Friday, February 29, 2008

Wine Quality Doesn't Corellate, Either

If you are like me, you frequently find yourself asking, "I wonder what nation has a Gross Domestic Product most comparable to that of Ohio?"

Don't sweat it: The answer is below.

I got it from this intriguing map purports to have the answer -- not just for Ohio, but for every other state in the Union. Illinois' GDP, for instance, is roughly equal to Mexico's. Oregon's is comparable to Israel. California's GDP pal? France.

So says the map. I have no clue how old it is, and can't vouch for its accuracy. (But I don't have to. I'm not on the clock. And interesting trumps accurate anyway.)

One clear conclusion: GDP is absolutely no predictor of cycling success. Need proof? Here's a hint to the question at the top. Ohio's secret parallel-GDP nation has produced Tour de France stage winners Cadel Evans, Baden Cooke, Robbie McEwan, Stuart O'Grady, Phil Anderson and Neil Stephens, plus many other ProTour riders. (Have you guessed it yet?)

Ohio has produced ... Davis Phinney.

On the other hand, the Australian philosophy seems to be, "When you're sitting on your ass all day, you might as well sit on a bike." The land area of Oz is bigger than the whole U.S., and the Australian population is 45% larger than Ohio's. Yet our GDP is still comparable?

We must be too productive to jack around on bikes.

Me? I must be Australian.

- JN

(In the unlikely event you want more detail about the map, go here.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008


There's no doubt that by the time I've heard about something cool on the Internet, it has ceased to be cool. At a minimum, it is passe. Or, typically, it has degenerated into the existence of a crackhead, staggering toward death in a perpetually futile quest to recapture the feeling of that first high.

So when I come across a blog where the daily comments reach into the hundreds, I know I'm late to the party.

This blog -- Stuff White People Like -- might be following that rule. Its posts already draw hundreds of comments, so it's popular enough for me to hear of it, meaning it lost its cool luster some time ago.

Or maybe it's an exception. Let's watch for awhile and see. In any case, I'm white and I like the blog. So maybe the authors should write about their own blog.

Oh, yeah: It has nothing to do with cycling.

- JN

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Brevity, Compatibility and Gang Bangin', bike-squad-style

To find friends as nice as mine, most people have to go to prison. Not me. I ride bikes. (Lately, I'm not sure which is preferable.)
My kind friends have suggested that I've been a bit long-winded lately. "Maybe you should post more often so you don't go off on another one of those psychotic rants," one suggested the other day.
Point well taken. So I dedicate today to brevity. In the spirit of Ohio's wildly scrutinized primary election campaign, I'll just do talking-point bullets:

  • It figures. I just spent about $100 on a few pairs of Campagnolo socks, only to get the jolting news that Shimano has acquired Pearl Izumi. Now my sickly expensive socks will wind up being incompatible with my stupidly costly Pearl Izumi Ultramicroatomicsensor shorts, and I'll get bad shifts.
  • Mark my words on this: Shimano's Pearl Izumi will come out with some new standard every few years that renders all prior PI clothing obsolete and is not backward compatible. The Three-Arm Jacket, or some such. For $350.
  • On the subject of clothing: My Snake Bite Racing colleagues and I just got our new kits. I'm going to call them "colors," because I feel like I'm now a member of a gang. I've always wanted to be in a gang, or a "posse" of "homies," but I couldn't get past the part about getting the shit beaten out of me for initiation. But if a bike team had an initiation, it would be like getting initiated by these guys:

Yo, word: When I got made in SBR, the whole team stood around me and scratched and kicked at me and tried to pull my hair (when it was 2 mm. long instead of completely shaved off); only one blow landed, and the guy hurt his hand and couldn't shift for a month. So he called me a fag. And then they sent a young associate member after me to take me down in a race (after I crossed the finish line). Truth.

Just kidding. Gotta add the "just kidding" or someone will curb me.

  • There's a foot of new snow and the first highly anticipated race of the season is four days away. If you gotta race in mid-winter, though, the only place to do it is at the Mid-Ohio Raceway. My bet is that they have enough plows to make the track spotless. So it should be in perfect shape for me to get dropped on the fifth lap.
  • My reader demographics recently got significantly better -- or perhaps worse, but at least richer and more snooty -- when a certain erudite Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge pumped me and this sordid blog up in an email to about 50 of his high-falutin' friends. That day, the hits on my blog were off the charts. (Oops! Sorry, y'Honor -- after the whole Dudas thing, I'm probably giving you hives by putting references to you and the word "hit" in the same paragraph.) I'm imagining the folks in his email address book generally ride Sevens and Serottas. I should suck up. After all, with that kind of heft in my corner, maybe I really can shoot Lanigan and Malone after all. But just with the Crosman 760. And only with a couple pumps.

