5 Random Things I’ve Learned Riding My Bike

June 28, 2017

1) The greater the disparity between passing rider and the rider being passed, the nicer the passing rider will be.

What I’ve learned? No one with a degree of competitiveness likes to be passed. By anyone. Getting out of the way happens a lot in mountain bike events, where the trails are narrow and everyone is on-course at once. When elite racers weave around me like the pylon that I am to them, they are always super nice about it. They usually say something like, “Whenever you have a chance” or “Just coming up on your right”.  And I just move over. They know they’re passing. I know they’re passing. Everyone knows they’re passing. So let’s just make this happen. Now, totally different story if the skill and fitness level are a little closer to parity – then it gets a bit more frosty. And, if you’re in the same racing category, with close to the same fitness, and especially if you know each other, then woah man, it’s a battle. That’s the game, of course. Fight for 15th. Or 16th. Or 65th. You know what I mean.

2) You can want something with every fiber of your being, but be completely powerless to have it. That day, anyway.

What I’ve learned? Ever tried to hold onto a stronger rider’s wheel in the wind, or up a gradual incline? At first you’re so close to that wheel that you’re rubbing tires. Then a millimeter of space forms. The millimeter becomes a centimeter. The centimeter a meter. The meter; minutes. Every cell in your body says ‘no’, but you watch that gap form, and then the wind comes in and that’s it. You don’t get to choose. Until next time.

3) It never gets easier, you just go faster.

What I’ve learned? Every single person doing a charity ride, like the Ride to Conquer Cancer, is riding their own individual time trial up Mount Ventoux. It hurts just as much to be in sweatpants on a Walmart Special as it does to be the pro on the carbon fibre team bike. Probably more. The pro just goes a lot faster. There’s something to be said about exposure to suffering, though, and you could argue that the pro is tougher because of prolonged time in that zone. And you’d be right, of course. They can deal better. However, if that’s the case, every person grinding it out on a 40 pound mountain bike is therefore that much more admirable for coping with it, ’cause it hurts them more than you.

4) When riding, there’s always a headwind.

What I’ve learned? Well, that there’s always a headwind. Of course, this could have some sort of double meaning and what I’m really, secretly, saying here is that hard work on a bike is like hard work in life, that the times that matter the most and the times that most define how you do are when it’s the hardest. Grit your teeth and push through in those times, and you’re good. But I’m not really saying that, I actually just meant that it’s always windy when you’re on your bike, for some reason. Like, it actually starts as soon as you decide to not go to the beach, and instead to ride. What’s up with that?

5) After riding, there’s always cake. Or beers. Or cake and beers.

What I’ve learned? It’s all about the cake and beers. Bikes, love, life, you name it. Cake and beers will keep you going.

White Sunglasses

April 5, 2017

So we all know of the prevalence of white shades on people. Some blame Apple for introducing white as a motif, but any roadie that’s been around the block on their ten speed a few times knows full well those white shades came right out of the pro peloton. Rudy Projects, circa 1993? Even if you weren’t wearing lycra way back then you only need to dig through the photo archives to find numerous examples of the white shade phenomenon from back in tha, as they say, day.

Where did the pros get the white from? I’m gonna guess and say its the World Champs kit. Google “road cycling world champion” and see how many dudes, from Bettini to Stybar, have rolled out completely clad in white and stripes.

Here’s a rad picture of Jannus Luum and Steve Tilford. Tilford’s glasses are awesome and I wish I could find a pair like that. They look just like some drug store Blue Blockers I’ve got only in roadie white. Class!

LeMond. LeGend. LeGit.

February 17, 2017

Greg LeMond in the famous change room of the Roubaix velodrome after the 1991 Paris-Roubaix. Look at his eyes. This man is a million miles away. Probably trying to find the energy to chew and swallow whatever pre gel food he’s trying to get into his body after 300 odd kilometers of windswept racing and the jackhammer vibrations of the cobblestone roads that make this race so epic.

I remember the era fondly. John Tesh did the commentary for NBC Sport’s broadcast of the Tour in those years. At the time of this photo LeMond had cemented himself firmly into the pantheon of cycling myth having won the Tour de France 3 times (86, 89, 90) and the World Championships (89). He would retire only two years later after destroying his body trying to keep up to middle of the pack guys that suddenly became contenders overnight. The start of the EPO era, when several large teams instituted doping programs.

Photo by Klaas Jan van der Weij, pulled from Velominati.

Blue Collar Bike Riding

February 15, 2017

I often feel like a blue collar dude working in a white collar world. Salary or not, I’ve always felt that an hour worked is an hour paid and I’ll never really get away from feeling like that. In virtually everything I’ve ever done that 1:1 ratio holds true. There are no freebies, or, if there are, I’m not smart enough to see them. In essence, in all things, you only ever get out what you put in. And I think the sooner an individual realizes this the sooner they get their life together. It doesn’t just come to you. Same thing with bike racing. I was reminded of this through a conversation I had recently with a fellow Synergist, Joe, and an old quote came up.

“Bike racing is a blue collar sport. You’ve got to put in the time.”

I don’t know who said that. It was awhile ago, the 80’s I’m sure, as its been around at least that long.  A Dog in a Hat: An American Bike Racer’s Story of Mud, Drugs, Blood, Betrayal, and Beauty in Belgium, Joe Parkin’s awesome book of a few years ago, delved into the lifestyle behind that sentiment. The book is set in the 80’s when he went over to Belgium, one of the early Americans to do that kind of thing.

