Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In Like A Lion

March will arrive on Saturday. Big deal.

We are expecting -20 to -30 wind chill tonight, more snow this weekend and below-freezing daytime highs for at least the first week of the new month. We have had just four days above freezing in February, the same number we had in January.

March will bring the return of Daylight Saving Time and the vernal equinox, which is rumored to be the beginning of “spring” but you’ll be hard-pressed to see any evidence of that here. I wish I could spend the entire month somewhere else. It would be great to visit one of the Top 10 training destinations recommended by Global Cycling Network:
Gran Canaria
Adelaide, Australia
South Africa
Nice, France
All of those are fine suggestions, but I will do something different for my self-directed training camp, March 21-30. That time period coincides with spring break for West Bend schools but my wife and kids are going to stay home while I go in search of cycling adventures. (They would prefer to travel in the summer when there are more things to do, so maybe we’ll arrange a trip for the whole family in July or August.) I will spend some of my spring break visiting my mother in Pennsylvania, but I won’t know my exact itinerary until a day or two before the trip begins. If the weather forecast is favorable, I will make a beeline for the Philadelphia suburbs. If the weather forecast is unfavorable, I may swing south before arriving at Mom’s house for a shorter visit. That trip would look something like this:

If I do take a few extra days to reach Pennsylvania, then I will have a chance to ride the Lincoln Prairie Grass Trail in Charleston IL. It did not yet exist when I lived in Charleston, 1976-1981. I will be able to check out Lexington KY, which on paper appears to be a place where I might like to relocate someday. I could stop in Richmond VA to get a feel for the 2015 UCI World Championships, whose courses were announced earlier today. I could do some cycling in and around Washington DC, a city I have visited many times but never on a bike.

But Pennsylvania will be the main attraction. In addition to some of the places I like to ride near Philadelphia, I plan to tour the countryside around York and Lancaster and to ride part of the Great Allegheny Passage from West Newton, my childhood home. The trip should be an opportunity for me to indulge a few cycling itches that would be impractical to scratch if my family were traveling with me.

It all depends on the weather, though, and most of the eastern US has been hit harder than usual this winter. I’m counting on daytime highs in the mid-50s and assuming that whatever my destinations get will be better than what I leave behind in Wisconsin. And I have to believe in those things, because right now there’s nothing in our forecast to feel good about. I will begin March with just 31 miles of outdoor riding year-to-date, 134 miles behind last year’s pace.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

First Ride Of 2014

You can ride through Regner. Other parks … not so much.
Today in West Bend we reached 45 degrees, making this the warmest day of 2014 and our first day above freezing since January 13. I did a slow 15 miles on my mountain bike. The Eisenbahn State Trail is open from Paradise Drive to Barton Avenue. Other paved trails and park paths are hit-or-miss. Unpaved trails? Forget it. Maybe by this time next month. True mountain biking trails might not open until April. Looks like we get another 40-and-sunny day tomorrow and I expect to be out there again getting filthy from tire spray. Our weather was so cold for so long that the ground will remain frozen for several more weeks and there won’t be anywhere for the snow to melt except into the streets. Thursday is supposed to bring freezing rain and high winds, and then we go back to single-digit lows for a while. But I am happy to have gotten out for the first time since December 28. Any ride outside—even a slow and sloppy one—is better than a bike trainer ride in the home gym.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tour Of Miscellaneous

“And the crowd goes … wild?”

One of the great things about the Tour of America’s Dairyland is that all of the venues are in Wisconsin. And, at least for now, all of the stages of the Tour Down Under are in Australia. I appreciate the purity of a tour that is confined to one state or country. It’s a way for that region to say, “Look at the cool stuff we have.” There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your home.

I can live with the occasional Tour de France stage that skips across part of Belgium or Italy or Switzerland or Andorra. As neighboring countries, sometimes it makes more sense to take the route into them and not around them. But this year’s Tour will begin in northern England, and in 2007 the Tour began in London. The intervening years included starts in the Netherlands (2010) and Belgium (2012). What once was a novelty is now a tired gimmick. The Vuelta a EspaƱa started in the Netherlands in 2009 and admitted in 2011 that it had looked into the possibility of starting in Washington DC! The Giro d’Italia has begun in Denmark (2013), the Netherlands (2002 and 2010) and Belgium (2006). And it’s not just the Grand Tours: the week-long Tour of Poland began in Italy last year. What kind of sense does that make?