- JN

Friday, February 22, 2008

Piles of Guano on Magic 105

When I was a little kid, my family and I had the horrendous misfortune of having our home become a pigeon roost.

I'm not talking about a couple pigeons. I'm talking Tippy Hedronesque -- nest upon nest, filled with pigeons that crapped like cement mixers. Our eaves and the walkways between our house and the neighbors' would get covered in piles of guano so deep that archaeologists would stop, thinking they were Indian mounds.

The droppings were so acidic that they literally would eat through asphalt shingles and cause the porch roof below the eaves to leak. White streaks ran down the side of the house. We were ashamed. And nothing worked. We tried plastic snakes, and gummy, sticky stuff that they supposedly were loathe to sit in. I think they took to using both to reinforce their nests.

Aside from the physical mess, the cooing just about sent me over the edge. You might think is soothing when you first hear it. But when 20 pigeons think they're roosters and start arguing in a Satanic chorus right outside your window at dawn, it becomes Cheneyesque torture, like having glass ground into your face or hearing Jeff Tanchak give a weather forecast.

Coincidentally -- or not -- my brother John and I finally prevailed upon our parents to get us a Crosman 760 air rifle about the same time the pigeons began to get out of hand. The 760 was no Daisy spring-ding. It was the kind you could pump up -- and up and up. A poor boy's Benjamin, as it were.

Now, I confess that at that age, I might have fantasized that it would be great to grow up, get a .30-30 and shoot a deer and enjoy the great outdoors and all. I might have checked out "Outdoor Life" from the library. I plucked some deer photos out for target practice.

But I wasn't a bloodthirsty killer. I never hunted until college, and only a few times at that before I realized that while marksmanship was a hoot, blasting a bunny or a bird to death for no good reason felt kind of ... well, sinful.

Nonetheless, sometimes there comes a point in a man's life when he is left no choice but to take up arms in defense of something fundamentally dear. In my life, that time was when I was about 9, and the fundamentally dear things included sleep, and shingles.

I won't drag this out too long, but one day a pigeon sat on the Schraders' roof, no more than 20 feet from the bedroom window where I'd already ripped a hole in the screen just the size to accomodate a pellet gun's barrel. I pumped the gun at least two times more than the recommended max of 10 pumps. Then I took aim and fired a Charles Whitman sampler.

I was the Audie Murphy of the Squab Squad, picking off pestilence and vermin with my parents' tacit approval. I expected, or hoped, that the bird would wobble, gasp and maybe do a half-spin before falling forward, like the marauding tough guys always did after Alan Ladd or John Wayne blew them away. Instead, the pigeon fluttered down, two stories, to the ground.

My heart raced as I ran downstairs to find the carcass. But when I stepped out the side door, I was most disturbed to find the pigeon standing there on the ground, as if it were waiting. It looked at me -- a bloodless stare of blank recrimination. Suddenly, the fun started to go out.

It had to be hurt, I figured -- probably mortally. And I knew it must be suffering, which was the last thing I wanted. A sportsman takes down his target with one clean shot, right? Some sport I was. I'd just done the equivalent of snapping a leghold trap on a muskrat.

Guilt washed over me and a lump rose in my throat. I have to end this humanely, and quickly, I told myself. One more shot -- the proverbial "out of its misery" round. So I pumped up the gun 10 more times, loaded a BB and fired, almost point blank, into its head. The bird blinked. A drop of blood ran down the side of its blue-green head. Then it started to stagger away. Oh my god, I said. I've got no choice but to do it again.

But this time, as I pumped up the rifle, the bloodied bird began to trot out from between the two houses. Into the front yard. Where the neighbors could see.

Lots of the neighbors had pigeon problems, too, and wouldn't mind a bit of pest control. But they wanted something unseen and sanitary. They surely didn't want to have to be confronted by the violent mechanism, nor the executioner.

The bird seemed to know this. Maybe it remembered the public-opinion impact of My Lai. So it ran -- walked, really --- across the Schraders' lawn with me chasing it and pumping on that gun's forestock lke Joe Morgan at the plate.

Pufft! Another shot.

Blink! Another ghostly ocular taunt, a wink at my guilt-thrashed soul.

That pigeon, I thought, must be in searing pain by now. It was all my fault. And still the bird walked away, onto the Millers' lawn.

