Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hard Man, Soft Dog

My recent approach to blogging is one that should be widely emulated, but unfortunately is not.

Here's how it goes: I think of something quite witty, insightful or crudely funny when I'm away from the computer. Then I forget it before I sit down to write. If I remember anything of it, I remember whatever bit of it was never clever to begin with, and then I say, "Really, now -- is that worth wasting a bunch of effort to write?"

Judging by some of the dreck I read in the blogosphere, some of my putative peers believe that's a question they'd rather not answer. They post every day, whether it's worth it or not. For me, I'm going annual these days -- happy to just quit typing and go on to something more productive, like posting comments on my friend Steiner's blog. Below, by the way, is a photo of Steiner's dog, which shares his taste in beverages. It is a clever little pooch that has taught Steiner not only to pick up its turds and carry them around, but also to make little clothes for it, and to run around in circles and shout.


The poor dog is cold because Steiner forgot to put on its sweater. Shrinkage.

Speaking of cold: I obviously am disregarding every one of my inner voices, because I am not only blogging about blogging (metablogging), but also posting about my training. That's because I find some small measure of self-esteem when it is cold outside and none of my wuss friends will leave the house and I go out riding.


I just finished a workout on my special customized purpose-specific winter training bike:


Yeah, we all know how certain Euro-Pros shun their sponsors and ride some favorite bike that gets cleverly repainted and disguised to appease, say, Giant or Cannondale. (Greg LeMond's Calfee and Jan Ullrich's hand-made time-trial bike come to mind.) You may be thinking that what appears to be a Schwinn Sierra 700 hybrid must actually be a rebranded Parlee. But no -- that's my hybrid. Well, not exactly mine, but it's exactly what mine looked like when I bought it eight years ago for $260.

I've since put a real bike saddle (no springs underneath, unfortunately) and a flat bar on it. I broke, then replaced, all the SRAM 3.0 junk it came with, and busted that little plastic cover on the flimsy crankset. And I've abused it -- which instills very little guilt, given that the bike cost about as much as a crankset or a wheel for one of my road bikes.

A bike like that -- with 40mm tires and semi-disposable parts mix -- comes in handy when the streets are slushy and potholed, or when I'm pulling a trailer, or running to the store or riding on the towpath with my kids or ... anything else that adds up to the 700 hard miles I've put on it this year.

Even intervals are adding to the odometer now, believe it or not. Today, when it was about 20 degrees and windy, I did steady-state reps through the snow flurries at 97% of my threshold heart rate -- 3x10 min. w/ 5 min. recovery. No, I wasn't cold. I worked up quite a healthy sweat.

I like writing things like that -- and recording the data from my HRM and other such bikey-racey stuff -- because it makes me feel like I'm actually doing something about keeping myself in some semblance of racing shape. The reality is that I'm inching back toward my all-time high in weight. I'm about 30 pounds too heavy and $30,000 too light for anything serious in that arena, so racing this year would most likely mean getting dropped -- not just by the pack, but by my wife.

But I've been working pretty hard in 60- to 90-minute bursts. As usual, I feel fairly strong for this time of year. Why? Because I'm riding alone. Put me out there with Steiner, or even a bunch of Cat 4s, and I'll quickly look like his dog in Michael Vick's garage.

- JN

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cold? It's a Snap!

So it's been almost three weeks since my last post and I'm not quite sure where to begin.

So I'll begin with a simple little post about what I began at 9 this morning, when I was about to get dressed for a rare ride on my road bike. Or I could begin at 20. That was the temperature outside.

It's been months since I went for a 20-degree ride. (That's minus-7 to all my readers in Malaysia, Canada and the U.K. who land here often after Google searches for some combination of the words "chains," "lube," "crank" or "stiff tube".) So I was a bit fuzzy on what I was in for.

I grabbed my oldest MTB shoes, because they're the biggest and most stretched out and they let me wear a wooly pair of socks with some wicking ones underneath. I put on a tech undershirt, some bibs, a fleece jersey, my heaviest tights and a windbreaker. Then a wind vest. Then a balaclava and some gloves (more on them later), and my shoe covers. Then my SPDs -- put them on the bike.

Then I was off.

Then I was back.

I made it about two blocks yards before my eyeballs started to freeze and my legs practically seized up. So I turned around for my ski goggles, which kinda squish my nasal passages sometimes but are like wearing a heater -- they keep my face warm, and then my whole body feels warmer. I pulled a pair of knee warmers over the tights for a bit more warmth.

It was just enough. That was the last time I felt cold.

It turned out to be a great day for a ride. In fact, I worked up quite a sweat!

Maybe a post that's a bit more thoughtful will follow. But I gotta walk before I run.

- JN

Monday, November 3, 2008

Waking Up to Coyote Ugly

Those of us who have been adults long enough to not have a future to dream about spend a lot of our lives in wistful, romanticized yearning for some simpler time, or a better time from our past.

I feel that way now and then about my early days of discovery in cycling.

From time to time, a new hobby or pursuit grabs me almost violently, and I immerse myself into it with frightening abandon and sheer, unregulated joy. I lose sight of reason and lose track of time when I get that way. And I lose control of my wallet, too.

Cycling did that to me when I rediscovered it in midlife. I couldn't stop yearning, learning, discovering and trying new stuff. Bike porn consumed my every waking moment. I had yet to discover that Performance's "sale" price would still be the same in next month's catalog, or that Bicycling Magazine recycles the same stupid articles every two years. If I had my way back then, I'd have 20 road bikes by now.

Things settled down a lot after I got my Bianchi 928 and upgraded it (wheelset, crankset, stem, bars, saddle) almost to the point where I couldn't justify spending any more. It's all the bike I'll ever deserve, and probably all I'll ever need until I get so inflexible that I'll need a custom Seven with a top tube that's as short as a head tube and a head tube as long as a top tube. Yea and verily, I have stopped lusting in my heart for titanium, and I no longer covet other men's carbon (except carbon that says Zipp on it).

It's liberating to finally accept that an $8,500 bike with full Dura-Ace isn't going to win you any more races than a sweet but affordable frame hung with Ultegra. But it's kinda deflating, too, when the Competitive Cyclist catalog loses its allure -- just like it was when the Victoria's Secret catalog did sometime after kids came along. I'm a little too ... uh, compliant, I guess.

Yet along came mountain biking and WHAM! I was erect again, leering at all those hot models! (Gary Fisher Hi-Fi, Trek Fuel, Santa Cruz Blur, Specialized Epic ...)

Mountain biking, like vampy young lasses in skimpy satin underwear, is best when it's idealized and just slightly (or entirely) out of reach. When it's real instead of fantasy, odds are it'll turn out mean and hurtful, and will disappoint you by leading you on with winnowy curves and blind corners -- then drop you like a rock, onto rocks, just when you think you're having fun.

In both cases, we either never see the crashes coming, or we deny that it'll happen YET AGAIN, because this particular ride is going to be sooo much better than the last one that broke our heart-slash-fibula. Eventually, and usually only after a lot of time and experience, we find something comfortable and realistic for the long term, settle into a nice singletrack rut and start enjoying it all and flowing along with it as it comes. Or so I'm told.

For better or worse, I found a hidden reservoir of youthful stupidity and irrational, neo-hormonal exuberance regarding mountain bikes.

It's as if I've time-warped back to my early days of road biking, when I was either riding, or spending money on riding, or reading about riding, or picking expert riders' brains. My work and my home life suffered. I was chasing after ghosts (lost or misspent youth, maybe?).

Lately I'm close to being there again -- at the point where I have a dangerously low level of knowledge and way too much enthusiasm, like a teenager in a hormone surge, or a hedge-fund manager in 2007. It's an intoxicating state, but a dangerous one.

I'm also kinda hedge-fundy in that I've spent way too much time lately poring over Craigslist, the PD classifieds and eBay for that stunningly undervalued MTB investment. I'm way overextended and on the cusp of a horrifyingly uncertain future. Yet here I am, spending half an hour a day in a far-flung fantasy. Maybe some old guy gets mad at his sponging Boomeranger for being too shiftless to get a real job, but not too broke to buy a Gary Fisher and, on this particular weekend, to go to OSU and get drunk and go to a football game. So pissed-off Dad decides to throw the sponge's bike up on Craigslist and has no idea that the bike he's offering for $200 is worth $2,000. In this fantasy, I wind up like someone who just bought a 1994 Toyota Camry with 3,000 miles for $1,000 from the proverbial "little old lady who only drove it to church on Sundays."

My obsessions and all of these negative-energy forces all converged a couple weeks ago.

That is, I bought a mountain bike. An absolute steal.

It is a used Schwinn S-20. Do a Google search, as I did when I saw that Craigslist ad, and you'll see that the Schwinn S-20 was a mid-range FS bike ($1,300-$1,800+) about a decade ago that got rave reviews -- often called "better than bikes costing a grand more," etc. Some veteran riders on mtbr.com posted reviews of it as recently as a few years ago saying they still love their old S-20 better than the full-suspension bikes they've bought since. "Climbs like a goat, descends like a downhill bike ..." Et cetera.

Maybe not today's state of the art. But I'm not, either. And here was one on Craigslist for $60. It had a coil spring, and the stock fork had been replaced with some piece of junk that didn't even fit. But it looked and sounded absolutely more than adequate for my purposes. Sounded sick, in fact. The more I read this baby's online praise, the more flushed I became. Some dumb fool is kicking a babe to the curb and not even realizing what he had?

Within an hour or so, I had talked the guy down from $60 to $50 and I was popping the wheels off to put the bike in my trunk. I felt giddy, but a bit guilty, at the thought that I'd just taken advantage of someone.

I don't know whether the seller felt the same way or not.

Now, I'm dumb about today's MTBs, much less those from a decade ago. So I didn't realize when I bought it that Schwinn has since turned the S-20 into a downmarket bike. Way, way down. Like, hole-all-the-way-down-to-China down (quite literally).

My buddy Wrench did, though.

I had stripped the rear D and shift/brake levers off, then took the bike and the kids over to Wrench's workshop a couple hours after I bought it. The junk fork on it didn't really work -- the guy gave me another fork with it, but it was threadless and the headset was threaded. So I went out to have Wrench put a cheap threadless headset on the bike. (The seller had also thrown in a stem and a pair of bars. So if he could put the headset on, I could build the thing back up.)

