Pretty amazing stuff. 
On, through Williamsport, Smithsburg, and Brunswick.  We crossed the Potomac at Brunswick, fueled up at the 7-11 in Lovettsville. After a loop through Waterford, we took Old Waterford Rd back to Leesburg. I hadn't been down that road since Sandra and I lived in Leesburg 21 years ago. It's probably ridable uphill with 23s. 
We made it back to South Gaithersburg around 4:30PM


The trip wasn't as epic as previous versions, but that was probably a plus. I should examine why I want to turn every ride into a death march.  More gravel would have improved the experience. Too much pavement. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

19th Century Technology Road Trip

Day 1. Scranton, Pa

McDade Park, Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum and Coal Mine tour

After dropping Sandra's friend Mik off at the metro station, we hit the road four minutes ahead of schedule bound for Scranton. Today's stop was McDade Park, for the Coal Mine and the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum.

Both museums come close to my ideal of the local technology museum. The Anthracite Museum has a bunch of stuff in display cases and a long, wordy exhibit on the 1902 mine workers' strike.  What I learned about silk weaving (apparently the second industry in Scranton in the 19th century) was that most of the work involved unwinding the thread off of one spool and winding it onto another spool. Also that I would not have made it as a 10-year old coal miner.

The coal mine tour was complete value. It lasted more than an hour, and included descending about 250 feet vertically into what was last operating mine in Scranton. For those of you who grew up in Chicago, this coal mine tour far eclipsed the tour at the Museum of Science and Industry. Plus the tour guide was completely wired on coal mining and coal-mining history.  This mine was the first real coal mine I'd ever been in. It looked amazingly like every 1950s Hollywood movie mine--in other words, completely fake.  I never realized how accurate those movies really were!
Sandra at the entrance to the coal mine
The only disappointment of the day was that the coal-mine tour part of the museum closed as soon as the tour ended, so we missed those exhibits.

Personal Historical Note

I started two editions of the Moosic Mountains Road Race from McDade Park in the 1980s. The first year was my second race as a newly minted Cat 3, and was so excited that I went in the first attack, and was already counting my prize money when I got completely shelled on the first climb. The second  year (1989?) I turned myself inside out for 19th place--got my entry fee back!

Amusing Note

While waiting for the coal-mine tour, the only other person in line looked me over and said, "How long have you raced?" Turned out his brother also lived in Gaithersburg. 

Lodging and Dining

Our room at the Scranton Radisson overlooked the railroad tracks (after all, it's a former railroad station) and the soccer field of Scranton University. We got to watch the women's field hockey team practice. We had dinner at  a little Italian Restaurant across the railroad tracks. Awesome garlic bread--probably an entire head of garlic on it. Disappointing espresso at City Lights afterwards. 


Day 2: Scranton Steamtown and Iron Works

Steamtown National Historic Park is an National Park Service-run railroad museum housed in the grounds of the former Delaware and Lackawanna Rail Road main yards. The rebuilt roundhouse contains a museum that covers mid-19th century railroading and railroad people, and the history of the DLWR. The layout of the museum is a little confusing, and exhibits don't flow easily into another. 

Steamtown is not the finest train museum, even on the east coast. The former Pennsylvania RR collection in Strasburg ( contains dozens more engines. The former B&O collection, maintained by the Smithsonian in Baltimore also has a comprehensive history of railroad locomotives. But Steamtown has a 4-8-8-4 on display. The walking tour of the restoration shop was informative. For fans of The Office, a bridge connects the site to the Steamtown Mall.
Sandra on the restoration shop, in front of a Baldwin switcher

At the other end of site is the Electric City Trolley Museum. Trolleys don't hold the same appeal to me that steam locomotives do, but it's still an interesting specialty museum. 

The drive to Erie was longer than I anticiipated. We took NY17, (now US84), which allowed us to pass the site where the bottom fell out of my '77 Chevette Scooter in a snowstorm in 1986. 



Day 3: Erie: Maritime Museum and Titusville Drake Well

The Erie Maritime Museum has a single focus: Oliver Hazard Perry and the battle of lake Erie in the War of 1812.  The fourth reconstruction of the Brig Niagara, which Perry won the Battle of Lake Erie, floats in a slip behind the museum. We tagged on to a tour of the ship, which sails regularly, but as soon as we went below deck, I got claustrophobic and fled for the quay. Too many elderly people in too small a volume...

