Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Box of Parts

Dad carried the first box in a few weeks ago.  It was full past the brim with various bike parts, including: all three headsets, all three grip sets, my bar ends, two tires, three sets of brakes, two seat collars (mine is still absent), and Single Speed Dad's bottom bracket and crankset.   

This Tuesday, Single Speed Dad brought home all of the pedals and two more tires.  He also brought Single Speed Kid 1's crankset and bottom bracket.   

Thursday, he brought home our seats, from the Fi'zi:k Versus line. They are not mountain bike seats but are made for long distance/ endurance riding and we think they will be comfortable.  

 Saturday, my crankset finally arrived, along with the seatposts for both Single Speed Kids.  I have Race Face Atlas cranks and bottom bracket in a steely blue.  I had ordered black cranks, but they were unavailable.  Then I settled on a color called stealth, which was a matte finish black.  However, when Race Face went out of business recently, all black and stealth colored Atlas cranksets disappeared. So I got an awesome steely blue instead. 

On Sunday, we sat down with the boxes of parts to see what we could do to build our bikes.  Steve is going to put in our bottom brackets and headsets, then we are going to build as much as possible. Steve is going to fix everything we do wrong, then we can ride them. With an AWOL seat collar (and many other missing parts, too) the only thing I could do was attach my seatpost to my seat, which I did with great pleasure.  I  now have them sitting next to me as I type, and still, hours later, I am quite pleased with my accomplishment. 
Hopefully the future will bring more of the same. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ready to Build - Ready to Ride?

We are all ready to get on with building up the single speed bikes.  Due to a variety of short delays, slow decision-making or what not, the parts aren't all here, but most of them are.  This week the headsets and bottom brackets will get installed for sure, and a number of other pieces and parts will go on.  We are, however, still waiting for a box from Niner and for some wheels from Shimano.  Shipping of these wheels is not supposed to be impacted by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but I will feel better when they actually arrive.  In any case, we are hoping that everything arrives this week and that we are building them up no later than next weekend.  We will keep you posted.

And what happens after building? Riding of course.  I am excited to be riding the bikes and really looking forward to being out with the boys, so why didn't I feel like riding this weekend?  The weather wasn't great, but it was better than some weekends I've ridden.  I had work to do, but less than other weekends when I have still managed to fit in rides.  I was tired, but not as tired as some other weekends when I got out and rode anyway.  And I even had a couple of different offers to go out with groups.  So why did the weekend pass with no riding?

Not sure, even now in thoughtful recollection.  I suspect that a couple of long weeks at work coupled with not enough sleep just combined to take me off my game a bit.  I see over at JS's blog (Cycling Spokane), he is complaining of some rather specific symptoms when he says, "I wish I had something to blame my lazy tired turd-like sluggishness on."  He decided that it probably wasn't walking pneumonia, but wasn't able to come up with a more precise diagnosis either.  I hope that he figures it out, however, because I think there is an epidemic of it.

The Morning Ride is rumored to have started last week, although I haven't seen it live, so I can't be sure yet.  I just checked the weather and the Monday morning low is supposed to be right at freezing with a chance of rain or snow.  I should be feeling excited about riding and maybe even hauling my carcass up in time for that ride, but I am just lacking the motivation to get on with it. Maybe another night of good sleep will help.  Other than that, the only known cure is new bike stuff.  Good thing more of it is coming this week.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

2005 Fleche Wallone

No one should really care about this blog post today, or at least the readership venn diagram would be exceedingly small almost six years after the race.  For me, it was an intersection of 1) fans of Jens Voigt; 2) ardent followers of Euro bike racing; and 3) people spending time on the trainer with a DVD or video of the 2005 Fleche Wallone.  If you fit into any of these demographics, read on.  Otherwise, stay tuned for more 2011-centric posts later.

