Friday, December 12, 2008

The WOMBATS towel review


I could tell by the sound and feel of the mailbox door opening that this was an especially bountiful mail delivery. I looked inside and caught my breath-- a lumpy envelope, pregnant with possibility and mystery lay inside. The large mailing label declaring WOMBATS confirmed my hopes-- it was here!

The WOMBATS towels had arrived.

I could draft a detailed and giddy description of my shaky hands and sweaty brow as I opened the envelop and gingerly, and with great reverence, removed the towels from their envelope.

But I won't. That might be kind of silly. No, instead I merely yoinked the towels from the envelope and immediately slung one around my neck as a non-functional cape and made "whooshing" noises as I ran around the room.

Without any further ado, here are some photos that document just a few of the towel's supreme usefulness (in no particular order):



A whip.

A stylish (and sweat absorbing) cravat.

If you find yourself sans chapeau-- it's a hat!

Tucked under your cap-- a sunshade for those hot 'n' sunny days.

A non-functional cape. (Does not allow you to fly)

If you'd like to score one of these fantastic, functional, fashionable towels for your own bad self, just head on over to Jacquie's WOMBATS site. (Link takes you directly to the WOMBATS merch.)

Share and enjoy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My cyclocross season gone by, I miss it so.

Last weekend the USGP came to town-- the Portland Cup.

I raced on Saturday (USGP race #5) as a sort of last hurrah. My 2008 season has been really awful so this was "just for fun". Like last year, I just wanted to be a part of it-- to race in part of a national series, to race on the very same course that the pro's race on; ask a few burning product questions and mooch freebies off the exhibitors; eat a waffle; ring the cowbell; take a few photos of the "big guys".

I would have eaten at least two waffles, but I forgot the gigantic $10 late entry fee imposed by the USGP-- thanks-a-fucking-lot you money grubbing bastards. So I was left with a fiddling seven bucks. After I tipped the Cyclosportif guys for their wafflery, I was down to a dollar and that don't buy you nothin' at the USGP.

Anyway, to sum it all up (and to borrow from Heidi Swift) , I "raced in the name of cyclocross love".

It was a fun course they had layed out at PIR. I found myself curiously overjoyed to see that they had included the motocross track this year (last year they didn't). I don't know why I was so happy about that-- reminded me of all the barfy feelings from lst summer's short track MTB races. Good times.

Anyway-- the day dawned very cold (for these parts) and I finally got to put my Pearl Izumi therma-fleece bib knickers to good use (the reason why I bought them in the first place). I gave my DeFeet wool Blaze sockses and Ironclad Cold Condition Gloves to good use too.

The gigantic icy-cold, firey-cold... no. Plutonian-like. Frigid planet Hoth-like. The damn cold gigantic mud-puddle in the middle of the MX course was an icy bitch-slap from Jack Frost. The Blaze socks were no defense and my toes went AWOL immediately and didn't check back in until well after the race.

The second lap I decided to take a lef-hand route around the freezing puddle. It was a doughy mess that skewed my bike this way and that. If I stalled and had to get off and run the alternate route would have been worthless.

The next lap I just gave in and plowed through the puddle-- at least under the water was firm ground and I was able to hold my line much more easily. But this time a great gout of ice cold water splashed up on my back side and ran down my butt. "Brrrr" does not even cover it.

As I passed through the finish on my third lap I heard the announcer saying that "everyone was finished". But I could also swear that I heard a bell. The guy that I had been chasing was still going. After a few moments of uncertainty (quit? sneak in another lap?) another racer caught up with me and asked me if "that was it?". I shrugged and told him that I wasn't sure either and that I thought I heard the bell. Then I announced "Screw it. I'm getting another lap." And off I went, to see about catching #301.

I almost got him, too. Very close. But not quite-- a bike length or two, maybe.

In the end I wound up sprinting for 83rd (or 85th?) place.

For the love of cyclocross indeed!

Monday, November 24, 2008

May I direct your attention...

... to the WOMBATS towel at the left. Yes... over there.

Now, one maybe not be eligible for WOMBATS membership or even drink tea, but these towels are massively useful. Just ask any Hitchhiker.

Partly it has great practical value - combined with a few zip-ties/toe-straps/course marking tape you can fashion a loincloth out of it to protect your modesty as you change out of gloopy muddy kit after a cyclocross race; you can sit upon it at the sidelines of the course and ring your cowbell for the poor bastards still slogging it out in the soupy muck; you can soak the corners in various flavors of carb gels to sustain you in emergencies; use it as a non-functional mini-cape (remember it's 8"x19") during the Halloween CX race at Astoria; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat or to heckle racers from the sidelines; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious beer fumes emanating from certain segments of the spectators or avoid the gaze of the OBRA officials glaring at you for accepting a beer hand-up; you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. Although this is highly unlikely at a cyclocross venue.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a fellow racer (fellow racer: one of those other poor bastards out there with you) discovers that you have your towel with you, he will automatically assume that you are also in possession of a toothbrush, Hammer Gel, soap, patch kit, flask of non-OBRA-compliant booze, compass, map, ball of string, pit wheels, wet weather gear, pit bike etc, etc. Furthermore, the fellow racer will then happily lend you any of these or a dozen other items that you might accidentally have "lost". What the fellow racer will think is that any man or woman who can navigate the length and breadth of the race course, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where their towel is is clearly a cyclocrosser to be reckoned with.


With a WOMBATS towel, one will always know where one's towel is.

WOMBATS founder Jacquie Phelan has a stash of these fabulous towels for sale. Head on over to her site jacquiephelan.com and drop her a line to get your bad self one (or two or three) of these fabulous, 8"x19, purple and pink, jacquard loomed beauties.

So go do it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It finally happened to me...

I schnoobled myself.

I was pulling up my arm warmers. Just a little more. A final tug and then POW.

I laughed my butt off. Only the cats were around to wonder what the human was going on about.

What's a "schnooble" you might ask? The Ironclad cycling team crazies have the answer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Noted with raised eyebrows...


BEHOLD!

The "crotchless bib short" from Selle SMP. No, it's not actually crotchless-- it's got a zipper that goes from the front allll the way to the back. Looking at their site, the short appears to be designed to be compatible with their own split saddles. Is it a solution in search of a problem? Tying shorts to the use of a particular saddle doesn't seem like such a hot idea.

And the idea of having a zipper so close to one's crotchal region? The folks at Selle SMP have obviously never seen "There's Something About Mary". Just imagine: you hang for as long as you can because you don't want to kill the pace... you're with the front. But finally your back teeth are floating and you just have to pull over. Whipping over to the side of the road you pull a CX step-through dismount and hit the nearest bushes. Every rider that passes is one that you're going to have to chase down and pass again. You take care of business at lightening speed and -- bzzzzz-ip! -- You black out only to come to moments later as a concerned team-mate is asking you "Oh man! How'd you get the beans above the frank??"

Go check out Lennard Zinn's report from the Milan Bike Show for more. No horror stories, though.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Flying my freak flag...

Cut me and I bleed orange and green, take off my socks...

I love cyclocross and I love the Cross Crusade series especially. Over the summer my toenails were dark blue and light blue-- something to match my MTB. Much more subtle and I don't think many people really noticed. Or perhaps they thought that I had managed to catch all my toes in a door jamb or something.

I switch to Cross Crusade orange and green, but with the colder weather I hardly get a chance to air them out.

Still, dyed-in-the-wool, painted toenails cross fanatic.

Update: For fun I posted this pic in the Cross Crusade forums. Jeesh! What a bunch of dorks! Much gasping and freaking out ensued. Apparently I threatened too many male egos. Pfft. Chill out, guys. It's just paint. Toenails are kinda ugly anyway-- paint 'em up!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Barton Park aftermath.

Bear looks on as the last of my soil sample from Barton Park washes down the drain.

We finally had some real real real cyclocross weather. Last year the race at Barton Park was sunny and dry. Temps in the mid-60's. This year the weather decided to come back from vacation and let us have it. The temps were in the 50's and it was raining-- perfect. The course was classic Barton-- goopy mud, concrete barriers of doom, dooooooom! Rain and big puddles. Lycra does a gread job of filtering all the mud out of the water and keeping it on the inside. Upon extricating myself from a mucky pair of bibs, I laughed to discover gobs and gobs of mud in my crotch!

I raced my singlespeed and got schooled again. If I didn't like cyclocross so much I'd take this as a sign that I need to pack up a go home. Maybe take up something like bowling or golf. Or maybe watching football on TV.

I feel like I still need to fiddle with the gearing a little-- on flat sections I felt like I was maybe spinning out or at least at a point where I wasn't able to really accelerate any more.

I really see the appeal of singlespeeds now. There's no wondering if you have another gear left or whether or not you're in the optimum gear. You have one and you go. If you can't, you get off and run. Or you soft-pedal or just coast.

