Go to the start

12 05 2010

I’ve never raced.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate.

I did enter a race once. It was a season-opening event on an Easter weekend. I’d managed to do some riding through the winter, I figured everyone else would be in a comparable state; how tough could it be?

The course was about 11 kms, three laps for the citizen class. There was one killer hill, which is just what it did to me.

With no idea about racing strategy, everyone went hell-bent-for-leather right from the gun. Eager to keep up, I was pretty much cooked by the base of the killer hill. By the time I reached the top I felt ready to hurl. And seeing the peloton way up ahead in the distance sapped what remained of my motivation.

I finished one lap and then pulled off. My racing career was over. I had been totally unprepared for what it took to race, even in the citizen class of a local club’s event.

The Tuesday night sprint races. Fun to watch, but you're not gonna catch me jostling in that pack.

Like any other top athlete, elite bike racers make it look so easy; get on a bike, pedal hard, and you’ll be rewarded with victories and adulation. To ride at a high pace for almost 200 kms and, in the case of a Grand Tour, do it day after day for three weeks, takes an incredible level of fitness, preparation and mental toughness. To jostle and bump your way through a tightly-wound pack for a sprint finish requires a huge “suitcase of courage.”

Nah, I’ll stick to watching the pros do it on tv, or the internet.

The worst bike racing related story ever, guaranteed to make even your worst day on the bike seem like a roll through the park.

Pimp my ride

11 05 2010

I happen to like white handlebar tape. Granted, it’s not the most practical or durable choice. But it looks classy, professional.

Alas, white bar tape doesn’t stay white for very long. And without the budget or a full-time mechanic of a pro team to swap my tape out after every ride, I’m resigned to enjoying my white handlebar bling for only a few rides before it starts looking grey.

Then it ‘s back to the shop to get a more practical choice, like blue, or lately, orange.

Back in the 80s, I used to enjoy those mottled color mash-ups, but they’ve fallen out of favor. And whatever became of those streamers you could have flying from the plugs in the bar ends? Oh yeah, those were on my CCM Mustang when I was 12. Wrapping the bi-colored spools requires too much precision. So it’s solid all the way.

Fortunately, I’ve gotten more proficient at wrapping the bars over the years, so swapping out the tape no longer intimidates me. And it’s a nice, inexpensive way to get that “new bike” feel without the hit to the bank account.

White bar tape: it's not very practical, but it looks fast, even standing still.

The weather seems to be taking a turn for the better, so I was able to kit up and head out right after dinner tonight. I may have been a little too ambitious for the length of daylight though, as it got pretty gloomy through the last few kilometers of my 58.77 km jaunt. No light on my Orbea, but my orange Euskaltel jersey is as bright as any headlight anyway.

On the way out, a car pulled alongside at a light; “I guess you don’t like hockey,” said the driver to me, apparently aghast that I’d chose a ride over sitting on the couch watching the hometown Vancouver Canucks squander their Stanley Cup delusions once again.

But that’s why God, and Gary Betteman, invented triple overtime (although the latter would like to think he and the former are interchangeable). Chances are the best part of the game wouldn’t be played until I got home.

Well, the lack of blaring car horns and whooping people during the course of my ride pretty much told me all I needed to know about the game; they got blown out again. I turned on the tv just in time to see half the arena empty out, while the other half turned away from the carnage on the ice to gawk at some sort of fracas in the stands. Guess I didn’t miss much after all.

The zen of chain cleaning

10 05 2010

I like riding a clean bike. Somehow, it makes me feel faster. Who knows, without the drag of grime on the wheels, frame and chain, maybe I actually am .0001 sec. faster over a 100km ride.

I’ve had my orange Orbea for seven riding seasons. But it still turns heads even though its sloped aluminum/carbon frame lacks the curves and swoops of newer, all carbon bikes.

“It looks like new,” say some.

Or maybe it’s just the blindingly bright color.

While I’d love to be able to afford a new ride like an Orca, a BMC, a Lapierre, a Willier or -be still my beating heart – a Pinarello, with a new mortgage and holiday plans, that’s not in the financial cards anytime soon. So I salve my bike lust by keeping my current steed looking as polished as possible.

With a stand, some latex gloves, rags and liberal doses of environmentally-friendly cleaner, a little regular cleaning goes a long way. The frame, the derailleurs, the rims all get a polish every few rides – more frequently if the weather is sloppy or the roads dusty.

But the chain continues to vex me. No matter how much I clean it, sometimes even scrubbing between the links with Q-tips, to get it gleaming silver, that sucker goes black and greasy right away. I’ve tried one of those fancy chain scrubbers; it broke on the first use. I’ve tried various lubes like ProLink, Pedro’s Road Rage, Purple Extreme and tried and true Tri-Flow, applied sparingly. There’s just no way I seem to be able to achieve and maintain that newly-bought clean.

Oh chain, my bike chain, why do you continue to vex me so in my quest to keep you shiny?

Maybe my eyes are playing tricks on me that the pro bikes all seem to have shiny clean chains, even after a 200 km stage of Giro or Tour? Or maybe I’m just being way too anal?