The Drake Well Museum documents the history of the discovery of oil in NE Pennsylvania in 1859. Skip the "orientation" film. It's a mixture of Terry Gilliam/Monty Python animation that segues into a long piece on the importance of gasoline to NASCAR. Weird--smacked too much to me of a need to be "relevant to the kids." The pre-1900 exhibits seem pretty balanced, but after that the focus reveals the influence of the founder of the museum--the American Petroleum Institute. On the grounds, the museum has erected a replica oil well building over the actual well that Col. Drake drilled. Based on the pictures of Oil Creek in 1860, it seems impossible that anyone could have found the original well.
The focus on American Oil discovery is a little disingenuous. Drillers had already found oil and started producing in both Canada and Russia before Col. Drake even started drilling. 
Sandra pointing out Col. Drake's toothbrush. Nothing better than artifacts in glass cases!

Erie was definitely the most prosperous of the three cities


  • Forgettable Hampton Inn out at the interstate. Did score the Government rate. 
  • Forgettable sports bar across the highway from the Hampton.


Day 4 Johnstown Flood and the Allegheny Portage Railroad

Of the four days, I was least sure of the schedule and attractions for Johnstown. Although I knew the basic outline of the Johnston Flood  (fat-cat industrialists fail to maintain aging dam, which fails during heavy rain. The resulting flood killed 2200 people) I didn't realize that the dam was tied to our second destination, the Allegheny Portage. It had been build originally to supply water for the Johnstown side of the "Main Line" canal to Pittsburgh, serviced by the Allegheny Portage Railroad. 
The Allegheny Portage Railroad was a short-lived absolutely amazing piece of technology. From 1835 until about 1850, it was possible to take a canal boat from Philadephia to Pittsburgh, over the eastern continental divide. When the canal reached its terminus near Altoona, the canalboats were split into thirds, loaded onto rail cars, and hauled over the mountains, pulled up steep rail inclines by stationary steam engines and cables. In the early days, the cables were manila ropes, but pretty soon John Roebling (of Brooklyn Bridge Fame) got his start supplying wire rope to replace manila ropes. 

The run of the Allegheny Portage Railroad was amazingly brief--less than twenty years--before being eclipsed by the railroads.

The Johnstown Flood museum and National Memorial adequately describe the history of the flood and resulting outpouring of international support for the victims. Until 9/11, the flood was the structure failure that killed the most people. Interestingly, the disaster seems to have absolutely no effect on regulation of dam safety in the US. 

We finished off the day with a walk to the Johnstown funicular, which I didn't know existed until we saw it from the hotel. The city built the funicular in 1891 to service the new neighborhoods built on high ground after the flood. It's even possible to have your car taken up it. 

Sandra riding the funicular

Amusingly, we had to pay for parking at the Holiday Inn (which was really quite a nice hotel--much better than I expected). From the funicular overlook, we could see that most of downtown Johnstown is actually a parking lot. And we had to pay for parking for the flood museum because we couldn't find their parking lot.

Dining and Lodging

  • Holiday Inn. Very spiffy for such a run-down city.
  • Boulevard Grill. Completely acceptable. Waitress wasn't very knowledgeable about the menu or beer selection. 


Day 5: Carrie Blast Furnace Tour and Paw Paw Tunnel

Carrie Blast Furnace

The entire trip was built around the final day tour of the Carrie Blast Furnace. In a word: amazing. Wonderfully unsafe.  Don't skip it if you go to Pittsburgh.

We got off to a shaky start in Johnstown when I obeyed Serena, the GPS lady, instead of taking the road I knew was right. After starting late, going the wrong way, and then getting lost, we were thirty minutes behind behind schedule. We pulled in Rankin at 9:53 for a 10:00AM tour. Luckily we blundered on to some signs, and at 9:57 we were bouncing down a single lane dirt road into what looked like a superfund site. 

The 1930s-technology Carrie furnaces last made iron for the Homestead works across the river in 1980. Only the really easy and high value parts had been scrapped.  Our tour guide for the next 3 1/2 hours was a retired railroad worker who started his career shuttling the hot-metal and slag cars. 

