08 June 2008

I'm Not Dead...

Just have been very busy. But not now. Actually I haven't done shit with my life in the past two weeks. Not that anybody has read this like ever, but whatever. It's a masturbatory exercise for my creative ego.

And here's to Cat. 4 intensity:
Even mediocrity has its own intensity. It's just a slower-paced intensity with a lot more unnecessary crashes.

And here's to the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show - because crude parodies of Scandanavian peoples are funny:

"Jag tycker om att laga mat!"

28 January 2008

The Trainer TV

Today I finally resorted to riding the trainer for a workout. It's been nearly nine months since the last trainer workout, so it was a strange experience.

Why did I do it? I don't like the wind outside.

It should be noted that I'm a freak (or mentally disturbed...actually that's probably a bit more accurate). I can withstand 4+ hour trainer rides. How? The proper entertainment.

Everyone has their own ideas about the proper trainer entertainment. I've tried most things. I've tried reading to increase academic productivity, but mainly that just ends up with decreasing the performance of both my workout and my academic comprehension of the material. I've tried cycling DVDs, but mainly that just reinforces my true belief that I'm exponentially less of a badass cyclist compared to the European pros. I've tried non-cycling sports DVDs or shows (skiing, football, baseball, car racing), but mainly that just reiterates how completely non-badass of an athlete I am outside of cycling (and even my claim to badassedness in cycling is quite small as the previous sentence demonstrated).

What does work? For me, any sort of television or DVD entertainment that requires no active thinking but has a consistent, progressing, even predictable plot. The proven ones for me include:

-Law and Order (I still don't remember the different versions of the shows or the characters, but the plot is always about the same and with it goes a good hour block of training)
-Sesame Street (another good hour block of training with a little educational material)
-Sabrina the Teenage Witch (because she's hot)
-The Price is Right (because he's hot)
-Local news in Providence (again see the importance of predictability...Gene Valicenti makes the time go past the best)
-Curb Your Enthusiasm (this is not for hard intervals, though, because I usually laugh a lot and that can cause asthma attacks)

If I'm exiled to the trainer some more in the following months (as I surely will on Tuesdays and Thursdays at approximately oh-dark-hundred in the morning), I'm hoping to try new things. Anything. It's unfortunate that there's only a finite number of reruns that one can choose from, but at least there's always Gene Valicenti. But he's only on for about thirty minutes.

22 January 2008

The Return

I have returned to Rhode Island. Strangely it feels warm to me, although we're hovering precariously on the rain/snow threshold right now.

My departing flight was delayed for an hour and a half (although I only had 40 minutes scheduled layover for my connecting flight to Providence). Although it was snowing, that was not the primary reason for the delay. The plane was overweight - don't look at me, I lost about five pounds in the last month in a continuing effort to not be fat! Instead of the pilot turning back and saying "fatasses off!" they had to do that whole "who's willing to volunteer to get screwed over for a $400 Delta Airlines voucher and a hug" ordeal and I suppose that took time. Apparently, though, the airlines are all overscheduling their flights by about an hour so they're 'on time' more often. I got off the airplane at 7:35pm and my next flight was scheduled to leave at 7:40pm, and one irreverant sprint across the entire freaking airport got me back here! My bags even made (I don't know how or why).

That aside aside, what did I miss about Rhode Island when I wasn't here?
-Government corruption
-Organized crime
-Buddy Cianci's radio show
-88.1 WBSR (Brown Student Radio on FM)
-Spike's (just had a Grinder Dog on Thayer St.)
-Hair-raising events on I-95 (also just had some)
-Central Falls (just kidding)
-Depressing weather
-Cardi's Furniture Superstore television commercials

I've also mapped out some cool new rides that debark from the East Side of Providence and am looking forward to trying them out. If any of them work well, I'll be sure to share them here.

17 January 2008

The Spiritual Experience of the Bike Shop (aka the most heritical thing I've ever written)

First off I need to make three apologies of sort:

1) I apologize for imitating Bikesnob NYC a few days ago. I couldn't resist the opportunity, though, when I saw that Schwinn.

2) I apologize for my continuous Pawtucket-bashing (although it won't stop). I do it because I know Pawtucket can take it...tough love of sorts. Pawtucket can be humorously insulted because Pawtucket has good self-esteem, Pawtucket knows that the insults pointed towards it are only jokes which are probably subconscious ways of telling Pawtucket that it's loved, and Pawtucket is big and mature enough to fight back if needed. If I intended to be cruel, I'd pick on some place like New Bedford or Fall River because that would legitimately be messed up (because those places really are legitimately messed up in a not-good sort of way).

3) I apologize (in advance) for offending people of any and all religions.

