Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lollipops and Spaghetti

How many of you think about the topology of your routes, be they running, skiing, biking? Are you content with out-and-backs? Laps around a circuit? Or do you like to cover some distance and the only place you see twice is where you started? I've always preferred single big loop routes, whether it be training, racing or just heading out for pure enjoyment. After reading Racin' Rick's post about the dreaded out-and-back, I thought a bit about this from an analytical perspective.

My favorite races this year were single, monster loop affairs that cover serious terrain. Some of these were the Battenkill road race, Ironcross CX and the Vermont 50. These races boast about their single loop epicness. You don't do laps around a circuit, you don't see anything twice.

I strive for the same in most of my riding and skiing. My favorite loop on the planet is the Monarch Crest Trail in Colorado. A 54 mile loop that encompasses many thousands of acres. At Waterville Valley, I love doing a perimiter loop on skis. This just so happens to hit all the high points on the trail system, and it encloses a lot of terrain in the middle.

Engineers love figures of merit, often abbreviated FOM. A great FOM that applies here is the Isoperimetric Quotient, or IQ. Not making this up. Follow the link.  Basically, in Euclidean geometry, a perfect circle encloses the most area for the least perimeter. In terms of riding, a circularly shaped route will enclose the most land for a given distance travelled. Thus if you want to continually see as new of stuff as possible the whole time you are riding, pick routes that have a circular shape to them. The IQ is normalized to the circle, so IQ = 1, or 100% for a circle. So let's look at other, non-circular ride formats.

The Out-n-back.  I generally dread these like Rick. Sometimes they are unavoidable, like hillclimbs. In these special cases, I'll suffer through a return descent, as the reward is the summit. Trail out and backs suck, road out and backs suck even more. A lot of tri-guys do out and backs on their tricked out bikes. I don't understand this.  The IQ is zero for these rides, as no area is encompassed by the route.

The Lollipop Loop.  I will do lollipop shaped rides once in a while, especially if the lollipop stick is short relative to the yummy part. If we assume the stick is equal to the diameter of the yummy part, we get an IQ of 58%. This is an infinite improvement over the out and back, but only a little better than half that of perfect circle. This means you are only encompassing about half the area you could for the distance you are riding, and almost half the ride is seen twice.

Triangle. The triangle is another possible ride shape. Some of my work lunch rides might be triangularly shaped, where I head out a ways, cut over an equal ways, then come back an equal ways. Not a bad deal in IQ terms, were a 70% efficiency of a circle is achieved.

Square. I can think of a couple rides I like that have square shape to them. Often, these are where I go up and over a mountain range, traverse over in the valley, then come back up and over the same mountain range at a different gap, finishing with a traverse back to my car. Riders that do two gaps of Vermont 6-gaps could encounter a square shaped topology to their ride. A ride I did in Silverton, CO this summer had a square-ish shape to it too. Getting much closer to a circle's efficiency here, with IQ = 78%.

No ride will be a perfect square or circle. But you get the idea. Simple shapes encompass the most area and have the potential to present the most scenery. These rides give you a greater sense of accomplishment. You could go to the Londonderry Track and ride 300m laps all day. It is nearly circular. But you'd have to divide the IQ of 100% by N, where N is number of laps. In an hour, your IQ would be down to about 1%. This spells retahded. Similarly for circuit road races. You might have a 10 mile circuit, do it five times for a 50 mile race, but end of with an IQ of 20% or less.

Some of you techie trail riders may say wait a minute HJ, you're missing the point. Some of the best rides out there wiggle and squiggle all over the place and never go any where! Non-squiggly routes follow boring fire roads anyway and don't seek out interesting features.  This brings us to one more route topology.

The Spaghetti Loop. The FOMBA trails near Manchester, NH are a prime example. FOMBA had some unique constraints to work within, namely having very limited acreage to build unlimited trails in. The IQ for some of these trail segments might actually be negative, as you come close to the same point many times. The distance travelled is large, but you never leave your back yard, so to speak. Trails like these, if purpose built for mountain biking, can be quite satisfying. There are many other examples in New England, like the recently built Russell Mill trails in Chelmsford, MA. When land space is limited, make the most of it. Perhaps the Isoperimetric Quotient shouldn't be applied here, and something more like a Fun-Factor makes more sense.  I probably wouldn't want to ride on dense trails like these every day, but once in a while can be quite a blast.

