Doing it all the hard way...

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Wet enough

The forecast said .38 inches of rain per hour Sunday morning.  For those of you who don’t look at the NOAA website multiple times each day, that translates to bombing rain.  Misery loves company and so I sent two text messages to a couple of our more “Belgian” brothers.

Amid darkness and drizzle six of us rolled out.  As the rain increased so did our numbers. Soon we were eight, then ten and finally eleven as rolled around the rock known as Mercer Island in a heavy rain.  So far this fall we have had colder rides and wetter rides, but this one was the coldest wet ride.   As McWoodie later confessed, “We have all this expensive rain gear, we might as well use it.”

The groupetto of wisdom formed with the phrase “base miles” tossed back and forth like a password.  This was a good excuse to keep it in zone two on the slick roadway.  “Thanks, but no thanks,” was our reply when considering a return lap.  We were fully saturated and could not justify the value of seven more kilometers of hypothermic riding in December.   

“The coffee is calling me,” El Jefe’ blurted out.  With that we agreed to cut through the tunnel and made our way directly to FUEL coffee. 

After the coffee we dug deep into our suitcases of courage (nod to our late brother Paul Sherwin) and pulled on our cold and clammy gloves for the short ride to homes and cars.  The season of winter riding is here and we braced for the wet icy hug. 

A few minutes later I put my bike in the back of WW2, changed shoes and turned the car heater to “BROIL.” 

Based on my own experience, my guess is that by dinner time most of us were warm once again.   

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thanks for the memories

Atop Mont Ventoux
It was a love affair that began in February 2006. 

There is an adventure in group hypothermia known as the Chilly Hilly bike ride. It marks the time when many Seattle cyclists brush the winter dust off their bikes and pump up their squishy tires for the first time in four months. The ride is hilly but really only moderately chilly.  The hypothermia comes into play waiting for the ferry that takes you to the start and later returns you back to Seattle.   Standing outside in the cold for thirty minutes to an hour with little more than a thin layer or two of Lycra leaves a person wondering why they thought this was a good idea. The veterans find someplace warm to hide out to minimize their time in the cold drizzly air.

On that grey and blustery February day, having completed the ride, and with the next ferry still an hour away I loitered in the warmth of a nearby bicycle shop.  On the repair stand in that shop was a shiny new titanium SEVEN Cycles frame being built up for a customer.  The curvy chain and seat stays looked muscular and those strong grey tubes intersected at the rear dropout in an expression of power and elegance that struck me as almost sensual.

I wanted one. 

Fourteen months later, I brought home a brand new SEVEN in my size and after building it up I swung a leg over the sweetest riding bike I could have imagined.  The fit was telepathic and it responded to my every thought.  The handling was quick, yet stable. The ride was plush, yet it seemed so much stiffer than my steel bike.  This was the bike I planned to ride for the rest of my life. I even said this was it; “Finito.”

For the next eleven years that bike was my companion for nice weather training, riding and racing.  It went on adventures with me including taking me to the summit of Mont Ventoux twice in one day.  It would rest, warm and dry in the garage during the wet winters when the weather forced me to ride my rain bike.  Each spring when the warmth returned my appreciation for this machine would be rekindled.  “Gawd, this is a nice bike,” I proclaimed more than once.

I took my companion on long rides in the sunshine and intervals on my local hills. With upgraded brakes the bike performed as good as ever. Then, a wet September rain forced me back on my long dormant disc equipped rain bike.  The cruel truth hit me hard in the face. My cheap, cable actuated (hydraulic caliper) disc brakes were a level of magnitude better (a.k.a. safer) than the top of the line rim brakes on my SEVEN.
In the city brake performance can be the difference between swearing at someone and getting a ride in an ambulance.   I had been working my N-1 project for over a year and up until this point my SEVEN had been at the heart of my long term plans. Now I was questioning that assumption.   

I contemplated having the frame and fork modified to accommodate disc brakes.  The cost made that option pointless. I considered just going disc in front.  That option smelled of compromise with a capital “C.”   Was it time for a new bike?

The axle standards that had been up in the air for a few years had finally settled on 12mm TA (Through Axles for my non geek readers).  That took away one reason to wait.   