Today was flipping cold and the real possibility of frostbite kept me indoors. So, I went to my favorite bike shop in Colorado Springs (Bicycle Village...they may be a big-store almost-chain sort of bike shop, but they're shop is superb, they'll always get you back in the road in the minimal amount of time, and they have good prices on all their merchandise). It was nice because I was the only shopper in the place the time that I was there - making it even more of a zen-like spiritual experience than normal.

Now, when I'm in a bike shop I like to look at EVERYTHING in the store. I like to spend a good hour or so in the shop, and when I can't then I feel a bit empty inside. Even if I'm just buying something mundane like a tire or shoe cleats, I'm still gonna look at the nicest bike in the shop and drool for a couple of minutes. Normally I like to do it in solitude, but if I'm there with a fellow bike-racer or if someone in the shop is a knowledgable hardcore cyclist sympathetic to my cycling views (and ultimately understanding that while I may be looking at a $6000 bike for ten minutes, I don't want to buy it, and I don't even want to test-ride it because then I'd be cheating on my own committed relationship with my bike), I'm cool with sharing the experience as well. Looking at a Lemond might evoke powerful images of, well, Greg Lemond, as looking at a Bianchi or a Giant might evoke other strong emotions related to overweight German cycling superstars and blood-doping.

So, in a weird sort of way, bike shops are like churches. At least for a very small minority of the population with Kermit the Frog chests, ripped shaven legs, and sub-45bpm resting heartrates:

The Megastore (aka Megachurch)
Colorado Springs is home to Bicycle Village, as well as other landmarks like New Life Church. The megastore phenomenon cannot be found in Rhode Island. It derives its strength not from the quality of its products (because there's really no money to be made from selling racing bikes), but from the quantity of its selection - and there's something very alluring about strength-in-numbers. It makes more money than God from naive souls who know little about what cycling is all about (it's history, culture, meaning, etc.), but who just want to make cycling a part of their life. Then, with the passive background support of the megastore, its customers continue to evangelize and spread the sport of cycling to other souls. The results are a mass of families thronging to bike paths on sunny weekends on crappy (but shiny) mountain bikes, and great numbers of overweight hairy-legged men and their stay-at-home wives paying $200 to ride a century in full Team Discovery Kit on $600 aluminium triples to spread the good word of cycling and piss off traffic in the most awful way imaginable.

The 100 Year Old Bike Shop (aka the Catholic Church)
This is the oldest bike shop in town (I suppose in the case of Rhode Island this would be Caster's, owned by the same family since it opened in 1919). It too has strength-in-numbers, but it sticks to the value of its time-honored traditions and strengths to gain followers...rather than the glamor and glitz of racks of Team Discovery jerseys and sixty different models of low-end mountain bikes. If you damaged some carbon fiber by over-tightened a screw or took apart your freewheel without knowing what you're doing, this is the shop you go to to confess your sins and get things straightened out properly. They're not going to make fun of you or shun you for what you've done; they've seen it all in their long existence. They also probably have at least a few vintage posters of Eddy Merckx and Greg Lemond hanging on the walls for you to pray to.

The Older 'New' Shop (aka Continental Protestant-type Church)
This is the shop that was the first to open and challenge the Old Bike Shop (see previous section). For Rhode Island, this would probably be East Providence Bicycle (open since 1951). This type of shop opened to provide an alternative bike shop, and to make cycling more accessible to the masses. Today, it contains less exotic high-end road bikes that seem foreign and scary to most people just getting into bicycling, and remains committed to its core of accessible mid-range Treks, Specializeds, and Giants. As time has passed, though, it too has begun to earn an image of also being a bit archaic, old school, and steeped in its ways. If you've committed a repair-sin against your bike, though, don't look to this place for reassuring and heartfelt service. It's staple is selling stuff - not repairing it.

The Newer 'New' Bike Shop (aka American Protestant-style Church)
When the Older 'New' Bike Shop began behaving like (or was perceived as behaving like) the Old Bike Shop, then a plethora of newer responses sprouted in the scenery of modern cycling culture. This would be Providence Bicycle. It's a decided rejection of the old-school cycling shop, where there's good moral support and the people in the shop know your name. Indeed, there's a fine line between this and the Megastore - although the line is still clear. In this shop, the focus is still in the equipment. There's usually a whole range of bike brands available, from the core staples to even a few exotic European types. If you want, they've got the highest-end equipment available, but they still reel in a lot of money of of lower-end recreational bikes. They're not afraid to evangelize the sport of cycling, whether it be supporting an upstart local team or selling some generic jerseys, but it's still done in pretty good taste. With its hand in so many jars, though, it just doesn't seem overly passionate about any branch of the cycling world.