And I was pretty intrigued by my deal, so I excitedly asked Wrench if I could eventually upgrade what I thought was the late-20th-century 7-speed stuff I'd pulled off of the bike to 9-speed. He wasn't sure I was serious. He first looked at me like Mr. Spock -- raising one eyebrow out of curiosity about the workings of this inferior life form's brain. Then, un-Spocklike, he showed some emotion. In fact, he adopted the kind of pitiful compassion we usually reserve for the retarded.

"Look: It's 7-speed," Wrench said softly and apologeticallly. "It's got stickers that say 'Shimano-equipped.' And it's got a kickstand mount. It's a Wal-Mart bike. '"

No way, I told him in a weak line of defense. I read on line that Schwinn stopped making this bike in 2001, and that was way before they started selling in Wal-Mart. I granted that the bike might have been turned into junk by owners that stripped it mercilessly. But it couldn't be a Wal-Mart bike. Too old. Right?

A subsequent re-run of the Google search back at home found some links to the old S-20 that, unlike the reviews I'd seen earlier, actually had pictures. Alas: Radically different bike. And no one bothered -- anywhere on the vast Internet, that I could find -- to note that Schwinn has since bastardized that marque and I'm probably the only dumb bastard to get suckered by it. I was feeling worse about it with every passing minute, the way a fellow might when he wakes up and the girl next to him, stinking of stale booze and cigarettes, coarsely says, "It was fun. Now where's my $200?"

(She was a HOOKER? I know I was really wasted, but I thought she just really liked me!)

Maybe it was out of sympathy that Wrench installed the fork and overhauled the bottom bracket and wouldn't take any money from me.

But it is my project bike now. Wrench put in my new $25 headset and slapped the old (10 yrs?) Marzocchi Bomber Z2 fork on it. I added a new Shimano Acera (towpath-grade) rear derailleur. And I moved the shift-brake levers from my hybrid and ran new cables. It's junk, of course. But it'll do the job for now.

And most of the parts are compatible with my old hybrid -- right down to the derailleur hanger. So at worst, I wind up with a bunch of spare parts for a bike that I seriously abuse by riding in the snow etc. and rarely cleaning up.

So it wasn't a real bad mistake. In fact, the $115 I put into it probably saved me from spending seven times as much later that same day.

Here's how:

I went out to Performance to get a couple brake cables and housing ferrules for The Mighty Schwinn. There I saw -- and almost bought -- a bike so sweet that it hurt to walk away from it. (Please don't tell your buddies about it, because if there is any way I can come up w/ the money after X-mas -- selling a road bike, maybe, and the Mighty Schwinn -- I'd like the bike to still be there.)

It's a 2006 Iron Horse Azure -- about a $1,700 bike (MSRP of $2,100) -- that's been gathering dust -- yes, it literally has a coating of dust on it -- for so long that the dealer has cut the price in half. It only runs Deore and some unremarkable Manitou shocks front and rear. But it also has the dw-link suspension, and everything on it can be upgraded as needed. (The same frame, with X.0 or XTR hanging on it and better shock/forks, sells for $3,000 on up elsewhere.) Performance wants $899 for this one -- and I could get it for $809, or maybe even less.

I rode it around (albeit on a parking lot). It was like the first time I made out -- Terri Holzem, freshman year ... whew! I could hardly feel a thing when I hit the bumps, but I was still breathless.

Back to the bike: I turned square into 5" curbs -- sitting and standing, up and down -- just trying to feel it buck me, and it sucked everything up. And I jammed the pedals with as much torque as I could muster on flat ground and felt almost no pedal bob. It was just sweet. And sub-30 lbs.

I might not ever be able to spend $1,500 on a mountain bike, and couldn't even rationalize spending $500 -- I'll probably only ride the damn thing 20 or 40 times before I get crippled or bored. I've got no disposable income, and had spent all my meager birthday money (my racing age is now 47) on my other bike folly and a new-to-me pair of MTB shoes. And my friends at Bike Authority sponsor me and my team very generously; it would be a bit underhanded to go buy a new bike at another shop. Right?

Those are the things I told myself. Still, I had a hot model calling to me, offering herself to me, and I was all agog. It had to be a once-in-a-lifetime. And I had a credit card.

I walked away, though. I regretted it for half of the next few thousand minutes, but I knew it was best. Deal of a lifetime or not.

Then again, this is the 20th bike deal of a lifetime I've seen, in only the lifetime of a six-year-old. Hopefully, if I'm ever flush again, there will be another deal of a lifetime. I'll be 66 or so when my kids finish Catholic schools, and 70 when they're both done with college. But who knows? Maybe by that point I'll be into freeride and downhill instead of cross-country. I'm heading in the wrong direction already, after all.

- JN

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tour de Georgia: Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Now and then of late, particularly when I haven't been riding enough, I've wallowed a bit too much in angst and self-pity over the fact that one of every six people in my division at work will become unemployed three weeks before Christmas and I could be one of them.

But looking for a job in the midst of what politicians with contempt for history call "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression" isn't the most depressing way to pass the time. No, the most depressing way to pass time in "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression" is probably trying to raise money to keep some intriguing but almost terminally marginal enterprise afloat.

I thought about this as I listened this afternoon to WCPN, but our local NPR affiliate's tedious pledge drive isn't the subject here. Sure, the station has a tough row to hoe, asking for financial support during interruptions of the insufferable "Diane Rehm Show" in the morning and an even-more-somnolent BBC program called "The Forum" in midafternoon.

Yet the intriguing but terminally marginal enterprise I was referring to is the Tour de Georgia.

But this week's WCPN beg-a-thon has been grating, so now that I mention it, I'll sidetrack.

I usually ride my bike to work, so I don't need a radio. I get to listen to arguments and phone conversations in the cars around me at stoplights. But this week I needed a car for three days (so far) at work. What a bad week to need a car.

Usually, the public-radio stations are semi-listenable (particularly on the way home, when "Marketplace" is on). Even 20 minutes of catatonic midmorning yap-host Dan Malthroup's "Reporters' Roundtable" snoozefests and his giggly smitten-schoolgirl softball questions for famous guests are better than 20 minutes of station-flipping. That just brings carpal tunnel and, even worse, an assortment of putrid "music" and loudmouth right-wing jackass windbags with 10th-grade education and fifth-grade potty humor. Yeah, CPN is a drone of self-important boredom between the time "Morning Edition" ends and "All Things Considered" begins. But commercial radio is chainsaws cutting through steel drums while one neighbor's baby cries and another's dog won't stop barking and your smoke detector and a car alarm across the street are both going off at once. And the phone is ringing.

That relative grace of NPR, however, fades during pledge week. Pledge Week is Public Square at lunchtime -- a relentless gauntlet of begging and shameless attempts at guilt-tripping, which assault you in the brief and gloomy moments of exposure as you rush between two safe-haven places.

Both versions of Les Miserables -- the ones who work in radio, and the ones who receive radio signals from the CIA via a chip in their heads -- are up against some mighty tough times, and even though I tune them all out, I give them some bit of sympathy.

And some credit. They persevere and survive, somehow.

Which seems to be more than we can say for the Tour de Georgia.

Predictions of its demise are pretty much an annual affair, especially since Lance retired and took the big crowds with him. This time, that's probably for real: Its former managers are pouring all of their money and effort into the two other races they run -- the Tour of California and the socialized Tour of Missouri. Georgia economic-development pitchmen are left to try to resurrect the cadaver of a race that, six months after it ended, still has an ad on its website for Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Georgia, one of its biggest 2008 sponsors, with the sponsor's Web address spelled wrong! (How would you like to be a BC-BS exec who spent a small fortune propping up the TdG, only to see your company's Web address -- bcbsga.com -- listed as bsbsga.com on the tour's main avenue of exposure? That's some B.S.)

The TdG fellas' twanged pitch is about as authentic and persuasive as the one that comes from the dudes who coincidentally get "stranded" every night at the BP at 26th and Superior and greet every customer there with some variant of, "Can you spare some change? I just need bus fare to get to my job/my dying kid/my car that's out of gas ..."

Put yourself in the promoters' sorry shoes. "Look, Company X: For an investment of $8 million of your extra cash on hand, you become a foundation partner in the third-greatest race in the most racing-ambivalent nation in the developed world. You will give literally hundreds of Georgians a chance to see, up close and personal, cyclists who look remarkably like the ones they curse at, door and throw shit at on weekends. Except these ones will mostly all be foreign.

"Imagine having your company's brand identified with the second team of a second-tier continental racing squad, a few other teams tainted by this week's doping scandal and Michael Ball's Dope'n'Tattoo Freak Show. It's a marketing dream!

"Oh, and did I mention you'll get a tent stocked with ... boiled peanuts and Natural Light? And you'll get your web address on our web site."

Now THAT is depressing.

Around 6:30 p.m. one evening, I saw quitting time for a poor, crippled beggar. The Lord must've passed by a minute earlier, because I watched her rise like Lazarus, fold up her walker and chair and walk half a block to her man's station wagon. She yelled at and hit her kid, then threw the props in the back of the car and speed off. I wondered how she could live with herself.

Maybe she can become the Tour de Georgia's promoter. After all, she'd have this as her patter: "No, this ain't no act! Lance said he's comin' back in 2009 and racin' here!"

Or maybe the Good Lord will descend upon Brasstown Bald.

We can all pray.

- JN

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Downhilling on a Dime

If there's one big flaw in the world of amateur bike racing, it's that the whole scene takes itself quite a bit too damn seriously. (And it's pretty easy to make the case that that's more true in the Cat III-IV ranks than anywhere else.)

Here is a story about the antithesis of all that posturing. I'll help you get past its biggest flaw by pointing out, as the writer failed to do, that it is about adults.

- JN

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Walk+Roll Over

I and other select, powerful people received an email today announcing this:

Walk+Roll, a Cleveland organization that emphatically puts the "non" in nonprofit, is "looking for inspired, energetic, productive people to serve" on its board and further its mission of pushing biking and pedestrianing.

Now, I'm pretty ambivalent, even doubtful, about the wisdom of some of Walk+Roll's goals -- e.g. lobbying for "Bike-Friendly Cities" crap like bike lanes and bike paths, to which we cyclists are supposed to be condemned forever to share with fat dog walkers, baby strollers, broken glass and detrius.