Over the past few months my singlespeed "klunker" has been evolving. First it was just a klunker-- re-fitted with just the parts to get its rusty, neglected hulk rolling. Then it was tarted up a bit to use as a errand bike and to tow the trailer-bike. Then I switched to a drop bar as some sort of lark. ("Johnny T" my foot! Conventional drops are horrible off-road!) When I got another Midge handlebar and mounted it up, this bike really changed from the ugly duckling into the swan. (Well, maybe not quite yet...) Now I want to get it powder-coated. A nice red I think, sometime this winter or early next spring. I'm already having a hard time deciding on which bike to take to the races.

The weather continues to be rainy rainy rainy which bodes well for next week's race at the Washington Co. fairgrounds. That's a new venue and I'm excited to see that the Cross Crusaders have in store for us.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

75 dollar rubber boots.





I get the feeling that, because I live in the Portland area, publishing my sentiments about this product from this particular company may border on treasonous. Still. $75 for rubber boots?

Vanilla bikes are anything but and Mr. White (the builder) is basically a superstar in the bike culture of Portland. But $75 for rubber boots?

Speedvagen bikes are awesome and I don't know anyone that wouldn't give their eye-teeth for one, but $75 for rubber boots? With the Speedvagen shield?

I suppose these might actually fall under the protection of the "PRO" label, making me just another "wish I could" dork riding a mass-produced piece of junk lacking in any sort of taste or skill whatsoever. But, seriously, $75 for a rubber boot? That's soooo BKW.

The thing that tweaked me, after the crazy price tag, was the fact that they were "US made" and much special-ness was made of supporting US manufacturing.

#1: I have a set of Bad Black Boots that were made in the US. Servus brand. Rubber. Almost up to my knees. Bad Basic Black.

#2: They cost $19.99 at GI Joes.

#3: Buying a US made product should fall under the category of "buying locally". Yes, one is supporting US jobs, but one is also cutting out all the transportation of getting the product to the US. No foreign carbon footprint. Just a domestic carbon footprint.

#4: You really can't top Bad Basic Black. It goes with everything!

#5: What could the saved $55 be better spent on?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A cyclocross Halloween!





This past weekend was the Halloween race. Two days of cross fun in the sun in fabulous Astoria, Oregon (Goonies!). The weather was awesome for dragging the family along. I normally like my cross weather cold and soggy, but that sort of weather is not so fun for the family to stand around in. It's no fun wearing a costume in that sort of crummy weather, either.

Since we were going to be staying the weekend I decided to make a super-fun maxi-cross-blowout and race both the Master B ANNNNNNNND the singlespeed categories. Two races each day, one right after another, for 90 minutes of hypoxic, anerobic joy. Each day.

I went into the weekend realizing that there was no way I could actually "race" in my usual category and have any fun the remainder of the weekend. I'd be thrashed and hatin' life. No attitude to have on a family weekend at the coast OR on a bike.

My results reflected my strategy! I came in DFL in the SS category on day one and third up from the bottom in SS on day two-- the costume day. I can only attribute this to the fact that there must have been two other riders that were hungover and wearing full-on gorilla suits or something to have done worse than me!

Day two, the costume race, was a blast. I was already a little spent from day one and decided to focus entirely on having fun. Strategy: Rather than a 45 minute race, it was a 45 minute, short course costume parade! We were the Star Wars family that weekend. My son was a Clone Trooper, my wife was Princess Leia (she rolled her own hair up into "star puffs") and I wore a kid's Boba Fett costume. We had to separate the body suit at the waist seam so I could actually get it on. My midriff showed and made me feel a bit like "Bubba Fett". Ha!

Just a couple of days before the race I hadn't settled on a costume-- first I was going to be Chowder (from the eponymous cartoon), then Flapjack (he of the "Marvelous Misadventures of...") . On Wednesday night we were at a party supply store looking at costume stuff -- I was hoping to find a little sailor's hat to kick-start my Flapjack costume -- when my wife spotted an inflatable Boba Fett jet pack. My inner nerd-child went all a-squee over this. My costume fate was sealed! It was just a matter of finding the largest child's Boba Fett costume we could.


Thanks to Shane Young of Oregonvelo.com and HP Chiropractic for the free photos of the weekend!

There was a goup of about a dozen racers that all had Tron costumes. They were most excellent-- they had all hand-painted the colored "traces" on their bodysuits. They had set up on the back section of the course, reds on one side and blues on the other, and were having a disc battle across the course! Not a shark tank, but way more fun. (Apparently all the bodysuits were custom made! I had originally thought they were from a dance supply or something.)

On my third lap through the disc gauntlet Boba Fett decided it was time to dismount and put some Mandalorian-style hurt on the rogue programs. Jumping around and aiming my wrist-mounted flame-thrower and snare-projectors I was able to sow some consternation and confusion among the ranks. Oh, they can dish out the disc abuse to un-costumed racers, but they were unprepared for a little Mandalorian smackdown. They rallied quickly and I was soon forced to retreat. Unfortunately a "wardrobe malfunction" delayed my departure and I was quickly set upon by the Tron guys...

As I was pulling away one of the Tron discs found its mark, striking me squarely in the head. Momentarily stunned, the back of my pants got hung up on the nose of the saddle. Two of the Tron guys were attempting to get me going again. "C'mon Boba, get your shit together!" My pants were pulled back up, I was pushed off and one of them stuffed some candy down the neck of my shirt. A couple of wobbles and the rockets gave a feeble blast and I was off. I was in a curious state: I was laughing my butt off, but because I was already winded I couldn't do much more than gasp.

On the back side of the course there was the dreaded six-pack of barriers. Followed by an increasingly unpleasant uphill. Fortunately Boba Fett had a cheering section-- thanks guys! You helped pull me up that damn hill.

After the Master B race I only had a few minutes to scarf a few Clif bloks and chug some water. I was already ravenous and thirsty. Another 45 minutes on the singlespeed and my stomach would be chasing my liver around my insides. I was hungry! I don't think I've mentioned it yet, but the folks that ride singlespeed are incredible. They can seriously drop the hammer on riders with geared bikes. I found it pleasantly uncomplicated. Just ride. (Although I'm using a chain tensioner and have too much slack so the chain kept bouncing off on the rougher sections of the course.)

I was already in the red zone half-way through the first lap. I didn't even bother attempting the hill after the six-pack. The Boba Fett Cheer Squad was still there and seemed a little surprised that Mr. Fett was back. For all but the very last climb they kept Fett jogging up the hill. By the last lap, my legs were cramping badly enough that I was forced to walk-- which was even more painful.

I have never been so hungry as I was after that race. I was trembling and if I let myself sit down there was no way I was going to want to get up for a couple of hours. The fries and hashbrowns from the fries vendor were ambrosia. And the cold TurkeyBLT sandwich waiting for me back in the car was the best tasting sandwich -- best tasting food! -- I've ever had. If it had been delivered on a beam of sunlight from the heavens there's no way it could have tasted better. I think I ate and drank during the entire two-hour drive back home. And I was still hungry!

Right after the SS race was the Kiddie race. My son really seems to be getting into these races this year. It's too bad that the kids only get to do one lap-- my son is primed for many more and always keeps going for an additional 2 or three laps. If there hadn't been another race I don't think we would have been able to get him off the course! He also seems to have developed his own, very smooth, dismount proceedure. In fact, several spectators nearby were saying things like "Wow-- look at that little kid go! Has he been practicing?" and "Hey! Somebody's learning!". His remounts are very good too-- I think smoother than mine! Really!



It was an awesome weekend-- great weather and loads of fun. Perfect.


Again, thanks to Shane Young of Oregonvelo.com and HP Chiropractic for the free photos of the weekend!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gallery: Masters Category B 35 , Masters 50 and Jrs

Gallery: Masters Category B 35+, Masters 50+ and Jrs

Posted using ShareThis

The above was created by using the new sharing capability installed on Shane Young's Oregonvelo photo site.

He takes some really nice photos at the cross races.

Monday, October 20, 2008

This is advertising...

...And now I want to go for a ride!

This is an ad? It's awesome. I love it! I immediately watched it twice. I'm going to buy nothing but Hutchinson tires from now on. :)

(No... I'll still buy what works.)

Still-- this is great and I don't mind that I'm doing what the adversisers hoped folks would do. Repost on their blogs.

Share and enjoy!


Sunday, October 19, 2008

The finer points of the "Porta Potty"

Through numerous bike races and other cycling events, I have become quite familiar with the "porta potty". Initially it took some nose-holding and psyching-up to get into one of these things, plus a lack of conveniently placed bushes. (What the heck-- pissing just adds nitrogen to the dirt. A good thing.) But sometimes you just have to deal.

Used to be, my attitude was that I'd rather my colon implode rather than use one of these things and the forest with all the bushes? It had to be ablaze. With squirrels running out of it.

