Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A roundup of bike-related blogs with recent updates:

From BikeRadar:
"According to the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), a proposed National Park Service (NPS) regulation change will benefit Americans by improving mountain biking experiences in national parks. The new policy would empower park superintendents to manage trails for bicycles, without sacrificing environmental review or public comment opportunities."

BikeSnob is on vacation.

Recumbent Conspiracy Theorist reports on the Clear Fork Loop ride.

Fat Cyclist has a humorous take on carbon fiber. Read it even if you think you know more about carbon than your high school chemistry teacher.

Just the Messenger at Rules of the Amateur UnPro Cyclist reflects on mountain bikers tendency to crash really expensive bikes into trees.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Yesterday, I rode hard on my 1980s Lotus road bike. Climbed some hills. Only about twenty miles (computer bonked mid-ride) but they were the toughest hills around here. (If you've ever ridden the back roads in the Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, area, which you probably haven't, you know what I'm talking about: it's all ridges, up and down and up again.) Felt good about it all.

None of which is of any particular interest to anyone but me; therefore, in my continuing efforts to actually post things that are worth posting on the web, I offer this image. Think of her as your own personal podium girl. She even does real kisses, unlike the fake cheek-touch kisses the TDF guys have to make do with.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Al and Andy, Sigh

I also posted these comments on Bike Snob's comments section, but since they're so (un)brilliant, I decided to post them here as well in order to avoid preserving them for the ages:

Okay, here's my final (and only) word(s) on the now-infamous chain-drop incident. I know when Alberto talks he sounds like Mike Tyson would if someone were brave enough to squeeze his pant-yabbies, plus many of us can't understand a word he says anyway, whereas Andy has the looks that makes little girls (and other people) have NSFW fantasies, plus his accent is so cute you just want to hug it, and you understand everything he says. HOWEVER, the as-promised words are TEAM SPORT and COMPETITION. Racing is a team sport, so either Andy screwed up by dropping his chain with unskillful shifting, in which case he deserved to lose time for being worse at his sport than Alberto; or Andy's mechanic, who is also part of the "team" in "team sport," screwed up by giving him an improperly adjusted drivetrain to work with. Either way, it's not as if Alberto actually pulled the chain off the ring. It's a competition, not a group ride.

If you can cite examples of winners who exhibited fantastic sportsmanship, well, good for them. But if they had lost after waiting for the competition to catch up, they might have looked foolish, not magnanimous. Plus, does anyone ever ask the riders who get dropped again, even after being waited for during their difficulties? Do they feel grateful, or do they feel as if insult has been added to injury? Waiting for a rider who has self-dropped is like saying, "I know I can kick your ass either way, so I'll just take a break while you work out your little issues." It's like the tortoise and the hare, except the hare actually does win. So, Andy, even though you're so cute it makes us all want to wet our knickers, quit whining and race. It's not an amateur Saturday group ride.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Today, I Did Not Get Rained On: A Post That Strives Not Only To Catalog the Meaningless Minutiae of My Day But To Do So in an Amusing Manner

Random questions of the day, apropos of nothing:

Why does a fish need a bicycle? To ride in the Tour De France, where the chain will malfunction (or the fish's shifting skill will malfunction) and the fish will be dropped by Alberto Contador; the fish will stop just short of accusing Contador of cheating.

Why are there no black cyclists in the TDF? Are there any black pro cyclists? None come to my admittedly very limited mind at the moment. And why so few, if any?

The last time I got rained on while out riding, the forecast was for a twenty percent chance of rain. Today, the chance was thirty percent, which spiked briefly to one hundred percent while I was having morning coffee. So I thought I'd do something else today. But when you want to ride, nothing else will do. And besides, the rain had stopped. I went to ride, and, back home after twenty-three miles down, still no more rain.

Tim Krabbe, in The Rider, has this to say of rain (and other challenges that beset riders): "After the finish all the suffering turns to memories of pleasure, and the greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. . . . Velvet pillows, safari parks,
sunglasses: people have become woolly mice. They still have bodies that can walk for five days and four nights through a desert of snow, without food, but they accept praise for having taken a one-hour bicycle ride. . . . Instead of expressing their gratitude for the rain by getting wet, people walk around with umbrellas" (1978, p. 113).