So, there I was, on the trainer, just starting over training again after a long-ish hiatus; one long enough to feel completely out-of-shape and allowing the packing of the pounds process to have reached full potential.  I usually start out the fall/winter training by starting with my oldest videotape race coverage (putting aside the classic  1976 Paris-Roubaix film, A Sunday in Hell, it is LeMond's Tour win-video that I taped on my VCR from Wide World of Sports) and work my way through to the most recent.  I have to confess that my collection has starting aging because there is so much cycling on television now that I don't "have" to buy the DVD to actually see the race the way I used to, but I digress.  Last year I took advantage of a WCP blow-out sale and bought a bunch of older races - frankly I looked for the most minutes per dollar and ended up with a group of mid-2000's lesser spring classics.  So instead of starting with the oldest tapes, I started with the oldest of the races on the new DVD stack and then add them chronologically to the stack for the next trip through.  Well, a few DVDs and a few hours of training and I found myself watching the 2005 Fleche Wallone.  (See, I do get to the point eventually.)

This race is a 200 kilometer mid-week race held between the Amstel Gold Race and the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic.  It is less prestigious than the Monuments, but still a great race and hotly contested.  This race, for me, was everything that is great and sad about pro cycling right now.  And yes, I will apologize right now for being a bummer during part of the rest of this post.

Somewhere in the first 40 km or so, Jens Voigt and a group of lesser riders took off on a breakaway, as is the tradition.  The group never got a huge advantage, but they worked together and stayed out front for a long time.  As the kilometers passed, however, the strength and class of Jens started to shred the younger and lesser guys until there was just one tough Belgian hanging on and giving Jens brief respites.  Eventually, as Jens "Energizer Bunny" Voigt does to everyone, however, the legs started to come off of this young Belgian and Jens was on his own.  So, after about 100 km (62 miles) of racing, Jens is out front on a windy, rainy day with more than 100 cyclists interested in getting to the finish line first.  Easy task for the 100, right?

You don't know Jens, do you?

Jens managed to just dangle out there, sometimes by as little as 70-80 seconds, sometimes back over the 2 minute mark, but just "there".  Mile after mile the teams threw guys up the road only to see them wasted one after the other and no one finishing the job of nailing back Jens.  You knew it couldn't last and yet, the longer it did the more you couldn't help but hope for the impossible.  As the remaining kilometers drained away, it stayed just as improbable, but the rain, a couple of minor crashes and an unorganized chase meant that Jens was still there as the kilometers remaining dropped into the single digits.

At the same time, though, the very steep, very unforgiving last kilometer loomed.  Actually, it is about 1.3 kilometer hill that finishes off the race, with an average gradient of 10% and a maximum of 20-25%.  In other words, Jens would take much longer to get up that final hill than the fresher climber (and more specifically the sub-set of power-climbers)  that were roaring up his tailpipe.

With a scant 4 km left, a group of 4 riders who got off the front of the peloton caught Jens.  He latched on and I kept up the slimmest (and unrealistic) of hopes that the most valiant rider would prevail.  Instead, with less than 2 km to go, this group was swept up by the 80+ riders still in the peloton.  At this point, Jens was the story of the race, he would pick up minor recognition for topping the climbs first and no story would be written about the day that didn't include his exploits.  This is also, however, how most races go and the team leaders count on exactly this situation which allows them to save the most energy possible for the final stomp up that hill.

It is still a good story about cycling at this point.  Until the actual finish and adding what we know today.

At the finish line, Danilo Di Luca crossed first, followed by Kim Kirchen and then Davide Rebellin.  These three crossed grim-faced, but lips closed.  It seems odd even today.  How can you race up that final hill and not be gasping for breath?  Most of the riders behind them were.  Di Luca and Rebellin both have PED (performance-enhancing drug) convictions and Kirchen had a mysterious (some might suggest suspicious) heart attack at age 31.

And Jensy?  Finished 50th.

Everything good and not-so-good about cycling all wrapped up in one mid-week classic in 2005.  I can't wait to watch it again and no matter how many times I see it, there will be just a tiny, tiny part of me that will hope Jens will finally prevail one day.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How Lucky Are We? TV Cycling Watchers I Mean.