The Cycling Purist Shop (aka the Synagogue)
Now, I don't mean a shop solely dedicated to bike racers (that would be cool, but they wouldn't ever make a profit). I mean a shop like The Hub on Brook Street in Providence. This is the kind of bike shop that really isn't a bike shop; it's a bicyclist's shop. There are rules that seem strange to outsiders - like they will refuse to service a 'department store bike' or a bike with a powertap because powertaps are unkosher. They are closed on strange days and open at strange hours...because they all want to go out and ride a lot, too. Once you have proven that you, too, are a cycling purist and are willing to commit to a bicycle as your primary means of transportation, primary competitive sport, and primary passion in life, then you too are forever a part of this shop's culture.

16 January 2008

Henderson Bridge Madness

I don't like the Henderson Bridge, as many know. That's why I have come up with three (count them, three!!!) possible ways to avoid the Henderson Bridge to get out to Massachusetts for some riding.

Unfortunately, they all go through Pawtucket - and going through Pawtucket is never a good thing. Why? Well, let's consider some of the most popular reasons for going to Pawtucket:
-I went to Pawtucket to go to the RI DMV.
-I went to Pawtucket because I know somebody at the RI DMV.
-I went to Pawtucket to get trashed at a really, really sketchy bar.
-I went to Pawtucket to score some crack next to an abandoned factory.
-I went to Pawtucket because I work at an abandoned factory.
-I went to Pawtucket because my name is Peter Griffin and I work in a beer factory there.
-I went to Pawtucket to go fishing off the Division Street Bridge (seriously, read this Projo article).
-I went to Pawtucket to dispose of a dead body off of the Division Street Bridge.
-I went to Pawtucket because I live there.

Pawtucket has a train station

Actually I'm being unfair - Pawtucket is certainly the embodiment of what Rhode Island was pre-Providence-gentrification-douchebagification. Pawtucket is the reason why Rhode Island is ranked the 48th "least mentally depressed" state in the country.

Sorry for this digression into Pawtucket. The point is that, apparently, RIDOT decided that the Henderson Bridge needs major critical repairs (duh!) because it is unsafe (duh!). So they're going to turn it into a hellacious construction zone for the year of 2008 (i.e. the next decade). Presumably, this will require at least four dozen police officers to oversee the construction (as is the law, apparently, in Rhode Island and Massachusetts):

Rhode Island State Troopers - ranked best-dressed in the nation (seriously)

Actually a police presence wouldn't be so bad for once. The speed limit is posted at 35mph on the Henderson, but everyone goes at least 65mph since the bridge isn't really in any city (it's over the water dividing Providence and East Providence), all Rhode Islanders know legal loopholes ten times better than Dick Cheney and three times better than Chicago street-gangs, and RI state troopers are too busy doing Canadian Mountie impressions on the steps of the capitol building.

According to Bike-To-Brown, an organization made up of people who like to bike to Brown, this is what will happen to new Little Red Bridge:
  1. The Eastbound lane, once you ramp onto the bridge from Waterman will be reduced to one 10′ travel lane.
  2. Eastbound (1st) Massasoit Ave. off-ramp will be closed for approximately 6 months once the interim repairs begin.
  3. Sidewalks will remain open. RIDOT is currently deciding whether or not to post signs directing cyclists (& pedestrians) to use the sidewalks and for cyclists to dismount and walk their bikes across the bridge sidewalk. Railing height is not up to specs. for bicycle use/travel.
Hmmm. Getting me to ride on the sidewalk on the Henderson. Never again - I tried it once at night before (see One Ridiculous Ride - Rhode Island at Night from the Bike). Actually since I'm not a commuter and really only care about training to race my bike fast, the only large way that this will impact me is trying to get to the East Bay Bike Path for, like, a nice recovery ride. Taking the Pawtucket detour to get to the Bike Path would be 15 extra miles, about. And I actually wouldn't mind taking up the whole lane on the Henderson the whole way just to say that I, for once, forced traffic to slow down on the Henderson. But I sure as hell ain't walking my bike over the entire bridge since that'd take well over 10 minutes WITHOUT cleated cycling shoes. I can't wait until I return to Rhode Island...

15 January 2008

Some Random Embarrassing Bicycle Thought

Bikesnob posted another one of my absolute favorite "bike love" posts extracted from NYC's craigslist - do read: Weird Weather Bike Love

While Bikesnob NYC is the one and only master of the craigslist commentary, I couldn't help but to point out this wicked evil thing that can be found in Cranston:

1970's SCHWINN Stingray Orange Krate - $1500 [original http://providence.craigslist.org/bik/536798680.html]

Reply to: sale-536798680@craigslist.org Date: 2008-01-12, 1:02PM EST 1970's SCHWINN Stingray Orange Krate Nice shape, new rear correct tire, new brake and shift cables; rear shocks; front drum break, rear caliper brake(original owner must have removed disc brake which this model came with) ; professionally set up and ready to go. beautiful bike! $1500.00. Please no tire kickers! Serious inquiries only. Thanks.

