4 days to D-day - What to pack for an ECCC Weekend

4 days until Joe Kopena sends off the first rider at the Rutgers ITT. What's in your race bag?

Keep this in mind: If you are going this weekend, expect it to be cold. It might rain. It shouldn't snow, but you never know. And if it's a warm sunny day on race day, you simply managed to get really freakin' lucky.

Here are a few things that I would recommend packing for this coming weekend. Feel free to comment and make suggestions!
  • USA Cycling license (or a printed authorization to ride)
  • Photo ID (If at a military establishment, your college ID won't cut it. Bring your drivers license.)
  • Health insurance card
  • Printed copy of the race flyer. Don't miss your start time or lose the address of the race.
  • Small first aid kit. Band aids, alcohol, peroxide, neosporin, gauze. Man up and shave your legs now or you'll be crying like a baby later when you pull those bandages off.
  • Any speciality tools needed for working on your bike. We will have work stands and tools on hand for minor fixes, but if your bike needs something special... bring it.
  • Helmet. When on your bike at any time at a race location do NOT forget to wear a helmet. Points can and will be docked if you are caught riding a bike without a helmet around the race site. Don't ride around the course backwards, either.
  • A Penn State Cycling Jersey. This is required to race. Either buy one, or borrow one from a fellow club member.
  • A pair of cycling shorts or bibs (either PSU Cycling attire, or plain black shorts will do)
  • Gloves that will keep your hands warm but not hinder motion. Latex gloves work as a great insulator from the cold and the wet when worn underneath lighter gloves if you don't have a pair of waterproof or cold weather gloves.
  • Baselayer material. Cotton t-shirts work just fine if you don't have Under Armor or anything similar. Remember, it's better to be a little too warm, than too cold when racing in cold weather. However, remember when cotton gets wet, it will not keep you warm. Wool or synthetic is best in this case.
  • Armwarmers and legwarmers (easy to make out of a pair of black women's leggings for less than 10 bucks)
  • Toe covers or booties for your shoes
  • Warm clothing to wear when warming up (sweatpants, sweatshirt, jacket)
  • Warm clothing to wear when not racing
  • Safety pins (used for pinning race numbers on)
  • Zip ties (no longer needed for holding Vanya's earth-orbiting techno-blasting Mazda together when re-entering the atmosphere, but they will be used for attaching the race number to your frame).
  • Spare tubes, tires, and chain. And if you're Keith Groshans, a spare frame.
  • Water bottles. And whatever you prefer to drink while riding (water, gatorade, accelerade, etc.)
  • Food to snack on between races. Food is fuel. No fuel? You won't be crushing any souls. Granola bars, cereal, bagels, peanut butter and jelly, bananas, shot bloks, gummi bears, etc. They're all great. Think protein and carbs.
  • Sunglasses are good. Ones with replaceable lenses, even better. Perfect for keeping the sun, wind, road grit, and rain out of your eyes.
  • A towel big enough for you to wrap around you so that you may change into your chamois. Otherwise you'll be crouching behind a car door hoping that nobody sneaks a peek.
  • A roll of toilet paper. Either have your own stash, or you'll be making friends with those who do. Or you could even sell it to those who don't. You just never know when the porta-johns will run out.
  • A proper amount of insanity.
  • Oh, and please don't forget your bike.
Other things to bring:
  • Money. You will need to eat, be sure to chip in for gas money, etc.
  • Sleeping bag. You just might be sleeping on a floor somewhere.
  • Towel. Your host is not expected to provide you with a towel.
  • Toiletries. Nor should they be expected to provide toiletries, either.


Confessions of a Downtube Shifter

March 21st, 2009. The day seemed innocuous enough, with the sun rising in the east, clear skies, and temperatures that were slowly making their way from downright cold to fairly tolerable. There I was, perched atop my steel-framed steed on the line of the Philly Phlyer D1 Circuit Race with 50 other D1 racers from the ECCC, wondering to myself, "What the hell am I doing here?"

I had plenty of reason for that thought. At that moment, I had never participated in a road race, much less a large group road ride. I was a mountain biker. Road riding? What a foreign concept. My bike, a 1990 Schwinn Traveler, was a rescued relic from the garage that I had dragged back to State College with me that semester in hopes of giving it a new lease on life. The lugged steel frame was an antique in comparison to the modern carbon and hydroformed aluminum frames on the bikes of other racers in the ECCC, but it was a complete road bike. Aside from a tuneup, new tires, and bartape, it was 97% the bike it was when it rolled out of the showroom in 1990, downtube shifters and all.

So, there I was on the line at the Philly Phlyer. On a bike nearly as old as I was, and I had not gotten much of a chance to warm up. Oh boy.

Less than a mile later, I was taken out of contention. A strong headwind coming off of the Schuylkill caused the pack to bunch up at the front, and with the combination of tight quarters and a low level of average experience, it didn't take much for good ol' Murphy to rear his head and wreak havoc. In this case, a rider from Columbia discovered that his training wheels had fallen off between the starting line and now, which caused him to subsequently lose his balance and careen into fellow Penn State rider, Steven Derkits. Gravity took the wheel from there, throwing bikes, bodies, bottles, and egos into a tumultuous heap that lay directly in my path.