Last week I could not believe that both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatica were both on television with daily coverage.  Once in while I stop to ponder the dearth of cycling during the time I personally became obsessed with it.  There were literally somewhere be zero hours and a maximum of 3-4 hours of TV coverage FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR!  This was coverage of the Tour de France (when there was coverage).  They didn't think of covering the other major tours, much less the lesser tours.

In those days, it was easy to know how to react to current cycling news and TV coverage.  I immersed myself in it.  I set my schedule around it.  I set my clunky VCR to record it.  And I marveled at every moment of it, even when the commentators knew nothing about the sport and the producers showed more of the countryside than the race, somehow equating it to a picnic journey.

Now, however, it is hard to keep up with the total volume of cycling.  I find myself blithely fast-forwarding through coverage to just watch the last 5 kilometers so I can see a bit of each stage and not devote my life to it.  I guess that is how NCAA basketball fans feel this time of year when there is endless coverage.  You either give in to all of it and do nothing else or you have to skim through the highlights.

One interesting addition to the coverage this year is the cyclocross racing on Universal Sports.  For the world cup races the coverage is played with no commentary other than the course-side race announcer that you can hear in the background.  It is really very refreshing to just watch the race, think your own thoughts about it, even have a conversation while it is on.  It is an oddly zen way to watch something that is so brutal.  It reminds me of rowing in that people always comment on how beautiful and rhythmic the sport looks, but it doesn't feel that way when you are doing it.  Watching cyclocross is beautiful, but doing it makes me feel like throwing up for a solid hour.

Anyway, it is a great time to be a bike racing enthusiast.  It will be interesting to see in a few years whether it is still around, there is even more, or it goes the way of the national mountain bike racing scene of a decade ago when the prizes were significant and a lot of tv interest.  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, I am loving it.  Gotta go, though.  Milan-San Remo is coming up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Now that we have decided on and ordered the parts for our single speed bikes, I can no longer obsess over them.  Those decisions are put to bed.  This means I have a lot of extra time. 
As a result, I have been thinking about riding a whole lot, especially seeing as how the weather is getting better and better.  I, at Single Speed Dad's suggestion, have been contemplating what my favorite local ride is.  It is hard to decide but there are two which I really like.  They are somewhat different in terms of ease of getting there and ease of the trail, well at least from my opinion. 
One of my favorite rides is within easy riding distance of my house. It takes about 5 minutes to get to the trail. Once you get there though, there is a long and somewhat steep hill. From there it is a fairly straight shot to what I think the highlight of the trip is. It is a steep set of about a dozen short switchbacks. I am a fairly competent bike rider with pretty good balance and control, but this tests me every time. [Editor's Note - The testing comes from the speed he tries to carry every time.]  Which, actually, is what I really enjoy about it. I enjoy the steep sliding turns. I know that Single Speed Dad doesn't so much and SSK2 has not yet done it but it is great fun for me. I haven't been this year but I believe that there is some more swoopy quick stuff after it also and a little way after that there is a nice loop which has some fun stuff and a tree which I can never get over sadly.  The next part of my ideal ride on the bluff is a section which SSD showed me last year.  It is a single-track route which can be really steep in some parts but I think it is really fun.
One of my other favorite rides is in Riverside State Park.  The first time I went there was with my friend when he invited me to go mountain biking with him. It is somewhat similar to the previously mentioned swoopy track although it is much tamer and easier to ride.  This particular part of the trail is off the main paved road.  It is a little side trail and where the fun stuff starts there is a 5 foot ridge kind of in the shape of an upside down "v".  There are a few back and forth swoops and I think washboard and then it ends by going through a couple of trees which are only a few feet apart and here the trail simply ends in a meadow.  Obviously since this part of the trail leads to nothing you have to ride back in order to get anywhere.  Another good section of riding is in a dead grass meadow with burned tree stumps.  I also really like the 24 Hour Mountain Bike Race and there is a lot of great and some really fun single-track near there that isn't too difficult.  All in all, Riverside State Park is really fun to ride in and there are trails for anyone who wants to ride a bike.
Both of these are really great places to ride and I have not yet discovered many of the trails along the High Drive bluff or in Riverside State Park.  I do recommend riding in either place.  Hopefully I will be able to discover much more of the bluff and Riverside State Park on my new single-speed.  Perhaps you, my loyal reader, will chance to see me, or maybe you won't, and maybe you will see me but not even know!
Single Speed Kid One

Monday, March 14, 2011

Woah Baby!