I loved the rim brake wheels I had built for my SEVEN and a disc bike would need disc wheels.  I reached out to The Oracle (Horst) and asked him about wheel options.  In the course of few days of email exchanges regarding the wheels - I shared my mixed emotions around the possibility of selling a bike I had shared so much with.  Horst suggested that now was the time to sell my bike because the kind of person who would pay anything near top dollar for a rim brake bike would be someone who is in love with the brand or a collector of vintage bikes.

Hearing my bike referred to as “Vintage” hit me the same way as when a kid called me Mister for the first time many, many years ago, or the first time I got a mail from AARP with my name on it.  My thoughts were the same, “Wait, you must have me confused with someone else…”

McWoodie once likened the increase in the performance of hydraulic disc brakes over rim brakes to the step function of performance when we first used integrated STI shift levers.  The cheapest disc brakes were significantly better than the best rim brakes and in wet weather (did I mention I live in Seattle) the difference is huge.   At my age I prefer airbags to horsepower and when I say performance what I hear in my head is “safety.”  
As often as not, when Hottie finishes a ride on her Hydraulic Di2 Domane, she comments on how much she loves the bike. The brakes get the most praise and more than once she has said the disc brakes saved her life. 

With these thought swirling in my head I looked at my bike and noticed it was a refinement (albeit near perfection) of the Schwinn Varsity Hottie rode in high school which (for reasons I cannot explain) hangs in our garage.  I also looked at Hottie’s Carbon Domane and how different it was from my bike.

I had a unique summer this year.  With weeks and weeks of smoke in the Methow I found myself able to put in more time at work which was also heating up to a level I not seen for many years. The resulting overtime would cover the difference between selling my SEVEN and buying a new bike. It seemed a fitting reward.

With the decision made, I readied the bike for sale.  I felt like I was betraying my old friend. The bike had never let me down.  It had done nothing wrong.  It was an achievement of art and science. Was it vanity that made me want a new bike? Did I want to live out my bike racer fantasy?  Was the move akin to the forty five year old guy buying a Corvette?

No, this was about performance and safety.  A rule I try to follow is not to pay for differences I can’t see or feel.  Disc brakes make such a difference anyone can feel it.

I put the bike up for sale and despite the fair weather riding season being over, before long I found a buyer.  We met and when he rode the bike he had the grin of someone who was excited to get a new bike.  My first instinct was to try and convey to him all the good memories, but then I decided to keep my memories and let him start finding his own.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Coffee and Lies November 2018

Blue skies means cold 
The thermometer said it was 34 outside.  I started some coffee and picked up my phone and started checking through my weather apps.  Accuweather said it was 30 degrees. I checked Dark Sky. I was weather shopping.   

The sun wasn't up and it was cold and dry.  I checked to see if there was a "Plan B" email from McWoodie.  Nope.  

We ride. 

After coffee, breakfast and feeding Tux, I loaded up and went south.  It was getting light.

There was nobody at the designated corner.  I rode up and down to stay warm.  I had a beanie under my helmet and a neck warmer.  Two sets of gloves, tights and shoe covers. 

After it was more than obvious this would be a solo journey I set off.  The ride starts downhill and the wind cut me.  I grimaced and waited for the sun.  A few corners later I spotted two faithful teammates waiting.  

"Now I know who the hardmen of the Peloton are," I proclaimed.   
It was a day for wool and lots of it
Triple A was not going to be cold.  He was committed to having fun no matter how miserable it made him.  Today he was dressed appropriately. 

We avoided the areas we thought might be icy.  The sun wasn't warm, but it made it less cold compared to the shade.  

We kept it casual and didn't look for opportunities to go longer.  When our talk turned to coffee our pace picked up.  Soon KB had claimed a table and Triple A and I procured hot beverages. 

To the casual observer the day was nothing special.  It was, however, a chance to talk and for each of us to share the load with our brothers.   Coffee and Lies.  Thank you my brothers. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

More N-1

Le Velo Jaune
I am continuing on my N-1 program. I have sold even more bikes. I have found great liberation in quitting the N+1 club. Those guys were snobs anyway. 