So now I'm sort of thinking I should wish I had gotten rained on.

Monday, July 19, 2010

On Chain Maintenance

Ask any dozen bicycle mechanics about chain maintenance, and you're likely to get at least thirteen different answers. I have, however, come up with a sure-fire method to be sure that your chain is still shiny and intact long after every other part of the bike has disintegrated into carbon dust or been recycled to make latex gloves and flip-flops:

1. Remove the chain and soak it overnight in a mixture consisting of one part rubbing alcohol, one part Absolut vodka, one part single-malt Scotch (definitely NOT blended), and one part Missouri mule pee.
2. Blow dry on low heat.
3. Run the chain through a full cycle in the dishwasher.
4. Soak overnight in extra-virgin olive oil. Yes, it must be extra-virgin.
5. Dry with an entire box of q-tips, one end of the swab for each side of every link.
6. Reinstall the chain and have the bike blessed by a Himalayan monk or, failing that, any one of the NSFW girls to be found here:""
7. Fill your bidon with the soaking mixture from step number one (the squeamish can use a coffee filter to remove grit and metal filings), and go for a ride. Wear a helmet.

I realize that's more than five steps, so feel free to skip any you like except the olive oil and the blessing. Those two are essential.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Headbutting--The Best Argument for Wearing a Helmet Yet

I am not exactly amazed when people still deny they're risking their lives by riding without helmets. More like mildly interested in yet another example of the human capacity to believe whatever we want in the face of obvious facts, evidence, and (un)common sense to the contrary. Now, I'm quite willing, even anxious, for those who wish to risk their lives in such a manner to go ahead (pun intended) and do so. The way I see it, they stand to improve the human gene pool by possibly removing themselves from it earlier than necessary. They should win a Darwin Award, if they have not already.

However, watching the now-infamous headbutting incident at the TDF yesterday--and yes, Canvendish's legs won that sprint, not Renshaw's head--my first thought was, Yet another reason to wear a helmet. Then I thought about the possibilities. Would Renshaw have butted Dean if he, Renshaw, had been helmetless? What would have been the outcome if the headbutt were committed sans helmet? The answers might be Yes, he would, and Much, Much Worse--especially for all the non-butters behind them.

On the whole, however, my main reaction to the scene is disappointment. Not that a TDFer would stoop to unethical tactics, nor that he was evicted from the race for them--both are to be expected. However, I am sorry I revealed the history of my busted helmet (below) before now. Think how much I could have gotten for it on Ebay if I had advertised it as a genuine replica of the result of a Renshaw-encounter.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

(Big Red) Riding Shoes

The use of clip-in pedals and their accompanying special space-suit like footwear seems to be some sort of dividing line for cyclists, like having a bike you can't buy at a department store (read: Walmart) or getting your first case of road rash. There are advantages to clip-ins, of course--your foot stays put (even when you don't want it to, which, of course, is also a disadvantage--watchers of the TDF saw Lance barely get his foot out of the pedal in time to avoid going down), and the rider can actually pull the pedal up as well as pushing it down. This last has obvious advantages for racers.

However . . . there had to be a however, didn't there? For the rest of us, meaning those who don't race or don't see racing, whether against ourselves or other riders, as the be-all and end-all of cycling, the question arises as to what shoes are best for the flat, non-clip-in, no-straps-attached kind of pedals. My favorites have come to be the Chuck Taylors pictured here in all their big red glory. They have the advantage of being light, and the soft rubber soles grip the pedals sufficiently that the foot doesn't slide around, even when it's wet. They do this without giving the feel of riding barefoot. Best of all, perhaps, they come in colors, and no, the last time I checked, you can't buy them at Walmart. Which gives them some sort of distinction, I suppose.

So--favorite riding shoes, anyone?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why Ride?