This bicycle was professionally set-up by the Schwinn Hell's Angels, Cranston Chapter. After removing the disk brake, the original owner committed suicide. I do think that with the $1500 pricetag, limiting this to "serious inquiries only" is a good plan. I can't wait to see this think pop up in the driveway of a Propsect Street manion one of these days.

On a somewhat related note (for the heterosexual male bike racers): have you ever checked out a rider before/after a bike race thinking that it was a a female with nice legs/nice butt, only to have that rider turn around at which point you realize that the rider was a male. Because it happens to me a lot. But only at bike races. I hope I'm not the only one, but at least I admit it. And, hell, I'm a student at Brown University so anything goes in that department.

Today was just a nice 50-miler in decent weather (no wind!!!) while attacking the hills - except I got lost out on the plains east of Colorado Springs and ended up doing WAY too many miles on these washerboard-rough dirt roads. I kind of like dirt roads, except today I thought that I was going to: a) destroy a carbon-frame b) destroy my strong-as-diamonds 32-spoke wheels built in the 1990s c) destroy a vertebrate in my back. The experience was like a combination of riding over Brance Avenue in Providence and several miles of cow-catchers.

12 January 2008

ugh, snowriding

Ugh. That says it all.

Two days off the bike. Ruined my volume goal for the week - because I have enough discipline to not clump together two workouts into one day (I don't want to be doing a 6+ hour ride right now for fear of bonking or otherwise destroying myself). I took a picture of myself on the second day:Not really. But close. I did get a haircut, though.

So afterwords I decided to say screw it and go ride despite the still rather snowpacked road conditions. I knew that the arterials were at least somewhat cleared despite the city's inability to plow in the critical hours after a snowstorm. I also know that the only two places around here that are actually really good at clearing their roads after snowstorms are the Air Force Academy and the Garden of the Gods. Since I knew that I could realistically get to the Garden of the Gods, I went there to ride.

The Garden of the Gods is a storied and beautiful city park here, and the paved roads that circulate through it offer the widest bike path that I've ever seen and speed limits of 20mph throughout the park (meaning that on the descents and even the flats bikes speed past cars which is pretty cool). Theoretically, it should be a wonderland of road cycling. Indeed, most roadie weekend-warriors and newbies make it a staple of their riding. But I hate it nearly always. It's always freaking filled with tourists who park in the bike lane on blind switchback descents, and is generally replete with dumb-as-dandelion Texans at all times of the year. If you're looking for a low-speed collision with an SUV or oblivious human-being, then eschew midtown-Manhattan and go to the Garden of the Gods. Furthermore, there's one descending switchback in the park where I have actually crashed multiple times on the road bike. I freaking HATE that corner because even when I go through it at like 10mph, I still seem to have a knack for wiping out on either gravel, the slick reflective lines, water, ice, or some tourist standing in the middle of the road taking pictures. The guardrail there is also totally beat up (and if I remember correctly a few years ago it was totally destroyed), so it actually must be a lot more dangerous for everybody than it looks. Finally, back in high school cross-country we used to have 7am workouts there every Tuesday morning in the summer, and generally throughout the rest of the year as well. I always got my ass kicked and handed to me on a platter by absolutely everybody on the team along with various unrelated recreational runners, equestrians, and leisurely hikers, and I've probably had over a dozen sprained ankles there as well.

The main problem, for me mentally at least, with the Garden of the Gods (either running or on the bike) is that it really is wicked hilly with numerous steep climbs - but all of them look flat as a pancake. The entire park is a mental illusion. It's a general problem in the foothills here in that since the whole terrain is really slanted, it's difficult to judge the steepness and difficulty of climbs. Easy ones look ridiculously hard, and ridiculously hard ones look flat. So, I always end up destroying myself WAY to early in all of my Garden of the Gods workouts unless I prepare for it mentally.

The loop I did was, apparently, just over 5 miles and (from the veloroutes measurements) had just over 800ft of climbing per lap. I did six laps on the last workout, which was a record for me and accounts for a fairly good amount of climbing in a short period of time. It's really not physically hard if you actually do the climbs in the effort zones that one should be in, especially with the recoveries on the numerous descents, but each lap does have a climb (High Drive) that is, I think, about as steep as Jenckes Street in Providence except a bit longer. It was mostly snow free except for some obvious black ice on a few descents and one wicked slush/white ice spot on a climb...no crashes, though!

Today, I headed out the same way expecting to do more Garden of the Gods, except I found myself inexplicably lulled to climb 26th Street/Gold Camp Road...which I did. It was passable going up, but apparently I forgot that I had to descend. Most of Upper Gold Camp Road was still snow-packed/slush-packed with some ice spots, so I think I descended it slower than I climbed it. No crashes again, though (despite some really close calls).