The highlight of the tour was being able to stand in the cast house.

In the cast house. During tapping, molten iron comes out that little hole in the center of the image. Slag goes left into waiting rail cars and molten iron goes to the right into other insulated rail cars.  The big pipe around the furnace (the bustle) supplies the hot air to the bottom of the furnace. 

The scale of everything in an operation like this defies description. So I won't bother...

Paw Paw Tunnel

On the way back to Falls Church we added one final 19th century stop--the Paw Paw tunnel on the C&O canal. Like the Allegheny Portage railroad, it was completed around 1850, and just in time for the railroad to make it obsolete. The 1-km long tunnel itself, part of the C&O canal towpath, cut off 10 km of winding canal. In the end, it's just a tunnel, but there's something odd about a tunnel built for boats. 
Sandra at the west entrance to the Paw Paw tunnel.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Real crime on Allan Ave

Disclaimer: I regularly engage in risky behavior with my possessions. They're only things.  Allan Ave is generally a quiet neighborhood.

Scene 1. 7:05 PM I'm back from the NCVC masters ride and napping in the recliner next to the screened front door. My bike is leaning next to the open front door on the porch about five feet away. Sandra is sitting on the couch next to the front door, reading. The neighbor kid, Joe, finished mowing the lawn about a half hour ago.  I hear something on the front porch. Must be Joe, coming to get paid.  Five seconds later, there's no knock, and I get up only to see my bike disappearing across the lawn, pushed by a kid.

"Motherfucker--come back with my bike!" but I'm barefoot running down the street, and he's gone. I run past the neighbors' house and yell at the neighbor kid (?) in the garage sitting on a bike to get after him. No, wait, it's not Joe--it must be one of Joe's friends. No matter, I have more important issues. I go back for the car and drive around the neighborhood while Sandra calls 911.  No joy.

Scene 2 7:15 Back at the house.
Sandra hands me the phone to talk to the police dispatcher. "Can you describe the bike sir?" I give a whole bunch of way-too-specific information that's totally useless. At that moment a Fairfax police cruiser rolls up.  Officer Walker takes some description of the event, and asks how much the bike is worth. "$7000" That statement gets things moving at a completely different level. He radios in and a three minutes later a police helicopter is thwacking over our house.  Officer Walker and I walk down to the McCullough's house to find out who the kid was and see if he can provide some more intel. Slowly it dawns on all of us that Youth #2, who I had sent in pursuit of Thief #1 is actually Thief #1's associate, and was chasing after him on the neighbor's daughter's bike. Despite the gravity of the situation, we all have a good laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Even Officer Walker thought it was funny.

Scene 3: 7:30 Allan Ave
Officer Walker answers the radio, and tells me that they have some suspects in custody down the street, and can I make a positive identification? I get loaded in the back of the cruiser (first time, I swear!) and we drive down to the end of the street.  There's the kid, sitting on the curb surrounded by officers. The other kid is face down on the hood of another police car.

Scene 4: 7:45 Allan Ave
We're hanging out with the officer, waiting for the K-9 officer to arrive. He drives by, and a few minutes later, after another radio interchange,  Officer Walker announces, "We've got the bikes back." Joe the neighbor kid and I are loaded again into the back of the cruiser. A moment  of levity ensues, when the door on Joe's side (there are no door handles back in the "perp" area)  isn't closed, and we're driving down the street with Joe frantically clawing at the door trying to close it.

Scene 5: 7:55 Falls Church City
The K-9 unit tracked the bikes to a back yard from the spot where the police had the suspects. My nasty, gatorade-filled bottles are commandeered for fingerprint evidence. The police marvel at the weight of the bike.

Scene 6: 8:10 7312 Allan Ave
Neighbors reunite. Adam from across the street brings me a much-needed beer.

All told, an hour from theft to recovery. Six cruisers and a helicopter involved. I feel like I got back all the taxes I've paid back in services today...

Postscript: Two days later
I've had a chance to assess the events and my reaction to them. At the moment I saw the kid running with my bike across the lawn, I was completely driven by the id: total rage.  No thought of personal safety. What amazes me is how quickly that state passed. Ten years ago I would have been homicidal with anger for hours. By the time I got back to the house after my drive around the neighborhood, my rage was gone and replaced by fatigue. The overwhelming emotion was "what a hassle this is going to be--I'm going to have to watch Craigslist for days, then do this, and that, and have meetings and fill out forms. "

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Where did all the Cat 5s go?