It was a hot day in July during the 2002 Seattle To Portland that forever cured me of my porta-potty aversion. An added bonus? It was a #2 and there was NO hand sanitizer. Could have been worse, I suppose. The TP could have been out. I could have experienced the dreaded "poke through". Just no hand sanitizer and the prospect of spendinging another 4-6 hours with a ninky hand.

I was wearing full-finger gloves so that wasn't really an issue, I suppose.

It was during those two sweltering days on the road that I developed an appreciation for the finer accoutrements of porta-potties. And to this day, one of the first things I do upon entering one is to perform a quick assay of the facility.

Is there a hook upon which to hang a coat/gloves/helmet/whatever? A mirror? After launching snot-rockets sometimes there's a little, shall we say "blow back". It's nice to be able to check for this. However, it doesn't matter much in the company of cyclists-- we all do that sort of thing and nobody really cares all that much. Still, it's nice to be able to check one's visage.

I've seen shelves, even. These are nice for holding things that don't hange well but don't substitute for the utility of a hook. A wadded up jersey, for instance is too likely to just un-wad and fall onto the piss soaked floor. (Note: Taking one's jersey off is necessary to do a #2 when wearing bib-shorts. That's why I'd need to take my shirt off in the bathroom-- it's not a George Costanza thing.)

However, the bar was raised infinitely high today by the folks of Team Beer. At the Rainier High School cross race they were hosting an exclusive porta-potty with an attendant. (Or a valet?) They had incense and 2-ply TP. This is all second-hand info, you know. I just didn't feel worthy to visit this particular establishment.

My porta-potty, on the other hand, featured miserable TP that was so thin you could read a newspaper through it. Even when it was doubled up.

No hook either. Or mirror.

Here's to you, Team Beer, for daring to set a new standard.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Look at me, I'm a winner...


...Not at all.

But I got a taste of what it must feel like to be a winner.

Last Saturday was the first race of a two-race series: Willamette Valley Cyclocross. This first race was held at Heiser Farm in Dayton.

If not for a scheduling conflict I would have skipped this race in favor of Sunday's Cross Crusade race at Wilsonville (an awesome race by all descriptions). I'm glad I didn't miss the Heiser Farm race. It was a good course with plenty of fun parts-- a nice looong and deep mud puddle and a smaller mushy bog that defied efforts at control and skewed my bike back and forth threatening to sling me off. (Will Cortez put it zenly: "Let go of the brakes and let the bike find its way.") There were a couple of nice, slippery climbs and, I swear barriers that were waist high.

Oh, about that "winner" part? Well, the fields were very small-- about 10 or so in each one so I was assured a top-10 place. I took 8th. (I note with interest that I finished proportionally in about the same overall position that I usually do, no matter the field size.)

The best part was that I got to lead for a portion of the first lap-- I was in the lead! In front! First! (This is a big deal to a somewhat flabby, desk-bound, wish-I -could-get-out-to-ride-more, ugly-duckling like me!) At the first off-camber turn, the leader washed out and fell over and the guy in second (at the time) almost overshot the turn with a "Fuckin' course!!" Then the guy in 3rd moved up ahead of me and he slid out on the following off-camber short and steep descent. So then for a glorious few minutes the clouds parted and the sun shone down on me. I was in that rarified territory: First Place. I began to have visions of scoring that $20 first lap prime, or even the 6-pack. Unfortunately the clouds of reality closed in again on the first straight stretch and the power-wagons behind me dropped me. Then the demons of the "late-feed" showed up and my stomach decided to remind me of why I shouldn't eat anything within an hour of the race.

It was a fun race though and the organizers did a good job of course design.

Next up: Rainier High School-- Race #2 of the Cross Crusade series. Back in with the teeming masses of racers. I had my shining moment of glory, and maybe I can score a repeat if I line up 45 minutes before race start...

Thanks Will, for the photos. I'll bring my camera to the next race and snap a few (possibly blurry) of you.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ultimate proof that bikes are RAD

Oh my goodness. This is wayyy better than Kevin Bacon facing off on his fixie against a car-wielding thug in "Quicksilver".

I must find the DVD.

Behold! Lady Is The Boss: bike fight!

Does your bike have a soul?

We probably all start out with a bike. Most of us, anyway-- a very unlucky few never get a bike for whatever reason-- economics, geography, over-protective parents. Do you remember the summer days that you went everywhere by bike? You could go places without having to convince your parents to drive you there. You had a degree of freedom that mere walking can't provide. Then, sometime in our early teens it becomes uncool to ride a bike-- it's almost better for your ego to walk. A car is the thing to get. If you can't have one of your own -- a beater is acceptable -- then hitch a ride with a friend. If you can't do that, then walk.

Then, maybe in high school we might have a "renaissance" of sorts where we come back to the bike as a sport rather than as... something more. It's okay as a sport but don't use a bike for transportation. Our attitudes may shift a little as we move into our college years and become tightwad scroungers.

After we graduate, get jobs, get married, move around the country or world the bike may fall by the wayside again or be forgotten completely.

Then we may experience a "second renaissance" of the bike.

* * *

I can't remember the book title exactly... maybe it was "Illusions: The adventures of a reluctant messiah"? You know, by Richard Bach. (Don't groan.) Anyway-- I read one of his books in one sitting when I was a teenager. There was a lot of stuff in it about flying and some of the sentiment appealed to me as my interest in bikes was really deepening. One notion in particular has stuck with me these past 20 years or so. In the book one of the characters (maybe the messiah character?) was explaining to another pilot friend that if you took care of your plane and listened to it, respected it... that when it really counted the plane would pull through for you. My memory may have embroidered upon this a bit over the years, but the basic notion is there: Take care of your ride and it will take care of you.

But what does that mean? I suppose that some interpret it literally-- of course if you maintain your bike properly it will not (should not?) fail you.

For me, there more to it than that. It's not a goofy anthropomorphization of the bike, but something different. None of my bikes are "tools". They aren't ascribed roles such as "rain bike", "A bike/B bike", "race bike", "beater". All my bikes do whatever. I try to respect the basic nature of the bike by not junking it up. You just know it when you put something on your bike and it doesn't feel right. It's not a personal fit issue-- it just doesn't feel right for the bike. It can go the otherway too-- you can tart a bike up with expensive stuff and then it feels unnatural. Like a chicken with lipstick or something.

Some would argue that the dissonance is indeed a personal fit issue and I'm just projecting it onto an inanimate object. *shrug*

What about when you get rid of a bike or sell it? What happens? What if you can't sell or git rid of a bike-- is it because you'd feel like you were losing a bit of yourself? I remember selling two bikes when I was in high school. The first two bikes of my "renaissance". A Schwinn Mesa Runner and a Schwinn Sierra (black chrome, AT-50 cantilevers and Light Action derailleurs). I don't remember feeling any particular attachement. The next bike I still have-- the Stumpjumper. It sat fallow for a few years, getting a little rusty around the edges and I even thought about selling it. I just couldn't do it. Maybe it was made easier by thinking that the bike didn't have any significant resale value.

Is this what is meant by "sentimental value"? Have I invested some portion of my soul in the bikes? Is that how they have "soul"? Is it just my sould these bikes have or is it all in my head? Or is this why I enjoy carrying my bike from time to time? (More so in cyclocross...)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Another carbon post eats it...

In my race at Alpenrose, just after the concrete barrier by the fence, I heard a loud POP from the rider in front of me. Oh yes-- that distinctive sound of a carbon composite tube giving way.

The rider looked up and yelled "SEATPOST!" I'm not sure who he was yelling at.

So the damn thing obviously broke as he was remounting. Nice. Could have been much worse, I suppose. Could have taken a core sample of his inner thigh.

Thank you, Thomson, for the awesome non-carbon seatpost.

People, people! Enough with the damn carbon seatposts already!! If you want light-weight, get a Thomson Masterpiece. But please, stop wasting money on carbon seatposts! Okay? Alright. I'm done.

Later in the day I spied a true tragedy. A broken Paul cantilever brake! Oh the huge manatee! One of the cantilever arms had snapped right at the pivot. I suffered a case of "the vapors" when I saw that and someone had to dash over and cut my corset strings. Hm. I read somewhere that forged alloy is supposed stronger than machined. All of Paul's stuff is machined, I believe.

It's sort of making me rethink my desire to get some Paul cantilevers for my bike. (Not really-- but there are so many rather nice looking new cantis from the likes of Tektro and Avid.) I wonder what his replacement policy is?

Yay! Cross Crusade is ON!!

Yesterday was the first race of the Cross Crusade series. My favorite.

Which? The first race or Cross Crusade in general? Yes.

I was a bit worried that it would be sunny and dry. My fears were alleviated somewhat when the weather running up to the Big Day was overcast and rainy. I held my breath as the rain continued through Saturday and smiled big as Sunday dawned overcast and rainy. It was also mid-60's.