This doesn't really relate to "my" cycling life in any way, except that I know enough and I have ridden enough to know that this is really, really insane.

So, sure, it looks insane that one stunt man type cyclist would set this up and tape it.  Except that is not what happened here.  Instead, this was a race where multiple people road this course for a time.  Seriously.

How many big drops does that include?  How many steps?  How do both the dog and the rider appear to be just fine after that?  How does the rider avoid hitting his handlebars on those railings?  How about that part at 1:55 when the rider goes up a wall to go over to the next part of the course?  Or at 2:20?  That next 10 seconds would scare the livin' bejesus out of me (not that I would have made it that far).  And I would definitely choke at 3:03.  BTW, you have to hit play again at 3:18 if you want it to move past that spot.

And when I was just typing those times, I have a hard time believing that all of that happened in 3 minutes.  That was more packed into 3 minutes than I can imagine living through twice.

The other thing I like about this video?  When I showed it to my son, afterward he said, "Dad, did you notice that he had purple handlebars?"  Gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Cycling Life - SSK2

Cycling has been a part of my life from a very young age.  Waking up early to watch the Tour is one of my earliest memories.  My Dad was obsessed with it and even if I didn't want to, it dominated most mornings in July.

I was unwilling to learn to ride myself, though, until I was seven, but I have enjoyed watching the sport from a very young age.  I used to watch only the Tour, but now I watch the Tour, the Giro, the Vuelta (sometimes), Paris-Roubaix (my personal favorite), Fleche-Walone, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Tour of California, and a few other road races.  Recently, I have begun to watch cyclocross, and over the past week have seen a few races of the World Cup series.  Cyclocross looks hard, but fun. 

My past favorite riders include Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, and Jens Voigt (who still ranks among my favorites).  My current favorites include the Schleck brothers, Lars Boom (who is a great cyclocross as well as road rider), Edvald Boassen-Hagen, and Fabian Cancellara.  

My personal cycling career began with a Trek Mountain Cub that at first I refused to ride without training wheels and elbow and knee pads.  I was sure that I was going to get hurt and didn't like that idea.  [Editor's Note - The famous crash of Joseba Beloki (the one where Armstrong rode through the fields) was seared into the young memory of SSK2 and I think impacted his willingness to learn our dangerous sport.]

My next bike featured flames and a T-Rex horn, which was the bike I really learned to ride on.  When I outgrew that little kid's bike, I got my present mountain bike, which is my primary bike.  Mostly because my Dad is a bit crazy, in August, I received a Trek Madone 1.2 for my birthday, which I was only able to ride a few times before it got too cold.  [Editor's Note - We live in a place that every ride over 10 blocks long involves a highway, so it reduces opportunities for road riding at this point.] 

I enjoy riding my mountain bike on the high drive bluff often and my road bike whenever I get the chance.  We have mostly ridden on trails for longer rides (it's like my Dad doesn't trust me on the highway or something).  I have gotten to ride on the Fish Lake Trail a few times and I have ridden the entirety of the Trail of the Coeur d' Alene's with the whole family over the course of a few weekends.  We took 4 different days of go-to-a-specified-point-and-turn-around-and-come-back-for-about-30-miles-total riding each time.

At thirteen, this is about the entirety of my cycling career.  Lot of fun riding, lots of races watched, and looking forward to countless rides over my entire life.
Single Speed Kid 2

Friday, March 4, 2011

Misery Loves Company - Part 5 - Conclusion

The last of my tale of the Capital Forest 100.

