"It's an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes." - Henry David Thoreau

I've been writing this column for over a year (I can even say that I started way back when they used to print the newsletter out on paper), and in that time period I have been holding back a few observations of our sport. That holding back ends now. Here are some very random wonderings that haunt me still today:

· What's with carbon cranks? There are carbon cranks out there that cost upwards of $400 (and that's without chain rings), while some aluminum cranks (with rings) are in the neighborhood of $120. The carbon pushers say, "They reduce flex by 30%", but how does that really matter if the whole bottom bracket of most bikes flexes away from the chain-stays and the down-tube anyway? They say, "They're 40% stiffer torsionally [is that a word?] than aluminum cranks". Paaalease, show me anyone who can twist a 7 inch block of aluminum with their feet. Then there's my favorite issue - weight - carbon at 375 grams vs. ~465 grams from the aluminum jobbies. 465-375=90grams. 90! My guess is that carbon crank connoisseurs could save more weight by passing on the bread one night at dinner and getting a hair cut.

· Training by time and training by distance. I see some athletes and coaches who judge training by time, and some who judge by distance. I vacillate between the two; early in the season (and during off season), I go by time (40 min run, 60 min run, 2 hour ride, 1 hour swim, etc.). When preparing for a race, there is a point where it's important to go by distance. We trust that the race director is building the race based on distance, so training based on distance is a plan that matches well with the effort. (Maybe someday a bizarre race will offer a 30 minute swim, 2 hour bike and 1 hour run - whoever goes the farthest wins)

· 650 vs. 700 (we're talking wheel size here). This one is hotly contested in the tri community and I don't really see why. There are advantages and disadvantages for both: 650's climb faster, accelerate better and create less drag but they are less stable on the down hills. 700's descend well, offer a smoother ride and great rolling momentum but are a bit slower on the climb and catch a bit more wind. It's a classic 6 of one, half dozen of the other situation. Most bikes with 650 wheels have triathlon geometry - that is to say that the seat tube is at a steeper angle than road bike geometry (most 700's). This positions the hips over the bottom bracket more and, therefore, makes it easier to run right off the bike. Some big guys (I think of Jurgen Zack immediately) look like they are riding a circus bike when they are on little 650's. But, some of the fastest cyclists in triathlon (I think of Jurgen Zack immediately) are riding 650's.

· Fins. I frequently swim in a masters program at Pepperdine University in Malibu. Everybody up there, save for one guy whom I really respect, wears fins during the whole workout. There are a few, logical reasons to wear fins while swimming (to lift the body out of the water during a specific drill so to match the feeling of actual swim speed, to develop leg strength and kick, to assist with ankle flexibility and more), but, aside from those legitimate reasons, I think swimming with fins for the entire workout is foolishness. Becoming dependent on any aid can be detrimental to both technique and confidence. All training should be specific to the race. Bike prep should be different for Wildflower then for the LA Triathlon, overall mileage would vary for a sprint as opposed to an Ironman. Until a race offers a "fin swim", train as much as you can without them. And be proud that you can hold most of the set with your own natural appendages.

· Taking Drugs. The difference between an athlete that takes drugs and an athlete that doesn't is simple - it's about morals, it's about character. There are those that cheat and those that don't. We are all human and humans love to justify simple cheating - "well, I had my goggles kicked off at the start so it was ok to cut that first buoy". Wrong, it's not okay to cut the buoy no matter what happened to you at the start. It seems that taking a performance enhancing drug is something that would be harder to justify, but in a decade, when genetic engineering will be the new cheater's ploy, the pill poppers and needle plungers may see "geneing" as their justification. There are people in our society who are missing that little voice in their head that says "don't do that, it's wrong", these people are missing a conscience, they are subtle sociopaths. These are the people who find themselves inching closer to cheating by buying a hypobaric chamber, taking epinefrine, etc. Part of the pride of being a triathlete comes from the fact that we could bike and run from Burbank to Westwood faster than the anybody else could go the distance in a car. As we slither closer to "the dark side" with unnatural enhancements we lose that natural, self propelled element. Take this sport seriously enough to care how and where you finish in a race, but don't take it so seriously that you have to manipulate those results.