Perfect.

Jogging through the slippery grass parking area I slipped and realized that I had forgotten to install the toe-spikes on my shoes! Oh noes! The velodrome run-up of doom will eat me.

I survived the run-up four times and only slipped once-- almost going down. I had to look for the "steps" in the mud left by hundreds of other feet and do a sideways duck-walk kind of step to get up.

My re-mount is teh suck. I've forgotten EVERYTHING and it's like I never even knew HOW to remount! What on earth is wrong with me?

Alpenrose was a fun course and it was nice to have it muddy instead of dry like it had been for the previous two years.

Somewhere around the next to last lap I decided to back off a bit and really soak up the ride. I didn't give up. Just gave in. Gave in to the experience of the moment-- the perfect weather, cyclocross, the noise. The feeling of movement through space. I was having fun. I wanted to enjoy it. I've been accused of being too much of a "sightseer" in races.

The noise on the run-up was good, but it was sorely lacking in other places, with folks just standing around like zombies. C'mon folks-- make some noise. I know I may be slogging along and slobbering down my front, but I need cowbell as much as the leaders.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Nervous making

The first race of the Cross Crusade series is just 12 hours away. Alpenrose. The run-up that makes Barry Wicks confused about whether he's going to shit his pants or vomit after he runs up it.

My last two races have been just horrible.

I'm nervous.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Barry Wicks on cyclocross- true, true.

I totally identify with Barry Wicks' description of his early season prep:

...I will open my cellar door, look at my ’cross bikes, contemplate their functionality, decide that too much work will be involved to get one up and running, and grab my road or mountain bike.

Exactly two days before the first ’cross race of the year I will panic and realize that I am about to leave town to do a ’cross race and should probably think about trying to clean the nine-month old muck from the previous winter off my bikes and try and make the brakes work properly again.

My prep this year was similar. I used the first couple of races -- Pain on the Peak and Battle at Barlow -- to sort of "ease into" this cyclocross thing. you have to understand that procrastination -- along with beer and waffles -- is just part of the whole thing. So my bike still isn't 100% ready. I've got my A and B wheels all discombobulated. I'm trying to decide which wheels go with which tires. I don't know why I'm even making a deal out of it. I'm also wondering if I should rotate the cassettes since the B wheels got a new one and saw very little use in the past 9 months. Alpenrose is just two days away.

Anyway-- Barry's article is a hoot to read.
www.velonews.com/article/83924/a-new-column-by-cyclocross-star-barry-wicks

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hey! I'm a famous cyclocrosser!

Not really. But I can hear the clock ticking away my "15 minutes of fame".

Go check out OR Bikes's blog:

blog.orbike.com/archives/2008/09/racer-profile-brian-johnson.php

Monday, September 29, 2008

To have fun! That's why we race!

Yesterday at Battle at Barlow my son did the kiddie race. He was actually in the lead coming into the first turn. The kid next to him overshot the turn and zoomed right off the course and crashed. My son slowed down and turned his head all the way around. I'm not sure what he as thinking. Morbid curiosity? I dunno. Anyway-- he go passed and then crashed himself in a rough section.

Later that afternoon, we were chillin' at a nearby coffee joint.

I asked him about the race.

"You were going pretty fast there, kid."

"Yep."

"Were you scared?" I asked. I was kidding here-- I was fishing for something other than a monosyllabic response.

"No. I was having fun. That's what bike races are for! And seeing who finishes first."

Priceless. I'm making t-shirts. :)


That's right, son-- that's what bike races are for: having fun.

Stairway to heaven...

I will say one quick thing about the course of the 'Battle at Barlow" CX race:

That run-up composed of rail-road ties? I think I'll forever recall it as the "stairway to heaven" because each time I get to the top a few things happen:

1. I think I'm going to pass out-- my heart's just hammering.
2. I'm glad I made it to the top. So glad that it's done.
3. I fear the next lap when I have to climb it again.

Shane Young of Oregon Velo took some amazing shots on the stairs. (photos.oregonvelo.com)

Here's a nice overview from the guys at pdxcross.com. You can see where some wimps took the singletrack option to the left. The True Believers are on the right, snapping their achilles tendons on the stairs. Booyah.

Cyclocross post-race analysis:

Fail.


The day before I was standing on my toes on one of the back fence stringers talking to my neighbor. I'm standing there chewing the fat for so long that my calves get tired.

Later that evening my calves and achilles feel sore. What the hell? Did I go and strain the achilles tendon in BOTH legs?? Sunday morning both legs were feeling stiff and standing on my toes hurt.

Seriously, I can't believe this. And the course at Barlow features an amazing run-up made out of railroad ties.

So here it is, Monday AM and both of my achilles tendons are hurting and the kick-off of the Cross Crusade is this weekend. I'm stewed. The course at Alpenrose also has a cringe-worth run-up. One characterized by Barry Wickes thusly: "When I got to the top I didn't know if I was going to vomit or shit my pants."

My question right now is this: Am I doomed? I'm beside myself. This sucks, big-time. I'm pissed and upset at my own frailty (And wondering why I didn't get a flippin' step ladder 5 minutes into the over-the-fence conversation. Damn!!)

Well, I've got three cycling health books: one each by Pruitt, Burke, and Baker. Over lunch today I'll have to see what they have to offer. ("Doom! Doooooom!")

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Lance Armstrong Reality Distortion Field

It seems like just about every bicycle-related blog and media outlet are a-buzz with the news of Lance Armstrong's return to competition. And how he's racing for "free" with the primary aim of raising awareness of cancer prevention and treatment.

I've never even sipped the Lance flavor-aid. Sure he won Le Tour a record 7 times in a row. But that's all he did. In that respect he was a bit of a one-trick-pony. I don't deny that his return from his fight with cancer was nothing short of miraculous. It was spectacular. Inspiring. A "booyah!" to nay-sayers everywhere.

Even so-- lauding his accomplishments as a competitive cyclist seems to ignore everything accomplished by others in his sport. Men AND women.

I've harped on this before. Maybe it's because my cycling personality was cast during the early years of the mountain bike "boom". I grew up reading about Jacquie Phelan, Ned Overend, Greg Herbold, John Tomac, Cindy Whitehead. And Jeannie Longo (now Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli).

Lance has his foundation, but its finances sound a little too sketchy to me to really get behind and become a cheerleader-- the LAF CEO gets over US$300,000 a year? Good grief! It's great that he's really ringing the cowbell for cancer awareness-- research, prevention, a cure. It's a scary horrible disease that frankly gives me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it, but his foundation could do a little better with the money it raises.

However, other pro cyclists have done significant things for the world of cycling. Things that are, I think, just as important as what Lance is "doing".

For instance, Jeannie is a more enduring hero. She's still racing and a fierce competitor. She's kicking ass and a living legend. When she came here to Portland, Oregon, to race in the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, her presence was largely overlooked. A damned shame, in my book. Want a role-model for getting more women involved? Look no further. But she seems to be the legend that no one's ever heard of. Maybe it's because she's not a man? I don't really know. She could be a recluse, mean, terse. Maybe it's because she's French.

How about Jacquie Phelan? Awesome. She was kicking guys asses back in the early days of MTB races before there were separate men's and women's categories. (Probably because the guys were tired of having their asses kicked.) Know what else she did? have you ever heard of "Safe Routes to School" Well Jacquie developed and taught teachers the skills course for the first "Safe Routes" program. She was instrumental in bringing more women into the sport. She was a co-founder of NORBA. I'll leave it at that-- just Google her name. You can read a bit more at the Mountain bike Hall of Fame site.

Saul Raisin suffered a horrific crash in a race that left him in a coma and significant brain damage. He beat the odds and made a tremendous comeback. His foundation is similar to Lance's but it focuses on brain injury-- recovery, research, and support.

Christine Culver, once a pro mountain bike racer in the 1980's, is now the Exec Director of Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, an organization advocating for cyclists on the road and improved infrastructure.

There's plenty of examples and my fingers are getting tired of typing-- not to mention that I've got work to do. My point is this-- it's good for bicycling business (getting folks on bikes, getting kids inspired, bike sales) that lance is coming back from retirement, but there are lots of other stories out there that are just as deserving of attention. It's just unfortunate that one has to dig so deep to find them.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What's in your... seatbag?






What folks stash in their seatbags is something that I eventually wind up thinking about on group rides, especially large ones.

I guess it's one of things that tells something about the owner. Kinda like how they wear their socks.

Are they "devil may care" and carry only a patch kit and pump taped to the seatpost? Are they an "expeditionist" (my made-up wordification) and pack just about everything in an expanding seatbag/duffle? Somewhere inbetween? I suppose it's those choices that I find most interesting and revealing.