The 2009 Tour de France started in Monaco, which technically isn’t part of France but it’s French enough. The original plan for 2009 was a prologue time trial in Dubai. That plan fell apart but just last week Dubai held its own stage race, won by Taylor Phinney. Dubai now wants to make its tour bigger for 2015 and it wants to host the start of the Giro! Have you ever watched a stage from Dubai, Qatar or Oman? There’s a climb or two in Oman, but Dubai and Qatar are almost pan flat, and in all three countries the desert landscape is bleak. The competitors just use these events to train for the races they really want to win once the European season begins. But worst of all, there’s no crowd. Most of the spectators are tourists; the locals don’t show up in large numbers.

The UCI loves to talk about the globalization of cycling and the need to promote races in areas that have no culture of road racing. So, we’re stuck with events in the Middle East and China where the promoters have big egos and deep pockets but no particular desire to attract fans. Their races are vanity projects and the UCI, the ASO and the other big dogs from Europe are only too happy to walk away with the easy money. That does nothing to grow the sport.

Someday there might be a Tour of America’s Dairyland race in northern Illinois—the fifth stage of the 2014 Tour of Utah will start in Wyoming, so don’t think it can’t happen here—but cycling does a disservice to its fans when it looks too far afield for new venues.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Alone And Yet Together

We are planets to each other, drifting in our orbits to a brief eclipse …
On Saturday morning I did a 2-hour indoor trainer ride at Pleasant Valley Tennis & Fitness Club, where the annual Police Unity Tour Spinathon attracted a small but enthusiastic crowd. Most attendees experienced the event as a Spinning class, riding stationary bikes to the accompaniment of high-energy music while following the directions of an instructor. But that’s not my style. I took my own bike, my own indoor trainer, my own plan and my own music.

I would never use headphones/earbuds on an outdoor ride; it’s just not safe. And I have never been that bored with my surroundings. Even on an out-and-back Eisenbahn State Trail ride, away from the danger of motor vehicles, I still want to hear the world around me. But I do get bored on the trainer. Selecting the right mix of tunes on my MP3 player is a simple way to ensure I do intervals as my effort rises and falls with the tempo of the music.

I grew up in the album rock era and adopted the habit of listening to records from start to finish. Those songs were laid down in that order for a reason. In the 1980s I switched from LPs to CDs but I never touched the shuffle button on my CD player. So, my MP3 player is set up in a way that probably is different from yours. All of my MP3s are full-length albums. I get why other people create playlists or shuffle through thousands of singles, but for me old habits die hard.

For the Spinathon, my musical accompaniment was “De Stijl” and “Elephant” by the White Stripes, followed by Hole’s “Celebrity Skin.” It was a good mix of fast and slow. When I was done, I rode my bike outside for the first time in 2014. I won’t count it in my stats, though, as it was a journey of only 100 feet from the door to my vehicle. And I was coasting most of the way. And I had changed into jeans. But most importantly, I didn’t have my Garmin.

On Saturday afternoon I spent an hour snowshoeing at Pleasant Valley Park, packing down yet another dusting of powdery snow in an effort to keep the trails accessible for the fatbike guys. I thought about getting on the snowshoes today, but time got away from me. I hit the indoor bike trainer again, though, just like my 12-week plan demanded. No MP3 player this time; I stayed reasonably entertained by the Winter Olympics.

In the week to come there is more trainer time on my schedule, and probably more Olympic coverage to keep boredom to a minimum. I also need to scrape a few pennies together for Team Pedal Moraine’s annual Bontrager gear order. For me, the big expense will be a set of race wheels for my mountain bike. They will look much the same as the stock wheels, but the weight difference should be noticeable.

Team Pedal Moraine itself will have a different look in 2014. A couple of people moved on to other teams or other interests, but we added a male road racer and two more women: one of the best female mountain bikers in Wisconsin and a new racer who says she wants to focus on cyclocross. Women now make up about 20 percent of the team. You’ll still see us in our familiar orange kit, but this year we’re also rolling out an alternate kit in pink. No fooling! Back in 2011, I got heckled at the Kirke Vei Time Trial while sporting my orange team kit. A racer from Big Ring Flyers shouted, “Come on, mountain biker!” It wasn’t a fitting description—I didn’t really start racing mountain bikes until 2012—but that was and still is the reputation of the team. This year we’re going to be a little more balanced, with better representation in road and cyclocross events.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Revisiting The “25 Things”

