Friday, May 20, 2011

A Research Paper - Of Sorts

And now, without further ado, here is the aforementioned research paper.


I-Search: “How and Why Did Mountain Biking Originate?”
I. My Questions – What I Already Know, and What I Want to Know
            I chose my topic because I just got a new mountain bike for Christmas and have been riding it quite a bit lately.  There are trails on which I ride that fall into two types of trails; trails that are two tracks and trails that are one track.  I often wonder how the trails that are one track wide came to be.  This question, in turn, led me to wonder how mountain biking actually got started.
            I know that mountain biking as we see it today is not how it originally started, and that while the bikes that are fairly ubiquitous today as most people’s normal bikes are called mountain bikes, that is a bit of a misnomer.  They are nothing like the original mountain bike and I want to know how and why they have come to be this way and what the original bikes looked like.
            I already know that mountain biking was created long after bikes were originally made.  It was a niche sport to start out with and then it gained popularity and it is now very popular today.  Mountain bikes now look very different than the original mountain bikes looked.  I do know that the first mountain bikes were just modified road bikes but I don’t know how they were changed and if there was a brand riders preferred to buy to change into a mountain bike.
            I wonder how the sport of mountain biking was born and why it was born as well.  I would also like to find out who or what group of people invented mountain biking and what they say their reason for inventing mountain biking was.  I particularly want to focus on how mountain biking was started and what made the inventors think that doing what they did was a good idea.
            In order to answer my research question I have a few goals.  First of all, I want to interview someone who was interested in bikes when mountain biking was first starting and learn what they had heard about it.  I would also like to discover who is credited with inventing mountain biking and, if I can, find out why they invented it.
II. My Search Process – How I Prepared to Research and Answer my Question
            The first day I did research was in the library of Lewis and Clark High School; I used ProQuest and eLibrary to look for things that were related to mountain biking and its history.  I found many things about mountain biking but not many about the history of mountain biking.  Because of this I tried many different combinations of “mountain biking” and “history” and “origin” and “beginning of” and so on.  I did manage to get some useful information with each search.  However, there were very few things which pertained only to mountain biking and this was somewhat frustrating.
Because I was having some luck, but less than I was hoping, I went to Google and searched for the “History of Mountain Biking,” and I found quite a bit of information.  I used Wikipedia to get a little background information and then I used the sources at the bottom to look for more information. One site Wikipedia cited was called “rough stuff fellowship” which describes a little about how mountain biking originated and how people tried to ride off-road when mountain bikes had not yet been developed.
I found a book entitled The Birth of Dirt by Frank J. Berto I was interested in reading as a source, but could not get it in locally and would have taken too long to arrive if I ordered it from a website, so I had to find alternate sources to use. Those turned out to be excellent, although I still plan to read the Berto book.
My dad has been riding bikes and been interested in the cycling community since college and he recommended that I interview the owner of the bike shop he has relied on for over twenty years. I have known the shop owner, Steve Loveland, most of my life and certainly knew him to be an expert on the topic.  So, I interviewed Steve who has owned a bike shop for many years and he told me many things that have been very helpful in my research process.  He gave me information I had not found on the internet so I know I was lucky to interview him.
III. What I Have Learned in Answering my Question/Search Results
            After much research I have found the answer to my question regarding how and why mountain biking originated.
            Mountain biking as we know it today was not actually the first type of “mountain bike” innovated.  The first bikes which were innovated from road bicycles were made in the military.  They were made for the Buffalo Soldiers who were “a turn-of-the-century infantry who customized bicycles to carry gear over rough terrain…the riders… rode from Missoula, Montana, to Yellowstone and back… Their mission: to test the bicycle for military use in mountainous terrain” (“Mountain Bike”).  However, the bicycles did not work out and they were abandoned and mountain biking was not heard of again until the 1950s.
            There was also the Velo Cross Club Parisian (VCCP) of France.  It was made up of about 20 cyclists from Paris who “developed a sport that was remarkably akin to present-day mountain biking. These riders juiced up their French 650-B bikes with an extraordinary degree of technical sophistication” (“Mountain Bike”). However, these guys were the only men to do their sport and it never caught on in France, let alone the rest of the world.  Most people believe that mountain biking originated in the late 1970’s in the United States of America by a couple of guys.