It was in this deep forested section that it was clear that no matter what the next portion might include I was calling it day after the first loop. For the first time of the season, I was ready to lay down arms.  Full surrender.  Of course, I had a lot of miles to cover yet, but the decision was made.  It wasn’t just the 6,000 vertical feet per loop, or just the week of too little sleep or too little riding, or just the crashes, or just the rear hub, but combined, it was just too much.

From that point on, I forgot about mileage, speed, difficulty and even, occasionally, my barking rear hub.  I just rode along at a moderate pace and looked forward to being at the end.  I would like to report that these were the most enjoyable miles since I let go of everything else, or that I had a mystical awakening in that part of the ride, but I don’t think that is part of the process of giving in to the inevitable.  I rode my bike, was thankful for the periods of time I could coast without my hub sucking the chain into the wheel, and just passed the time.  It was still hard going uphill and there were still tricky descents; just now, there were many fewer of them until my day was over.

The original plan had been to ride 100 miles with PW, enjoy the post-ride BBQ and then spend the night at his house regaling his wife and daughters with tales of our exploits.  Instead, I decided that with a much earlier than anticipated finish, I would get in the car and head across the state back home.  Even though it was 300 miles away, being home seemed like the balm for what was ailing me.  As a result, riding into the finish area was anti-climatic.  I didn’t know anyone who was hanging around and I knew that PW was miles into his second loop.  I grabbed a bite to eat, some drink for the road and picked up my finisher swag (which they gave to everyone finishing at least one loop – no Leadville ignominy).  After that, I made my way down to my car and discovered PW’s and my vehicle parked on the horse trailer clean-out area.  I can’t fathom how I ignored it so completely in the pre-dawn, but it wasn’t possible to ignore in the afternoon sun.  It was a fitting end for a long day.

Conclusion.  A couple of days before the race, when I told my brother that I was doing this ride, he shook his head slightly and asked if PW was doing it with me.  I said that he was and that he had talked me into it.  His response, “You are easy to talk into things.”  I grinned when he said that because it was exactly right.  I think my reaction was the opposite of what he intended, but if we were hard to talk into things, where would that leave us?  Sitting on the couch is where it would leave us.  Pain, difficulty, fun, challenge, adventure, excitement, accomplishment, joy, satisfaction and yes, some misery. But it’s either that or just shaking my head and watching other people do those things.  I would much rather be talked into going.

They say we enter this world alone and we exit it alone, but that we gather together in-between for comfort and shared experiences.  They also say that misery loves company.  And that home is where the heart is.  A long day on the mountain bike reinforced all of these ideas, which is ultimately why I like being talked into things.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Misery Loves Company - Part 4

We will continue with the story of the Capital Forest 100.  Conclusion tomorrow.

The next section of the ride after we split up was actually the best suited to me of any bit thus far.  It was made up of some wider trails, gentler inclines and reasonable descents.  I passed a couple of people and started to feel a bit better and wondered if I should have tried to stay with PW a bit longer.  It was about that time that the occasional bark from my rear hub turned into an angry honking duck.  If you can make a guttural, low, very angry noise of a mama duck warning away an intruder from her ducklings, and repeat that noise every 1-2 seconds, you can understand exactly what this portion of the ride included.  Pedal, HONK!, pedal, HONK!, pedal, HONK!, pedal, HONK!, pedal, HONK!  Then it got worse. 

After a few miles of this, the hub was so bound up that the chain was being pulled right around the cog.  It got so that I could not coast - at all.  I had to maintain constant tension on the pedals, as if I had a fixed gear bike, but without the benefit of the direct connection.  It turns out that it is very hard to ride with constant tension on the chain on singletrack that is constantly going up or down.  I quickly realized how frequently I stopped pedaling, even for a portion of a second, to adjust my seat, grab water or whatever.  None of these things were possible.  I even had to brake on every downhill so I could keep pressure on the chain.