Five years ago today—a time before this blog existed—I created a Facebook post in which I listed 25 things about me as a cyclist. Back then, there were myriad “25” lists on Facebook: favorite albums, favorite books, favorite movies, and so on. I have shared only some of the things from my list on this blog, but not all, so please indulge me as I take a look back …
1. My first bike was blue and like most kids’ bikes of its era had a banana seat. My parents bought it at a Montgomery Ward store in Charleroi PA when I was 8 years old. Prior to that I rode my dad’s balloon-tire beach cruiser, which was too big and too heavy for me.
Those were the days when things were outgrown instead of worn out. That first bike was so mechanically simple with its single speed and its coaster brake. Late in its life I swapped out the “ape hangers” for a BMX handlebar.
2. My first bike accident happened in an alley in West Newton PA. I went over the handlebar and knocked the wind out of myself. My next bike accident was on grass and less painful but more humiliating. I was going down a little hill near the swimming pool and I wiped out from too much speed … right in front of a female classmate.
Thanks to Facebook, in July 2011 the female classmate and I renewed our friendship. She remembers my wipeout and so does her mom. In my recollection it wasn’t that big a deal, but it left an impression!
3. I got a new bike when I was ten, a BMX-style bike from Sears. It was black, accented with gaudy neon green number plates. It had a handlebar pad and a crude rear suspension that was more ornamental than functional. Dad got furious with me for bringing it home covered in mud. What did he think I was going to do with it?
I haven’t found a picture of the bike I owned, but here’s one like it:

My fenders and number plates were a much brighter green. I had forgotten about that goofy front suspension! The model in this picture is a couple of years newer than mine, and I think the only real refinement is the chain guard that looks like a motorcycle exhaust pipe. My bike didn’t have that.
4. My third accident was a big one. I went over a stone wall while attempting a jump and came down first on my front tire, then on my chin. I needed six stitches to close the wound.
Not just any wall, but this wall:

My friends from West Newton will recognize McCauley Funeral Home. My best friend was with me when I crashed and I told him that it was a fitting place to die, but he assured me that my injuries weren’t life threatening. I didn’t go over the wall at its highest point, but I shouldn’t have tried it at any point.
5. During my junior high school days I competed in unsanctioned BMX races, rarely winning but always finishing reasonably well. For the most part these were “hole-shot” races where the first rider to reach the first turn typically could not be overtaken during the remainder of the race.
Hmm … that sounds remarkably like today’s BMX races, which may explain why I don’t bother watching them.
6. But by the time I was in junior high school it just wasn’t cool to ride a BMX bike around town anymore. I bought a secondhand Huffy 10-speed with a depressing yellow and brown paint scheme and handlebar tape that was no softer than the metal it was covering.
That bike was a Huffy Scout, very much like this one:

Mine had fenders too … for about 5 minutes.
7. My first bike “tour” was a 56-mile ride from my home in Charleston IL to Paris IL and back. My friend Tim Woodall accompanied me and we suffered terribly under a hot sun. I had canteens with me for water, and no cycling-specific clothing. Taking off my T-shirt was a big mistake, as I got the worst sunburn of my life. I had been inspired to do the ride in 1978 after returning to the United States from a month-long family vacation in Europe, where I saw how deeply cycling was rooted in the culture.
Navigation wasn’t a problem on that ride because we took the only route we knew: Illinois Highway 16. There are several quiet back roads that would have been far safer.
8. As a high school sophomore I narrowly avoided an accident on busy Washington Avenue in Racine WI. I wanted to get off the street and ride on the sidewalk, so I pulled on the handlebar to jump the curb. Unfortunately my skewer bolts were loose and as the fork came up it left the front wheel on the ground. Fortunately I wasn’t going very fast and I was using platform pedals, so I avoided falling.
Check those quick-release levers, folks!
9. Before the start of my senior year of high school I bought my first good-quality bike: a black Raleigh Rapide 12-speed with headtube shifters. I sometimes used it to commute to my part-time job but I didn’t use it as much as I thought I would. Getting a driver’s license killed my cycling ambitions and I sold the bike when I moved back to Pennsylvania in January 1988.
The only accessory I ever bought for that bike was a red Cannondale handlebar bag, and I didn’t use it to carry tools, tubes or anything else that would have helped if I had encountered mechanical trouble. I was always one sharp rock away from becoming a pedestrian.
10. From January 1988 until April 2003 I didn’t own a bike. During that span I never even rode one.
Boy, would I love to have those years back! Do over!
11. In April 2003 I bought a Gary Fisher Wahoo mountain bike. I had decided to do a little cycling to strengthen my legs for softball. I had been having muscle pulls and other over-use injuries and got back into cycling as an auxiliary activity to extend my softball career.
Success! I got stronger and played softball every year through 2012. I didn’t miss it in 2013. I didn’t even sneak a glance at the league standings to see how my old team was doing.
12. When softball season ended in August 2003, I kept riding. I had come to love it for its own sake.
And I still do.
13. In 2004 I started keeping statistics on my cycling endeavors as a way to encourage myself to ride more. I did 88 rides for a total of 1,454 miles, an average of 16.52 miles per ride. For the most part I was still riding just an hour at a time to be strong for softball.
By the end of 2013, I had completed 1,364 rides for a total of 39,530 miles (28.98 miles per ride) over 10 seasons.
14. In 2005 I got way more serious: 3,050 miles in 117 rides, an average of 26.07 miles per ride. I recognized that I wasn’t really using my mountain bike as a mountain bike, so I swapped out the wide knobby tires for some road-friendly slicks.
When I had only one bike I sometimes used it in situations for which it was not intended. These days I have the right tools for each job.
15. In August 2005 I bought a real road bike, a Giant OCR1. Almost immediately I felt like I had made a mistake. I didn’t like being pitched so far forward or being clipped into the pedals.
I still ride in a more upright position than many of my friends, but now I can’t imagine going back to platform pedals.
16. In December 2005 I added a new dimension to my cycling endeavors by getting a trainer for my home gym to allow for training through the winter.
My first trainer was a gift from a coworker who had fallen out of love with it. It was loud and clunky and after a couple of seasons I upgraded to the CycleOps Magneto that I use to this day.
17. Early in 2006 I struggled to make peace with my road bike. I still did most of my riding on the Wahoo but I decided to enter a road race and began to ride the road bike more in preparation for it. In July I competed in the road race and have been hooked on road riding ever since.
Hooked on road riding, yes, but it is now true that I have done many more mountain bike and cyclocross races than road races.
18. In 2006 I again topped 3,000 miles (3,161) and improved my per-ride average to 32.26. My average was bolstered by the completion of my first three centuries.
19. In 2007 I set personal records for mileage (4,410) number of rides (131) and per-ride average (33.66).
My current personal records are 5,113 miles (set in 2011), 204 rides (set in 2012) and 33.94 miles per ride (set in 2010).
20. In 2008 I was ahead of my 2007 pace before my season was interrupted by a serious crash on a training ride in August. I broke my collarbone and needed a couple of weeks to heal. I finished the year with 3,787 miles and 120 rides, a 31.56 average.
If not for that collarbone fracture I would have a streak of seven consecutive 4,000-mile seasons.
21. I have done 7 centuries in my brief career as a roadie. I have never started a century that I couldn’t finish.
I still haven’t started one that I couldn’t finish, but I have done only 12 all-time.
22. The longest ride I have ever done is 104 miles.
That changed on Oct. 17, 2010, when I rode 113 miles.
23. The farthest I have ever ridden in one month is 790 miles, in July 2007. I have never ridden outdoors in December or January.
My current record for miles in a single month is 1,020 (July 2011), and I now have ridden in December and January … though that’s still pretty rare.
24. The 2006 Omro Classic was my first road race. I did the same race in 2007 and 2008, and on each occasion improved my time from the previous year.
Unfortunately, that race doesn’t exist anymore.
25. I didn’t ride my Gary Fisher Wahoo at all in 2008. It’s now waiting for my son to get big enough to ride it. My new trail bike is a 2008 Giant FCR3 outfitted with cyclocross tires.
It didn’t take long for my son to grow into that mountain bike. On one occasion I got him to accompany me to New Fane, but otherwise the Wahoo has been his means of getting around town. Later this year when he gets his driver’s license, we’ll see if he abandons his bike the way I abandoned my old Raleigh. As for the Giant FCR3, it served me well until 2012 when I sold it to offset some of the cost of my current mountain bike.

A lot of things have changed in the last five years, mostly for the better. Hopefully, five years from now, I will be able to say that I am still growing as a cyclist.