The flame war on the D20 and VAcycling email lists about why category 5s don't show up to race motivated me to publish at least some preliminary results of a USAC member retention analysis I've done on several occasions over the years.

Since 2008 I've downloaded a weekly snapshot of the USAcycling member database. I  also have individual snapshots back to 2006. Before 2006, I only have data for the Mid-Atlantic. This trove of data makes it possible to follow the progression of an individual rider, and perhaps put some solid numbers into the discussion of why riders stay in the sport.


I should probably do this as a Sweave document, in support of Reproducible Research, but it's Sunday evening, and this is blog. So there. Contact me if you want a custom analysis or if you want me to email you the script. Then you can see what a crappy R coder I am. 

Here's what I did
  1. Read in the USAC rider database closest to the end of each calendar year, since all licensed riders appear in the late December snapshot.  Each database snapshot is about 50000 records of twenty or so variables, including age, category, gender, and city/state.
  2. Exploit the fact that USAC issues licenses in numerical order to identify which licensees are new for each year.  (A more rigorous approach could specifically identify which licenses don't appear in previous years.) 
  3. For each First Year of License (2006-2012) identify the "freshman class" of racers. 
  4. For each subsequent year for that class, find the subset of racers from the first year class who are still licensed and add these to the master dataframe (using "rbind"). 
  5. Iterate on that dataframe to produce some summary statistics. (I'm sure I could have used some tapply mojo here, but maybe I'm really a fortran programmer at heart...) 


  • This method will specifically catch someone who misses a few years and the relicenses.
  • The analysis is for the whole USA, and not the MidAtlantic, though that analysis is also possible. 


First lets look at the total number of new racers per year
The top red curve shows that USAC has issued about 9000 new licenses each year since 2006. For some reason 2010 was a banner year for new licenses, that ended a  four-year decline. The lower curves on the plot below show the number of those racers who are still licensed in subsequent years. Since 2012 just ended, there is no year 1 data for 2012. The takeaway is that about 45%  of the first-year racers do not renew their licenses for a subsequent season. 

We can look at the fractions instead of absolute counts as well.
The plot above shows the "lifetime" of a racer. I've overplotted the data by year of first license, but the differences don't look significant to me. In other words, 2012 new racers are just like new racers from 2006. After only a year, 45% of the racers have quit the sport. By the end of the third year, only 36% of the racers remain, and after six years, only 20% remain. 

Finally, we can also look at the category progression for those racers. 
The plot above is a little complicated. The individual panels break out by road category (1-5). Some trends are interesting (to me at least). 
  • Amazingly, after six years, 15% of the cadre are still category 5. Who are these people? Mountain bike racers who reflexively take out a road license each year and never use it? 
  • About 30% of the new licensees upgrade from Category 5 in the first year. 
  • About 0.16% of new licensees make it all the way to Category 1 in the first year. 


  • "Infant mortality" is significant for new bicycle racers. About 45% don't come back for a second season.
  • The progression of riders through the sport is relatively unchanged over the past six years. 
Solutions to the infant mortality problem (if it is indeed a problem) are left to the reader. If solutions are even necessary. I could argue that it's better to let in 100 people and have 45 of them quit, than to only have 65 people, but keep them all. 

Flite and Fizik saddles compared.

In 26 years of racing, I've used only three different saddles:
  1. Selle Italia Turbo 1987-1990 (debuted in 1980)
  2. Selle Italia Flite 1990-2013 (debuted in 1990)
  3. San Marco Rolls (debuted in 1980) 

I switched to the Flite in 1990 because I thought it would be a geometrically similar but lighter version of the Turbo. As is well known, I fear change. I've only ever used the Rolls on my cyclocross and commuter bikes. It's a great saddle, even if it is outrageously heavy. The stated weight is well over 380 g, compared with 200g  for  modern saddles. But it cannot be eclipsed for comfort. It's also rumored to be the widest saddle made.

I've flirted with other saddles, but never found one that provides the same level of "don't realize that it's there" comfort of  the Flite. Most notably, in 2009 I rode a Fizik Arione for about two months. It always felt like I was sitting on the corners of the saddle, and I was always sore. I went back to the Flite. 