            “Marin County is not the only place where the mountain bike was invented, but it is the birthplace of the sport of mountain biking” (Kelly). There are quite a few different names which go along with mountain biking history in the United State.  The guys who are widely considered to be the inventors of mountain bikes are an elite group. “Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, and Tom Ritchey are the guys who invented mountain biking in the late ‘70s” (Loveland).  These guys did not just use a bike straight from the road.  The bikes that these guys used “had used balloon-tire one-speed bicycles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s with coaster brakes” (Brandt).  There is much controversy regarding who actually innovated these new bikes and again there are many names thrown around.  According to Dan Koeppel, Joe Breeze “was the reigning genius among the Northern California cohort… that is widely credited with turning mountain hiking into a mass phenomenon that swept the globe in the 1990s (Koeppel).  Still, there are others who do not think it was Joe Breeze. Other people believe that Gary Fisher was one of the key originators, that he is “the godfather of the mountain bike-some would dispute that- but because he took the mountain bike to the world. His enthusiasm and pure love for riding bikes has convoyed itself into a major sport and he himself an international icon for our sport” (“MB15”).  There have been many places where bikes have been adapted to handle rough terrain and there is one very famous place.  Although we will never know who exactly did innovate this phenomenon we do know that, “in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, a group of young cycling enthusiasts and budding entrepreneurs would dedicate themselves to improving the clunker concept” (Designs 12-15).  Now this leads to the question, what is a clunker?
            Well, it turns out that a clunker is a modified cruiser bike which has been modified to work on dirt and going down hill. These clunkers were usually Schwinn bikes because, “They were cheap (nobody wanted them), heavy-duty (by virtue of their mass), and most of all a gas to ride” (Designs12).  There are also other names for the same bikes.  They can be called clunkers, beaters, bombers, cruisers, fat tire bikes and ballooners.  If someone said something about their clunker then someone else might talk about their bomber and everyone would know that they were talking about the same thing even though they were called different names.
            Most sources I looked at said that the guys in Marin County innovated their bikes only because they were interested in finding a new way to have fun.  Steve Loveland commented that these guys did innovate mountain biking because they did want to have fun but he also informed me of something which I had never read about. He explained that the guys had been using BMX bikes originally and went on to say, “Those guys grew up with BMX bikes and they did use their BMX bikes on the dirt to do down hill” (Loveland).  He also informed me that as the men grew up they outgrew their BMX bikes and so using them on the steep dirt trails was hard to do and dangerous.  Steve believes that they innovated the cruisers to work on dirt because, “they wanted to have the same experience that they had with their BMX bikes but they wanted to be safer and have a little more control” (Loveland).  So this is what they did.  They took bikes that were the right size and fitted them to work like their BMX bikes. This way they could go even faster than they were able to before.  Once they learned what they could do, they did not stop. They were “true cycling enthusiasts [were] trying to find something new to do on two wheels” (“Mountain bike”).  This certainly appears to be true considering they had many races and there was little or no prize money involved, just fun.  They also clearly had fun because they maintained their bikes no matter what happened to them. They were hooked on this new approach to bike riding.
            The first commercially produced mountain bike was the Specialized Stump Jumper.  This was first produced in 1982 and it is still produced today although the original model looks very different from the new models.  This means that until 1982, and possibly later, anyone who wanted a mountain biking bike had to either modify a road bike or make their own.  In the case of the Marin County guys, at first they just modified road bikes but then they started refining what the modified and then they just build their own.  One of the guys who custom made mountain bike frames was Tom Ritchey, “Tom Ritchey’s father was in the metal business, either a welder or builder” (Loveland).  This meant that Tom Ritchey had a leg up on the guys who wanted custom bikes and he could also make his own bike, as he did, as did many other of the guys he knew.  Tom Ritchey, in fact, built himself and Gary Fisher each a custom bike to use. This meant that the old clunkers were “obsolete” but more people could get their hands on them, as they were commercially produced, so there were pros and cons to each kind of bike.
            Originally, these clunkers were so heavy that the group in Marin county that rode them had to, “[drive or walk them] to the top of the mountain then the riders bombed down the steep trails, coaster brakes smoking” (Designs 16).  This meant that every time the bikes were ridden down the hill they had to be driven back to the top again.  The bikes which Tom Ritchey and Gary Fisher had were lighter than cruisers and had been built specifically to be lighter.
            Another problem with the cruiser bikes was their coaster brakes.  When the bikes were ridden down a mountain in Marin County whoever was riding it would use the coaster brake almost all the time to control speed.  At the end of a run all the grease inside the bearing would, “overheat the hub brakes, requiring it to be re-packed” (Brandt). This did mean that one could not do multiple runs quickly, every run required time to be spend fixing the brakes.  This could get tedious and repetitive very quickly.  Eventually all of these problems were overcome.
            Soon, the people who were downhill riding in Marin County decided that they, “felt that they had to bike up the hills or mountains in order to appreciate riding the descent, thus the birth of multi-speed bikes with shifters and gear in order to aid riders ride up the hills and mountains” (“Mountain Biking”).  Because the riders decided to ride their bikes uphill they needed to equip their bikes better.  One thing they did was to add cantilever brakes which were lighter and stronger than coaster brakes.  The new bikes also had shifters because there were now gears which aided the riders riding up the hill.