Anyhow, good thing I find cleaning the chain to be a somewhat relaxing escape, as my quest for the sparkling drivetrain continues.

I’m a little bit country

9 05 2010

By geography, and by choice, most of my rides are in the city.

I like to think I handle myself pretty well in traffic. And, over the years, I’ve managed to find favorite routes on which I feel fairly safe and comfortable.

Sure, there’s hairy moments of road rage from time to time, and it only takes one careless idiot to ruin your day; but for the most part, if I ride in a predictable way, following the rules of the road, drivers seem to respect my right to share the road.

But sometimes it’s nice to get away from the buzz of traffic and enjoy the buzz of bees (although they’re not so much fun when they’re crashing into your face) during a country ride.

While city rides tend to be about the destination, setting a goal for the ride, getting there and coming back, country rides tend to be more about the journey itself, plotting a route on unfamiliar roads, taking in the sights and sounds and smells. Oh, the smells.

It’s spring, and that means a lot of fertilizing of fields going on, with lots of sharp, pungent fertilizer, most of it sourced from the back end of cows. In fact, hours later I can still smell those odors in my nose.

The sights include blackbirds on the utility wires, herons stalking through the sloughs, then taking off like some sort of odd genetic cross between a pteradactyl and a Concorde jetliner, a lazy golden lab lying in the shade of a farm tree blissfully taking for granted his idyllic life, cows – cows in fields, cows under trees, cows in barns, cows standing, cows lying in the grass, cows covered in, er, mud, little cows in front of little cow huts – and a big male bald eagle strafing straight up the roadway towards us, only ten feet above our heads. Luckily, we were too big for lunch.

It's spring and farmers are working seven days a week ploughing and planting their fields.

And the sounds, the shrill alarm of those blackbirds, the growl of tractors coming up the road behind us, the wind blowing through the young corn stalks.

Oh yeah, the wind.

There’s not a lot of trees to break the wind in the country. And the mountainous ridges rising on both flanks of the valley ensure an almost constant wind. Great when it’s at your back, propelling your speedo well into the 30 kmh zone. Not so much fun when you’re pedaling into the teeth of it, wreaking havoc with your average speed.

Communing with the countryside.

Today’s country ride was 59.48 kms. It took us just over two-and-a-half hours. We got lost at one point. We visited a friend. And we stopped for over-priced ice cream at a local dairy. It was a good day. And combined with Friday’s 75 km city ride, my most prolific weekend of the young season.

Fuel for the legs, not the brain

8 05 2010

As any cyclist knows, lunch is the most important stop on a ride. In fact, a good lunch stop can make or break a long ride; it’s a reward for the kilometers already covered, and it’s fuel for the rest of the way

Today, the sun came out, although there was still a cool breeze that felt more like a headwind on the ride out; I need my own personal echelon!

One of my favorite lunch stops on a Friday ride is a slice of pizza and a pop at the Flying Wedge, preferably as I sit at the lone outdoor bistro table. It’s been months since I’ve been able to indulge though; not a whole lot of road rides yet this season, and the times I have been out, the joint has been packed with high school students. A little too busy and filled with annoying chatter for my taste

I like the Wedge because their pizzas can be interesting, and they also have copies of the Vancouver Courier and WestEnder, newspapers I rarely get the chance to see living out here in the ‘burbs; both of them offering an alternative take on Vancouver news  and community issues than the warmed-over pap in the Vancouver dailies. Plus the photographers at each of those papers happen to be my mountain bike riding buddies!

I timed today’s ride just right. The Wedge was empty; the high school students had returned to their afternoon classes. And the outside table was available. So, after ordering my Veggie Wedge, I went to the rack to retrieve my lunch accompaniment; but the Courier and WE were nowhere to be found! They had been usurped by stacks of those ubiquitous freebie commuter papers, 24HRS and Metro. Ugh.

Lunch for the legs, plus some empty calories for the brain.

Those things are the scourge of journalism. They’re little better than chicken mcnuggets for the brain – overly-processed crap masquerading as food. Disguised as newspapers, those freebies are filled with little more than severely edited wire copy and press releases, most of it mindless drivel about celebrities and upcoming tv shows.

I’ve been in the newspaper business for 26 years, and it’s killing me to see its demise. Publishers and editors rail against the destructive forces of the internet plucking away their paid subscribers, all the while diverting more and more money and resources at their websites, which are usually over-designed and poorly-constructed. It’s almost as if they’re hastening their own demise.

But I also think those commuter freebies should shoulder a large chunk of the blame.

Their business plan of flooding the zone with hawkers handing out free copies at every transit stop and key locations everywhere in between is nearly impossible for paid-circulation papers to compete against. And, as everyone knows, people’s resistance to anything being handed out for free is usually pretty low, no matter how poor the quality.

You hardly see copies of the paid dailies being read and then left behind in SkyTrain anymore; but almost everyone thumbs through the 24HRS or Metro. It’s the commuter equivalent of reading the back of the cereal box while eating breakfast; it’s certainly not interesting or worthwhile, but it gives you something to do.

The same thing is happening at more and more fast food joints, car service garages, take-out counters, even the dentist.

