Doing it all the hard way...

Saturday, September 23, 2017


Ol' No. 7
Amongst cyclists there is an algebraic equation that is famously written either as N+1 or S-1.  N is the number of bikes you currently own and S is the number of bikes that will result in you being divorced, thus finding yourself single.

For years I have ogled at the latest crop of bikes and wheelsets and thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice?”  The bike industry was happy to feed this craving by slicing the market thinner and thinner.  Instead of simply offering a road bike, companies offer aero road bikes, climbing road bikes, endurance road bikes and who-knows-what-is-next road bikes.  

Counter to the California culture we all love (Everything….right now) curiously I find this excessive specialization actually makes me want to simplify my bike inventory.  I find myself in the process of selling bikes and actually reducing the number of bikes I own and ride.

When the seemingly unconnected progression of wider tires and rims met the evolution of tubeless technology, in combination with the aging demographic of Cyclocross racers; the stage was set for the explosion of gravel riding. 

Instead of stopping where the pavement ends we are able to smile as if we are breaking the rules and take the path across the field or continue onto the fire road and remember why we rode our bikes as kids. This “I can if I want to” perspective matches well with the varied terrain we now ride. Before we inflate our egos and think we have invented a new sport we need to be reminded that what we call gravel riding (or mixed surface riding in marketing speak) the Belgians call, “bike riding.”

One of the byproducts of riding the same bike on multiple surfaces is that no single bike or tire is perfect for every part of the ride. Riding this way we become accustomed to compromise. The smooth tires are better on the road but squirrely on the dirt.  A beefier tire is good on the dirt but slower on the road. 

In this era of optimization, the strange thing is we don’t seem to mind the slower tires on the road or not being able to rail a loose corner in the dirt.  We gladly accept the tradeoff of do-it-all at the expense of perfection in any one aspect. 

One could say we start taking a more holistic approach to cycling.  I remember packing up after a Cross crusade race in Portland. As I was stuffing the war wagon with my bike, muddy clothes, pump and a tub of stuff; I noticed a rider from my same race ride up to a backpack and sling that on his back and clip on some fenders and ride off on the same bike he had raced on.  Talk about cred!  I felt like that guy was legit and I was a poser.  That was several years ago but the image has stuck with me.
No white kit allowed.....

After embracing this holistic perspective, my focus seems to have shifted from expanding my quiver of bikes to simplifying my riding options. Let’s not get carried away and start thinking I want to sell everything and get a wooden strider bike.  I am, however, actively working to reduce the contents of my stable.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A cruel truth

Aside from a stray month here and there when I was recovering from one injury or another, over the last four or five years if I happened to feel like riding a hundred miles on the next weekend I have no doubt I could have done it without leaving a mark.  In the spring and summer my level of fitness is typically very good, but I kept my base up all year such that I never felt like I was never more than a few hard weeks away from good form.

The ability to clip in and ride for four to six hours has become a basic assumption in my life. If I need to peak then a couple months of long weekend rides sharpens my legs and I drop the kilogram or two I battle all year. Even when I am not at my peak I am still pretty good.
When we had our gravel camp this past June I was wrapping up phase one of my recovery from my surgery and I still did pretty well.  It almost felt like cheating. I felt like I was able to get by on my good looks and charming personality.  This only served to reinforce my self-image of invincibility. In hindsight, I think five years of base miles saw me through.

As the warranty period following my surgery (my words not the Dr.’s) was drawing to a close I tried to spark an episode just to confirm whichever side of the fence I was on.  I set out on some rides with the specific goal of spending time redlined in Z5.  What I found was that my legs had a really hard time getting there and I was also notably slower. 
I targeted some sustained climbs that I had done before with the expectation they would put me in the red.  After the first set I checked Strava expecting to see some impressive numbers in comparison to prior efforts.  Not only did I fail to PR but I was slower than prior years.  The prior efforts were not necessarily associated with peak fitness which was even more disheartening. I was lighter now compared to those prior efforts and my bike had better gearing for the stupid steep climb.  WTF?