Also, I have well documented my disdain for being lumped under some "cycling-community" umbrella with all sorts of other bike-riding miscreants who seem dedicated to making us all into targets for Gatorade bottles, doors and legislative backlash. (You know, the two-wheeled jerks who can't follow simple rules of civility --- who ride the wrong way and blow red lights in heavy traffic; who fly up between the curb and a long line of traffic at red lights so that all the cars that passed them already now have to slow down and pass them again; who won't use headlights; and who yell "F--- you!" at anyone who comes within six feet.)

I'm even more loathe to be lumped in with other "pedestrians," a class of people that includes mall walkers; winos who walk around talking to the air and masturbating; overly pink Susan G. Komenoids; Barry Bonds and this guy (whom I actually thought was funny back around 1976, when I was probably high -- secondhand).

Even so, I have a little bit of admiration for good intentions, and a lot of admiration and envy for folks whose outlook on life is cheerful and optimistic instead of poisonous and caustic. Walk+Roll and Lois Moss are good people in that way -- pleasantly deluded, perhaps, but good-intentioned and perhaps happy.

If you like working with people like that, while trying to keep them grounded in some semblance of reality, maybe you ought to apply. Find out how by emailing to getactive@walkroll.com. Judging by the tone of the email I got, Walk+Roll folks are pretty down in the dumps and worried that any chance of reprising just about all of their 2007 programs is doomed by lack of funding and political support. (Maybe Frank Russo or Jimmy Dimora will get on board?) They obviously will need a lot of help with fundraising and prioritizing.

Then again, forget I brought it up. If you read this blog, they ought not want you.

- JN

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cycling: Stick With It!

After I stumbled across these pictures (warning: heinous), all of my little bouts with road rash, pedal bite and other assorted bike-wreck injury seemed rather quaint. Some fellow roadie suffered the freak bike injury to beat all other bike injuries with a stick.

Yet another reason not to ride? Perhaps. But then again, here's another good reason why the flukish risk is worth taking. And then there's this, from USA Today (4/11/07):

The prevalence of American adults who are 100 or more pounds over a healthy weight has risen dramatically since 2000, a study released Monday shows.

About 3% of people, or 6.8 million adults, were morbidly obese in 2005, up from 2% or 4.2 million people in 2000, says Roland Sturm, an economist with the RAND Corp., a non-profit think tank.


... According to government data, about 66% of people in the USA are now either overweight or obese, which is defined as 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight. Obesity increases a person's risk of contracting numerous diseases, including diabetes, heart diseases and cancer.

Guess I should stop eating these saltines, eh?

- JN

This Just In: Bush Does Something GOOD!

Bush to open national parks to mountain bikes

By DINA CAPPIELLO
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Bush administration is taking steps to make it easier for mountain bikers to gain access to national parks and other public lands before the president - an avid cyclist himself - leaves office.

The National Park Service confirmed Tuesday that it is preparing a rule to allow park managers in some cases to decide which trails to open to mountain bikers.


Once it’s finalized, the rule would take this authority away from federal regulators in Washington, who sometimes take years to decide whether to allow bicycles on individual trails.

A park service spokesman said the rule would be proposed no later than Nov. 15 in order for it to be finalized before Bush leaves office.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Staying Within the Lines

I came upon the three City of Cleveland workers in the image below on my way to work this morning. Initially, I thought they were three Safe-T-Vest-wearing touring cyclists trying to fix one flat tire. Then I noticed the lack of mirrored helmets.


I rode on, but got so flummoxed that I had to do a U-turn and go back, just to make sure I'd seen what I thought I saw. I did see what I thought I saw. Then I stood there on my bike and photographed it with a cell phone. The three parties didn't particularly seem to mind.

(It was a lot like when I went to the zoo yesterday and watched the oblivious primates through the glass. The various monkeys ignored me, which sorta hurt my feelings.)

If you can correctly guess what the primates above are doing, you win a job working for the City of Cleveland. (To get a Cuyahoga County job, simply become related to Jimmy Dimora or Frank Russo.)

The three people in brightly reflective vests are:

a) on a snipe hunt;
b) using a stick as a tool to poke an ant hill and prod some of the ants to emerge and become food;
c) Getting a jump on trick or treating;

d) painting a single curb yellow -- one wielding the drippy roller, one holding the paint bucket and watching, and one watching while waiting to move cones.

- JN

Sunday, October 5, 2008

FtMTB

Regarding my previous post about mountain biking:
I take it all back.

I went out for an hour and a half or so this morning, and came back feeling like I stuck my legs into a Ferris wheel. Once again -- for the fourth time this year -- my shins are bloodied, bruised and distended and it pretty much hurts to walk.



If I were a bird and a mountain biker ...

I found two new trail sections that I'd ridden past before, but never on, in my wonderful but mostly-over-my-head neighborhood singletrack jungle near Lower Shaker Lake. One stretch was a rock-strewn downhill leading to a lot more very rocky downhill runs upstream from the Doan Brook dam.

I told myself to work on my descending a lot today -- drop the saddle to keep the weight back more readily, try to keep the paws off the brakes as much as possible. It was working pretty well, until I plunged down one rocky hill and realized near the bottom that it was going to dump me into a very small and very rocky clearing and I didn't know where the exit trail was. In other words, I was heading to the bottom with no idea where to go.

So I slowed down. Bad move, in hindsight: My front wheel hit something and just stopped, dead. I did not. Nor did the bike. I went over the bars and bashed my shins awful hard on things. Then the bike landed on top of me. Much cursing ensued.

Four weeks ago, or thereabouts, I borrowed that 10-year-old Trek 950 (or whatever it is) and its owner and I and a few other guys rode West Branch. I beat my shins into bloody, swollen pulps. Today I returned it. I'd come full circle. Any sadness over returning the bike is largely gone now, thanks to the pains in my leg.

As for that cursing: I'm still tempted to resume it here. But I won't, except in this secret code: F the MTB.

- JN

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bye, ol' MTB


I remember when I was little, watching Kevin Ginther ride down the hill to the railroad tracks and go airborne.

I remember watching Mark Nienhaus and Mark Kabbaz and other daredevils barrel down the very steep hill at McDonald Park, zoom across the road and then go blasting up the little uphill and grabbing big air (as it much later became known).

I remember watching other people do lots of crazy things on bikes when I was a kid.

Yup, I usually just watched. I'd sit at the top of the steep hills and watch.

Never had the stones to do the stupid stuff. And it didn't exactly encourage me to see Ginther come back to earth from his airborneness and land on the steel rail of the tracks, hard enough to break his leg and ram the busted end through his skin.

So it comes as some surprise to me that I'm bumming out tonight knowing I have to return a mountain bike I borrowed four weeks ago and have ridden pretty regularly ever since.

My favorite MTB move


I've done some stupid stuff on it. A lot of stuff that I consider stupid, in fact. I've ridden down a lot of hills that were a lot steeper than the ones at McDonald Park or those railroad tracks. I've run along ridges and steep hillsides that punish a mistake by sending you plummeting to probable injury and possible death. I've learned how to bunny-hop pretty well, and have done a complete endo and landed on my feet, upright.

I'm still a wuss, no question about it. And it's not hard to justify it. My family depends on me, and pain hurts a lot -- them's two good reasons.

But little by little, I kept advancing and doing things I never thought I'd try. Every time I trailed a skilled and experienced (and very patient or bored) MTB rider, I'd watch his technique and follow his line and nail something I'd never even attempt when riding alone. Then I'd go out riding alone ande take a few chances I wouldn't have taken before.

And every single time I rode the hidden-in-plain-view network of trails around the Shaker Lakes and Doan Brook -- mere blocks from my house -- I'd discover a new stretch of trail that had been right there all along, but undiscovered because just about nobody rides these gems.

It all grew on me. I'd lie in bed at night unable to fall asleep because I was reliving some thrilling on-bike success or imagining myself cleaning some log or some climb that I'd not yet mastered in real life. I snuck out of work early one day to try to ride the great singletrack mere blocks from my house. And when I couldn't ride, I'd actually get kind of pissy. (But probably not as pissy as I've gotten when I had to walk my bike up or down a crazy little hill 'cause I'm not good enough or brave enough to ride it.)

There's gonna be a good bit of pissiness in the near future, I'm guessing, because tomorrow I have to return my buddy Joe's bike and I may never have the means to buy one for myself. Maybe that's for the best, because it's inevitable that one of these rides will end with a busted collarbone, shattered elbow or broken neck.

I might not miss the wrecks and the pain. But I'm going to miss the riding.

- JN

I Ride, You Pay -- Pay My Bosses!

We've all heard the latest scare stories -- or at least we males have -- that carrying a cell phone in one's pocket can zap the ol' walnuts, put the junk in a funk, etc.

Now there's considerable evidence that wearing a bicycle helmet inflicts severe brain damage. Maybe it's because of some styrene vapors oozing out of the foam. Maybe the Roc-Loc 4 system exudes lead vapors.

How else to explain the idiotic celebrations in the so-called cycling community because Congress shoe-horned the Bicycle Commuter Act into the pork-packed bailout bill for banks?

Here is what people are cheering:

The $700 billion (that is, enough money to make 700,000 new millionaires, or one new one for every 4.2 millionaires now in the U.S.) experiment in South American-style nationalization of the financial sector is a $20-a-month handout to employers whose employees ride bicycles to work.

No, that wasn't a typo. No tricky wording there. The free money goes to the employer, not the cyclist. Employers would then be encouraged to "pass along" that incentive to folks like me, who ride our bikes to work.

How? By providing bike parking. Yeah, that's one incentive the bill and its brain-shocked backers contemplate as acceptable. If my employer provides "storage" for the bike I ride to work two, three or four times per week, my employer can claim that is a benefit it provides me. I'd have to pay $40 a month to park my car, but the $200 million-per-year company I work for benevolently put a bike rack in the parking deck and lets me lock my bike to it for free. For that $40-per-month "perk" that I "enjoy," the billionaire family that owns my employer -- along with similar companies in bike-mad Portland, New Orleans, New York and elsewhere -- gets to take $240 a year in tax dollars from me and my neighbors. By the way: There's no real monitoring mechanism contemplated in the legislation, so Corporate America gets to be on the honor system as it sucks $10 million a year -- the estimated cost of this provision -- out of the Treasury. We all know how that works.

