Smooth operator

28 04 2010

Let’s get this out of the way early in the history of this blog; yes, I shave my legs.

And yes, it’s all about vanity. I like the look of my smooth legs. Especially in the meat of the cycling season, when the calf muscles are nicely toned, and my legs nicely tanned.

My smooth legs hanging out on Montjuic in Barcelona, June, 2009.

It also makes applying sun screen much easier and neater, no globs of creme tangled in hair.

All that other stuff pro-shavers cite as justification for their affectation, better for massages, less chance of infection in cases of road rash, don’t really apply to me; I don’t race.

I think I’ve been shaving my gams for about five years now, although I toyed with the idea for months before I actually applied blade to shin.

At the time, the whole idea frightened the hell out of me; would I gouge myself? how often would I have to do it? would it make me feel less, uh, manly? would my friends laugh?

I solicited female acquaintances for advice. I read the multiple pages of discussion and debate in various cycling forums (the shaving discussion always seems to inflame people’s passions). I researched blades and cremes.

I bought a bottle of Neet. But one whiff when I opened it convinced me the easy way was anything but; how can something so toxic-smelling possibly be anything but dangerous.

I tried shaving a patch with the clipper on my electric shaver and promptly ruined it.

There would be no escaping the blade.

My first few attempts were a disaster. The cheap disposable razors left my legs looking like I’d just hopped the barbed wire fence at Alcatraz. The stock price of Johnson & Johnson spiked because of all the bandages I was buying.

Then I discovered the joys of those triple-bladed women’s razors. Sure they were pricey, but they were designed for legs. Maybe not manly legs, but legs nonetheless.

Since then, I haven’t looked back. I still gouge myself, especially when I’ve just swapped out the blades. And now that I have a wife, when I dump my basket of razors and cans of fruit-scented cremes on the conveyor at the drug store checkout counter, I can justify in my head that I’m buying all this stuff for her.

Well, actually I am; she happens to quite like my smooth gams!

Rain rain go away…

26 04 2010

I admit it; I’m a fair weather rider.

We haven’t had a whole lot of fair weather lately. So I haven’t been riding much either.

In fact, it’s raining right now. And I’d rather be riding.

We had a mild winter, barely any snow, which was great. But spring has been mostly cool and wet.

A shot I did for the paper last week, before the rain and wind knocked most of the blossoms from the trees.

When I did manage to squeeze an evening trail ride in between the showers last week, I pondered wearing tights because it was so cool; it’s almost May and I shouldn’t have to wear tights anymore.

It turned out shorts and knee warmers sufficed, because the trees buffered the cool breeze off the ocean; but we didn’t sure hang around for very long at our mid-ride rest point, the Jericho pier.

Oddly, it seems as I’ve been getting older, my enthusiasm for riding in any sort of marginal weather has been waning. Occasional showers during a ride never used to bother me; that’s why I have a rain jacket. But I got tired of all the post-ride cleanup of the bike, which often went longer than the ride itself. Let alone the discomfort of returning home soaked and cold.

Now I”m wary of heavy overcast. After all, those clouds could contain rain.

Back in the day, riding in the cold didn’t phase me; I had a closet full of jackets, long sleeve jersies, wooly socks and tights, gloves of various thickness, booties. Heading out in freezing temperatures was a badge of fortitude.

Now, anything less than 10 degrees C keeps me huddled in the condo. Especially in April or May.

Ironically, some of my most memorable rides have come when I’ve defied my climactic reticence; once you’re wet, you can’t get any wetter, and the cold can actually be invigorating if you’re prepared for it. But it’s just so hard to overcome the idea of being wet or cold or both.

Hopefully the forecast for the next few days improves; I’ve got to get my mileage up.

Why I get up at five a.m.

25 04 2010

Being a fan of pro cycling can be a test of fortitude.

First, there are the doping scandals. Because of the cheats, every unlikely or heroic performance is eyed with suspicion. I’m still bitter about Floyd Landis’ fall from grace after his epic ride in stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France.

And then there’s the barbs from friends who question my faith in the sport every time a doper is exposed or fesses up to his sins.

The list of riders selected for doping control at the end of Stage 13 in the 2009 Giro d'Italia.

Then there’s the challenge of following the races.

Sites like cyclingnews and velonews are great for race previews and post-race analysis, and pezcyclingnews does a great job capturing the atmosphere and hubbub surrounding a pro race, but the real thrill is being able to watch the races.

TV is pretty much a non-starter. OLN, the Canadian version of Versus, seems steadfast in its belief that the entire pro cycling season begins and ends with the Tour de France, despite my countless email campaigns over the years to convince them otherwise and pick up the Cyclism Sundays coverage from their US cousin.