            Mountain bikers now are very different from what they were when mountain biking was just beginning.  According to Bike Snob NYC, “due to significant variations in both terrain and social attitudes across the country and the world, many different styles of Mountain Bikers have evolved” (Weiss 62).  Back when mountain biking was just beginning there was really only one kind; downhill. People rode down the hill with bikes specifically modified to go downhill fast and then at the end the rider did not ride back up the hill.  Eventually all-mountain also came to fruition (this refers to going both up and down the mountain) and then later even more styles of mountain biking have come about.  All-mountain mountain biking is what happened when the rider rode up and down the hill; gears and cantilever breaks helped this style of mountain biking evolve.
            Mountain bikes have been around for a long, long time.  It is just the sport of mountain biking that started in the 1970s and that is what most people consider to be the beginning of mountain biking.  Why did such an innovation from road cycling happen? It was because a group of guys liked riding their BMX bikes down hill and they wanted bigger bikes, but really it was just to have fun.  Mountain biking as we know it today started in Marin County and was spearheaded by Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey, and Joe Breeze.
IV. What This Means to Me and My Growth
            Doing this project has given me a chance to learn much more than I ever knew about mountain biking.  I have learned all about the bikes that were originally used for mountain biking and I have learned about why the most famous people are famous and what they did that was significant.  I also learned how the mountain biking got started which was from BMX bikes and how mountain bikes got gears, the people wanted to ride uphill also.
            The most important thing which I have learned is that mountain biking has been a continuous thing and Marin County is significant not because mountain bikes were invented there but because that is where the sport of mountain biking originated and where mountain bike racing originated.  I also think the fact that when the guys who were really involved in mountain biking, Joe Breeze, Gary Fisher and Tom Ritchey, could not find something they wanted for their bike they just made it.  They even made a completely custom bike for themselves just because they thought it would be more fun.
            I have learned things relating to my topic and mot relating to my topic as well.  I have learned how mountain biking originated and every time I get on my mountain bike and go for a ride I will remember why I am doing what I am, some guys wanted to have some fun.  I have also learned things about research topics and research papers.  I had a different topic previously and it did not interest me so I changed it.  I will remember that if I can I should pick a topic which interests me and I will enjoy researching.
            Because of the research I did and what I found out I am going to try and visit places that are significant to mountain biking.  I hope to visit places like the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and places in Marin County if I have the chance.  I have also decided that I will try to experience all the different kinds of mountain biking that there are, not just cross country (what most people think of when they think of mountain biking).
            I am also amazed at how ingenious and persistent the people who innovated mountain biking were. I am especially impressed with the amount the experimented and tried different things and did not just stay with one choice because they though they could improve anything.
Another thing which this paper had impressed upon me was how much mountain biking has changed since the first guys changed their road bikes into bikes with fat tires to go on dirt.  Now we have bikes which weigh less than 20 pounds or have front and back suspension and seat-posts which move according to terrain types, grips which are engineered to relieve pressure on a certain nerve in your hand; the list goes on and on. 
It amazes me just how much mountain biking has changed in just a couple of decades, it is truly amazing how quickly the new sport caught on and now there are many, many types of mountain biking.
I doubt that the men who started mountain biking just as a way to have a little more fun ever thought that it would catch on or that it would become so remarkably popular.
Doing this paper I did encounter challenges of different types.  I was having trouble finding sources to start out with but I overcame my challenge by trying different combinations and words and eventually I was able to find the research which I was looking for.  I was nervous for my interview because I have never formally interviewed someone.  I discovered that if I was calm and thought through my questions and then wrote down my interviewee’s response I had all the information I needed.  I also found out that Steve was very kind and willing to help me out and it was clear he loves cycling because he provided me with a wealth of information and offered more help if I needed it.  My last big challenge was time management.  I learned that doing mediocre research is quick and easy but doing good research is time consuming.  When I was researching I took quite a bit of time on my sources because I thoroughly read through each of them and then found what I wanted.  This required reflection and analysis. I did not realize how long this process took.  I also discovered that once you get involved in your topic it takes longer because not only are you writing a research paper, you are also learning. So I found that sometimes even when the paper doesn’t need more information, I often did.  I probably took longer than I should have because I was enjoying my topic and trying to learn as much as I could.  In the future I will keep in mind how long good research takes and remind myself to get my information for my paper and then extend my research for my own enrichment later.