My new Cannondale came with a Fizik Antares, which has the same duck shape as the Arione, which gave me the opportunity to geometrically compare the two saddles.  First a side-by-side visual comparison.
They are almost the same length. And they weigh about the same:

Fizik claimed:  189 g ; actual: 210 g
Flite  claimed:  230 g ; actual: 232 g (wow!)

The big difference is in the actual profile. I traced the outline of the two saddles from the photographs and overlaid them.

The Flite is about 10 mm wider, but the major difference is the region where the saddle is widest. In the illustration above, I've shifted the Fizik backwards to put its widest point at the point where my pelvic bones contact the Flite. Whereas the Flite has about 40 mm of fore-aft position at nearly constant width, the Fizik basically has one spot that's wide enough for me. So there's the answer. What will I do if Selle Italia drops the Flite from its "Vintage" line?


I wonder if the shape of the Fizik lets normally proportioned racers get a "pro-looking" setup," with the saddle slammed all the way back, even though they lack the freakishly long femurs of the pros. On my setup, the Fizik would be visually nearly 50 mm aft compared to the Flite.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Geotagged road-thong sightings

For many years I've stopped on rides to pick up lost items on the side of the road. I've found calendar organizers, checkbooks, about $40 in cash, five working mobile phones (four returned), a policeman's badge, about 120 tools (including enough sockets to make up a complete US and metric set), and dozens of tie-down straps. Around 2008 I began noticing women's undergarments on the roadside. This post is a collection of photographs that document the condition and locations. I have never brought any of these home, though I have poked several with sticks. 
Leading the charge with our banner!


  • Interestingly, and possibly significantly, I've only seen men's underwear about ten times and children's underwear only twice.
  • Initially, the sightings clustered outside the summer months, even though the total miles I ride is probably higher in the summer, which would lead to more frequent sightings. Over time the distribution has become more uniform. 
  • 2015 was the International Year of the Road Thong. Sightings have decreased since then, though 2018 is on track to exceed all previous years. I have no explanation.

Each row tabulates the date of a sighting in a given year.

The collection 

  • A google map that shows the locations and dates of the sightings follows the image collection.
  • A collection of other photographs submitted by the members of the Cooperative Road Thong Network is here.

The Images

2018-10-15 Quince Orchard Rd just south of the NIST C gate. Had to circle back around and stop for light. No manufacturer or size information. Quince Orchard is a busy, stick-free road. GPS coordinates: 39.1351667, -77.2234083

2018-08-30, Schaeffer Rd, just south of the soccerplex roundabout. "Just Be" brand in size 8/XL

2018-08-16, Seneca Rd south of MD Rt 28. No manufacturer information.

2018-08-12 Algonkian Parkway just west of the Sugarland Run bridge, Sterling. While bunnyhopping the median to check out a possible sighting from the day before, I found this one right under my front wheel. Warner Brand, size info was worn off. 

2018-07-22. Corner of West and Broad St, Falls Church, while walking back from getting coffee. Tag cut out--no size or manufacturer information. Who knows how far it drifted during yesterday's flash-flood.

2018-06-10. Marshall, VA Park-n-Ride, after an absolutely delightful 60 miles of gravel. Size XS, no manufacturer information.

2018-05-15. Assignment is tentative. I struggled to decide if this was just a re-sighting of the 9/28/17 thong. But I went back to confirm manufacturer information on 2018-05-30 and found no label. Also I almost missed finding it, because it was so buried and filthy. I do not believe that it could have survived the entire winter and stayed in the condition I saw it on 2018-05-15, given the degradation that occurred in only two weeks between sighting and verification.

2018-03-27 while riding to work, on Stonebridge Dr, North Potomac. A pretty big pair of Hanes Comfortsoft. If it's from the Walk of Shame, it was a pretty shameful evening...

2018-03-06, Marshall, VA. Another tentative sighting--really more of a"loungewear/pajama bottom"  Second sighting in a row on a ride with Michelle N. 

2018-01-27 On Business Rt 15 in Leesburg, VA. The expressions of the people driving by as I was photographing were priceless. Just couldn't pass it up, even though it's slightly off-topic.