The only good news is that whatever was happening in the rear hub went from bad to worse, and then, surprisingly, to intermittent.  I didn’t have any control over it, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it better or worse, but it did go from a constant issue to an intermittent one, so that I had occasional relief from it.  It was one of these periods in which the hub was working that I lost my streak of incident-free riding.  I had had only one small crash through a summer of a lot of training, a lot of mountain biking, and numerous 85-100 mile mountain bike rides.  We had been warned during the lengthy pre-ride meeting that some of the bridges were quite slick.  This seemed axiomatic in something close to a rain forest, but it was a good reminder.  Unfortunately, my memory isn’t perfect.  As I crossed a longer bridge, I noticed that the trail took a sharp left turn up just after the edge of the bridge.  I didn’t have enough speed to carry the rise, so I accelerated in anticipation.  You might see the problem.  I managed to use the light coating of oily green moisture on the bridge to push my wheel out from under me and I took a hard fall on my left side.  It was a sudden, knock-the-wind-out-of-you-slam, flat onto the bridge surface.  Thankfully it was wide enough that I didn’t hit the side rail.  I got up slowly, assessed the situation and got back on my bike.  I still didn’t have the speed to make the rise, so I got back off and walked the bike up the trail.  I mounted after a bit and rode off slowly.  I was glad that PW and I had split up so that I could slowly ride myself into feeling good and not worry about picking up the pace for a bit.  I was still a bit shaken when I came up with a much more interesting way to crash.

One feature of this wet forest is that some trees lose their grip on the soil and fall over.  In this case, the trail took a detour around a particularly large tree root.  Nothing too interesting, but by being a bit out of it, I managed to ride too close to the many snags sticking out.  One of the roots “grabbed” my left arm and shoulder and gave me a quick pull, which caused me to connect with more of the snaggy roots and get pulled onto the ground in a crunchy, twisting fashion.  My second hard crash of the season and within 10 minutes of my first.  This time I got up even more slowly.  I wasn’t injured in the “I need help” way, but definitely in the “shit, I don’t feel good” way.  As I got back onto my bike and rode away, I had the clear feeling that my shoulders, trunk and pelvis were facing three different directions, and none of them the direction the bike was going.  Maybe I should have given thanks that my rear hub was no longer my biggest concern.  Again, I rode away slowly.

In the midst of all of this, however, it was hard to not notice how beautiful the place was in which I was riding and very, very different than my home soil in eastern Washington.  During the day, I recall perfectly a few things that I wish I had had a camera to capture.  The early morning sun rising over the forest.  From near the top of a climb, looking down on a valley of fog with the hills puncturing the cloud bank and the sun warming all of it.  Some descents covered with vegetation that you would think was straight out of the Amazon rain forest (including an oddly oily mud that may be the slickest substance ever discovered by man).  And one instance in which I pondered how my body would be recovered afterward.  There were a number of well-constructed bridges over streams, creeks or drop-off areas.  One of the most picturesque water crossings lacked any such civility, however.  On a deeply forested descent, I came across a creek crossing that appeared to be a short, flattish section of a waterfall.  It was steeply rocky above and below, but someone had stretched out a 2” x 6” board across a 12’ gap.  Frankly, the board was close enough to the drop-off down that it might have been better used to collect bodies of the fallen, instead of encouraging hearty souls to try to ride across it and therefore ensuring that they were close enough to the drop-off to be sure to have a bone-crunching end to their day.  I’m sure the day that board was put down the trail-builders patted themselves on the back as they walked across its sturdy, solid and dry surface.  Unfortunately, only a small passage of time in an area like this covers everything with a  sheen of wet, slick, intractable slime.  A sadist might spend days just camping by this crossing to record the various pratfalls and tippy-toeing to get from one side to the other.  I took the route just upstream from the board, trying to step from rock to rock while not jettisoning my bike into the unknown.  Ironically, the only major slip I had was when I put my left foot onto the edge of the board to keep from falling and my foot rocketed forward 10” before I got a grip.  After putting my heart back into my chest, I managed to get to the other side and marveled at the fact that I and everyone else apparently did so as well.  And again, I wish I had had a camera to record this tricky but beautiful 15’ feet out of a 50-mile loop.