If you've never asked yourself why you ride a bike, you've probably not done much riding since you were thirteen and the back tire went flat on your Huffy and you never fixed it. On the other hand, if you're reading this blog, you probably don't fit in that category. For me, the reasons to ride have a lot to do with unstranding my dopamine receptors (whatever that means--I've got to figure that out sometime).
Anyhow, I was reading David B. Perry’s Bike Cult when I came across the following: a Zen master asks five students why they ride their bikes. The first says he is riding to transport a bag of potatoes. The second says he enjoys the scenery when he rides. The third likes to recite a mantra while riding. The fourth feels a sense of "harmony" when riding. The master finds all these answers acceptable, but he is most pleased with the fifth, who says, "'I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle.'" I take this to mean the activity itself is inherently worthwhile, and no external justification is necessary.
Bike Cult is a marvelous book, full of history and lore--an encyclopedic look at the sport (defining that term broadly), from p-fars to recumbents to Greg LeMond. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

New Post! Tell Your Friends!

The TDF is well under way, and the blogs are all hashing and rehashing it to death. I don't have a lot to add to the hash, so instead I'll go with an update on the TDG (the Tour de Gravel in Mammoth Cave National Park, which diurnally features various people who probably shouldn't be riding bikes in public). Thursday, I was near Park City when someone began shooting at me--and then of course, I realized by own bike was shooting me. Specifically, the back tire was shooting sounds of distress at me, probably because of the 26" tube I had put inside the 28" tire. As the photo (undoctored--no doping here) shows, it pretty much exploded. I did, however, have the good fortune to spot this interesting display of flowers not far off the path. I would no doubt have pedaled past without noticing if not for the flat. I did not, however, see the woman emerging from the woods. She is entirely the product of imagination--not, unfortunately, mine.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why Wear a Helmet?

After seeing all the crashes at Le Tour (not so bad yesterday, fortunately), I thought I’d make some observations on the importance of helmets. Strangely, there are still those who don’t see the need. The proverb about the number of words a picture can be worth applies here, so I will just stick with the pictures of my busted helmet (and explanations of how it got that way). I was out for a spin on a relatively warm day last February when I passed the residence of a mostly harmless dog. I guess the cool-but-not-frigid weather had made him frisky, so on this particular day, he decided to give chase. He managed to dart in front of my wheel, and a few seconds later I was sitting in a ditch next to a fencepost after going over the handlebars. The dog was running back whence he came, presumably. Despite the fact that I was wearing my helmet and my bike was relatively unscathed, I spent the next few minutes trying to figure out which way I had been going before I crashed. Keep in mind that I have been down that road a hundred times, and the dog was bound to be running back toward his house, which we had already passed. So I must have been slightly concussed to be so confused about which way to go. Nevertheless, after inspecting the damage done to my helmet by the fencepost and pavement, I did figure out which way was home, and managed to ride there without further incident. Now, people say I am hard-headed. But not so much that, had I neglected to wear a helmet that day, I am confident I would have been on my way to the hospital, at best, instead of home.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Carbon Versus the Mart, with a Side of Lawn Furniture