This is somewhat related to my story from a couple of months ago where I got caught up in a flat-tire perfect storm. In a nutshell, the flat victim was carrying more tubes than I could believe, lots of stupid CO2 cylinders, no patches and, save for intervention, would not have been able to ride out of the woods.

I loathe large seatbags. There's no need for them. A seatbag is your bike's survival/first-aid kit. Carry your own stuff in jersey pockets, Camelbak pack, wherever. Just not in the seatbag-- that's for your bike. Little, teeny seatbags are cute, but then why bother? Why not just use a toestrap and cinch a tube and pump to the underside of the saddle (or seatpost).

Over the years, I've refined my bike's trailside kit to what I consider some essential pieces, but not an absurd notion of "the bare minimum". And fortunately Crank Bros. has made some excellent stuff that fits the bill nicely. In fact, I think they make the best stuff you could want to carry with you.

I typically buy a seatbag no larger than what a manufacturer would call a "small". Something termed "micro" is too small and I've found "mediums" to be too big. Remember-- this bag is just for your bike. Do not stash your crap in it-- carry your own stuff.





Here we see Performance Bike's "Trans It" small seat bag. (This is NOT an endorsement of Performance Bike product.)
This is on my cyclocross bike-- part of its summer trail-riding kit. During CX racing season the bottle cage and seatbag come off. The seatbag goes into my race-day duffel.

It's stuffed, but not bursting at the seams. Note the carefully packed interior (some shifting occurs). I have had to carefully consider the shape of each piece and decide where it will best fit and utilize the space fully. Generally I have to partially load the tube and pump, then slide both in together. The other bits slide in the sides.

Depending on the bag's design, closing might be a bit of a squeeze, but never so tight that I worry about the zipper breaking and tossing everything.









Now here's the bag with it's entire contents. This is the least I will carry, on-road or off. Actually, I may leave the toestrap, but that's the only thing I really consider optional.

So, we've got:
Innertube (700x28-32 in this case)
Crank Bros. PowerPump (the smallest, plastic-barreled one)
Park Tool tire levers (apparently indestructible)
Park Tool "glueless" patch kit
Toestrap (amazingly useful for all sorts of unexpected things)
Crank Bros. multi-tool (19 tools)

You need only one spare tube with you. Not two or three. You use the spare tube to get going again right away. If you flat again, that's what the patches are for. I've used the Park Tool glueless patches for years now and I'm still using tubes that were patched years ago. I've read that others have had longevity/durability problems with the patches. I'm sure "your milage may vary" but I've had these patches hold up over years of use on an MTB and subjected to year-round rides, applied in rain, left wet and muddy for weeks (trapped moisture in an MTB wheel, yuck!) and they're still working. So I recommend the Park Tool patches without reservation. I can't vouch for off-brands or Slime Skabs.

The Crank Bros. pump is probably the perfect seatbag/emergency/trail-side pump. The CO2 inflators are just stupid, stupid, wasteful, and stupid. I'm sorry if I offend someone out there, but what do you do if your CO2 cart malfunctions? What if you fumble getting it on the valve and you wind up blowing most of the charge into the atmosphere? I know lots of people use them successfully. But listen: A pump like the Crank Bros. PowerPump will never run out of air. You pay for it once and use it and use it and use it. There's nothing to discard.

I carry the Park Tool tire levers primarily to help out other folks I might encounter or for other riders in my group that might have tight-fitting tires. Save for my road bike, I don't personally need tire levers to dismount and remount tires. But it's good to be able to help out others. I worked my way through several other brands of tire levers before settling on the Park Tool levers. The tires on my road bike are super tight. I must use a tire bead jack to remount the tire. I've broken countless tire levers and even a Quik Stik on that tire/rim combo!! But never a Park Tool tire lever.

The Crank Bros. multi-tool is a perfect distillation of multi-tool form and function. Its tools cover just about every bolt on your bike, plus spokes and chain. It can be disassembled to replace tools (Crank Bros. service is awesome) and is nice and flat. Easy to pack.

The toe strap is just so general-purpose handy-dandy useful for things you've never even thought of. I've used them to lash jackets to my bike on cool-days-turned-warm; to secure a seatbag that had its primary strap rip; hold a shoe closed. The possibilities are endless. (What have you used a toe strap for?)

This is the same kit that each of my bikes carries. Only the bags and tube sizes are different, but the stuff inside is all the same-- same pump, tool, levers, patch kit. Why not just move the one bag around, you ask? Because these are emergency kits and it's too easy to forget to switch out the proper size tube.

I load the seatbag thusly:
First the multi-tool goes in the bottom, the more rounded side facing down. Then I slide in the pump part-way. I begin to stuff the tube in on top of the pump, then push them both all the way into the bag. The tiny patch kit tuck in under the head of the pump. The tire levers slide in on one side and the toestrap is folded up and stuffed in the other.

Since this is your bike's emergency kit-- no, it really is. It's not for day-to-day mucking about. That's what your shop tools are for. Pack your seatbag and leave it alone until you need it to save your ride-- or someone else's.

Happy trails.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The junker re-born...





Here we have one of the "junk bikes". A 1989 Specialized Rockhopper Comp. Back in 1989, the only difference between a Rockhopper Comp and the Stumpjumper was a paintjob, stickers and Deore XT components.

The original bike shipped with Shimano's Deore group. At the time, Deore was only one step down from the top of the line XT stuff. In 2008 Deore is what? Bottom of the barrel just about? Now, the only components of the original bike are the frame, cranks and seatpost.

Let me give you a quick tour of the Rockhopper Comp in it's reinbikenated state:

First it's sporting a Bonty CX drop bar. A midge is definitely in this bike's future. See the stem? Short and high-rise. That's the way to set up a drop bar for off-road use. Right now it's a bit low, but riding in the hoods is pretty comfy. You'll note that the hoods put my hands in about the same spot they would be if the bike had a conventional flat bar. A Midge will put everything within easy reach, but for the time being I rather like the John Tomac 1990 Worlds' drop-bar look. I never could figure why he'd run a handlebar like that when Jacquie Phelan had shown everybody the proper sort of drop bar for off-road use. Well, Johnny was wearing a skinsuit too, so...






Anyway. Tange Switchblade fork. Remember those? A little "me too" action from Tange imitating Bontrager's fork. Bonty still produces the Switchblade. Don't know what Tange is up to these days. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone tried pushing on the handlebars to compress the "suspension fork". This was about the time that the very first Rockshox became available.

"Is that one of them shock absorber forks?" They'd ask me.
"Nope. Just a rigid fork with replaceable legs."
Then they'd step over and grab the handlebar and give a good downward shove.
"It's not a suspension fork," I'd remind them.
"Hm." Would be the response as they walked off.

I remember being a little concerned that some folks might think me a cheap-ass poseur wanting to fool people into thinking that I had a real suspension fork.

I replaced the old, pitted Deore hubs with some used Deore XT hubs. The old freehub was making ominous clunking noises, too. So yay! Finally got me some Deore XT on the Rockhopper! (A nice score at the Community Cycling Center)

The bike originally shipped with Deore cantilevers. I replaced them with the very nice looking Dia-Compe 986's. Then... in order to secure passage to Moab one spring break I offered to trade with my roomie for his "shitty" Suntour XC SE brake set. He was stoked to get some "awesome" 986 cantis and I was stoked to finally get some of the Suntour brakes using the Scott-Pederson SE brake design. Suntour wimped out big-time and only produced rear self-energizing cantilevers. Conventional (and still nice) cantis on the front. That seemed to squander the SE's tremendous braking power by putting them on the rear only. Perhaps the lawyers were worried about over-the bar lawsuits? Anyway-- the Scott-Pederson SE brakes were legendary at the time for locking up like a pitbull. I recall that many folks (shop mechanics included) would actually de-tune the brakes to reduce their braking power. This was accomplished by toeing the brake shoes out at the front or radically toeing them in so there was no chance of the full braking surface coming into contact with the rim.





Well the rear Suntour SE brake was really worn-- the tiny ball bearings had pitted and worn their helical channels within the brake arm. I scored a set of Suntour XC cantilevers on Ebay and now the bike has XCs on the front and rear. The XCs were different from the XC pros in that they were painted black instead of nicely polished. With some brand new Kool-Stop Eagle IIs in there, they work just fine. Linear pull brakes? Eat your heart out.

Remember when Avid was a purveyor of fine machined alloy bits that were colorfully anodized? Well, I always fussed over my straddle cables and set them up using a measuring caliper. So the Avid Tri-Dangle was the apple of my eye. I could measure everything out, turn the set-screws down, and forget it. Plus it was red-- my favorite color. (Unfortunately the front Tri-Dangle is black.)

I've got a couple of narrow-ish 1.75" Maxxis OEM tires. They work pretty well for getting around town and hitting the little dirt trails here and there.