2017-12-19. Old Calumet Ave just south of US 6, Valparaiso, In. Cacique brand (A Lane Bryant marque, which explains the size). 

2017-11-27. Seneca Rd. No manufacturer or size info, but kind of Christmassy--those are tiny reindeer. GPS: 39.081, -77.318.  Found later in the ride after heading out Riffle Ford to try to self-spot the Friday CRTN sighting by Rob Laybourn. Also found and returned an iPhone today.

2017-10-19 Ed Garvey Memorial Shelter, Appalachian Trail (sports bra)

2017-09-28. Schaeffer Rd at Little Seneca Creek. "Best fitting panty" (a Walmart brand) in size 2XL9. Tom Snyder photo credit.

2017-08-16 Quince Orchard by NIST C gate. Does it really count?--It's really more of sports-bra top. No manufacturer information 

2017-08-10 MD 28 @ Riffleford. I had stopped to pick up a penny in the intersection, and Colleen spotted it. No manufacturer or size information.

2017-06-13. S Glen Road near the one-lane bridge. No size or brand data--looks to have been lawn-mowed.

2017-04-05 Query Mill Rd, Darnestown on our lunch ride. No size or manufacturer information.
2017-04-01. Reddish Knob, Va Elevation 4397' 11:37AM. I admit that I scouted the parking lot, because I knew that this was a "romantic" location. Fruit of the Loom, size 5. Early in our epic 100 mile day.

2016-11-26. After a false alarm yesterday when I spotted what looked like a winner, but turned out to be from "Baby Gap," I spotted this one today under a car at the parking lot at the local Giant. No data on sizes or makes, for obvious reasons. 

2016-08-21. On my way to Starbucks, behind the Indian Spices store adjacent to the W&OD path. Some kind of bizarre name, like "Modern Confluence." Super clean.

2016-05-21 Sharp Park on Williamsburg in Arlington, VA. Had to get all "CSI Arlington" to even partially identify. The victim seems to have had an unfortunate interaction with a lawnmower.  I immediately instituted a grid search of the area, and located two more parts, but neither of them had any identifying label. Assignment is not 100% certain due to damage.

2016-03-21 (First day of Spring!) a "Best Fitting Panty" (A Walmart brand) in size L/7. Just outside the NIST C-gate.

2016-1-15 on Burdette Lane adjacent to the South Germantown Soccerplex. A "Steve" brand (Nordstrom?) in size XL

2015-12-24. From some kind of "Sexy Holly Hobby" outfit. Washington Blvd in Arlington S&L brand, size 14.

2015-12-22 Christmas Miracle Edition. Warner Size 6 (M) on Old Bucklodge Rd in Boyds, MD. 

2015-10-06 at the NIST main gate
Terrible picture, but my phone died after shooting one image. On Clopper Rd at the NIST main gate. Labels were too worn to identify the model. Then it got caught on my shoe when I went to ride away.

2015-08-11 Sunday in NW Indiana just north of US Rt 6 on 200W. Looks like it had an unfortunate interaction with a lawnmower.

2015-07-12 CVS @ Falls Plaza getting coffee with Sandra
I went for coffee with Sandra on her last day as a woman of leisure. We walked to the ATM to get money, and there it was!

2015-06-08 Quince Orchard Rd south of QOHS
Led there by Tom Snyder (again!) who spotted on his way to our lunch ride. The most "buttflossy" of all the sightings. No brand information.

2015-05-11 Bucklodge Rd with Tom Snyder. No logo.

Tag says "Remove B4Uplay" but doesn't have any brand information.  It's really probably a swimsuit bottom or that garment that cheerleaders wear under their skirts. 
2015-03-24. Quince Orchard Rd, Gaithersburg, near the NIST "C" gate.
Xhileration brand (apparently another Target house brand). I didn't have my phone with me, so I had to go back later in the car after securing the item with a rock to keep it from blowing away. I was certain that the NIST police would swoop down on me while I was standing next to the fence photographing something. 

2015-03-03 White Ground Rd, Boyds Md
H&M black thong, European size 36. Spotted on a miserable day with ice pellets raining down on us. A fine reward to complement my feeling that I was a Belgian hardman. Almost a year to the day after the "first day of meteorological spring" sighting in 2014!