Works Cited
Brandt, Brandt. "A Brief History of the Mountain Bike by Jobst Brandt." Sheldon Brown-Bicycle Technical Information. Sheldon Brown, 08 Oct. 1998. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. .
This site was helpful but somewhat limited in the information. I learned mostly about what the famous mountain bikers did to get famous. I learned about Gary Fisher and how he started a bike company. I learned about Tom Ritchey and how he build frames for some of the group to use instead of their clunkers. I also learned why the racers were called repack races and why the coaster brakes had to be repacked.
Designs, Amici. Fat Tire, A Celebration of Mountain Biking. Print.
This book was very helpful to me and very interesting. The book was written by one of the people who was originally riding clunkers so it was a good first had source. I learned lots about the history of mountain biking and who all was involved. I also learned about the major developments of mountain biking and cycling in general. I also learned about the technical things which the rider used such as handlebars and bottom brackets.
Kelly, Charlie. "Charlie Kelly's Mountain Bike Hubsite." (Sonic.net). Charlie Kelly.       Web. 08 May 2011. .
This is the personal website of one of the leaders of the mountain biking movement. He has lots of information about how mountain biking was innovated. He also had lots of information about the racing and repacking. In addition, he had many pictures which showed the clunkers and the people who used them. This website was a good source for a general overview.
Koeppel, Dan. "Joe Breeze wants to change the world." Bicycling. 01 Sep. 2003: 32. eLibrary. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. This periodical was an okay source.  I found it from using eLibrary.  This article was not so much about the origins of mountain biking but a man.  The man was one of the innovators of mountain biking.  Unfortunately, the article was about him more recently than about him in the 1970’s
Loveland, Steve. "Mountain Biking." Personal interview. 1 May 2011.
Steve has been in the world of cycling for over 30 years and so was around for the start of mountain biking. He was very willing to help with my interview and was accommodating to all of my questions. He told me some very interesting things about mountain biking which I had not found. He also gave me some background on the men who innovated mountain biking and why he believes they did it. He was probably the best source I had because he has so much knowledge of mountain biking.
"MB15--The greatest of all time. The top of the heap. The cream." Mountain Bike. 01 Jan. 2001: 105. eLibrary. Web. 27 Apr. 2011.  This source was a good source.  It informed me about the equipment of mountain biking which is important.  It also had some things about the major contributors to mountain biking originally.  It especially talked about Gary Fisher.  It was a good source to look at to compare past and present technologies.
"The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame - The History of Mountain Biking." The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame - Crested Butte, Colorado. Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, 2001. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. .
This site was very helpful to me and I would highly recommend it to someone who is interested in the history of mountain biking. I learned quite a bit about my topic. I learned how many different people innovated their bikes in order to use them off-road and when they did this. This is the site which was established to record the history of mountain biking so they are a very reliable source. It tells all of the people who could have invented mountain biking and gives good background on all of them
"Mountain Biking History." Mountain Bike Info, News, Pictures, Forum, Shop, Travel and Community. ABC-of-Mountain Biking. Web. 08 May 2011. .
This was a good source for a general overview. It had some details but it mostly told a time line for how and why things happened. It was a good source of information about the brakes. I learned about cantilever breaks and why they were so much better than coaster breaks. I also learned why mountain bikes did not have gears and then why they were included.
Weiss, Eben. Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2010. Print.
This book was a mediocre source for the origins of mountain biking. It mostly focuses on cycling in general and discussing modern issues. There was some good information about mountain biking and mountain bikers. It was also very funny and entertaining to read. I would recommend this to someone who wanted to read a funny book about cycling and not to read it if they wanted a thorough history.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ride of Silence - Tonight at 6 pm