I've still got the old Sachs-Sedis chain. That thing must be... about 16-18 years old? It's not even worn that much according to my Park Tool chain checker.

The Performance Bike single-speed conversion kit saved me from attempting to replace a worn out Deore DX rear-derailleur and trying to find a 7-speed cassette. The SS conversion kit was an excellent -- and inexpensive! -- way to ignore the past and sidestep the future.

It's been about 10 years since I've used regular pedals and toe-clips. It's kind of nice! I just wear whatever kind of shoe I happen to have on and go riding! Again with the Performance Bike brand here. Pssst... they're made by Wellgo and are pretty decent with sealed construction and two cartridge bearings inside. I had a set of "Joe's Clips" that used two toe-straps per pedal. Unfortunately I could only find one of them. I'm sure that now that I've paid for new clips they'll turn up the very next time I root around in my parts box.

I love this thing. It's not a junk bike by any means. I intend to get it powdercoated next year-- maybe spring or summer? I just can't decide what color. Maybe red? Or basic bad black?

Bicycles as toys.

Road rage seemed to be on many folks' minds over the summer. The notion certainly got more press coverage than I've ever seen before. One idea that seemed to be repeated is that at the core of the motorist-cyclist conflicts is the notion that bicycles are perceived as "toys" and that their users are out playing around on the roads and hindering the rightful movement of automobiles.

I've touched on the notion before that cars are a childish preoccupation. Anyone with a child will recognize the desire for toys and candy and easy things and making noise and a lack of consideration for others.. Part of growing up, of maturing is learning that worthwhile things take some work and the best way is not always the easy way. Being mindful of others and learning one's place in community.

From this perspective it is easy to see that cars are, in fact, the "toys". Very little about them is practical (although one could point out various types of bikes such as DH or TT bikes as being impractical). Cars are expensive to run, maintain, they are loud, polluting, shiny. In short, very much like a toy, a novelty. Once inside them, many people begin to act like three year-olds: lacking in basic social graces and behavior. Selfish and rude and with a tremendous sense of entitlement.

This seems like such a fundamental realization to me. As a species we desire or cling to cars as both symbols of status, power and wealth. They are our prized possessions, our mostest favoritest toys and the roads are our playgrounds.

As we as a species gow and mature, stop fighting so much, perhaps we can leave the fossil-fueled car behind.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pain on the Peak... truth in advertising!





A fabulously sunny Saturday in September. Kind of hot, even. This was the first edition of Portland Velo's "Pain on the Peak" cyclocross race on Bald Peak in Hillsboro (Oregon).

Fantastic views all around.

My wife and son came out too-- the boy was stoked for racing and his skills have improved greatly this summer! Riding off-road is now wayyyy more fun and far less frustrating for him. Which is good.

Overall it was a fun race, and a great venue. It would have been super-rad with a little moisture, but hey-- I'll take what I can get.

Let's do a little post-race analysis:
First I load up on Nutella slathered (gluten-free) waffles a mere hour before the event. Mmmm. Oh yeah. Good stuff.

I drank one cup of water and two or so cups of tea with breakfast and a final sip of water pre-race. (When I got home and took a whiz, it looked like orange juice. Whoops! I guess I was just a teensy bit dehydrated. I wonder why? I drank like a fish the rest of the day.)

Warm-up? That's what the first lap is for.

After the first lap I feel like vomiting up my waffles. However, given how precious Nutella is to me, there is NO WAY I'm letting those go. So they keep insisting to be let free for most of the rest of the race. I also have zero go-power. Doubtless a result of the massive carbo-bomb that my gut is dealing with. My legs just have nothing to give. Zip.

So sad and pathetic.

I'm also being treated by my chiropracter for a wacky neck. So every little bump on the course I can feel amplified in my shoulder and neck. I feel better if I keep my head down so that just adds to my overall whupped appearance to spectators (and contributes to my hang-dog feeling... I suck.)

Going into the race I didn't feel especially competitive. Indeed, that morning I felt really out-of-sorts. Like this was my first race ever and I had no idea what I was doing. Bleah.



The dust was epic. Ankle deep and powdery in places. Incredible stuff. There were points where I couldn't see the gound in front of me-- I had to look way up and follow the crowd of helmets-- everything else was obscured by the billowing brown clouds! Breathing was kinda like squeezing a bottle of baby powder into your gob. Hack!

My son had fun and did quite well-- he was obviously pushing hard and didn't whine even once! (He's five.) Well... he did complain that the race was too short and wondered why he didn't get another race. (The adults were still racing... why couldn't he?) So I took that as a good sign. He's really liking the bike-- definitely a good thing. The announcer pulled my son aside and tried asking him about his race-- did he like it? Did he have fun? Did he get dirty? That sort of thing. My son got stage fright or something and only answered "yes" and "sure" and "uh huh".

In the end it was a fun time. The organizers (Portland Velo) did a great job of putting on a class-A event. the OBRA folks also have my undying admiration for all their work providing the "glue" that makes all this stuff hold together. Oregon is an awesome place to ride and race bikes! I look forward to next year's race!

Unfortunately I eventually had to wash of my dirt tattoo. I called it my "Pain on the Peak tat".

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The obligatory "cyclocross is coming" post




Ah, sweet steel. A boon to cyclocross thou art.

The first CX race of the 2008 season is nigh. This Saturday! I'm already nervous. Will I suck spectacularly? Will my bike remember what to do? (It's been enjoying some off-time as the MTB has been doing most of the playing.)

I'm going to go to the CX clinic tonight-- hopefully I'll pick up some tips that will help me banish my "stutter-step" remount. Curses!

I still need to reposition my brake levers slightly downward and re-tape my handlebar with the super-yummy orange Cinelli tape. (I love the feel of the Cinelli tape, but its adhesive backing makes re-wrapping almost impossible.)

To quote Chowder: "Excitement!"

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

To train or not to train...

I've thought about this subject quite a bit. Just about every time I go out riding. During races. The last few wretched miles of a century.

I should train more. I should train- period.

Work on my core by sitting on a big inflatable ball, do crunches. Maybe some yoga. Pilates.

Drop Sets. Intervals. Hill surges. VO2 max something-or-other. Get a power meter? HR monitor? (Thanks Bicycling mag! Honestly-- reading that magazine every month just gets more and more depressing. Plus they keep referencing stuff I don't understand, like "stock portfolios" and "golf" and "luxury, SAG supported bike trips". Seriously, WTF?)

Most times I just thumb my nose at the notion of "training". It seems an impediment to fun-on-a-bike. I have a job. I have a child. I have a wife. I have a house that always seems to have something breaking or needing repairing. When I DO get out on my bike I want to enjoy it. But I also want to be able to enjoy racing and longer rides without feeling like I'm going to barf or my knees are going to explode. *sigh*

I have recently discovered/realized that "training" also means more time spent riding. Now THAT I can agree with.

The Bike Snob just neatly skewered the whole training notion. It's a lovely piece of work, really.

bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2008/09/so-what-now-coaching-and-end-of-summer.html

My cigarette lighter, if I had one would be raised and lit.

I'll go ride my bike, instead.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Slurpee run!

Today was the last day of "freedom" before my son hits Kindergarten. I can't believe that this idea didn't occur to me sooner, especially on the hotter days we had earlier in the summer.

A Slurpee run!

Remember back when? When you were maybe 10 or so. Head out on your bike to ride a few blocks to the 7-11. (Back in the 1980's 7-11 was the Starbuck's of the time... there seemed to be one every few blocks and more popping up every minute.) Dump your bike out on the curb, proceed directly to the Slurpee machine in the back of the store, get your Slurpee, check out the comic book rack and then sit out front on the curb chasing that last little bit of Slurpee slush with the "spoon straw" with a comic book balanced on your knees.

So anyway-- I take my son out this afternoon. It's maybe mid 70's out. Not ideal Slurpee run weather, but nice enough by any standard. We're both rolling on red and black singlespeeds! I love it! (I finally got clunker #1 converted to a drop bar. It's no longer a "clunker" thankyouverymuch.)

This is one of the great joys of parenting a young child. It's like you are a guide to a visitor from another planet. He has no idea how things work, what things are called and no concept of the "Slurpee run".

"Where are we going?"
"Are we there yet?"
"What are we going to do?"
"Now what?"

It's a distinct pleasure to introduce him to the various little things that make life fun. (Visits to the doctor for shots? No so much fun.)

The bike can get you where you want to go. He's gotten this idea pretty quickly and deeply. The other day he wanted to ride to the grocery store. Unfortunately I didn't have any way of ttransporting the quantity of groceries that we needed to move.

The bike can get you to good things like Slurpees. The bike makes getting the fun things... fun.

So we got to the 7-11 and got our Slurpees. He even grokked the idea that you mix several colors all together. Right on!