There have been as many as seven bikes hanging from the ceiling in my garage with my name on them. Now there are two (although there is one on the way). One of the two in there now is on thin ice. 

Riding is as much fun as it has ever been. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Steilacoom Race Report 2018

When the going gets tough....
The Tough go Belgian

With minimal preparation I once again paid money and pinned on a number so I could catch up on my allocation of suffering.   I got bunny into Cyclocross configuration with wide knobby tires.  Fenders, lights and bottle cages were removed and sitting on a shelf in the garage.

In sharp contrast to seasons past I am not working off of a detailed checklist of race day equipment and strict warm up and nutrition protocol.  My tires felt fine in the garage and I had cold cereal for breakfast.
I arrived at Steilacoom and it greeted me like an old friend.  I warmed up and the new course had it all.  Merciless climbs? Check. Daredevil loose downhill? Check. Bumpy grass and lumpy baby heads that force you out of the saddle when you would rather be seated? Check. High speed downhill with sharp corner at the bottom? Check again!  Stacked field of powerful, yet sinewy, racers? When I said it had it all, I meant it.  This is cyclocross baby!

While I said out loud that I wanted to start near the back and hold my position, inwardly I hoped to move up a few spots compared to my last race.  As we were getting seeded into our starting positions I tried to shed my relaxed mindset and get the “eye of the tiger.”   I failed.

The gun went off and I found myself going faster than I wanted, yet slower than I should have been.   A gap started to form early on and I moved up to avoid being in the back group.   On the loose and soft downhill I put my weight back and let it fly. 

Out of the saddle, I pushed on the bumpy flat after the downhill to keep in contact.  Over the barriers and then a chicane leading to the steep, long, steep and muddy (and steep) run up. Shouldering the bike I moved up a spot or two as I felt my heart race.  At the top we remounted and BEGAN a long curvy climb to the top of the course. The run up was so steep I welcomed climbing on the bike.
As the course snaked up and down and back up the lumpy surface was constantly pushing back and disrupting any flow that one might have hoped for.  I was riding big 40mm tires at low pressure yet the surface was beating me senseless.  I can only imagine what the course would have felt like in 32mm tires at 65 psi (Hayes style).

At the top you made a left turn and flew down to the bottom in one slippery push.  At the end of the fast downhill the course turned from wet pavement onto loose gravel on a corner that was well past ninety degrees to the left.  On my third lap the rider in front of me locked up, completely missing the turn.  He went straight and blew through the course tape like he was breaking the tape at the end of a marathon.  I don’t know if he ever got back on course or just called it a day.  I backed off and made the corner with minimal slippage.

As the race wore on my legs, lungs and low back all complained and were told to shut up. I was glad to get the bell for one to go (meaning I wasn’t going to get lapped by the leader of the 35 plus field that had started two (or more) minutes ahead of our group).  I continued to push and looked ahead for riders to catch.

On the last lap I caught a couple stragglers from the 35 plus and 45 plus fields.  Those guys looked defeated and could not have been excited to have yet another 55 plus rider pass them.  They were, however, totally blown and I passed them quickly.  

I looked over my shoulder on some of the final curves to see if I had put enough distance between myself and the riders I had passed on the last couple laps.  Sure enough there was a big gap and I could enjoy the final hundred meters to the finish line.  I didn’t really back off, but I didn’t dig to gain a second or two either.
Afterwards I found The Wizard of Coz and we shared a fist bump.  I continued to ride for ten or fifteen minutes in hopes of chasing the lactic acid out of my legs.  I was tired and it felt good.  I was racing again.  I returned to my car and recognized the guy parked next to me was the same guy who had missed the turn at the bottom of the downhill.  His knee was bloody and he realized I was the guy who was about to pass him when we miscalculated the turn. We shared a few encouraging words.  It struck me that if I had to choose to be the one who crashed trying not to be passed and the one who had chased down that guy, my preference was to be the one who survived and finished.

At times it seems foolish to dress like a superhero and race other old men with similar obsessive behavior traits.  Back at work on Monday I compare weekend experiences with the other middle aged men I work with.  After listening to guys whose weekend highlights were beer and television, my trivial race seems to make more sense.