I've left out a class of routes that cross over themselves or momentarily touch in the middle. Sometimes this is unavoidable in some areas when putting a long ride together. Nothing wrong with that. You can still encircle lots of terrain in multiple lobes. In your training, make your miles count. If you want to go 20 miles, find a loop that makes many small angle turns, approximating something like a circle. Pick a route that puts the largest number of acres in the middle. You'll feel like you did more, went somewhere, accomplished something. Doing the same training rides throughout the year can get boring enough. Seeing the same thing twice in a single workout doubles the boredom factor.


Dave said...

My main road ride is Out-n-back on Skyline Drive in VA. 35 mph speed limits. No frenzied commuters. Usually sightseers. Safety brings me back as well as good hills. I like loops but dealing with near misses by cars at 70 mph leaves me on the verge of poopie pants. I know the hills well, every curve, pitch change, etc. Some people can do the same thing over and over without undue hardship. Others need variety. I am the former.

rick is! said...

wow, I considered going into engineering when deciding which college to go to but ended up choosing the much more artsy profession of architecture. I'm glad I did if your kind of brain is what it takes to be an engineer. I would have flunked out for sure!

DaveP said...

Lately, I've been doing the Point ride. Get on the rollers and go nowhere. It's really fun! Seriously. My wife thinks I ain't right.

Hill Junkie said...

Oh, the Point Ride, completely forgot about that one. Maybe because it is beyond dreaded in my portfolio of riding options. I avoid any form of stationary training all of last winter. That's what Otis and ToT are for. Can't wait for the snow to hit here so I have an excuse to ride the Cape again.

Big Bikes said...

I love the big loop, point to point "circle ride" the most, but I do plenty of out and backs. Usually they're technical, so you're not so much sightseeing anyway, and the trail SEEMS like a different trail on the way back, offering a host of new problems to solve.

For endurance racing I don't mind two big laps (like Landmine), you have some idea how the course runs on the second lap, but you've nowhere near memorized it (or become bored). 100 Milers...you don't want to pass through the start/finish half way through it's too tempting to stop (especially if there's beer there).

Then there's my "Half Square Lollipop" ride. Down to the end of the block, take a right to the coffee shop, go the opposite way coming back from the coffee shop. Vistas are limited but it's really more of a goal-oriented ride.


CLB said...

You forgot the figure 8! The figure 8 can often work out well.

Alas, I've been doing the Point Ride lately too. I'm thinking of starting up the Garmin 705 tonight and uploading my Point Ride to mapmyride so others can see how awesome it is!

Anonymous said...

You left out the best of all and surely the ride style that demands the highest IQ. Point-to-point. Add in a multi day format and its what makes riding bikes truely epic.

Hill Junkie said...

Anon - agreed. Some day I would like to try La Ruta or maybe the BCBR. I was just reading up on the Iceman Cometh race in Traverse City, MI (my home state). The deal with point-to-points is they usually require motorized shuttles. For a race, no problem, but for a weekend ride, driving to the ride is already enough driving.

Anonymous said...

Haven a bigger IQ don't pove anyting. I carn't bewieve I wed dat hole powst. What a waist of tyme?!
Jus spin'n's anuff fun for me.

Raineman said...

Oh man, there is the glorious mostly straight but slightly curvy point to point ride- totally amorphous and full of discovery. As in "I rode my rig from X to Y and never saw a house or person and wasn't quite sure where I'd come out and then after 4 hours, we arrived, 40 miles from where I started." That's my fav. Like Rongbuk to Tigrit. Discovery. Distant, Unsure.

Steve G. said...

Track racing is retarded!? What does that have to do with all day high IQ pleasure rides? I'd recommend the HJ sticks to topics he knows about.

While I'm commenting: I'd also like to see more pics of wild animals and reptiles. Those are usually your most interesting reads.

Hill Junkie said...

Steve - DaveP says you need to get your pansy arse in the woods more often. Missed a good one today, a four hour romp through Leominster and beyond. We rode until we ran out of trails to ride. No wildlife sightings though, unless rednecks with weapons count as wild life.