He wanted to know how we were going to get the Slurpees back to a park we had passed on the way. I told him that typically Slurpees are to be consumed on the premises of the 7-11. In a few years, as his skills improve, I'll let him know that the Slurpee can be consumed while riding home, one-handed.

No comic book rack in the 7-11, though. Bummer.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Junk bikes?

No. For years and years and years I've dreamed of putting together my own bike. Bikes? You mean plural? Oh good heavens! Get out!

Well guess what? I'm livin' the dream. More or less. Mostly less.

No custom frames here. Not even midrange Shimano componentry. Wellll... not quite true. I did snag a set of old XT hubs from the Community Cycling Center. I wish they were in my community. Anyway-- the 18-or-so year-old hubs run much smoother and are a definite upgrade from the Deore hubs of the same vintage. Ooh-la-la. Deore XT.

Anyway-- So now I'm building up a pair of singlespeed clunkers. #1 is my old 1989 Rockhopper Comp (In 1989, the only difference between a Rockhhopper Comp and the Stumpjumper was paint, stickers, and Deore vs. Deore XT.) #2 is a poor, neglected "MTN TEK". It came to me as a 7-speed so it's probably late-80's early 90's vintage. It's a Taiwanese frame, so doubtless it rubbed shoulders with other frames destined for decidedly fancier headbadges and downtube stickers. I remember seeing these things crowding the bike section of sporting goods stores like "Pedersons" and ski shops in southern Idaho.

Whatever. #1 has already been reincarnated -- reinbikenated -- as a single-speed with a Mary handlebar. I hooked up the trailer-bike to it so it sports the hugeugly hitch. Now it's getting a drop bar. The MTN TEK will get the Mary bar and become the loco for the trailer bike. It'll also be the town bike/errand bike. It'll actually be sharing these duties with all the other bikes since I'm equal opportunity that way and don't believe in "rain bikes" or "commuter bikes". They all like to take turns at different kinds of rides. (The road bike doesn't like the trail stuff quite so much since it seems to flat every time I do that. Even with the sausagey 25c tires.)

#1 is getting the Bonty cyclocross drop bar that I pulled from the LeMond Poprad. I'm not sure if I'll like that or not. I have a feeling that I'll need to score a used Midge on Ebay eventually. To be happy. We'll see.

Still. I never imagined that I'd be building up a couple of bike from used/scrounged/Ebay parts.

And digging it.

omigosh! omigosh! omigosh!

Jacquie Phelan's got a blog (or two).

It's right here: jacquiephelan.com

I spent my formative bike years reading about Jacquie Phelan, Cindy Whitehead, John Tomac, Ned Overend, Greg Herbold and others in Mountain Bike Action magazine.

It was (is) mostly Jacquie that I remember. She had that craaaazy drop bar. That I totally wanted. And Jacquie was totally cool, too. Even Greg Herbold was uptight compared to Jacquie!

I'm totally stoked that Jacquie has a blog.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Idiot cyclists

This morning I had to run some errands-- multiple stops and I needed to negotiate heavy traffic. I would need to take my 5 year-old along. So... I decided on the car. Perhaps if the bank hadn't decided to be hostile towards me riding my bike through the drive-through I might have reconsidered my transpo choice. Still... I needed to cross I-5.

Anyway, business concluded we're driving home and we pass a cyclist. He's in full faux-PRO kit and his bike is sporting a standard drop-bar with clip-on aerobars. Ding-ding-ding! We've got a wee-ner!

We pull up behind a few cars stopped at a red light. Speedy McAerobars comes coasting by (that's as good as a stop, right?) and then, as he enters the intersection, he veers off to the right, into the pedestrian cross-walk. Now he's a pedestrian! No need to stop, or even slow down! No wait... as he exits the intersection he veers back to the left into the bike lane. Now he's a bicycle! Wow! What a transformation! From cyclist to idiot ass-wipe back to cyclist all in the space of a few seconds. And he does it without stopping!

Thanks a lot for making us ALL look like idiot jerks, Speedy McAerodork.

I'll say this much: If the intersection is occupied, obey the traffic laws. If it's empty, treat the stop sign/signal as a yield (at your own risk-- it's illegal in most states). But don't commit the double error of blowing through a light and then using a pedestrian crosswalk to commit your crime of stupidity. Do us all a favor and stay home and watch bowling.

XC is the new KFC

Have you heard the "urban legend" about why KFC is no longer "Kentucky Fried Chicken"? It's something about how the USDA has decreed that for Kentucky Fried Chicken to continue to use the word "chicken" in its name it must actually serve real chicken. And since Kentucky Fried... er, KFC uses vat-grown chicken-oid meat-creatures with 4 breasts and 8 legs (and genetically engineered "nuggets") and NOT real chickens it must henceforth use the initials "KFC" in all trade dress.

It seems that cross-country MTB racing is in a similar spot.

I see more and more races billed as "XC" and not "cross-country". Take the Olympic "XC" races at the Laoshan blah blah complex. The erzatz "cross-country" race course was billed as entirely man-made. Indeed, part of it runs through a local shopping mall where racers can pit-in to buy tourist trinkets and frosty-n-refreshing Slushees (and replacement wheels). The course exits onto the BMX start ramp where many of the MTB racers lacking any real downhill skillz plunge to their deaths. The survivors continue on around the man-made course negotiating tricky off-camber mini-golf obstacles and foam-rubber boulders.

Seriously though. I remember when XC races were actually cross-country. They were quite difficult at times. I don't seem to remember the complaining that seems to be so common these days.

"Too muddy."

"Too rocky."

"Too long."

"Too much climbing."

And on and on...

At first the Laoshan course was "too easy" then the UCI folks planted some concrete boulders/rocks, fake water bars, etc and made it "almost too hard."

Mountain biking is riding a bicycle off-road. Across terrain supplied by mother nature. Love it as is -- warts and all -- or stay home and watch the pro-tour races on Versus.

Pass the PBR.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thanks for being there...




...When I need you.

Observe the contents of my seat bag. Oh wait-- the Crank Bros. Multi-tool is in the bag. Sorry. It rocks, too. Anyway. I love the Pedro's Blowout bag. It's circa 2001 and Pedro's doesn't make them like that anymore. Now they're cheap rotten little things.

Boo hoo.

Park Tool tire levers. Badass. Not the baddest tire levers out there-- that title belongs to the Kool-Stop tire bead jack. (Although I guess that isn't properly a tire lever.) Anyway-- I may have mentioned earlier that these little blue levers are pretty damn tough. I've snapped countless Specialized, CyclePro, Performance, Nashbar, and No-Name tire levers. I've even ruined a QuikStik! Not a Park Tool lever. Not even tweaked one. What on earth are these things made of?

Badassedness. 100-percent.

The Crank Bros. Powerpump. So small. So light. Blows so much air. It just shows CO2 inflators as what they are: wasteful, junky, stupid, useless, lame, trashy, ad nauseum. Totally bogus. Yes, the Powerpump fits in the seat bag.

The Park Tool "glueless" patches have always worked for me. I have some tubes that have patches several years old. They've stayed secure through MTB and cyclocross usage. Summer heat and winter cold. Off-road and on-road. For some reason Sheldon Brown doesn't think too much of the glueless patches and preferrs the Rema Tip Top brand (which I used to use). I've used Performance brand glueless patches and have found the Park Tool brand (the "Super Patch" GP-2) to be quite good and reliable. I've even had the little plastic case become water-logged and contaminated with silt with no apparent ill-effect. Sweet!

I just love these guys.

After the weekend's flat-tire fun up in Forest Park I just wanted to hug them and thank them for just being there.

Thanks Powerpump!

Thanks Park tire levers!

Thanks Park glueless patches!

Redefining "work gloves": The Ironclad Wrenchworx Impact glove





Build a deck in the morning and then go for a ride in the afternoon.

Last summer I picked up two pair of Ironclad's "Wrenchworx Impact" work gloves. I've put them both through the cyclocross wringer compounded with weekly washings.

They do quite well for actual tool work around the yard-- saved my hands from blisters when digging and give a good feel for drill-drivers and other tools without the bulk of a conventional leather glove.

Best of all, when the work is done (or you've just had enough) just hop on the bike and take off.

Monday, August 25, 2008

PSA: Be Prepared!

Carry what you need to get home:
1 tube
Patch kit (I recommend Park GP-2 "glueless" patches)
Pump (NOT the lame-ass wasteful CO2 things-- a Crank Bros. Powerpump)
Multitool (Crank Bros, again. Awesome.)
Tire levers (Just in case-- Park Tool blue ones are good and tough.)

Here's why: Sometimes when the shit comes down you need an umbrella. On a recent ride, I encountered a hapless guy that just had a couple of changes of clothes, so to speak, and NO umbrella.

Yesterday afternoon I went for a quick ride up in Forest Park. Hadn't been up there in a while. I couldn't decide between the cross bike or the mountain bike. MTB won.