Then, I got a phone call from an old high school friend that Cigar Friday - an old high school tradition - was being revived. Yes, going back to when I was like 16 years old I used to smoke a cigar on many Fridays with a group of friends, even during cross-country and track seasons (my coaches knew). So, that entailed high-tailing it back to downtown and the park next to my old high school. I didn't smoke a cigar this time, though...which was somewhat of a shame I think (ah, the freaking sacrifices one must make for dear old Brown and the glory of its cycling team).
Luckily, though, it did mean that I only did a ride about half as long as I planned - so theoretically it did have some negative impact upon my physical fitness level!

This weeks training goals have been obliterated by weather and tobacco-traditions. I don't care, though. Maybe 'ugh' isn't the best modifier, after all.

10 January 2008

Presidential Candidates and Sports

It's still snowing in Colorado and I'm still rather bruised up from crashing in the snow, so I'm bored and want to try something new today...

2004 represented the pinnacle of cycling in American politics. Both the Democrat candidate, Sen. John Kerry (D, Mass-a-freaking-chusetts), and Republican incumbent, Pres. George W. Bush (R, Yale), were active cyclists. Both got to hang out with Lance Armstrong. Kerry prominently sported his Livestrong bracelet back in that nostalgic era of Lance-glamour. Bush used to get beat up in wicked mountain biking crashes.

2008, as we all know, is a time of change - purpotedly a rejection of the politics of the recent past. Perhaps that means that we no longer want a President who is a cyclist. But does that mean we don't want a President who is an athlete? Let's examine:

Barack Obama plays basketball. What a surprise. Mr. Chicago, Mr. uh, well, I'm not going to make any racial generalizations here because that's not the kind of person I am. Apparently, though, Sen. Obama has a wicked good game of pickup basketball. Does this count as a competitive sport? Well, I tried to make the basketball team in middle school (unsuccessfully), so I'll give him some hardcore street-cred for it. I know all too well, also, that the men's basketball coach at Brown is Obama's brother-in-law. And apparently he played basketball on his middle school team, and was on Harvard Law's pickup basketball team that played prison inmates once (the only sort of people that Harvard can find who'll take their athletic teams seriously?) Obama does smoke cigarettes, though, so I'm guessing that the probability that he'll become a cyclist is quite minimal.

I wouldn't mess with John McCain in any sport - well back in his prime. In this very interesting piece of John McCain's youthful years, it seems clear that he was a very accomplished wrestler in high school (although his early attempts at picking up girls were legally misconstrued for verbal harrassment). Apparently he was even recruited to wrestle at Princeton, but instead opted for Annapolis - I'm unclear if he continued to participate there. And, I think one must give Sen. McCain credit for the 5.5 years spent being tortured nearly to death in a North Korean prison. I don't think it counts as a competitive sport, but it should count for something. I don't think cycling is a physical reality for him, though.

According to this New York Times article, Hillary Clinton's primary athletic love is "speed-walking," but also at some unspecified point she says, "I played softball, I played pickup basketball, I played tennis." She also recalls that, "she once won a trophy in an Arkansas mixed-doubles tournament." All of this seems all too vague to me. Granted, there have historically been less opportunities for females to participate in competitive sports. Maybe Sen. Clinton was wicked good at tennis and just doesn't want to brag about it - but I doubt it. It would add to her 'resume of experience.' She does seem pretty healthy and fit, though, so she's doing something right. Maybe I should give it a go in the speed-walking scene!

Ron Paul. What can we say about this dude? Well, according to a compilation of credible source's on Rep. Paul's wikipedia page, he was an extraordinarily talented athlete in high school. He was on the wrestling team, baseball team, football team, and track team in high school. Furthermore, he was Pennsylvania state champion as a junior in the 220 yard dash, second in the 440 yard dash that year, and ran an astounding 9.7 seconds in the 100 yard dash! After his junior year, though, he horribly injured his knee, requiring surgery and ending his running career for a while. So, he took up swimming, and even competed on the Gettysburg College varsity swim team. Then, in what must have been an astounding comeback to running, he joined the Gettysburg varsity track team his senior year and set school records in the 100 yard and 220 yard dash. He might seem like a lunatic, but Ron Paul was an athlete. He could be a successful master's cyclist, I think.

I don't think former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani was ever much of an athlete, and the absence of any evidence to the contrary in my hurried rush of research based solely on one internet search engine confirms my theory. But, he is known to be an avid Yankees fan. I suppose, really, any good Brooklyn boy should be an avid baseball and Yankees fan. That was, until he became, in the words of the oh-so-credible New York Post, Judas Giuliani! That's right - Giuliani actually rooted for the freaking Red Sox! I can't vote for the guy, now.