2015-02-11. Spring Meadows Drive Darnestown Md
More data! A Gilligan and O'Malley Intimates. (This appears to be the Target house brand.). Actually taken there by Tom Snyder, who had spotted it on his ride earlier in the week. Only about 250m from the 2015-01-19 monster-bra sighting, though this one is much too small to be from the same person. 
Conversation during the documentation:
Me: "Hey,  I need a stick!"
TKS: "Of course you do..."

2015-01-19 Special Sugarloaf ride, MLK-Day Giant Bra sighting. Didn't have the proper tools to determine the size, but it looked biiiig. First photo with the new GoPro.

2014-12-21 Christmas miracle. On the NCVC ride on Bradley Blvd near Hillsmead. Luckily I caught back on at the regrouping point. 

2014-09-03. Completely fortuitous. After dropping Tom off from our noon ride, I circled back to check out a North Face bag in the gutter. This jaunty pair was next to it--didn't notice it all on the first pass.

2014-08-14. Spotted while riding home from work. Actually saw a pair of (very rare) boxer shorts later on River Rd. Kind of made up for having my phone eject from my backpack and get destroyed while riding to work. And then I found a combination 12mm/14mm box wrench a little later in the ride. Interesting coincidence with the 2014-03-01 sighting.
2014-05-25 Ballston, (Arlington) Virginia
2014-05-25. Sighted while picking up Tom Godfrey on our way to the MABRA criterium championships. As I was loading his bike, Tom mentioned "check out my sidewalk--it's an omen!" And it was a very good omen. Tom was 2nd and I got the last paying place. Some have pointed out that it's not technically a thong, of course.

2014-04-18. During my spring bike trip in the middle of the road just after the bridge over the Dry Fork in Jenningston, WV. This sighting was almost exactly a year after the Spring Trip 2013 WV sighting in Dolly Sods (below) . This incident represents the second WV occurrence. 

2014-03-01. Discovered on a solo ride out to Sugarloaf and back from NIST. Because I had stopped to photograph the view from the summit, my phone died when I took the first thong picture. I drove back out to the site, parked in a driveway, ran up the road, and repeated the photograph. Technically not a "winter" sighting: March 1 is the first day of "meteorological spring." On the same ride I also found a nickel and a 7/16" 1/4-inch drive socket. Score!
link: Google Map Location

2013-12-18 on Muddy Branch by the sewage dumping station. Really more of workout/sporty underwear. Very clean!

2013-10-01 near 18600 River Rd in Poolesville, Md On our post-furlough mid-day ride. Not technically a thong, of course. 
2013-04-13. On FR 75 in the Dolly Sods Wilderness at elevation 4000' Actually discovered by Jim Keenihan at the  end of our lunch stop. Label states "Tuesday." Weirdly, I had stopped about 1/2 way up the climb for another possibility, which turned out to be only a lacy workout top. 

2013-03-05 on the W&OD path near the Italian Store. I almost missed the Tuesday ride because I stopped for photo-documentation.
2012-12-10 On Muddy Branch. in Gaithersburg. Slightly out of focus because I had to run into the road to photograph it. Also, not technically a "thong" but more of a "boy short." 
2012-11-01 on Quince Orchard adjacent to the NIST campus.
2012-02-20 on Howellsville Rd near Front Royal , Va. Photographed while on a solo tour of the Blue Ridger Ride It was an awfully cold day for flinging undergarments.
2010-11-13 on Quince Orchard Rd south of Great Seneca Highway. The motherlode. One of four bra sightings. 

Sightings without photodocumentation

I was not careful about backing up my old phone (a Treo 700), and I deleted the pre-2009 images by accident. 

  • 2009: Corner of Offutt and Mount Nebo in Poolesville, Md. Two thongs spotted during a recon of the Poolesville Road Race course. Probably the original sighting that triggered this collection. 

Geo-tagged locations

The map below documents the locations of each sighting. You may need to zoom out to locate all the locations.

View Thong Map in a larger map

Other road-side collections of personal products

Below are some links to even more horrific road-side sightings of intimate products. 
  • Philly Tumbleweaves. I think these are perhaps even more disgusting. (and apparently collected by cyclists
  • (the whole domain name!) Sadly, no longer active.