Saw a couple of banana slugs-- why do they always seem to be crossing the trails and never traveling on them? Just crossing. Sorry guys/gals... the other side is more of the same.

Anyway. Crusing up Leif Erickson I pass this guy sitting on the side, wheel in lap-- sure sign of major problem. Or inexperience. As I approach I ask if he's got everything he needs. No response. Coasting by, I repeat the question louder. Nothing. Then I notice the earbuds-- he's listening to music. He looks up as I roll by and just says "hi" to my shouted "Are you okay?"

Oh well-- if he was having intractable problems he'd say something. Plus he had a litter of tubes and tools around him so he looked like he didn't need anything. He certainly looked like he had more than enough. So I move on.

It's late in the afternoon and dinnertime is fast approaching. I don't want to keep the family waiting for me so I decided to make a shorter loop up Saltzman and then down Firelane #5. On my way back down Leif Erickson... the guy is still there. Still sitting down with his wheel in his lap. Now there's another rider with him. This time I stopped, and in my best bossy tone* I asked what was going on.

Oh boy. The guy had gone through two tubes. He said that the valves were defective. *shrug* Whatever. He had ridden through blackberries or something thorny. He seemed pretty flustered and said that he was just going to put his original tube back in and pump it up as much as possible and see how far he could get.

Well, it took a few minutes to sink in, but this guy was completely FUBAR'd. I just couldn't appreciate the enormity of the disaster. Titanic-type.

"Well don't you have any patches?" I asked, sweetly, knowing the answer. Fearing it.

No. No patches. "I've got three tubes!" he claimed. He didn't have a pump either. There was a litter of those cursed CO2 cylinders around his bike. I suggested that he should buy a pump to which he responded "But I brought (3 or 4) CO2 cylinders!"

"Yeah, but they're all used up and now what?" He had no patches, no pump, no viable tubes. He had NO way of fixing his tube without outside help. Unbelievable. (The other rider that stopped had loaned his pump.)

Wait-- it gets worse.

So I just about insist that I patch his tube. It's probably about an hour to walk back down to the gate. At least that. And it's starting to piss down rain.

So I patch the tube, confirm that it's going to hold air and hand it back to the guy. He stuffs it back into the tire and proceeds to use the biggest METAL tire levers I've ever seen. They must have been for motorcycle use originally. I mean-- they must have been the size of my forearm! Satan's tire levers!

Anyway.

He then starts to pump up the tire. Ssssssss.

"You probably pinched the tire," I suggest. "With those big damn stupid tire levers." I think. Again he wants to just give up and hoof it.

So I take the wheel from him remove the tube. Yup. Double snake bite. FOUR HOLES. Good grief.

I try to cover both sets of holes with one patch. The other rider has taken his pump back and is preparing to leave. I'd like to leave too. Effing mosquitoes are making sushi out of me.

I start to pump up the tire and it's going flat just as quickly as I can pump it up. Damn damn damn damn.

"Okay, that's it, I'm walking." The guy is pretty insistent that he's going to just walk and call for a ride home.

At this point I'm just feeling a little stunned by this cascade of failures and the guy's attitude. We've spent about 30 minutes or so fiddling around and I'm going to be late getting home. I'm getting a little pissed off, too.

Fine. If he wants to quit I'm okay with that.

I bid him farewell and take off down the trail.

After about 5 minutes my conscience gets the better of me and I turn around and ride back to him. (He's on the phone, but it sounds like his GF can't find the car keys to come rescue him. Wow. This guy must be paying off some HUGE karmic debt.)

We're out from under the trees this time so I can get a good look at his wheel.

OMFG.

The plastic rim strip has little crescent-shaped cuts in it everywhere. There is a significant, sharp-edged crescent-shaped gouge near a spoke hole.

All this damage is consistent with the spooned edge of a metal tire lever!!

Zoinks! This guy has butchered his wheel with those great damn tire levers. I suggested that he switch to the (awesome) Park Tool tire levers but he kinda blows me off -- "Oh, I've broken so many of those!" I suggested that he's crazy since I've had QuikStiks fail (and break) where the Park levers have not.

I also discover a tear in the tire sidewall, just above the bead. Just incredible.

So I get the tube back in and the tire mounted and aired up-- everything looks okay. Then he discovers that he's got a slow leak in his front tire. We can see a thorn sticking in and air is bubbling through the mud and water.

Fortunately it's a slow leak and he's got plenty of pressure left. He makes his final decision to just make a go of it and this time I have no problems with letting him go-- he'll probably make it or at least get very close.

So I left him with a set of Park patches and a new tube.

Let's see: He went through three tubes, all of his CO2 cylinders (3-4), didn't have any patches, kept damaging his tubes with those damn bloody great big metal tire levers, tore a hole in one of his tire sidewalls, damaged the bed of the rim. Was there anything else?

I don't think he learned anything. Every time I made a suggestion he kind of "pooh-poohed" the idea.

I just couldn't believe what had happened. That guy and his tire levers were his own worst enemy.

Here's what I learned: When making a trail-side repair, take it slow and by the numbers. Do not let anybody rush you-- do the repair right. Riding is better than walking.

And I learned that CO2 inflaters really really really do suck. They're wasteful and stupid. Once they run out you're screwed. A good pump (Crank Bros. Powerpump) is vastly superior. The Powerpump is probably about the same size as those stupid CO2 things and lighter and more compact to boot.




*Not really. Maybe. I mean the guy was still there. Something was up.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rain and skates don't mix very well...

Bah.

My rain bike...

Okay, I just have to address this:

I'm sure that this is common in other wet locations like Seattle and...um...Seattle.

Cyclists that have a "rain bike".

What the hell is a "rain bike"? I have a modest selection of bikes spanning a wide time-line. Not one of them is a "rain bike". They have all been in the rain. They have all been raced. They have all been muddied (a couple more than others). They have all been commuters and errand-bikes.

A rain bike? Unfortunately there is not a "scorn" style-button in Blogger otherwise I'd be combining it with bold and italic. What, does a rain bike shed rain? Is it water-proof somehow?

Puh-leeze.

Maybe I'm missing something and just being an annoying, reactionary, no-good dumbo nothing jerk.

Sorry rain-bike folks-- I have bikes.

Feh.

The perfect seat bag?

I'm in search of the "perfect" seat bag.

I have one-- it's an old Pedro's Blow-Out bag made from (supposedly) used innertubes. I got it in 2001. It holds a Crank Bros. Power Pump (the smallest one), a tube, three Park tire levers, Crank Bros. multi-tool, and a Park glue-less patch kit. It's stuffed. All straps are embroidered with the Pedro's logo. Strap uses an adjustable side-squeeze buckle. It tucks up behind the seat perfectly and doesn't rub the inside of my thighs. One seam blew out but I sewed back myself a few years ago and it's still going strong.

I got another one in 2006. It was a shadow of the 2001 bag. A cheap shadow. The reflective tag on the back that's supposed to hold a blinky light? Ripped. Cheap, flimsy straps and lame-ass buckle.

Lame, Pedro's. Lame.

Anyway. I got a Crank Bros. Power Pump Pro (small alloy with gauge) for my road bike and needed a bag that would hold everything nicely. Picked up what looked like a decent bag at Performance Bike. The Trans It "speed wedge". Pffft. The cursed thing rubs on the inside of my thighs. After quite a few miles of "bzzzup-bzzzup" and fiddling with the bag I just had to remove the damn thing.

I went to REI and looked at what they had. Holy crap-- most of their stock is sized to hold the kitchen sink! Timbuk2 had some nicely done (almost overdone) bags but they had no provision for holding a blinky light-- a serious, deal-killing oversight. The bags were lined. Good grief-- I'm only jamming tools and tubes and stuff in it, not a BlackBerry.

Back to Performance Bike. I thought I had found a pretty good bag-- it was the right dimensions and had a little loop for a blinky light (it appeared to be a bit unorthodox...). And it was on sale!

FAIL.

The bag passed the thigh rub test and held everything nicely. However, the straps were positioned in sugh a way that the bag wanted to hang more vertically than up under the saddle. The strap that was supposed to go around the seatpost instead had to go under the seatpost collar. Bleah. The "unorthodox" blinky light holder? Yeah-- rendered useless. Actually, in experiments with the bag off the bike I could not successfully use the blinky light loop. No matter how I oriented the bag. So apparently Performance designs stuff like this without even thinking about it.

Why am I obsessing about a seat bag? Why does something so seemingly simple and necessary have to be such a bewildering hassle?

I finally settled on a Pearl Izumi bag (the only one they make) and it seems to do everything I need and has a nice big tab on the back that's reflective and holds a blinky light in a useful fashion. It seems a little lightweight though, so I'm concerned about long-term durability. But it's on the road bike, so...