Mitt Romney claims that he has participated in every sport known to man, from judo to Ironman triathlon. Actually I'm making that up. I couldn't find any good sports background on him. He did organize the Salt Lake City Olympics, though, so maybe that counts for something. He's WASPy enough and full of enough hot air, though, to be a once-a-year cat. 5 master's racer (on a Pinarello with Zipps, presumably) and claim that he's an Armstrong-like hardcore bike racer. And his real name is Willard.

John Edwards still looks like he could win a prom-king election (a Presidential one, though, I doubt). It appears from his website that he was a sort of high school football star in North Carolina. From his pugilistic rhetoric, too, I can buy into his continual campaign claims that he is an active football fan. Again, former Sen. Edwards does have a pretty nice physique as well - and thus is probably continuing to do something good. Could he become a cyclist? I say yes, but he'd probably be the douchebag throwing elbows in the first few laps of a criterium and then gets his ass kicked after the race for pissing off somebody. Or maybe get his ass beat for talking a lot of empty trash before the race even starts.

The closest cycling connection that I could find from the candidates was with Fred Thompson, of all people. Not surprisingly, he was apparently a football and basketball player in high school in Tennessee. But, upon graduation from high school, he worked for a year in the Murray Ohio Bicycle assembly plant! That plant was in the small town of Lawrenceburg, TN, and apparently the experience was enough to drive former Sen. Thompson to pursue an education at the University of Memphis. Chances are, though from looking at the kinds of bikes that Murray Ohio produced, former Sen. Thompson probably does not have a fond conception of what cycling is or means. The chances he could become a cyclist? I say nil. But he does have a hot wife.

Mike Huckabee does deserve a badass award in the athletics department. Several years ago, as governor of Arkansas, he went from weighing 300lbs and being diagnosed with diabetes to losing 110lbs in weight and running marathons! According to this article about his amazing and inspiring transformation, he went from riding the exercise bike to walking to, an a "Forrest Gump" impulse, trying out running. His first marathon, in 2005, was done in 4hrs 38min, which is impressive. Says Huckabee, "I'm not a great athlete. I'm a guy who's never done anything athletic in his life ever, and there's no way I should have been able to do that. But if you train and you just commit to the discipline and focus of the training, I'm convinced even a guy like me can do it." That's inspiration to me.

08 January 2008

Types of Snow for the Roadie

We all know that it's not becoming of a road cyclist to either complain about the weather, nor to brag about what sort of weather he/she just rode in. Although I do it a lot. Whatever.

Saturday I had to forego a ride (despite 60 degree F temperatures) because of "hurricane force" winds. Apparently semi-trucks were getting blown over on Interstate 25, and when I observed the trash cans behind our house go airborne I decided it would be nice to stay inside. Sunday was forecasted to be a bit cold but otherwise nice. It was, except for a snowstorm in the morning. The weather stations here claimed that there was, like, a 1 in 1,000 chance of such a snowstorm happening (something about the positioning of the jet stream, etc.) - but nonetheless it happened. It was quite depressing waking up and seeing the city under a big layer of snow when I had planned on going out and doing a 4 hour ride. Still, I waited later in the day for the snowplows to get the major roadways cleared, said a prayer, and went for a shorter ride. Today, I got stuck out riding in a snowstorm about 45 minutes away from home (this time the storm was projected, but apparently I didn't care), and FINALLY, just a couple of minutes away from home, I crashed!

Now, seriously, I've been waiting for this moment all winter break. I have, admittedly, been out riding in conditions that were a bit too unsafe...but I still didn't crash. But I did learn a lot about the different types of snow on the road - for the roadie (since I'm no cyclocrosser, and non-cyclocrossers can be dead afraid of the snow when they shouldn't be). These nutjobs do have some nice technique and other info, but again this is designed for the pure roadie. That means you're out in a blizzard on your carbon-framed racing bike, with slick racing tires, etc. No fenders, studded tires, beater frame, and other dorky stuff...

Hard Solid Bigass Chunks of Ice
This usually occurs on the northside of big buildings (or other places that see little sun) or on non-plowed sidestreets that have taken a few subsequent snow-beatings. This is some of the best stuff to ride on - basically asphalt with significantly less traction. If it appears white (thus having a bit of snow on top of it), then it's just one grade down from asphalt. If it looks more like pure ice, then be a little more wary of it. Just slow a bit beforehand, pick a good line, go straight (aka NO turning), and keep your hands entirely off your breaks. You can coast or, if you are deathly afraid of wasting time during your workout by not pedalling, then pedal slowly and smoothly as if you're on rollers. If you do think that you may lose balance (aka the ice surface is for some strange reason very rough), then unclip a pedal and don't be afraid to lay your foot down for balance (and if you're riding in the winter with cleats clipped as strong as they'd be on a veldrome, then you're an idiot). For some reason this type of ice is what scares off people from riding in the winter, although it's some of the safest stuff.