Naturally, this corporate socialism is not the intent. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an earnest, bowtie-wearing Democrat from Portland (of course), concocted the bike-commuter act to delight the League of American Bicyclists, and his hometown League of Sleeve-Tattoo-Wearing Nihilist Fixie Riders, and the League of SUV and Minivan Drivers Who Live in 3,500-Square-Foot McMansions and Feel Better About Themselves When They Say They're In Favor of Energy Conservation and Alternative Power Sources. He's been pushing it for something like seven years.

The intent, presumably, was to take that money from my corpulent, lazy, car-driving, junk-food-eating, sedentary neighbors and yours, and give it not to corporations, but to me. Me and you, if you commute by bike, and all those other needy people who need a federal handout to compensate them for donning $200 Showers Pass rain jackets, fastening $200 more in halo headlights onto their $1,000 commuter bikes and then stuffing their $25o rack-and-pannier arrangements with lunch and garments.

The theory is laudable. According to a 2007 bill that morphed into this $10 million-a-year employer subsidy, bicycle commuters annually save on average $1,825 in auto-related costs, reduce their carbon emissions by 128 pounds, conserve 145 gallons of gasoline, and avoid 50 hours of gridlock traffic.

I'd like to take credit for my share of that. Not sure I save "50 hours of gridlock traffic," since driving to work is still faster than biking. But I figure I save anywhere from $10 to $20 in gas alone each week, or 20-something bucks in overall vehicular wear and tear at 50 cents per mile. I once calculated, quite roughly, that my commuting knocks a couple pounds per week of VOCs and NOx out of the air. So I can laud myself a little.

If the government agrees that this is indeed a sound social, environmental and fiscal policy, it ought to put a line on my income-tax return for me to take the deduction.

Of course, an argumentive neighbor might say that the "$1,825 in auto-related costs" I save each year should be all the incentive I need to ride a bike to work. That and the likelihood that I'm saving myself thousands of dollars in future (or current) medical treatment by riding. (In fact, my neighbor might have a point in saying that I should have to pay the government because I ride to work. After all, chances are that I'll live several years longer than I would have if I'd kept driving to work while ramming doughnuts into my mouth, and therefore wil be a substantially bigger liability to Social Security, Medicare and society as a whole. I couldn't argue, but I could piss on my neighbor's grave someday.)

But instead of giving that money to me and other people who keep bike racks on their cars all the time so they can drive 20 miles on the weekend to an appropriate "multi-use trail" and ride to Akron, our friends in Congress think it better to let cigarette-smoking bean counters in the corporate accounting office decide who gets the dough, and how. Who will get it? Mostly millionaires.

Thank God we've incentivized bike commuting, eh?

The dildos who run "bike advocacy" lobbies in Washington and spend do-gooders' tax-deductible donations on silly "Bike-Friendly Cities" campaigns and political-campaign contributions (to Blumenauer, among others) call this progress. Rome wasn't built in a day, now was it? And unlike the Gingrich assholes who rammed detestible riders onto every appropriations bill that subsidized corporate fat cats and denuded social-service programs like napalm attacks on the underclass, the backers of this bill got it passed on its own merits as a stand-alone measure. Oh. Wait. Scratch that. Since it failed for seven straight years (including in a Dem-controlled
Congress), they jammed it into the bailout bill, along with billions of dollars in other pork. I almost forgot.

Must be that helmet-induced brain damage.

- JN

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Off Road, and Off the Grid

Sunday, Sept. 14

I’m writing this by candlelight, like our ancestors. This blackout has me roughing it, just like the frontiersmen long before me, or the Amish.
Well, sort of. I am using a laptop powered by a lithium-ion battery. But there is a significant hardship here: If I want Internet, I’ll have to use dial-up! I’m all about rollin’ with a Spartan ethic for a short hang, but I ain’t doing dial-up. I’ll just write this in Word and cut and paste when the power comes back.
It went out around 6 p.m., while I was making tacos.
I think it is quite possible that the cause of the outage is that hell froze over, because I rode a mountain bike for a good long time this afternoon and actually enjoyed it!
I wasn’t good at it, mind you. But I had fun.
There is something incredibly cool about MTB riding at Shaker Lakes and Doan Brook (which should be called Bone Broke, considering the technical difficulty and danger of many of its sections). The coolness is that a beginner like me can pick and choose just how hard I want the experience to be, while an expert could theoretically ride along and do all the sickly stupid, totally wrong things that expert MTB riders like to do, which seem to involve the same sort of self-loathing thought process as driving staples into one's hands, being a cutter or being Eddie Vedder.
In their heavily tatooed misanthropic existence, MTB riders like to talk about "illegal" trails. This description, I’m sure, applies to Doan Brook, because no one is openly invited to ride there.
But the trails down in the gulch along Fairhill, between MLK and Coventry, have all sorts of nastiness: rock gardens, stairs, wicked roots, sharp downhill drops, sharp and impossible uphill climbs.
What they do not have is good flow, for the most part. I'd be surprised if even the best MTB riders could ride very far anywhere on the western or southern slopes of the gorge without dismounting, because the run-ups are too steep and some of the off-camber turns along sheer dropoffs off are too tight.
But there is some fast singletrack on the north side of the gulley, along North Park. Fast as you want, but still a potentially deadly drop along the side of the trail. And since "potentially deadly" seems to be a prerequisite for fun for MTB riders, that must be fun.
In short, you can get your skills practice in, along with some fun. But it’s hard to get a sustained threshold workout.
Not that I need it. That’s what road riding is for.

***

While I rode, the wind whipped up harder and harder. By the time I was heading home, I was getting pelted with twigs and stopping every block or so to move broken branches off the street. Two hours later, while I was making tacos, the power went out.
This is fun! We still have gas, so I could finish cooking. We have running (clean) water, unlike the Great Blackout of Ought-Three, and unlike my brother, who is condemned to using electrically pumped well water.
My kids have no TV to watch, so they rode their bikes (in the flying debris). They ran the batteries down using all the flashlights as toys over recent months, so we’re using all my bike headlights. Soon we’ll take turns making up stories. Then we’ll go to sleep.
Tomorrow, maybe I’ll go moose hunting.

- JN

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

See? Hockey Mom/Pit Bull Sarah Palin is HOT, even without her naughty-librarian glasses.


She is a bad girl -- bad! (Bore her first pup 8 months after her wedding? That's premature mating.) But don't get her mad. Get your animals straight if you're going to talk about lipstick!


- JN

Monday, September 8, 2008

Lance Armstrong and I: Back From Retirement

The two-week span since my last post has led to speculation that I have retired from blogging. The speculation is correct: I did retire.

However, I forgot to email the news release announcing my retirement, so no one knew. So here, belatedly, is an edited version of the official announcement:

It's with mixed emotions that I've decided to move on from my career as a sporadic, mediocre blogger fixated with cycling-related subjects. (blah blah blah) I know what it takes to be at the top level of blogging, and realize that mentally I am not able to make the sacrifices that it takes to be there anymore (blah blah blah) I hope to stay connected to the world of blogging because it has been my life and passion for 25 weeks, but I am also keeping my options open (blah blah blah) pursue other interests (blah blah blah) looking forward, not back (blah blah) wonderful years in this incomparable (blah blah) ...

However, within minutes of me not sending it out and then eventually sending it out way, way later, rumors immediately began swirling, culminating in a published report today (this one) that I am coming out of retirement to resume blogging, according to sources close to me. The sources, who requested anonymity but are believed to be among my multiple personalities, also revealed that I will not receive any salary or bonuses for my blogging.

Mine was the first earth-rattling un-retirement revelation of the day. News of the other one, which may be overshadowed by word of my resurrection, can be found here:
http://www.velonews.com/article/82892/sources-lance-armstrong-coming-back
Some excerpts, to save you the hyperlink click:

Lance Armstrong will come out of retirement next year to compete in five road races with the Astana team, according to sources familiar with the developing situation.
Armstrong, who turns 37 this month, will compete in the Amgen Tour of California, Paris-Nice, the Tour de Georgia, the Dauphine-Libere and the Tour de France — and will race for no salary or bonuses, the sources, who asked to remain anonymous, told VeloNews.



- JN

Monday, August 25, 2008

Do Not Go North to Race

Want to get a good scare?

Imagine a hundred Cat 4 and 5 racers in a crit field with top-4 prizes of $165/$100/$85/$75. Good God: Cat 5s chasing $165? Might as well wax the corners and put wood chippers where the straw bales should be.

This is what's coming up in Grand Rapids in a couple weeks. Participating in the race would not be worth the trip for a Crash 4 like me, because I would return to Cleveland dead. (But I'd take some of the bastards down with me!)

If you weren't actually in the race, the trip might be worth it just for the spectacle -- if you're into watching horrific, nauseating but perversely amusing things such as rodeo events, competitive eating or Peter Gabriel acting as precious as an Oberlin student.

At the start, 22 of the 100 entrants would get run over trying to clip into their pedals. By the third lap, look for the leaders to be skidding as they hit a turn at 26 mph only to find it clogged by guys they're lapping, who are riding downtube-shifter Univegas, wearing cutoffs and billowing T-shirts, and coming to the mortal realization that this shit is hard.

Imagine the drinking game you could play at a crit corner: Down a shot of beer for every time you hear a racer shout "Hold your line!" and a shot of bourbon for every time you hear "Inside!" (Come to think of it, don't: You'd wind up in an alcohol coma or become so brain-dead that you'll want to race cyclocross.)

Scary.

But if I, as a Cat 4, think it would be scary to ride in that race, imagine what a bunch of Cat 2 Masters racers along the lines of Brian Batke, Ray Huang, Rudy Sroka and Tris Hopkins would think of the lot they've drawn in The 50th Annual Tour di Via Italia Race in Windsor next month. If my eyes don't deceive me, the Cat 2/3 masters will race in the same field as the Cat 4/5 seniors. Is this a cruel joke? Or Darwinism? Or are the Canadian categories different in some sort of freaking metric/Celsius way?