Spokane cyclists will be riding in silence this Wednesday evening.  The Ride of Silence, which is held in cities across the world to honor those who have been injured or killed while cycling on public roads, occurs every year on the third Wednesday in May.

Participants are asked to ride no faster than 12 mph and remain silent during the ride.  The 3.4 mile ride begins at 6pm at the corner of Riverside and Howard.  With no sponsors or registration fees, organizers hope people will be encouraged to come out and support their message of sharing public roadways.

For more information, contact Jeanna Hofmeister, 509-742-9372 or jhofmeister@visitspokane.com  You can also visit www.rideofsilence.org.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sons a bikers

I ride bikes.  A lot.  And I think about bikes.  A lot.  And I write about bikes in a blog.  At least some and maybe a lot.

I have been thinking about and riding bikes for a long time now; a bit over 25 years, which doesn't include my kid-on-a-bike days.  I mean I started riding road bikes and obsessing about Euro road racing a quarter of a century ago.  That is a long frickin' time.

I know a group of guys who have been similarly thinking about bikes for a long time too.  Some of them less than 25 years, but a good decade or more.  Some of these guys also have kids, like me.  But interestingly, a number of them that have kids and a bike obsession don't have much intersection between them.  I hear comments about kids having no interest in bikes, hating bikes, leaving the room when the Tour de France is turned on, etc.  I think that would be hard, since as a cyclist I know that this is the greatest and most interesting sport in the world and that more people should deeply obsess about it, like me, and that one of the chief reasons for procreation is to create more cyclists (I read that somewhere, I'm sure).

Anyway, I am lucky that my kids not only don't hate cycling, they are kind of interested in it.  We ride bikes together and we watch some racing on television.  And, much to my surprise, one of my sons recently did a research paper on mountain biking.  This paper is a particular kind of research paper, which is by way of saying that this seems fairly informal for the kind of research papers I remember from the billion years ago when I was a student, but in any case, he had an excuse to write a paper about mountain biking, which meant some time internetting about mountain bikes, reading about mountain bikes and even interviewing someone about mountain biking.  In this case, my son interviewed a bike shop owner who was around when the whole mountain biking thing started - and guess who it was?  Yep, Steve Loveland, owner of Steve's on Cannon Street.  So next post, a research paper on mountain biking . . .

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wheels

I have been thinking about wheels lately.  Mostly I think about things like wheels when a) I want new ones or b) when I am having troubles with the existing ones.  My thinking in this case mostly has to do with the latter and not the former, although I confess that it is easy to talk me into thinking about new wheels.

I am having issues with one set of wheels that is a race set, but also close to an every day set.  Except that this day I have a loose spoke or something that is causing a problem.  I am having an issue with a set that is really a race set, except that the company touts them as "strong enough for every day", which they are mostly, but they are carbon, require different pads and have an annoying "click" that is probably a valve stem on carbon thing, but could be a bearing thing.  I also have a set of mountain bike wheels that I would like to be tubeless, but they just don't work as tubeless very well after many attempts and related flats.  Square peg, round hole I'm afraid.

And all of this makes me think about compromises in wheels.  For fast group rides no one wants to show up at a gun fight with a knife, and frankly lots of riders are showing up fully ready to fight - lightweight bikes, lightweight wheels, components that are really designed for racing, which means limited use, frequent servicing and early replacement.  I admit I have done plenty of this.  I like cool bike stuff, I like new bike stuff and I figure that I might as well maximize my efforts by having equipment that isn't holding me back (to turn around an oft-stated phrase from a riding buddy).  On the other hand, I don't like mechanical issues, I don't really like futzing with my bike before and after every ride and I don't like stuff breaking.  I think I see the conflict.

I recently switched my daily rider from a carbon race machine to a 15-year old titanium frame.  My riding isn't appreciably slower and, while I didn't worry about it usually, there is some comfort knowing that my frame is likely to stand up to a lot more of a crash or knock than a carbon frame would.  I am in between carbon race bikes, but I am starting to look at the carbon race bike as more of a specialty instrument to be used for particular purposes instead of an everyday machine.  And the same thing goes for wheels.

I am not ready to sell a set or buy something new, but I think that the next set of wheels I buy won't be high zoot, light or fancy.  Instead I am thinking bomb-proof hubs, reasonable heft for durability and plenty of spokes that add weight/are less aero and which will stand up to a gazillion miles of riding with reasonable care and maintenance.  It's a radical idea for me, but it's just so crazy it might work.  I'll let you know if anything comes of it and I definitely will be stopping by to get Steve's opinion soon.

I think this just when from the latter to the former.  Oops.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mountain Bike Racing, Time Trailing and Fun

Just a quick note about mountain bike racing.  And time trailing.  These races are completely 100% different than road racing.

In road racing, you usually ride along with a group and the first one across the line wins.  Sometimes the group goes fast and other times not, and none of that matters except when the finish line comes and the first one across wins.