Melting Hard Bigass Chunks of Ice
This stuff is a bit more dangerous - think of ice-skating on a pond, and having the ice layer crack and break. Your front (or back, I suppose) wheel can potentially 'fall in' while the rest of your bike/body continuing to move forward. Perhaps big studded tires would prevent this from happening, but on thin (almost razor-like) road racing tires it's a possibility. Again, everything can be prevented by keeping a smooth, constant, slower speed, by holding your line, by not even touching the brakes, and by being willing to do the unclip-and-prevent-a-crash manouver.

Black Ice
While many view this to be the Antichrist of road cycling, this again is merely a grade under regular asphalt. Supposedly it's stealth causes multitudes of crashes. But, despite its name it's really not that stealthy. Unless you're swerving down the road like a test-car on a slalom course, there should be no reason for you to suddenly crash out of the middle of nowhere on a patch of black ice. One of the central assumptions of road cycling is that one holds his line! And if it's not given away by the dual combination of freezing temperatures and the patch of road that looks wet, then if you're applying some sort of decent force to your drivetrain you may feel your back wheel slide out a bit on a patch of black ice. That is not a signal to immediately slam on your brakes, nor to start swerving around, nor to jump up out of your saddle and sprint for the next tree. An unabashed black ice fearmonger will of course counter, "What about the corners?" Well, don't rip corners like a technical criterium when it's freezing and the roads are lousy. I like to stand out of the saddle in corners on ice just to totally insure that I stay totally upright.

It should be noted, though, that black ice with a layer of snow on top of it is, indeed, a bit more stealthy. Especially in the early stages of a snowstorm, when the snow just begins to stick to the road and accumulate, once can safely assume that the entire roadway is black ice - since it had previously been wet with new snow but has obviously since frozen.

White Slush
If you see this on the road, you might as well slow down to walking pace, unclip a pedal (or both) already, and either embrace the real likelihood that you will crash or start walking. This is an all-encompassing term for, well, slush that is white. It's not quite ice, not quite water, and not quite snow - but it is evil. It'll knock around both of your wheels as you fight for your life to hold your line, your back wheel will fishtail out from under you. The consistency of white slush is such that you cannot simply ride over it like ice, nor can you slice through it like water or snow. Studded or cyclocross tires may make this stuff less lethal, but I wouldn't know since I don't swing that way.

Now, what I crashed on today was on the transition from black ice (under a fresh just-sticking layer of snow) to white slush (presumably starting to solidify more at that point). The transition was more diagonal on the ride, so my front wheel was on white slush (thus making me lose control of my front and slide around) while my back was still on the black ice. At that point I had thrown myself into an irrecovarable slide, and went straight to the ground. Nonetheless, it should be said that I rode through hundreds of patches of white slush in the past two days, and only once crash came out of it. It is the most dangerous, but is still quite manageable if you go out and practice on it. And do it on your racing machine to up the risk-level (maybe even throw on your deep-dished Zipps) , just to make sure that you'll be extra safe.

Brown Slush
That sounds horrible. Nonetheless, slush that is brown is usually a lot looser, more wet, and for some reason not quite strong enough to screw with your wheels. It may have something to do with it being essentially all melted, and thus the tires always stay in contact with the pavement. It does fly up and hit you in the butt, the back, and entirely encrust your bicycle, drivetrain, gears, wheels, and everything else that you own (and lord help you if you're riding through the stuff during a group ride or a race). One may assume that it's just dirt with water (as I did), but there MUST be something else in it, at least in Colorado Springs. Most of what I went through on Sunday was brown slush, which totally soaked my tights (leaving me wicked freezing cold). The stuff had soaked through the tights to my legs, which were totally dyed a near-black tint (and it wouldn't even wash off in the shower - my legs are still dyed). Whatever it is that they put down on the roads, it's not the benevolent salt of margharita glasses and the sacred dirt of cyclocross races...it's something very very wicked, indeed. But safer than white slush.

Deep Snow
Well, there's nothing that can be done about this stuff. You really can't ride through more than an inch or two of standing snow on a purely-outfitted road bike. You'll have to whip out the mountain bike for that:

So What's My Point?
Many roadies do use the weather as an excuse to not ride, or to not train, or to skirt the cold weather in favor of a much less beneficial workout on the trainer. Many others use the weather as a backhanded way to belittle cyclists.