- JN

Belles on Bikes

I finally did something great with a bicycle: I helped my daughters learn to ride it.
The Squirts are 4 and 6, and both are now riding without training wheels -- pretty well, in fact.
Of course, I have a somewhat lenient standard for what constitutes "pretty well": That is, if they wreck not much more often nor more violently than their gravity-victimized Dad, they're doing fine.
Everything happened quickly, in the last handful of days.
It started on Wednesday, when I came home from work to discover that Jen had pulled the training wheels off of both girls' bikes, at their request. I'd been coaxing them toward that - in Natalie's case, for a year plus. But I didn't want to force anything on them. And even though they both have a bit of the daredevil in them, they've not been in a hurry to abandon the extra wheels.
Yet there they were, riding for 6 or 8 feet at a stretch without training wheels.
So I knew it was the exact moment I needed to start teaching -- one at a time.
Wednesday evening, I took Nat up to a nearby elementary school that has a small ballfield at the bottom of a short hill. After some coaching, I lowered her saddle so both feet could easily reach the ground. I took her and the bike to the top of the hill and let them roll down.
It was like watching a robin fledge: On that first trip down the hill, she rode a good 80 feet before losing momentum. On the next, she went almost twice as far. Soon she was pedaling around the field.
So we went to the parking lot at the top of the hill. The pavement has a very subtle false-flat slope -- just enough to be perfect for our purposes. She climbed on the bike and rode all the way to the end of the lot, 200 feet away. Then I taught her the line she'd need to do a U-turn and head back. She got it right on her first try.
Thursday night was Claire's turn. She didn't do quite as well as Natalie, but she's 21 months younger. She did fine on the ball field; less well on the pavement.
I was in Denver when Claire took her first steps, and I don't remember Natalie's. But I'll remember this. The pride and excitement on their little faces was priceless.
Both took their spills and skinned their knees a little, and Claire got a very dark saddle-nose bruise on her inner thigh. These things they thought were great, because it made them just like Dad, who seems to have been nursing one or another road-rash sore for a year now.
On Sunday, we went over to a high school with a rubberized running track -- softer than asphalt if they spill, but hard enough to be a lot easier to ride on than grass. Within 10 minutes, Natalie was doing full 400-meter laps back to back. Claire worked her way up to about 3/4-lap stints before it became clear her tiny bike was too small for her to maintain enough momentum. When I put her on Nat's bike, she rode a full lap on her first try.
Not all was great. At one point, after Claire fell, she saw Natalie riding "the wrong way" toward her on the track. So Claire did what a lot of us with more experience and self-restraint often wish we could do: She heaved her bike into Natalie's path. Big pileup. Later, Nat rode right at Jen and me, trying to be a silly showoff, before realizing she hadn't acquired the maneuvering skills that idiotic pranks require. Again, she went down in a painful heap atop her bike. (Both of them have a knack for landing on top of their bikes, in a painful, bruising way.)
It's slightly disingenuous to say I "taught" them. We parents rarely teach our kids to balance. Best we can do is recognize when they're ready to learn and then help them, which is what I did.
Now we'll see whether I did them any favors: Natalie has often declared that she will become a bike racer "like my dad." If that happens, she will probably hate me. Now, if she becomes a bike racer quite unlike her dad, and actually wins from time to time, we'll both be proud.

***

Postscript: We picked up a suitably cool bike for Nat at the Greek Festival flea market last night -- a Huffy. Its new owner won't be big enough to ride it until spring, but it won her enthusiastic blessing because it possesses the one trait that seems to be most redeeming and important quality to her: It isn't pink. To me, it also held overwhelming appeal for a different reason: It cost $7.50.
Hell of a deal. Now I gotta put some Record components on it, eh?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why I'm Gearing Up on Training

The power of positive thinking, and several books that contain seven steps (not six nor eight) to success etc., have convinced me that anything I put my mind to is possible, if I work hard enough. So I've decided to start working hard to win the Tour de France.

Here's my inspiration:


That's Lance Armstrong's house. It is the biggest single residential consumer of water in all of Austin, having guzzled 330,000 gallons in July -- enough for 38 average households.
- JN

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The MS "Race" report

I mentioned a 100-related milestone in my previous post. Here's another one: Finally, I rode a century.
I always knew I'd get around to riding one, but it just never was a huge goal. Or at least it hasn't been for the last few years. I hadn't even really thought about it, because it's been well within a reasonable realm of possibility for the last few years.
A couple years ago, whole passel of detours turned the Pedal to the Point's nominal 75-mile return route from Sandusky to Berea into a 91-mile slog. And this spring, before I'd even begun doing much serious training, a bunch of us rode something like 78 miles through the Emerald Necklace and then home through downtown. So something like five months and hundreds of hours of riding later, I was confident I'd be able to knock out my first century, even though I hadn't done a whit of century-specific training.
So about a week before this year's Pedal to the Point (the MS-150 ride), I decided I'd do the event again, except this year, instead of doing 75 out on Saturday and 75 back on Sunday, I'd just do 100 on Saturday and then catch the shuttle home.
The only question was, how fast?
I figured 17.5-18 mph (somewhere around 5 hrs 30 min. to 5:45), with most of it in a paceline, would do the job without killing me.
So when I sprinted the last 150 meters into Sandusky and saw my average speed was 19.4 mph and we came within 9 minutes of doing it in 5 hours, I was pretty surprised.
I have to give credit to my paceline partners -- teammates Gary B. and Ian, along with a few others who came and went. Gary and some Ironman dude pushed the pace hard at times -- too hard, I feared, when we were still 80, 70, 60 miles away from the end and my legs were already feeling it and they kept jamming it up every roller like there was a polka-dot jersey on the line.
I reminded myself from time to time that this isn't supposed to be easy. That made it easier.
Still, the northwesterly headwind still was wearing me down. It wasn't stiff -- it was actually fairly light -- but it was relentless, and in our faces the entire day.
When we were about 15 miles out, I just decided to wheelsuck the entire rest of the way, and a couple others in our posse seemed content to pull me and another slacker in to the end. But then, in the middle of nowhere, someone among our group made a sudden mistake. Names and details aren't all that important. Bottom line: My front wheel got taken out, in the middle of nowhere. Then my head got rolled over by the next bike in line.
I cussed, bled a little and then got back on the bike feeling ... well, energized. The adrenaline rush was exactly what I needed. I wound up pulling us most of the rest of the way, and feeling strong.
So here's my article proposal for Bicycling:

(On the cover:)
How YOU Can Train for a Century!
(Then, on the inside)
Train for racing. That's it. The end.

- JN

P.S.: Re. this post's title: Every year, most of the (non-cyclist) folks who sponsor me for the MS-150 tell me, "Good luck with your race!" It's not a race, I'd try to explain ... and then I quit trying. Good thing I did, because it became a lie. When you ride with Gary, everything is a race -- especially if some bearded Goldilocks on a 69-cm bike suddenly passes you (and Gary) as if he's issuing a throwdown ... Thanks to stuff like that, I spent more than an hour of the 5:09 ride at or above my lactate threshold.

No. 101

I didn't realize that I reached a milestone with my last post -- my 100th.
No one else realized, either, so I don't feel bad.

- JN

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cough up some cash, pal

Thus far, aside from my various emotional/psychological handicaps, I've yet to be stricken by any disease. I am very, very lucky.
You are, too.
But there's a good chance that neither of us is out of the woods yet when it comes to multiple sclerosis. MS blindsides its victims with a sucker punch in the prime-of-life years -- mid-20s to maybe 60 years old. When it comes, it can be truly awful: episodes of weakness, paralysis, blindness etc. that come and go without warning and usually get more severe and longer-lasting until the damage becomes permanent.
Good thing to not have, eh? Especially if you love riding a bike.
That's why I do the National MS Society's MS-150 Pedal to the Point ride each year -- to help those stricken by MS and their families, and to help fund the search for treatments and a cure.
You folks who read this blog aren't going to be making pity sponsorships because you're blown away by my immense sacrifice of riding 75 or 100 miles on Saturday and riding 75 back on Sunday. You can probably ride that without major discomfort, and you know I can too. Still, that doesn't mean you can't sponsor me.
So please -- follow this link and send some coin to the MS Society.

- JN

Spread the word

The Plain Dealer published a nice story today about beyondmotherhood.com, the website startup by local entrepreneur Shannon Davis. I don't know Shannon. But I know her husband -- a fine gent, a strong rider and a lucky guy (judging by his wife's picture) named Brett Davis. Ideally, the website will become a great resource for people like my wife -- women who want to keep one foot in the working world while doing us fathers the favor of sacrificing their careers to raise our children. Good luck with the new company, Davises. I hope it really takes off -- so that maybe it pays off for my own household, too, someday.

- JN

Monday, August 11, 2008

RIP, Cal Kirchick -- we owe you.

I just learned, with some sadness, of last week's passing of local attorney and cyclist Calvin Kirchick, who died after having a heart attack doing what he loved -- riding his bike.
Cal was very active both as a recreational bike rider and as an activist in the move to reform the outdated patchwork of cycling laws in Ohio. I posted a link the other day to a bunch of revisions that the General Assembly passed in 2006 to make the law much more sensible and cyclist-friendly; Cal did much of the grunt work to make that happen, so everyone who rides much owes him a debt of gratitude.
We'd met a couple times and he and I traded emails just a couple weeks ago, but I didn't know him well, and I certainly knew him only as a cyclist. So I didn't know, although I've discerned, that he also was pretty active in Jewish-community philanthropy.
I'm told some 500 people attended his funeral service yesterday.
RIP, Cal. And thanks!

-- JN

Saturday, August 9, 2008

I'm Backpedaling. (No I'm not. Yes I am!)

As I rode through Moreland Hills this morning, I got into an argument. With myself.
It started as I rode past the town's sign declaring that cyclists must ride single file, per local ordinance. Just yesterday, I flatly stated on this blog that such ordinances are not legal -- they're contradictory with some 2006 changes to state law regulating cycling. Today I found fault with my own reasoning.

No need to go into too much detail, unless someone asks me to. It's boring enough to listen to me argue one side of a question, let alone both.

However, one of my attorney friends (see? that isn't a contradiction in terms after all) has a standing offer: If you ever get a ticket from some suburban cop for riding two abreast, get in touch with him. He's dying to take the issue to the Ohio Court of Appeals.

- JN

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I disagree. Cuff me.

I got to thinking after writing my earlier post about whether putting more police on bicycles might somehow benefit cyclists.