Compare this with the fact that, to the outsider, road cycling in North America has an elitist look to it. Its filtered through our culture, for sure, but a lot of the teams nowadays are sponsored by banks and white collar institutions which really contributes to this. Certainly a lot of the people that have picked up the sport post Lance Armstrong also perpetuate this. I’ve heard it said that ‘cycling is the new golf’ for the so called ‘MAMIL – Middle Aged Men in Lycra’, the demographic that essentially funds innovation (thank you!) in bike technology by throwing disposable income at carbon fiber wheels and heart-rate monitors. These things take the perception of the sport in North America away from the roots and guts that Parkin writes about.

The crux of the quote above is clear – no matter who you are you need to ride to get faster. That’s the deal. But the day to day reality of the sport is like what’s talked about in Parkin’s book. A day to day, hour to hour grind. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. A job. So its true in that sense as well. Coincidentally the act of writing is much like this. Another piece of culture that looks all fancy and white collar to the uninitiated, but is really a thing improved only ever by commitment and practice, an hour at a time.

Here’s an exercise. The next time you’re in Home Depot, or Revy, or some other place like that, keep your eyes peeled to see how many pro team sponsors you’ll see. And they’ll be European. Look for Quick Step and for Mapei, two of the more mythical teams of the last 20 years. Find others. These sponsors mirror the core of Parkin’s book and experience, as well as the heart of what’s beneath that quote and the sport itself.

I’ve appreciated that connection since I first noticed it. Mapei, the team of Paris Roubaix and the place The Lion of Flanders finished his hard-man career with is….brick laying cement. Yep. It’s perfect. All the color and flash and spectacle you see on TV is supported by brick and mortar. And that’s the point I’m trying to make here.

On that note, here’s a blue collar icon singing the song that most resembles my feeling every time I try to do an interval workout, you know, the kind where your fingertips turn white ’cause the blood won’t go there anymore?

I’m always holding on to what I got (watts), halfway there (minutes), and living on a prayer until I can finally, for f$#’s sake, stop pedaling.

The Difference Doping Makes

October 17, 2016

The difference doping makes.

As we all know the bottom has finally come out from under Armstrong.

Its been coming for a long time and I was pretty sure his secrets would never stay secrets forever, even way back when. But I was once a fan, of course. In 1993. And 1996. And 1999. And all the way through to around 2003. But by then I just wanted someone else to win the Tour. Simply because I was a bigger fan of the sport than I was of any one guy. So I wanted Ulrich to win. Or Beloki. Or Vino. I only switched to cheering for those guys because I like the underdog and it felt like Postal was unbeatable, a seize engine overwhelming its objective into submission, versus a race between lone riders, on the edge, trading punches, mano-a-mano.

I’ve always been pretty plugged into cycling and so it wasn’t long before my perception of LA was totally tainted. Not ’cause I thought he doped and was all up in arms about that, hell they all did, and have since the first Tour. What bugged me most about Armstrong was his lack of grace in winning, and especially his utter lack of grace in losing. It doesn’t take much digging to find out about his personality, hubris, and arrogance. Those things weren’t the characteristics of a champion. The sport was so rife with doping at that time that to expect a guy to win it without EPO would be akin to expecting him to win it without a bike. So it was easy to still see some of these guys as heroes, even knowing full well they took drugs. Only now, later on, do I understand that every guy that took drugs to win was robbing some kid, somewhere, of his or her chance at a future in the sport. And that’s the terrible thing about what happened in cycling. The ones that didn’t do it, or wouldn’t do it, that had to give up years of sacrifice and hours and hours of training, because someone else could eke out a 2% advantage over them from a syringe. Only now, after being exposed to young and talented local racers that bust their ass to get to the next level, do I really understand the profound implication of all those dopers.

I borrowed the photo above to illustrate this point. Its a photo finish of a local guy I know, Cyrus K. One of the fastest dudes from around these parts in the last ten years or so and a super nice guy to boot. He’s getting pipped at the line by a guy that was later busted for doping. So that’s it, right there. Apologists will say that all the riders were doping and that LA just won that game, too. But they’re missing the point. They’re missing the forest for the trees. This photo is the story. It’s not about the pros. It’s not about the big names. It’s not the fact that ‘everyone was doing it’. Its the fact that everyone that was doing it stole it from someone that wasn’t willing to, but that deserved it so much more because they weren’t. There’re young guys and girls in our province that are right on the cusp of that next level and it makes me twitch to think that someone could ever undermine their chance and steal their dream like that. It can’t be allowed to happen like that again.

Mark Goes All Next Level

October 22, 2012

There’s something very rewarding about seeing a friend elevate himself to a new level. I remember when we were cheering ourselves hoarse as McConnell moved into Elite, doing the same as he found his way to the podium in those races, then likewise when he first grabbed the top step against very fast company in that category. So seeing the photos of Mark taking the win at day 2 of Spooky Cross in LA this last weekend wasn’t a new emotion, but it was certainly a new level of that emotion.

Here’s hoping Mark soon gets his next opportunity. All the guy wants to do is race his bike as fast and as often as he can.

August 15, 2012