"You rode your bike out in the snowstorm on the roads?!? That's really dangerous, you know." That means in douchebag-speak:

"You're obviously either a huge idiot or huge badass, or more probably a certain combination of both, for having done a 50 mile ride in a snowstorm. Not only would I drop dead of a heart-attack if I tried to do a 50 mile ride, but it was damn cold. But, all that slipping and sliding and crashing you must have done out on the roads was obviously a nuisance to the cars around you, and the fact that you took up an entire lane because most of the right side of the road was unplowed means that if I was out driving behind you I would've blared my horn for twenty seconds before gunning it and passing you so close that my rearview mirror struck you in the head. But I wasn't because I'm too big of an idiot to know how to operate a motor vehicle in the snow and I slid out driving on the Interstate and caused a 15 car pileup."

Yes, I know it's dangerous to ride a road bike on the roads in a snowstorm.

But, it's expontentially less dangerous than driving an automobile on the roads in a snowstorm. And you don't even need a license to operate a bicycle?!?

03 January 2008

New England - Lifelong Bike Racers?

Middleton, MA, native and longtime elite cyclocross champion Tim Johnson had an interesting quote today on cyclingnews.com:

"I think as a whole, New England puts out more bike racers that continue in the sport, at whatever level they land in, because there's almost no burn out. I look at the people I grew up racing with they still race now, whereas there are a lot of guys who burned out for whatever reasons across the country. In New England it's easy to keep racing even through a job and having a family. It's because cycling is a part of our lifestyle not just an elite activity to compete in. I think that I'm really lucky to have grown up in that and to be a part of that."

I must admit that I have never considered this precise view. Of course bike racers across the country are all uniquely proud of their geographic roots. Usually one's argument is that the adverse conditions of one's geography makes one 'as tough as nails' - the mountains and altitude of the western states, the poor roads and even worse weather of the midwest, the generally redneck and anti-cycling sentiments of the southeast, etc.

Now I do have some loose roots in the Colorado cycling culture - I grew up as an off-and-on mountain-biker for basically my entire life, but until college my competitive sports included a few forays into soccer, baseball, but always with my largest emphasis on cross-country and track running. I became a real cyclist - a competitive cyclist - just about a year ago, and I became a through-and-through New England bike racer. A Rhode Island wheelman. A Providence roadie. An East Side cyclist. I see the faults and weaknesses of the Colorado cycling culture and constantly exhalt the virtues and values of the New England and northeast-urban cycling culture - admittedly in an effort of self-promotion.

And from my observations and experiences of the last year, Tim Johnson's assertion is quite correct. In Rhode Island, I love that there are so many nearly lifelong bike racers out there on the roads all throughout the year - many of them master's well in their 50s who are not afraid to turn on the hammer and obliterate a fast group ride, and who race nearly every weekend. Most of all, though, they are accepting of newbie riders (like me), and are always willing to pass on words of wisdom, invaluable advice, and even material aid (like equipment and rides to races) to youngsters. Granted, it is a smaller community relative to places like Colorado or California, but it's a close-knit and positive community that does value tradition (and above all, toughness). There's also a very well-developed variety of local clubs, amateur teams, junior teams, college teams, semi-pro teams, and pro teams throughout New England. This is important because there are many team-oriented opportunities for riders of all ages and abilities, and clear routes to progress through the ranks of the sport. And, there's racing of all sorts literally year-round. As opposed to nearly every region in the country, one can pretty much always find at least one race every weekend year-round in either RI, CT, MA, or the hinterlands up north. That speaks to the greater cultural acceptance in New England of cycling as a sport, a recreational opportunity, and healthy activity - and, on the whole, a benefit to society.

So, yes, as I'm building legs and lungs of steel on (seemingly) solo wicked training rides in Colorado right now, I'm still missing riding in Rhode Island. But not the Henderson Bridge.

Happy New Year

Can you count to 2008?

Firstly, here's a cool gradient map of the Gold Camp Road climb - it should be of interest to the Colorado Springs cycling community:
Gold Camp Road Gradient Map

I discovered this quote by Michael Barry on velonews.com today, about winter training:

The initial couple of rides are difficult, the bike feels uncomfortable, like a shoe that isn't fitting well, and it feels as though a wheel is rubbing, a brake is touching, or there is a slight headwind each time the road goes uphill. Each season, that unpleasant feeling seems to disappear overnight; one morning about two weeks ago, I stepped onto my bike and floated; my legs spun, the bike moved, and I felt like a cyclist.


I'm just waiting for the day that I experience the floating, spinning, moving feeling (wait...that sounds familiar... but for me it never involved a bike!?!)

Rhode Island cycling withdrawal. It's kicking in now. I just get this feeling in Colorado Springs that when I give a car the finger, it has no effect. Either the car is going by too fast to see me doing it, or at a stoplight the driver just pulls out a cross and a Bible and condemns me to hell for wearing spandex on a Sunday. Near death on-road experiences and resulting verbal altercations are usually major events in Rhode Island, often lasting several minutes. Here, they're just too unsatisfying in their brevity.