That leaves the internet, which can be a bit of a crap shoot at times.

For years I subscribed to Their service started with free webcasts of Belgian semi-classics and interminable loops of the Tour de Fasso. As they started adding more significant races, they started charging a subscription fee. But being able to watch legendary races like Paris-Nice, Amstel Gold and the Tour of Flanders live, with entertaining and insightful english commentary made it worth ever penny, even as the fee inflated from $30 to $100; watching Paris-Roubaix for the first time as it happened almost brought tears to my eyes.

Heck, even the constant technical challenges as they re-engineered their site, usually just before a big race like the Giro d’Italia didn’t shake my loyalty.

But the past couple of years, seems to have lost its way. They promoted races for which they couldn’t secure webcast rights; big gaps started to appear in their schedule. Even worse, their customer service went down the tubes. They implemented negative-option billing meaning unless you told them you didn’t want to renew your subscription, you were debited annually, sometimes twice. And they routinely ignored inquiries about their diminished coverage, billing issues and technical glitches.

I hung on for as long as I could. I believed in the concept, only the execution was faltering.

But when significant races like Paris-Nice disappeared this year or were reduced to audio only coverage (seriously, cycle racing on radio is almost as bad as golf on radio), and they refused to post a schedule of races they would show, I pulled the plug.

That leaves me scrambling around the web on race mornings, looking for stable feeds, ideally with english commentary. Sites like cyclingfans and steephill are great for compiling links to the various feeds that are out there. But those feeds are often geo-restricted, meaning you can’t watch a broadcast from Belgian tv unless you are in Belgium. And the rogue web re-casters who capture those feeds and make them available worldwide on their own sites can be shut down as quickly as they’re rooted out by slavish lawyers enforcing copyright laws.

Here’s where the old world of traditional broadcasting clashes with the new reality of the world wide web. Sure networks like Eurosport, RAI or Sporza pay the UCIĀ  and race organizers good money for exclusive rights to broadcast races to tv viewers in the countries they serve, but if they’re also putting those feeds up on their websites, where’s the harm in letting someone in a faraway country access it? Chances are they can’t otherwise see it, that’s why they’re trying to watch on the web; so it’s not like they’re scalping a significant audience from other rights holders.

And making races available to as many people as possible, as easily as possible, can only build the sport, as well as loyalty to those providers; what I wouldn’t give to be able to watch Eurosport HD on my plasma, rather than a compressed stream in a five inch window on my Mac. Some of those newfound fans might eventually travel to attend races they’d only seen on the web, boosting tourism and fattening the bank accounts of official souvenir vendors and race sponsors.

Bike vs condo

24 04 2010

Condos aren’t very bike friendly.

Many have rules requiring bikes to be stored in a common bike area. Usually these aren’t much more than a stand in a storage room. Bikes of all description and pedigree are crowded in there, handlebar by seat stay, leaning this way and that. The security of the bikes is only as good as the security of the building in general, and the honesty of your neighbours. And there’s no room to clean or work on your bike.

When we were shopping for our first condo, the storage and access to our bikes were major considerations.

Between Katie and I, we have four bikes; we each have a road bike, I have a mountain bike and Katie also has a foldy. The road bikes are our pride and joy. Their security was paramount.

Our first tour of our building proved the bike lock-up woefully inadequate. But our storage locker was generously large; it could easily hold the mountain bike and foldy.

A thorough read of the strata bylaws revealed nothing that would prevent us from keeping the road bikes in our actual apartment; the rules said we couldn’t keep bikes in common areas like hallways and balconies, but they only stated we should keep them in the common storage.

So we made our offer, which was accepted, and immediately after moving in, we converted the second bedroom into our bike room/office.

So far it’s worked out pretty well. I’m always careful to carry my bike out of the building, so nobody can complain about dirty tread marks (although dirty dog paw prints seem quite acceptable), and when it’s time to clean or work on the bikes, I set up my stand on the balcony, in the sunshine, and have at it.

That’s not to say there haven’t been adjustments. Drive & rides have become a major exercise in planning; when I lived in a walk-up and parked my car on the street, I could just roll my bike out, load it up and be off, but here, I have to first take my car out of the underground, find someplace along the street to park, then come back upstairs to retrieve the bike so I can hoist it onto the roof rack. And when I come home, I have to remember to do just the opposite. Otherwise the consequences can be ugly, and expensive.

Drive and rides can get a bit complicated when you live in a condo and park your car in the underground.

Ideally, more developers would consider bike facilities in their buildings like at the Pacific Cannery Lofts in San Francisco. Not only is it a great amenity for cycling residents, it’s also a great place to meet and hang out with your cycling neighbours, and it encourages green living.

Hmmmm, maybe it’s time to infiltrate our own condo board…