In mountain bike racing, it is also true that the first one across the finish line wins, except that there is not usually a group.  It shares this characteristic with cyclo-cross racing.  The strongest on the particular day, or sometimes the strongest group, tends to separate from the less strong, so that there is a strung-out line from the fastest to the slowest.  It really is an threshold aerobic suffer-fest that tests each person's limits, but with little in the way of drafting or team tactics.

Time trailing is similar, except that instead of being able see who is ahead of you and who is not, you have no gauge on that (particularly in amateur racing; in the pros the riders can get times or splits on those with start times ahead of their), so your only choice is to go at your limit and hope that your limit is higher than the other guys'.

This makes these types of racing all very different than a road race.  In the last blog there was a discussion of whether road racing was fun and there wasn't a clear answer to this question. 

So are these other types of racing fun?  I think the same answer applies.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Is Racing Fun?

A few months ago I was asked a simple question by a non-cyclist, "Is racing fun?"  This question has troubled me ever since, I think that because the underlying question is, "If it isn't fun, why would you do it?"

Assuredly being bothered by this question is a sign of someone who ponders too much or has too little to ponder, but I can't answer this question and it bothers me.

Here are a few questions that I can answer about road racing (mountain bike racing is different):

Is riding a bike fun?  Yes.
Is riding with a group fun?  Almost always.
Is winning a bike race fun?  Yes and deeply satisfying.
Is racing fun?  Oh crap, there is that question again.

When you go out for a bike ride by yourself there are times that it hurts, if you want it to or you let it.  There are hills or climbs that get your heart pumping and it is up to you to decide how much it is going to hurt.  There are times the wind is blowing, or you just have to get home, or whatever, and you get to decide to push the pace at the expense of your comfort.

If you go out with a group, there are almost always people fitter and less fit than you.  How hard you ride or how fast or how much at the front or how you keep up on the hills will all dictate how much a ride hurts, which weighs against the camaraderie of riding along with the other riders.

But when you race, you presumably are doing it because you would like to win.  That being the idea behind a competition and all.  And if you want to win, or even if you just want to be "there" at the finish, or even if you only desire is to not be dropped by the group, you don't have the opportunity to take it easy up a hill and have the group wait.  Unless you go the front to dictate the pace, you will be riding at someone else's pace and the one thing you can be absolutely sure about is that the pace will go up and down and up and down and up.  The pace doing down may or may not be to a place that is comfortable.  Sometimes in a "negative" race, no one wants to be out front and the group pokes along at a slower pace than your last group ride.  Other times the pace settling is still at a pace that has your heart in your throat and woah nelly when the pace hots up.  And every time the pace picks up, you have to decide what your personal response is going to be, but if you want to be there at the end, you don't have a choice except to keep up in some respect. 

So, let's put this into an allegorical analogy thing.  Let's say you were in a room with a group of people all in chairs with electric buzzers.  You have a control on the chair that allows you to buzz other people, but it also increases the buzz you are experiencing.  You can get up at any time you want and the buzzing will stop.  There is no penalty except that you aren't part of the group that is getting shocked.  If you buzz others for long enough, or sharp enough at just the right time, then you win the contest and everyone's buzzing stops, but there is no way before the contest starts to know how much buzzing it will take to win.  And, if you win, you get the satisfaction of winning the contest, but that is all. 

So, do you want to sign up for my contest?  No, of course not.  It would be insane, right?  So there is your answer.  Road racing is not fun.  Except that it is.  Or at least part of it is, or at least it is fun to be there or to be done or something.  Well, it's complicated, but . . .

I think I am going to need to ponder this a bit more.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Jens Voigt

Making fun of Bicycling Magazine is like making fun of mullets or Primal Wear jerseys; the target is just too easy to be fun.  So I won't go on at length, but let's just say that Bicycling is to the cycling community what People magazine is to society at large - some pretty pictures and very little to harm you, but you are in trouble when you build a life around what it has to say.

To their credit, however, they did see the wisdom of snagging BikeSnobNYC to write a column for them.  Sure, it probably took BSNYC's street cred down a notch and it doesn't fundamentally change the quality of the magazine as a whole, but credit where credit is due, right?

Well, to my surprise, I was recently notified that as a subscriber to VeloNews, I would be receiving some free issues of Bicycling magazine.  Interesting tactic for unaffiliated companies selling the same product to the same market, but whatever, it landed a free bike mag in my mailbox.  And to my utter astonishment and dismay, who was touted on the cover as their newest columnist?  Yes, you clever Blog Title readers you, it was Jens Voigt.  The Jens Voigt.

For Jen's first column, he wrote about his surprise and lack of understanding of why he is popular.  He realistically considers the number and quality of his wins, he notes that his now famous phrase, "Shut up legs!" was just a one-off and he correctly notes that maybe it is because he just tries to do his job every time he gets on the bike.