Given that I had rather unintelligently positioned myself smack in the middle of the pack with riders on all sides, I was left with no choice but to clamp down hard on the binders and try to navigate around the mess ahead of me. The laws of physics were not on my side that morning; I locked up both wheels on the damp tarmac and slid uncontrollably into the mess of bodies and bikes.

As I picked both myself and my bike up, I found that I was in fine physical shape, but the bike was missing a several spokes from the front wheel, the bottle cage was tweaked, and the rear derailleur hanger had been bent out of alignment. I thought I was finished. However, after further inspection, I discovered that my tires still had air in them, and my wheels still spun, so I found my bottle, slapped it back in the cage, and jumped back on the saddle to finish the race I had begun. I managed to finish the race without getting lapped, not too bad.

While I came away from the circuit race with a few missing spokes and a bruised ego, I had gotten a good enough taste of road racing that fueled the desire to come back for more. After all, this was only the first day...

Sunday was the day of the criterium. The air was thick with an impervious foggy mist that managed to penetrate every last dry fiber of clothing on your body. It laid on the road only to be drawn back up through the contact patch of every 700x23 tire and flung into the eyes and mouths of many racers, including myself. Pedaller Bike Shop in Lansdale had managed to replace the missing spokes from my front wheel and true things back into shape. I had a bike again! My father had crammed a canopy into the back seat of his thousand dollar jalopy and brought it down for the team to huddle under between races. It was there, in the middle of the mist that race stories from the previous day were shared and nutella was eaten while the trainers hummed happily away.

Again, there I was, poised and as ready as I could be with 20 minutes of high-intensity suffering ahead.

And with the blow of a whistle from Joe Kopena, we were off. Immediately, there was road spray everywhere, covering my glasses to the point that I could barely see anything ahead of me. I slid my glasses down on my nose a hair to create a slit between them and my helmet so that I could still see, but keep most of the spray out of my eyes. 20 minutes, right? Alright.

Before long, the pack split into two groups. Riders from Penn State were scattered throughout the field. I made an attempt at bridging the gap with one or two other riders, but we were largely unsuccessful in doing so. It was probably for the best that we gave up, as a couple riders lost traction and slid out in the very next corner, causing a small pileup. At this point, I decided that I would play things a little safer and just try to finish the race with all my spokes intact, especially considering the miserable and treacherous conditions. Besides, I found that I was pretty blown up from my bridging attempt; it wasn't worth expending what little energy I had left at only the halfway point in the race. So, I decided to sit on a wheel or two until I got a little energy back in my expended legs.

While I never really did gain any of my strength back, I managed to hang on through the end of the race. I never gave up. When I rolled over the finish in a breathless sprint, I was soaked to the bone and my legs were killing me, but I also finished upright with my skin and spokes intact. I consider that a victory in it's own right.

I don't intend to frighten potential racers anticipating their very own entry into the madness that is the ECCC road circuit. Crashes happen and bikes break; Murphy happens. I'm not about to sugarcoat it for you and tell you it's all trophies and smiles. I'd rather tell the truth. However, these weekends are much, much more than just the sum of racing, suffering, and potentially miserable weather.

More than likely, you will walk away from an ECCC race weekend with a huge grin plastered on your face. You don't need to buy a fancy bike with all the gizmos and gadgets, either. Go ahead and dig out that old 80s road frame and give it a tuneup and new tires. It's all about throwing your inhibitions to the wind for a weekend and cramming yourself into a car with 4 bikes on the roof and people you may not know, jamming out to Russian techno, getting your bike fixed by Vanya, and crushing souls with Biopace and downtube shifters. You learn to bring your own supply of toilet paper, or make very good friends with someone who has a stash. You find out who exactly Coach Young is. You discover the merits of Black Mo', locate the pain cave, and learn about the mystical powers of Moshannon spring water. You get to watch Steve Derkits fall off of Rollers while wearing Kanye shades, hang out with a very dynamic Frenchman, and cheer on your fellow teammates in blue and white.

You have the chance to race for the best damn team in the ECCC this year. There's no thinking twice. Do it!


What did you do this Sunday?

The weather outside is crummy. It's cold, wet, and dismal, but it doesn't stop the Rough Riders of PSU.
We're getting closer and closer to our first race, and these monsters know that it takes more then a few hours on the trainer to get ready.
Hopefully we can get an even bigger show up for our next ride!


March 5th approaches, and PSU ups the hurt.

What did you do this Friday? This group of rough riders fought the cold, climbed some hills, and put out some serious wattz. With easily double the amount of people from the previous week this Friday Fun Day turned out to be great. The weather was beautiful, and Wyatt's beard was in full bloom. If you weren't able to make it to this week's ride hopefully you can make it to the next!