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.