So at least he has an inkling of why we love him so much, and yes, we do love him.  In fact, as a cyclist, you either loves Jens as a rider, or you are a complete jackass.  There are no two ways about it.  I don't think there are any other riders that you can describe in this way.  For every win of Cavendish, Pettachi or Cipollini, there are people who consider them too brash, cocky or over-styled.  For every win of Armstrong, there are serious riders who question his panache or claims to be drug-free.  For every win of Virenque, there are cyclists who throw up in their mouths a bit even as French housewives apparently swoon (in the interest of full disclosure, this is something I have only heard about, I have never actually experienced a French housewife swoon either Virenque or non-Virenque related).  But with Jens, you have the embodiment of the soul of the everyman cyclist.  He is dogged, he fights above his weight, he gives everything for his team and his leader, he does it all with a gangly pedaling action that looks like he is wrestling a live bike under him, and he does every bit of this in a way that he had a huge friendly smile on his face the moment before and after he gets on the bike.  He is a fierce competitor, but obviously also a sportsman.  He swings for the fence a lot more than he hits home runs, but he gets enough home runs to be respected by everyone else with a bat.

I know that most cyclists would like to dream about being Armstrong or Cavendish, but I'll take the Zabels, Zabriskies and Voigts any day.  Guys who get the job done, are workmanlike and professional in their riding and who are doing it with a love for the sport.

Jens sums it up this way, "Maybe a plain-talking guy who is the same every race and tries hard every chance he gets, maybe that connects, I don't know."

Jens, I'm here to tell you, it connects and we love you for it.  Jens finishes his first column with this, "Every time I race, I will race so fiercely my legs cry, and when I can't do it anymore, that's when I will know it's time for myself to shut up and leave."

Jens, you may be getting to the end of your career, but I hope that your legs shut up, and that you don't, for just a bit longer.  It's one of the things we love about this sport.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Seattle to Portland

I went on a ride a bit ago with some folks training for the annual Seattle to Portland ride, or STP as it is known in cycling circles.  It caused a bit of reminiscing about my prior ventures doing STP, four of them in one-day each, spreading from 1993 to 2007, and similarly ranging from barely dragging across the finish line to a solid finish in ten hours total time (which included a broken wheel at the century mark).

As I was riding with and talking to five folks who had never done it, I was pondering the top things I would pass along to a rider contemplating STP for the first time.  Here are the top tips I would pass along, all of which are just common sense and none of which are PhD level, exercise/physiology degree kinds of things, but nonetheless are a good place to start before you hit the starting line.

1) Be realistic about the training to complete STP.  If you have never done a "fast" century, much less never having done a century at all, don't plan on rolling up to the line and completing a 206-mile day without some difficulty.  And if your longest ride of the season so far is to the neighborhood coffee shop, get serious about a plan to put in the mileage and how long it will really take.

2) To figure out the training and mileage, go to the STP website and take a look at their training suggestions: http://shop.cascade.org/content/events/stp-suggested-mileage.  They have a very reasonable schedule of rides that involve some mileage mid-week and longer rides on the weekend.  Anyone planning to do STP should take a look at the suggested mileage and make sure they are doing at least this many miles.  The suggested mileage won't turn you into an all-star, but it will ensure that you have the bike time needed to make your day reasonable.  BTW, the biggest mileage week for 2-day riders is 180 miles (20/80/80) and 210 for 1-day riders (40/20/100/50). 

3) Along with making yourself ready, make sure that your bike is ready.  Go into a shop with real humans, and not just disaffected shop rats, and say something like, "Here is the bike I am planning to ride at STP.  I would like to make sure it is ready."  This will probably lead immediately to at least a basic tune-up, which will involve the mechanic going through the whole bike and making sure that everything works, is greased, tightened, adjusted or otherwise ready.  Chains need to be replaced and the shop should check that. (Replacing the inexpensive chain means you don't have to replace the expensive cogset or chain rings).  You may want to consider some simple upgrades, for instance on some nicer riding and easier rolling tires, but as the event approaches, don't make big changes to your contact points (seat, handlebars, pedals) and if you are making other changes, make sure you get at least a few hundred miles on the new stuff to make sure it is sound and ready.

Also, take the time to schedule a mini-tune up right before you leave for the event.  A quick check to make sure the brakes are adjusted, the drivetrain (chainring/chain/cogs/shifters/derailleurs) are all clean & lubed, and there isn't anything in need of replacing will help increase your chances of making it through the day without an unnecessary mechanicals.  Also, make sure that your tires have appropriate tread left.  All in all, it not only is smart, it takes away one more thing to worry about the day of the event.