One of the harsh realities of the facts and data Strava spits out is that when you feel like you have put out a good effort that workout gets digitized and you can compare the details against past efforts to see where you really are.  This is when the balloon starts making that damn hissing sound. 
I’m still trying to deny that getting older is the root cause, but that is getting harder and harder as times relentlessly marches on. The other option, and the one that I am clinging to, is that I have just lost fitness as a result of time off and time less focused.

Two recent rides only served to complicate matters.  On one of our recent gravel rides I didn’t dig very deep yet I kept up just fine and felt strong.  This was a four plus hour adventure and late in the ride as El Jefe’ pulled away just for fun I held the gap until I was lost sight of KB at which point I backed off.  My thought was that with just a bit more fitness I could have hung at the back of the first group.

Then I snuck in a longer ride after work, and although it was the polar opposite of the gravel ride (flat and smooth), it totally kicked my ass.  I had a list of things I had planned to do at home after the ride.  That list ended up being, eat, shower and fall into bed.  I’ve never had a flat ride take so much out of me. I felt pathetic.
I had taken for granted that I had power in my legs and all I had to do was to decide to go and it would materialize. When you are fit it can be just like turning a knob.  Dial up the effort and you go faster.  There is more hurt, but you gladly accept that in return for the increased speed. 

Greg Lemond famously said of training, “It never gets any easier, you just go faster.”  With that in mind it is awkward when it does hurt, but instead of going faster you are going slower.  It is demoralizing to put on the hurt and have the pain gauge tell you that you must be going fast only to realize that you are in fact……slow. 
Edward Abbey declared, “Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.”  The cruel truth is that I must adjust my current self-image to align with my present lack of fitness.  This is made all the more awkward by my teammates casually flexing their end-of-season strength. 

As my friend Todd says, “Happiness is attained by continually lowering the bar.”  As an aging athlete, my goal is always to do the best given the present circumstances.  It is frustrating that the current circumstances are not what I have come to expect from myself.

Aging or not, Rule # 5 still applies.  I shall end my whining now. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Destruction of evidence

In these days of paper trails and electronic traceability I find it almost exhilarating when I can make an anonymous transaction.  An example would be paying cash for a Big Mac so your visit to McDonalds doesn’t show up on your credit card statement. I try to imagine the steps I would have to take in order to go somewhere and not leave evidence of my visit. Leave my phone at home and only carry cash.  No Garmin or recognizable clothing.  Dark glasses and a unremarkable ball cap. 

When the garbage people take our trash thus  intermingling it with the trash of others before shipping it off to New Jersey, I cannot help but think they are taking away evidence. Every now and then I have a CSI moment when I consider the physical evidence I leave behind wherever I go.
Because everyone gets to choose their own moral code and draw the line between right and wrong where they feel appropriate; everyone believes they have noteworthy integrity. Because everyone draws their lines a little differently we typically focus a bit more attention when we find ourselves close to those dividing lines. 

It is with that rambling preamble behind us that I relate the following questions and the problem of compounding greyness.

The first question relates to using a company printer to print out a single page of personal material.  You bring your own pen to the office and generally your hours of work exceed the hours you are paid.  The cost of a single sheet of paper is likely some fraction of a penny.  In the big picture, printing out an email so you have a hard copy should be just fine. Right?

The second question relates to forgetfulness and corporate responsibility.  A lot of what you work on is proprietary, though some of it is not.  You are encouraged to make sure you pick up everything you print promptly to avoid any company secrets from getting into the wrong hands.  Your work area is secure so anyone who can walk by the printer likely has the same clearances and confidentiality agreements as you so this really shouldn’t be a big deal. Right?

The final question relates to how you use your sick time.  Your company allocates you a certain number of sick days per year.  You have never even approached your annual limits while other people max them out every year.  You decide to take a trip to the beach and call in sick.  You don’t do this often and the company is darn lucky to have you.  You aren’t hurting anyone and you will be mentally refreshed when you come back.  Sounds like a win-win. Right again?
This all sounds fine until you send the email telling everyone you are sick and can’t make it in.  Everyone feels bad until they walk by the printer and see that yesterday you printed out your hotel reservation for the beach for today and forgot to pick it up.

My advice to this guy is to use sunscreen.