I tend to believe that just about everyone, not just police officers, becomes a better person in several ways by riding a bike. And maybe bike patrols will help fight crime or curb air pollution. Or build bridges between alienated communities and distant police, and all that other ethereal feel-good stuff touted by well-meaning, grant-spending, coed-seducing criminal-justice profs who concoct ideas such as community policing and convince the federal government to spend billions of dollars on something that works almost as well as D.A.R.E.!

So because I welcome all comers, I consider it good news that, since that last post, I discovered that someone from Cleveland Heights pledged $2,500 to buy bike gear for Cleveland's still-imaginary bike squad.

Swing a leg over a Trek, Ponch and John! I welcome you! I welcome everyone to the two-wheeled world (except those who ride into oncoming traffic; nihilistic fixie-riding misanthropes; smirky recumbent nuts with stupid beards; fat old guys in CSC jerseys who ride $8,500 bikes at 14 mph; sidewalk cyclists; and anyone who drops me on climbs).

But I have to wonder why bike-booster groups, like Walk+Roll Cleveland, Eco-City Cleveland, the LAB and a lot more give a hoot about whether cops are on bikes. Is there some assumption that this would be good for cyclists in general?

Maybe this is the thinking: A handful of Cleveland officers riding bikes will start a chain reaction of good karma, in which the rest of the police force, and then all the suburban forces, and then everyone, everywhere, will suddenly become bike-friendly. And that those proud pedal officers will set fine examples of bikesmanship and demonstrating how bikes belong. Right?

Riiiiight. And I might pedal my velocipede across Lake Erie for a weekend in Canada. You're welcome to flap your arms and fly alongside.

I've often assumed, without critically thinking it through, that putting cops on bikes and/or or educating them extensively about cycling and cyclists' rights would help eradicate the kind of anti-cyclist bias that pervades much of law enforcement. And if law enforcement took the side of cyclists a bit more often, I reasoned, maybe the rest of the world would share the road a bit more willingly.

But now that I've stopped inhaling solvents, I realized just how idiotic that presumption is.
To buy it, we would have to buy that all those cruiser-driving cops are sympathetic to fellow motorists who speed, blow lights and mow down elderly dog-walkers. The officers, after all, are members of the "motorist community," right?

No, the contrary is the truth.

Some, many or all police officers may have a slight bias in favor of motorists when it comes to cars vs. bikes, as many bike bloggers rail. But that's about as far as the cop kinship with other drivers goes.

I've been around officers all my life, and I can assure you that your own observations are true: They almost universally drive like Ricky Bobby, on duty and off, and they enforce the laws as capriciously, selectively and unfairly as Old Testament God -- against their own fellow motorists!

I can't support either leg of that statement statistically, of course. But anecdotal evidence -- meaning, the life experiences of anyone with two working eyeballs -- would indicate that cops are the among most brazen, careless and arrogant drivers on the road.

I'm sure that's an unfair generalization, and I'm sure some sworn officers follow the rules of the road and drive responsibly. I don't think I've seen it. But I've never seen China either, and yet I can believe it is there.

Yet the norm seems to be that officers speed everywhere, with or without the flashing lights. They blow through stop signs and lights. You may live to be 100 without seeing a police officer signal a turn. I've even seen one pass rush-hour traffic on the left-hand shoulder of I-90 westbound, then cut across three lanes to stop at a gas station on W. 117th and saunter over to the john.

Not that I begrudge the police. If I could drive like they do with the near-absolute immunity that a badge confers, I probably would -- especially if I didn't have to buy the gas, and even more especially if I really, really had to pee. It's more fun than driving at the retreating-glacier pace of Gary B., that's for sure.

Besides, these officers put their lives on the line every goddamn day for your criminal-coddling liberal ass, you flag-burning faggot. If they speed as often as they breathe, then that's a small price to pay for their heroism. If one of them crashes into a school-bus stop while hurrying back to the station for the free-to-the-first-taker tickets to the Browns preseason game, you better not judge, motherf-----, unless you've worn a badge and faced the hate, man. You got something to say about it? Huh? Remember 9/11, jerkoff?

They drive this way not just because they think/know they can get away with it, but also because they universally believe they are so superior behind the wheel. They have spent hours maneuvering around cones in a London, Ohio, parking lot, and therefore can handle their cruisers in situations that would cause some dumbshit like you to wreck and/or endanger others' lives.

So that makes them more inclined, not less, to give you a ticket when, for instance, you dangerously fail to come to a complete stop at the everybody-rolls-it stop by the CVS at Fairmount Circle, or when you're doing 39 in a 35 at East 24th and Rockwell at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday, when the only other moving things within six square blocks are too busy urinating on the doors of local businesses to be threatened by your lawlessness. You are not qualified to blow stop signs or speed because you do not have the advanced training that Reed and Malloy have.

Moreover, admit it: If somebody waved a magic wand and gave you the power to go out for a day and enforce traffic laws, you wouldn't exactly be entirely fair, would you? You'd like to think so. But after a few hours of righteous justice, human nature would begin to set in: "That jackass over there just changed lanes without signaling --- whoa! She is beaucoups hot! ... Another speeder!-- oh, never mind: That's Dave from the group ride. ... Two cars ran the red light and I can only get one; which looks like less of a hassle? ... That car looks just like my old girlfriend's, and any friend of that bitch is no friend of mine ..."

And if cops behave this way toward fellow motorists after all the special training they go through, then why would we assume that putting some of them on bikes would change the way that even those select officers would treat cyclists, much less their peers in cruisers or on Harleys and horses?

Finally: You wanna bet that this officer used to skateboard when he was 12? Lot of good that did for skaters now, huh?

***

For that matter, I'll go off on another tangent (it's been almost two weeks since I've posted, as one reader pointedly observed, so I have some tangents to make up for): We all have to pass the driving test to get a license, yet we start breaking the law within four minutes of getting that cherished DL from a BMV clerk. So why would anyone actually believe that putting questions on the written driver's test about cyclists' rights and responsibilities is going to make any difference in our mistreatment?

That, of course, assumes you buy the premise that motorists are hostile to cyclists to begin with. If so, you'd never be able to prove it statistically. Think about how many cars you encounter on an hour-long ride: Ten? A hundred? Then think about how many hours you ride in a week, a month -- how many cars do you encounter in your 30 or 40 hours of riding per month? Thousands. Yet getting buzzed by a car is so rare that you and all your buddies will spend the next week quivering and bitching about how freaking dangerous it is out there and what a damn shame it is and how you wish you were in Portland, Ore. (where you get ticketed for not riding in the kiddie lanes). In that same span, you probably spent less than half as much time in a car, and witnessed five stupid moves by other drivers -- cut-offs, dangerous braking, crossing two lanes to turn, idiocy on the interstate -- all of which you forgot about within an hour ...

***

Last tangent (maybe):
I don't suppose it ever does much good to smart back to a cop who tells you to start/stop doing something, including all those cops out in Hunting Valley/Moreland Hill/Mayfield etc. who bark at you to "Ride in single file!" But in the event one of them is pissed off enough at his wife to actually ticket you for riding two abreast, don't worry: It's legal. Those local "ordinances" declaring that bicycles must ride single file? They're not.

Those are among the changes that took place almost two years ago, when the General Assembly adopted some pretty sweeping changes in a bill that squashes a lot of the old home-rule nuisance laws. Among the others that went by the books: any local requirement to ride on the sidewalk, and the rule saying we're supposed to ride in the gutter.

You might want to familiarize yourself with the changes. Unless you're the kind of person who likes to argue with cops and tell them how stupid they are because they don't even know the goddamn law. In that case, you didn't get this from me.

Better off just writing a letter to those communities. And getting your ticket dismissed in court.

- JN

Love Thy Enemy

Item No. 1: Some folks in the so-called "bike community" locally are exhibiting a certain cleverness in pimping an ongoing fundraiser to help put more Cleveland cops on bikes. Perhaps the mindset is that cops on bikes would translate into a more understanding, enlightened and perhaps sympathetic view of cyclists among police, at least in Cleveland.

Here's the 411, as it's being circulated by Walk + Roll Cleveland, a pedestrian/cycling advocacy group:


CPD Bicycle Benefit!
Sponsored by The Harp and Heineken With A Heart
Support getting CPD officers on bicycles for a safer, cleaner, healthier and better Cleveland. We are "passing the helmet" to raise money to buy CPD officers bicycle equipment. Donate online or at the Aug 23 party and be entered to win fantatstic prizes. You can also donate at The Harp where a portion of every Heineken from now until Aug 23 will go towards the CPD Bicycle Benefit. More details at www.walkroll.com/CPD

Bully! Horray! Ride on over and lift a few pints for our Biking Brothers in Blue!

Item No. 2, absolutely, utterly and completely unrelated to Item No. 1 above: I noticed in a report from the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency's National Center for Statistics and Analysis that more than one out of every four people who died in a wreck while riding a bike in 2006 was drunk. Cheers!

Friday, July 25, 2008

What's Up, Doc?

Cycling begets rabbits.

Once again, I have proof.

I lived for more than 40 years before I got "serious" about biking. Throughout all of those years, I never owned a rabbit.

Now that I am into biking and racing, I own a bunny.


Penny (center): With integrated shit levers.



It isn't mere happenstance, like when you're driving down the street at night and a street light goes black just as you pass it, or when Dave S. wins a prime at Westlake. No, in this case, there is a direct cause-effect relationship between biking and bunnying. So consider this a warning.

Here's the story:

I knocked a rim out of true in a wreckful race last spring, and it sat around for three months. Each time I went to Bike Authority, I'd forget it, and with no plans (no money) to go there anytime soon, I decided to have a friend true it for me. So on Saturday, I loaded my kids in the car and headed out to finally cross off that chore.

Little did I know how that alignment would cause things to align.

My girls had been pestering us for a hamster, guinea pig, rabbit -- some kind of rodent -- for months. But we've managed to put them off and stall, despite whining and begging that rivaled fund-drive week on PBS. We didn't have the money to drop $20 on a bunny and another $60 or $80 on cage and accessories.

Maybe God will send us one someday, I think I told them, lamely.

Alas, just after leaving the wheel guy's place, while the girls chattered at each other like squirrels, I saw a sign.

It was a piece of cardboard tied to a phone pole in front of a house, with the words "Bunny -- Free to a Good Home" inscripted. "Comes with cage, food and more."

The car stopped. I told the squirrels to sit tight. I walked up to the house.