Their daily requirement of celebrity gossip somewhat sated, most readers probably don’t bother with another paper the rest of the day; they’ll catch up with real news surfing the web at work while the boss isn’t looking. Once they lose the habit of that daily paper, they’re unlikely to get it back. And it’s not like the dailies are doing anything to keep them, or woo back the strayed readers, dumbing down their own pages with celebrity pap, cutting newsrooms so most of the paper is filled with wire service copy that’s readily available from other sources.

Some say the death knell for the newspaper is nigh, and good riddance. But as yet, nobody has come up with a viable alternative, financially and journalistically. Bloggers? Too flakey. Don’t feel like blogging today? Then no information. Besides, most bloggers rely more on half-baked opinion and gossip than real news.

Twitter? Please, information in 120 words or less is WORSE than freebie commuter dailies.

TV? Without newspapers to feed those guys story ideas, they’re pretty much dead in the water.

Radio? The only thing more pathetic than newspapers these days is the state of news coverage on local stations.

The biggest hinderance to the survival of the newspaper industry is the industry itself. The competitive landscape has changed, but newspaper owners have refused to adjust; they still expect to retain the 20-30 percent return on their investment they used to make in the industry’s halcyon days, they’re greedy, and to feed they’re greed they’ve gutted quality from their core product, they’ve lost sight of the service with which the public has entrusted them.

The public and advertisers aren’t stupid. They recognize crap. And they sure don’t want to pay for it.

The spring of our discontent

7 05 2010

The spring of our discontent continues.

The calendar says May, but the weather is more like February. Rain, wind, hail, cold.

The result has been a slow start to my road riding season. Real slow.

Two years ago I rode 912 kms in the month of May. That was down a bit from the previous year, when I rode 963 kms. (Last year was a washout; that’s because we spent the first half of the month settling into our new condo, and the last half in Europe)

This year, almost a week into the May, I have exactly 32 road kms!

Switching to Daylight Savings Time early in April has been a boon to early-season riding, making it possible to rack up 40-50 km rides after dinner through most of a month that used to allow little more than a handful of daytime rides on weekends. But that advantage is negated when almost all the days of the month are gloomy, cool and rainy.

The weather may not be great for road riding, but an evening trail ride is still good for the legs, and a dramatic sunset.

The end of the lone cyclist

1 05 2010

I’m a lone cyclist.

Always have been. Partly by necessity, mostly by choice.

For the most part, my cycling friends prefer fat tire riding on the trails. I’ve never raced, nor joined a cycling club, so my peloton experience is pretty limited; my first real group riding was when I went to France to watch and ride part of the 2003 Tour de France with Bikestyle Tours. We were about 100 cyclotourists strong and on our first big ride, a leg stretcher after the long bus ride to Cahors, a woman from Australia touched wheels with another rider and went down hard, breaking her collarbone and ending her dream holiday. Gulp.

So when I do get the chance to hook up with a big group, as I did a couple of years ago when I rode the Westside Cycling Classic, a fundraiser for cancer research, and then later that fall when I joined the Cops For Cancer on a couple of their training rides, I try to stay out of trouble and respect the protocols of the peloton.

That’s probably going to be the biggest challenge of riding the Whistler Gran Fondo; 4,000 cyclists is quite a mob, and all it takes is one cowboy or one frightened, wobbly rider in the middle of the group to bring down a bunch of cyclists. So the first few kilometers before the pack gets to string out will be as much a test of wits and survival instincts as a warmup for the 120 hilly kms ahead.

Two years ago I gained a training partner for some of my rides.

No longer a "lone cyclist," Katie and I take a break during one of our rides.

When Katie and I first started hanging out, she shook her head at my riding exploits. My 100 km jaunts befuddled and bemused her. My willingness to endure Vancouver drivers baffled her; she’d never be so crazy, she said. This coming from someone who, at the time, regularly got up at 4 a.m. to go work out at the gym before work.

Then, two years ago she decided she wanted a bike. It would complement her newfound love for running, with much less wear and tear on her joints.

We considered her bike options for the type of riding she’d likely do; a cruiser? a mountain bike? a hybrid? We settled on a funky little Dahon foldy, convenient for her to store and transport in her car, but with some performance features like 24 gears that made it a good all-around ride.

I took her to some of my ride routes; she’d drive out to a rendezvous point, we’d ride together for 20-40 kms and then she’d drive home while I rode back. I tried to ease her into negotiating traffic, tried to set a good example for coping with the challenges of the road.

She took to it as she does with every other challenge she tackles, with fearless determination.

Our most memorable ride together was an 80 km roll from UBC to Horseshoe Bay. I don’t think she’s yet forgiven me for that one.

By that fall, she decided the foldy wasn’t “fast enough” for her. She wanted the full-on road experience. So we hit the bike shops again and got her set up with a nifty blue Kona Zing.

Katie's Kona Zing, and my trusty Orbea deserve a break as well.

Since then we’ve shared a number of rides, in the city and in the country. And a funny thing happened; I discovered I kinda liked having a riding partner.

She’s still a little skeptical about 100 km routes, but I think I’ll keep her.