4) Bike Fit.  For the most part a professional bike fit is considered an optional item, but for almost every rider it is a good idea.  A professional fit will make sure that your position on the bike is both comfortable and efficient.  When you are putting power to the pedals, you might as well make sure that you are getting the most out of the effort you are exerting.  Also, numb hands, sore backs, tingling privates, etc. are not required items for rides and are unwelcome partners over a long ride or long weekend.  Even if you aren't on your dream bike today, getting a position dialed in can be translated to any other bike down the road.  Also, keep in mind that your ideal position will change over time due to age, flexibility, weight, injuries and the wear and tear of life.  Your position should also reflect your riding plans, which may change from riding to racing to commuting to centuries to whatever over time, so don't neglect a bike fit at appropriate times in your cycling life.

5) Nutrition - Nutrition at STP ain't rocket science.  Nutrition at RAAM may be, but riding 100 miles doesn't involve NASA level plans or foods.  Eat and drink a reasonable amount for each hour you are on the bike, whether it is sports drink or chocolate chip cookies, and remember that eating and drinking depending on exertion level and the amount you sweat.  If you are tooling along at a slow pace on a cool day, it doesn't take a lot.  Many commentators say that anything less than 60 minutes and you don't need anything but water.  Really.  Leave the gel packs at home.  On the other hand, do some long rides and figure out what your stomach and head want.  Top level athletes will do a 4-12 hour rides on everything known to man, from specific nutrition drinks & gels, to sandwiches and bananas, to M&M's and soda.  Sports nutrition has great products, but keep in mind the shampoo rule: you don't really have to lather, rinse and repeat - it's just a way to get you to use more shampoo.

6) So, after you have yourself ready, think about your group.  Spend time with the folks you will ride with to find out how the group dynamic will work.  Talk about plans for flats, injuries, break-downs and consider some contingency plans.  Also, make a plan for what will happen if some want to ride faster or slower or the needs of some don't line up with the needs of others. I have done rides with the "see you at the finish line" philosophy and others with the "we are going to make it together or we won't make it at all" philosophy.  You may have to make some game-day changes, but go in with an alignment on the way to do the ride to keep everyone on the same page.  This reminds me of some funny stories of rides.

7) And lastly, and very importantly, Have Fun.  It ain't landing at Normandy.  There is support available all along the way and there are an abundance of friendly people everywhere, so don't act like you are the first person to ever conquer this particular challenge and you have to be deadly serious to do so. My fastest and slowest and hardest rides all had miles of conversation and camaraderie.  Heck, that's why I like to ride with other people.  About 10,000 people will do STP this year with roughly 2,000-2,500 doing it in one day.  Take the endeavor seriously, but have fun doing it.

And feel free to stop by and ask Steve for advice and recommendations.  He has helped hundreds and hundreds of people get through STP and have a good time doing it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Getting in Shape

There are lots of riders out there who are in shape.  They may have been in shape on January 1 and didn't need any New Year resolutions to remind them to get in the miles and watch the calories.  There are others who have indeed watched their calories and gotten in the miles and have already reaped the rewards of being shape.  One buddy, the inimitable and ever-young P.M., was the first rider across the line at the region's toughest race - Ronde Von Palouse, which was a big-time indicator of the miles he has ridden every year, but particularly in the first few months of this year.  For others, yes me, it has been a painfully, long slow process to gain any fitness this year. 

No, to be clear, I am not saying that I am "in" shape.  I am just saying that I am somewhere on the continuum between horribly fat and out of shape and not.  And, for the first time in 2011, it seems like I am making some progress to the better end of that continuum.

There are lots of excuses.  My favorites include a March that had twice as much rain fall as the average, the latest ever that Spokane has hit 60 degrees, a work schedule that involved a couple of large, one-time projects, and continued commitments to home and family.  I also was hit with a long-term case of sluggishness and low-level malaise.  I wish it had an actual medical cause, but it was just too little sleep, too much on the calendar and a resulting lack of exercise. 

Finally, however, I seem to have strung together enough miles, enough days in a week and month, and I guess enough sleep and sunshine to go along with it, to feel like I have the ability to turn the pedals around with a modicum of fitness.  I won't be kissing any podium girls soon or having my "after" picture taken for a fitness fad product, but I will have a bit more confidence when I show up for a group ride that I might live through it.

And that, as Martha says, is a good thing.