Five minutes later, I hopped out carrying a cage, some Timothy hay and some rabbit chow. And a rabbit the size of a cat.

Now my side porch is covered with rabbit pellets. Our arms -- mine and my kids' -- look like Amy Winehouse's, but it's only rabbit clawings. My dog, who is an ace with two (wild) rabbit kills and four squirrels to her credit, is completely apoplectic, not knowing whether to kill the thing for fun or out of jealous hatred.

If I had no bikes, I wouldn't have had a wheel that needed truing. If I had no wheel in need of truing, I wouldn't have been in Willoughby. If I hadn't been in Willoughby, I wouldn't have seen the sign.

And I wouldn't have a rabbit.

I hope biking doesn't lead to anything else, like lemurs, saigas or star-nosed moles.

We're running out of room.

- JN

Monday, July 14, 2008

Don't Change for Me

Just before bedtime last night, I left my wallet on one of the un-hooked-up stereo speakers that have been "temporarily" sitting in my bedroom since we needed some extra space in the living room to put up the Christmas tree.

I almost always leave my wallet in the kitchen. But I didn't feel like going all the way downstairs and clear across the estate home to put it there, and the butler was sleeping.

To my mother, this morning would have been all too predictable. In grade school, I would fail to put my shoes where they belong and then work myself into a stomping, crying frenzy in the morning, screaming, "Who moved my shoes?!?" Naturally, when it was time to leave today and I was already 20 minutes late, I could not find the wallet. I wasted another 10 minutes looking for it and was about to ride eight miles out of my way to my wife's car in South Euclid because I was sure it was there. Then I took one last look, which is when I found it where it shouldn't have been.

Which leads to this conclusion, applicable to all areas of life: Do not ever do anything new or out of the dull routine because it will just raise your blood pressure and lead to fright. New and different is bad. Static, predictable and monotonous is good.

***

I still have yet to decide whether to do Pedal to the Point (the MS-150 ride) for the sixth straight year, but I got some practice miles for it on Saturday.

Practice miles for P2P mean miles spent riding in a deluge. We've gotten drilled on the way to or from Sandusky for the last three years running.

Last year I awoke to find my tent and its contents pretty damp from the overnight gullywasher, then rode in the rain for five hours and flatted twice. (Thank God I had arm warmers and a (clean) garbage bag to wear between my jersey and my UnderArmor.)

The year before, we rode through a steady drizzle for a couple hours.

In 2005, we got caught in a torrent just outside of Berlin Heights; it came and went in half an hour.

Those experiences taught me that there's not much point in ranting at the rain. Whether you're in it for two minutes or 20 or 200 doesn't matter all that much; you don't get any wetter than soaked, and you're soaked after about a minute. So it doesn't get worse. As long as it doesn't get cold.

It was plenty warm on my 45-mile solo ride on Saturday, which started under a blindingly sunny sky that left me unprepared for rain. I never even looked at the forecast before I left, and didn't really notice it was clouding up until I got halfway between Chesterland and Chagrin Falls. That's when I saw the skies didn't look good, and I got hit by some sprinkles on Russell Road.

But nothing looked ominous -- until I climbed to the top of Shaker Blvd. and looked west toward SOM Center Rd. and saw a curtain of gray spanning the road ahead of me. I hit it, or it hit me, in about 30 seconds. And it rained, hard, for a good 15-20 minutes.

Then, suddenly, it was dry again when I hit Shaker. My house in CleveHts hadn't seen a drop. Yet.

I hosed off the bike and went downstairs to wipe it down. That's when the rain hit again. By then I was in my SpongeBob SquarePants boxers, lubing the chain.

There was a time when getting caught in a storm would've had me cursing. But last year's P2P was a turning point.

Cyclists like to find joy in suffering, I guess. It allows us to elevate and congratulate ourselves, in large part because it inherently means we can think less of everyone else who doesn't suffer with such quiet dignity and nobility as we do. You know -- like those lazy-asses with muscular dystrophy or spinal-cord damage who never even get on a bike, let alone face up to the physical and moral challenge of riding up Sherman Road or riding in a rainstorm.

Riding from Sandusky to Berea in a steady downpour did suck. But as I passed hundreds upon hundreds of other riders who had abandoned, who were huddling together in rest-stop barns and shelters like Siberian dwarf hamsters at Petland -- it gave me energy and resolve and strength. I was drenched. I couldn't get drenched-er. And I was beating something that made those others quit.

That's what we do, right? That's why we climb, or race, or ride 100 or 200 miles: So that, inside our heads at least, we can embiggen ourselves by calling other people pussies.

Not that riding home on Saturday made me less of a wuss, because I wasn't suffering stoically. Actually, it was pleasant. Sure, there are more pleasant ways to ride a bike. But I'd rather be riding a bike unpleasantly than doing something like watching TV. And if you're reading this, you probably would, too. Or else you're a pussy.

***

If you're a fan of pro cycling on the other side of the pond, you definitely need to read this blog. But don't do it while drinking coffee at your computer, because there's a great chance that you'll bust out laughing with a mouthful and blow it all over your keyboard. I haven't laughed so hard since I first discovered BSNYC when he was in his prime. The link above is to Schmalz's tour preview, which is a must-read to get grounded in his slant before you delve into the daily posts. But there's a new, inspired and hysterical post with each tour stage.

- JN

Friday, July 11, 2008

Caught on the Fence

Well ... the game of tag kind of broke up.
It ended like a game of hock-sock (half-hockey, half-soccer) at recess back in sixth grade, when Mark Nienhaus got checked, face first, into the chain-link fence and didn't really bounce back because his lip got caught in it. Ripped it right open -- almost off. Everyone just kind of stood there, stunned, waiting to see if he was going to detach. When he did, we were all horrified at all the blood, and Sr. Rosalie was wafting over with a look of terror on her face. Nienhaus got stitches. Again. Still has a big scar 33 years on, and never could grow a moustache to cover it, either.
That was the end of hock-sock at recess.
The e-tag game produced some real ugliness, too. I'd rather not go into it now, and hope I never will.
But no one was really playing anyway.
Cleveland is much too sophisticated for such childishness.
Good luck from a flatlander to all the billy goats who will get ground into pulp at Shreve tomorrow.

- JN

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Let's Play Hide 'n' Seek 2.0!

So I've been "tagged."
If you can scroll down to the bottom of my last post without getting carpal tunnel syndrome or narcolepsy, you'll see that my techie friend Cyclonecross -- a.k.a. Gary -- summoned an uncharacteristic bit of cleverness in his comments and then told me I've been tagged. I'm it, as it were. I must not have been on base.
Now, the more I get to know Gary, the more I like him. (I would not like him at all if he drove a fire truck, because my house would burn to smoldering cinders before he arrived ... verrrrry slowwwwwly, but getting pretty goddamn good mileage! The trick to saving my house would be to get another fire engine to pass him on the way, in which case Gary would probably get scary; he once lit into a 500-yard sprint to humiliate some dork in a Nashbar jersey because dude had the nerve to pass us with a little too much vigor -- on a freaking charity ride).
But Gary has his quirks. He actually likes math, HTML and algorithms, whatever they are. He speaks Web 2.0. He apparently does not share my belief that so-called "social media" are for people who would rather sit at a keyboard and pretend to socialize than to actually meet people.
In other words, Gary lives in the 21st century and I'm in the past, circa 1986. He is Crocs covered in Jibbitz; I am Earth Shoes sandals with brown over-the-calf socks. He has digital cable with Versus; I have rabbit ears and know there's a difference between UHF and VHF. He downloads his porn; I drive to the "adult bookstore" wearing a fake Dave Zabriskie moustache and sunglasses.
The gap between our eras is great enough that we probably need a Ouiji board to communicate -- but he would want a digital interactive Ouiji 2.0 app. That would, of course, mean we would need an IT consultant on standby in order to play, because Ouiji 2.0 doesn't run well with Vista. Which is why Gary always has job security and my job may soon involve the phrase, "Do you want fries with that?"
Fortunately, Gary gave me explicit instructions about how to respond to being "tagged." I have to post six random things about myself, then tag six other bloggers, then post something on his Cyclonecross blog.
Before recess ends, apparently.
Then we all have to line up for Bathroom 2.0. I pity the kid who has to use the stall after me.
So ...
I might not know six bloggers (see above). But here are six things:
1) I am sort of looking for a job. Unfortunately for me, the industry sectors I'm exploring are completely obsessed with social media and the ways that opportunistic exploiters will be able to use Facebook and LinkedIn and WhatNot to drain our pocketbooks. I find those to be about as useless as American Idol (and by now, they're probably sooo last year). Therefore, this "tagging" indulgence in that Web 2.0 playpen is kind of an education for me -- case study. And it may be tax-deductible.
2) I keep this blog semi-anonymous, largely because of #1 above. I'd rather it didn't pop up on the Google search done by a prudish job-candidate-screening HR person who takes umbrage to musings that celebrate shooting pigeons; include cruel, underhanded attacks on other people's appearance; and reveal my Rainman tendancies. The Senior VP for Really Cool Jobs at MyPerfectCompany would be uber-hip, and thus would be a cyclist, and she may stumble across my churlishness during a backgrounder and yank the $250K/yr. job offer off the table because she doesn't appreciate me openly deriding things other cyclists consider sacred (examples 1, 2 and 3, to cite but a few).
Those are the traits that actually define me as a person and prospective employee, but I'd rather dupe people into thinking I'm a dynamic, team-oriented self-starter who's proficient in Web 2.0 and social media, busily working on the next killer app. For those things, I'll create another blog and steal all the great content from other people's sites -- just like Google, MSN and Yahoo do!
3) I thought my dog, Molly, was close to being a goner until I started giving her glucosamine and chondroitin. It was as if I'd begun injecting her with HGH (or would that be DGH?). Maybe it was the glucosamine. Or maybe was happily rolling in some deer shit recently and accidentally tumbled into the canine fountain of youth.
4) I have the best kids in the world -- two beautiful little girls -- along with an attractive and wonderful wife. I keep them out of all of this, though. In part it's so I don't reflect on them in the same embarrassing ways I do in real life. But mainly it's because my years of closely observing the criminal-justice system gave me a sickening insight that the rest of you with little kids ought to understand: Far, far more perverts than you actually realize troll the Internet looking for pictures of little kids and ways to "meet" them. What you've read isn't paranoid hype; it is understatement. Another reason for semi-anonymity in the blogosphere.
5) I'm obsessive. Every few years, I find or rediscover something I love and I throw myself into it with stunning, sometimes almost self-destructive passion. Then I try to learn everything there is about it and spend absolutely obscene sums of money pursuing my new hobby. Those obsessions in the last 15 years have included home brewing, cooking, wine and softball (up to 6 games a week, six months a year, plus 3 hours per week in the batting cages during winter). I still cook -- pretty well -- but I no longer brew. I don't even drink. I gave up softball the week my older girl was born -- involuntarily at first, but I don't miss it.
6) I wish I'd begun bike racing sooner instead of waiting until I was 43. But then, I may have burned out on it by now. Or I'd be crippled.