Yesterday, I decided to visit a local manifestation of a major national retailer, one whose name includes the word -Mart and does not begin with a K, in search of tires for my aluminum road bike. The ones it has are getting pretty worn, but my major motivation was to put some larger tires on to try to soften the ride, which is not unlike straddling a picket fence being kicked by a wild horse. I do not decide lightly to visit the Mart, because I figure its existence is one reason there is no decent bike shop within fifty miles of my house (or indeed, any bike shop at all). However, I did not fancy a hundred mile round trip at the moment, nor did I want to wait a week or more for possibly the wrong tires to arrive by mail. So off I went. The Mart does not count as a good substitute for a bike shop, since, first, it carries no high-quality bikes, except perhaps, by occasional accident, and it is certainly not staffed by knowledgeable bike people. For example, as I was checking out the selection of tires--and, remarkably, I did find something close to what I wanted--a clerk happened by and inquired if I was finding what I wanted. I replied that I was just comparing the sizes of new tires to the sizes that would fit my bike. "Oh, that's no problem," she proclaimed, "they're universal." And indeed, many of the nearby boxes containing tubes were in fact emblazoned with a label proclaiming them to be "universal." I took a deep breath and said, "Well, no, they're not really universal." I was prepared to explain that the word “universal” had more to do with marketing than diameter and millimeters, even for tubes, not to mention tires, but the clerk suddenly remembered something she had to check on and scurried away.
So be it. Home again, I unrolled my new tires to let them regain some approximation of
circularity after being crammed pretzel-like for weeks, perhaps months, in a box, and
turned on the Tour de France. Yesterday’s crashes featured cobbles, of course, but before
that, a crash was caused by a piece of lawn furniture in the road. The previous day, it was
a dog. The Tour is starting to make contending with SUVs look like a day in the park. After
watching the riders struggle with the cobbles, I tend to agree that the Tour should stick to
smoother roads. Or else why not just have a completely off-road stage, and let all the riders
take a shot a mountain biking for a day? I think some of them might have fared better with
29ers on the cobbles than with road bikes.
During commercials, however, I dipped into the latest copy of Bicycling magazine and saw
that the editor of that publication, Loren Mooney, was bemoaning her fate as one of Floyd
Landis’s victims; she helped him write the book proclaiming his innocence of doping, which
he has since famously renounced. This is not to be held against her, of course, as many people
believed in and defended Landis. But in looking over the magazine, I noticed it is, as usual,
stuffed to the gills with ads for carbon bikes costing multiple thousands of dollars, not to
mention ads for accessories appropriate to these bikes and costing as much as some entire
bikes. Then there are the “reviews” that sometimes seem like thinly-disguised
advertisements for this equipment. Not that I have anything against expensive carbon bikes,
but it would be nice to see more emphasis on bikes for regular people who are too forty-
something-ish to dream of being Lance (or even Floyd) and who will never be tripped up by rogue lawn chairs while riding in Le Tour. Can’t somebody make a good butted steel ten-
speed with shifters on the downtube anymore? I mean, we still have people bidding on Ebay
for fat tire single-speed cruisers such as the Beaver might have ridden.
All of which brings me back in a roundabout way to the subject of “universal” tires and the
Mart. We need a happy medium, somewhere between junk bikes sold to the masses, leaving
them convinced that bikes are nothing more than toys for kids, and the elitist if-you-don’t-ride-
carbon-why-ride-at-all attitude that is too often implied, if not clearly stated. Marie Antoinette
said the masses should eat cake. Today’s bike elite says let ‘em ride carbon. Well, so it goes:
plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (

Monday, July 5, 2010

Riding Over the Cave, 4th of July

Mammoth Cave National Park is normally a pretty bike-friendly place, but one goes there on engineless two-wheeled conveyances at one's peril on the Fourth of July weekend: a veritable cacophonous caravan of motorcycles (many of them piloted by helmetless specimens who seem to feel superior to their pedaling cousins) and smoke-belching diesels descends on the park, for reasons known only to themselves and the Rangers who must occasionally intervene. Nevertheless, I entered and escaped the park unscathed after a ten-mile ride, bearing with me the electrons ordered in such a fashion as to produce this image. On the trailer behind the truck are not one but two smaller conveyances: a tractor and, behind it, what appears to be a decapitated station wagon. No sign of the owner. Probably off on his Harley.
Safely home, I watched the Tour de Crash (aka France), only to be dismayed that some idiot brought an apparently leashless dog, or at least a dog whose leash was incompetently operated. Seriously, who cares enough about cycling to spend hours in the sun for the chance to be hit by a water bottle flung by a passing rider, yet fails to know no dog can resist the sight of one bicycle, much less 200 of them? I guess it's all in a day's ride. . . .

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Red and Black Beats Powder Blue and--Gasp!--Yellow?

Watching the Tour time trials or "Prologue" yesterday, which seemed like waiting for the real race to begin (five miles down, 2000 to go), I found myself reading Tim Krabbe’s (insert accent mark where appropriate) The Rider during commercials and wondering if the trick of putting your water bottle in your back pocket to make your bike lighter really works. Which led me to think, What if the color of jerseys makes a psychological difference? Lance looked pretty ferocious in the red and black, especially compared to Alberto’s blue and yellow. It’s like venomous snake versus pretty flower.

So what color would my psychologically-appropriately-colored shorts and jersey be? Probably rainbow-colored, with the capacity to respond to how many dopamine ( receptors are stranded at a given moment. Bright red when I’ve just climbed a steep hill and the dopamine is flowing like water. Blue when I’m just starting out. Pinks and greens for coasting.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pre-Tour (Pseudo-)Drama

Last night, the Versus network featured a rehash of the “Epid Feud” (their spelling) of “the Contador-Armstrong affair from last year. The broadcast was peppered with such phrases as “the Contador-Armstrong feud threatens to explode” and descriptions of Armstrong as the “greatest champion” (debatable, since what has he done outside of the Tour de France? (Yes, I realize this is like seeing someone walk on water and saying What, is that all he can do?) ) vs. Contador, “the man who wants to take his title.” As if for everyone else, the Tour is just a casual spin in the park . . . . At least one rider had the wisdom to observe, “You’ve got two hundred guys in the Race. It’s not just two.”

It was also necessary to review Contador’s claim that Lance was “just another rider” after he (Contador) dropped him. But Lance is not just another rider, like him or not. He is one of those larger-than-his-sport/skill characters like Merckx, Babe, Brett, Elvis, Cher, Sinatra, Prince, Ali: When only one name serves to identify you to the public, at least that part of the public that is remotely interested in what you do, then you are not just another anything.

The footage from last year’s Tour also featured the obligatory characters sprinting briefly along with racers, often dressed in embarrassing, exotic costumes (though, fortunately, the giant water bottle with surgically grafted legs was missing form the parade). Why is it usually males who feel the need to engage in this sort of kamikaze run? Why not go to the Indy car track and try that? And why can there be such a dearth of topless Janet Jackson look-alikes among them?

Between reviews of last year’s battles, we were treated to promotions for Indy car races in which a car goes end-over-end and bursts into flames. If only a bike crash could result in flames, cycling might gather an audience to compete in size with the flashier sports. Watching a man in bike shorts sit on the ground and wonder where he's at is almost as entertaining as watching a baseball player spit or waiting for Tiger Woods to grope someone. Then again, while Versus was beating the Tour drum, ESPN dwelt on baseball and the NBA. (You will believe a man can hit a ball with a stick! You will believe that rubber balls bounce!)

But none of the Lance-Alberto drama matters. George Hincapie will finally come into his own and win the Tour. It will be a great day for Georges everywhere.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Epic ride!

Yesterday, I rode forty-two miles (42.135, to be exact, if you believe that level of precision can be produced by a twenty dollar computer). Now, in this epic age of labelling the most mundane of acts and creations as epic (as in "Man, that taco gave me an epic case of farts"), I do not use the word lightly. It should be applied only to things whose epicness has achieved a level of epicicity unparalleled by the ordinary. For instance, for anyone over forty (which I am), I feel the rule is that you can refer to your ride as epic if the first digit is the same as (or larger than) the first digit of your age. Hence, a ride of 39.9999999999999999999999999999 . . . (you get the idea) miles would for me be merely a good ride.

Even more remarkably, eighteen of those miles were on the gravel biking/hiking trail in Mammoth Cave National Park. I've ridden that trail in all four seasons, and I have to say the number of clueless tourists on rented bikes is substantial in the summer. You can spot them easily: no helmet, and the saddles are not adjusted properly. Now, I will not deprecate anyone's innocent lack of knowledge about cycling--we all start somewhere--but I do think the people who rent bicycles should also be required to rent a helmet to go along with the wheels (and also explain that if both feet stand flat on the ground while your butt is in the saddle, your saddle is too low and/or your bike is too small.) When I started cycling a lot, I didn't own a helmet. In my defense, I don't think anybody had ever heard of bicycle helmets when I got my first bike (in the late 60's, it must have been). But the helmet was my first purchase, even before buying a good (or, at least, better) bike. Watching a replay of the Tour de France from the late nineties (or possibly early thousands) a few weeks ago on Versus, I noticed even the pros weren't wearing helmets. Of course, renting a helmet doesn't necessarily guarantee wearing of same. But if your hair is too pretty to squash, you probably don't belong on two wheels to begin with. I ride because it makes me feel like Superman, but I'm no man of steel. More like Styrofoam.