As for those I've tagged, here's the list: Jodi, Matt, Ray, Russ, Dave and a blogger I don't know but whom I admire, Aki.
- JN

Friday, July 4, 2008

Twin Sizzler, Twin Trends

The two trends of my season -- inexplicable gains in form (from wretched to mediocre) and inexplicable crappy luck -- collided today at the wonderful Twin Sizzler race in Medina.
The long story short: I hung with the Cat 2s and 3s in the elite masters field (35+), ran down some early breaks, made the selection when we hit the hills and was in pretty good shape 16 miles into a 26-mile race. Then I hit some glass and flatted out.
That's the gist.
If you hate reading other people's long, self-indulgent race reports as much as I do, go ahead and boot up your Grand Theft Auto II.

***

The July 4 Twin Sizzler is a much-derided race among racers, because the road conditions are Fallujah-esque and the intersections poorly marshaled. There's no prize money or upgrade points.
Worst of all, perhaps, to my many overly serious, self-important peers, the Twin Sizzler is non-sanctioned, and its age-group-based citizen races draw a million non-racers for their first race ever or their only race of the year. God forbid anyone who holds a license and has matching top and bottom be confused for one of them. ("Oh, dear, Thurston -- Who admitted those ghastly people wearing sneakers and toe clips?")
Its 8:15 a.m. start is quite early start for me, a non-morning-person who lives almost an hour from Medina. Then my day started off with the kind of exasperation that's familiar to just about everyone who races:
1) Couldn't get to sleep last night, thanks in large part to the party girls next door, who thought it was really fun to sing along with Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" at the top of their lungs well past midnight. When the alarm went off at 6 a.m., I'd been asleep for maybe 4-1/2 hours.
2) Finally get in the car at 6:40 and discover the tank is empty -- like, real empty. Emptier than it ever gets in the Honda, because the Fuel light actually went on. That car's gotta be on vapors for the fuel light to come on.
I get to what I thought was a 24-hour gas station at the corner, desperately needing both gas and coffee, and discover that it is, at most, a 23-hour and 58-minute gas station, because it was closed up tight. Maybe, just maybe, I've got enough gas to get to Ghetto Joe's -- it's mostly downhill.
3) I do make it, only to discover that gangbanging dope boys also sometimes get stuck with the early shift, and four of them begin to take issue with the straps of my bib overalls hanging out the back of my baggy shorts. But like a cat that gets bored with a mouse, they decide to drop it.
4) By now it's an hour and 15 minutes until the start of the race, which is about an hour away, and the question of whether I should even bother becomes more pronounced.
5) My bowels ask for a respite at Brunswick. I hope there is indoor plumbing there. And I'm delighted to see a Burger King. Surprisingly, there are no corn squeezin's or hominy on the menu. But there is coffee!
Fast forward to Medina.
I arrived without making up my mind which race to do, and was totally confounded.
The citizens' race, 45-49 age group, had almost 30 guys signed up, which at first struck me as good.
I knew that a good number of those would look like Dom Deluise or John McCain. Mirrored helmets. Tri-bars, maybe. Flat-bar bikes. Cotton T-shirts and/or Wheaties jerseys that stretch over enlarged bellies. Black Nashbar tops that look like a cut-in-half inner tube with Rosie O'Donnell stuffed inside. F--in' panniers, for chrissakes. But with 30 or more, maybe I'd get lucky and get a good race from half of them.
But last year was not that long ago, and even at my age, I can remember one year back. I did the 40-44 race last year. There were only a handful of quasi-racers like me -- some fellow Cat 5s and out-of-shape Cat 4s. The race blew to bits, with five or six of us together and the rest spread out over many miles like a camel train. I won -- with an average HR of 144.
My teammates were unimpressed. They called me a sandbagger. Said I shouldn't have done the citizens race in the first place.
Now, I'm 20 pounds too close to rotund, and haven't won jack this year. I've barely even finished any races. So sandbagging didn't sound so bad.
But I kept thinking that a re-run of last year's race seemed kind of un-sporting, like hunting chinchillas in an empty swimming pool, with a 12-gauge.
So I aimed to do the elite masters -- a race that promised to include real racers, but supposedly wouldn't be as tough as a typical masters race.
Lots of the studs don't bother with this little race (and don't want to risk injury for no money, no points, not even merchandise -- just a faux-bronze medal with a sticker on it). And, according to my buddy/teammate Dave S., the big guns who do race -- the Cat 1-2-3s who race A's at Westlake -- would all probably race with the under-35 elites, regardless of age. The Sizzler being what it is, it seems rules are optional, and those guys want to be where the action is, Dave said. He went so far as to say Dick B. called the elite masters race boringly slow.
Yet when I was six miles out of town and running pretty damn late, Dave called to warn me that the elite masters field was looking awful strong -- some of the guns were not racing down (in age) after all.
I got to registration and the start was about 25 minutes away. I hemmed. Then I hawed. Then I think I hawed a second time, but it could've been a hem.
Oh well, I thought: Better to get a hard workout and get dropped than to do a 25-mile tempo ride with one sprint at the end. (I would quickly begin to doubt the wisdom of that.) I'd do the masters rather than age group, I decided. So I paid and pinned on number 730-something -- the 35+ elites were wearing the 700s. No going back now.
I rolled up to see a bunch of 2s and 3s -- teammate Tom K., plus Zak D. and Chris R. from Lake Effect, Polo from RGF and bunches from Spin and Orrville -- in the same bunch with this overweight Cat 4 prime-hunter. Good thing I got my 5-minute warmup. Looked like I'd need it. And some EPO and a testosterone patch, and a tow rope.
We rolled out easily, sitting at 20-22 mph for the first couple-few miles, before a couple Orrvilles and a couple Spins decided to stomp on it. I was 4th wheel, so I chased on. I took my turn on the front and then pulled off. No one came through. Break over.
Then Bang! -- a replay. Again, I ran it down (pulling a couple other guys up) and it died. I almost died, too. We were four miles in and I was gasping, wondering if I should just quit.
But I found a nice draft near the back and recovered for awhile. I rode Riccardi's wheel until he went with another attack that wasn't really going anywhere. Then I latched on behind some other guys.
By the time we got to Ballash Road, the "much faster" U-35 elites were within sight, merely a few hundred yards up the road despite their 3- or 4-minute head start. We turned onto Kennard, about 10 miles into the race, and were eating up their cast-offs.
Then came the Hills of Kennard. They're short. They're not very steep. They're not all that noticeable at sub-race pace, if no one is attacking. But they're back to back -- up, brief false flat and up again. Dave S. insisted this would split the field.
It did. Not terribly selective, but most of the other 4s and a couple 3s got spit off. I got caught trying to ride the wheel of the wrong rider, a seemingly nice chap in a Brecksville Velo kit, to the top. I just about got dropped before I came around him on the 2nd rise.
He blew, and my teammate JV blew. I found myself dangling 25 yards off the back of the main group, with no one close enough behind to work with. As hard as I tried, I couldn't close the gap, and I was killing myself for what seemed like half an hour but was probably only 3-4 minutes. I knew I was only halfway through the race and the riding would be easier up there in a pack than here in No Man's Land. So when the road took a small dip, I hammered downhill right as the group ahead caught a couple breakaway riders and everyone kinda sat up.
Here I was with the hammers. I'd made the split. (So did a couple other suspect riders, I must admit -- guys who do, or should, be racing in the B field at Westlake. But there were some strong guys there, too -- guys who win Cat 3 races and masters races with very strong fields.)
Now the riding was pretty flat -- just some rollers -- and the attacks were pretty unconvincing. With only 10-11 miles left, I felt comfortable sitting on, chatting with Chris S., a beast from the East. I figured even if I didn't make the sprint at the end, I'd probably finish with or very near the main bunch. That alone would be a moral victory. And I had two SBR mates -- Rick A. and Tom -- in the front with me; who knows? Maybe I could actually help.
Then came what I should've known was inevitable: Psst-psst-psst-psst-psst!
"Flat," said an Orrville guy next to me said.
"ME?" I replied in horror
"Yup," he said.
Now, I've heard so many flats in races this year that you'd think I'd know that sound intimately. But this flat was a ventriloquist: It didn't sound like it was coming from my bike. And it wasn't that steady hiss of deflation. Sounded more like a leaf or something was stuck on someone's wheel and rubbing a seat stay.
We were bunched tightly together, so I could manage only a quick glance down. Didn't look flat -- not al the way. But then we rode into bright sunlight for a second and I could see it was halfway gone.
I glanced back. No Mavic neutral support. No SRAM wagon. No Snake Bite team car. No helicopters or network TV guys or Gummi Bears trucks.
My race was over. My computer showed an average speed of 25.3 -- one of the fastest races I've ever been in.
I bowed out with just enough air to make it to the marshal at the next intersection. He called a SAG for me and then explained the difference between amateur radio and CBs while I waited. It was very exciting.
About 10 minutes later, I heard, my "slow, old masters" field caught the "young elite" field near town -- ran down the big Cat 1s from RGF and Lake Effect etc. They had themselves a convoy. They crashed the gate doing 38 and said let them bikers roll. 10-4.
I woulda/coulda been there, in which case I would have never let Dave S. and Gary hear the end of it.
I heard it turned into a cluster-foof ending -- chaos and pandemonium and guys panicking and dropping out before the sprint and other such fun. Our Gary took 3rd.
Or so I heard. I was in a pickup truck at the time. Sucks a little.
But I hung on with the hammers. And I flatted. One surprise, offset by something that should surprise no one.

- JN

P.S. To Death Ray: Is this one long enough to make up for the drought???