Then it made a mistake that had to make us both feel better: It wobbled into the little right-angle crotch where the Millers' concrete steps met their porch. There, I stood over it and fired. And fired again. And again. It took seven shots in all before the bird fell down and quit moving.

I looked up to see the Graff girls and their mother staring slack-jawed at me, eyes bulging in fearful disbelief.

I wanted to explain that I wasn't being a psycho -- I was being humane. I was trying to end mad suffering as quickly as possible. Their faces, however, told me I was heading for hell.

The point is that the whole escapade started out nobly -- I wanted to eradicate the vermin that were damaging our home and potentially spreading disease. But I wound up looking crazy. My parents found out and I got in a bit of trouble -- mainly over the embarrassment and spectacle. And frankly, I felt horrible about how it all went wrong -- too much suffering and mess.

Which is why I did not go get a big-boy gun -- say, a .270-cal. Remington bolt-action rifle -- and walk into the studios of WMJI-Magic 105 the other morning, even though the vermin known as Lanigan and Malone are far more noxious and full of shit than those pigeons.

You may remember the Lanigan show as being the open sewer of hatred toward cyclists -- the show where the hosts screamed about how "bikers" don't belong on the road. The show that egged listeners on with laughter as callers told tales of whizzing pop bottles at cyclists, or running them off the road. Ha. Freaking. Ha.

The escapade became just the sort of minor scandal that DJs love -- naughty publicity coast to coast and a faux apology from Clear Channel that let the show milk even more pub. Some well-intended dumbasses accepted the apology and maybe a $200 tax-deductible donation to Don't Kill Bike Riders Very Often, Please, and called it even.

Lesson learned? Obviously not.

This week I was driving to work in a storm of snow and freezing rain and accidentally hit the MJI button. This time the two corpulent pustules were railing against pedestrians, joggers and dog-walkers who had the gall to use their feet on the plowed streets instead of walking on the snow- and ice-covered sidewalks. The nerve! Lanigan was getting all worked up. What right do they have using the roads? What's a fatass radio host supposed to do -- drive his Caddy all the way around the runners, two feet to the left? Why bother, he implied -- run them down because they don't belong.

I'm not a hater, usually. I have my bad days, sure, but I don't really wish heinous things on people, even enemies.

But in this case, would it really be hateful to eradicate the vile plague that is that show? Or would it be like certain wartime heroics, where an act that's evil in another context becomes an act of nobility that saves society from, say, Nazism?

It would have been exciting to pull the trigger. But what if the hosts just lay there gurgling? What if they kept blinking? I know I couldn't handle that.

And I know that jury selection would be too risky, given the number of haters around here who think Lanigan's rants are entertaining. So I would have probably gotten grounded for a long, long time at LCI.

But I couldn't help but dwell on it as I rode my bike at lunch today. I thought of this:

I have a brother who is a pretty good man, a guy who has given the world three great kids and who has served as a police officer for 34 years, clearing our streets of killers and threats. My brother has cancer that very well may be terminal, and he is suffering through the treatment as I write.

I won't bring myself to Lanigan's level and advocate violence. But I can dream. And I hope this is the dream I have tonight: I reach down my brother's throat. I grab his cancer like a bloody black catfish and pull it out. Then I turn to Lanigan and Malone. I open their mouths and shove that cancer deep into them, and I let it go. Then I laugh about it with my listeners.

Aw, shucks. I'm just joking. C'mon ... it's in good fun.

Get it?

- JN

What Would Joe Friel Say?

Hmm ... tomorrow's weather forecast calls for a high of 34 degrees, with intervals of sunshine. Sounds a little risky. We all know we don't have an adequate base of sunshine to be doing intervals this early in the year.

The Heightsriders Peloton at ToC?

I think I've figured out why the TdF doesn't want Astana racing. The team looks like crap.

The pix of Astana driving the peloton during Thursday's Tour of California stage might as well be photos of the Shaker Sunday-morning group ride. Astana's riders look only a little better than the folks who wrapped themselves in garbage bags for the ride home from Sandusky during Pedal to the Point last August.

See what I mean?

These dudes look like they were grabbing windbreakers from the spectators. How'd you like to be a sponsor who dropped a mil only to see your team obscuring your logo with $11 Nashbar C-thru rain jackets?

By the way: How many of you NEO riders are shedding tears for the supreme hardship that these guys endured? Not sure about y'all, but as of Feb. 22, after interminable sub-freezing weather, snow, freezing rain and all the other crap we've dealt with here, I'll be first in line to volunteer for a ride in shorts and short-finger gloves if the only price I pay is drizzle and headwind. Maybe not for seven hours, but then again, it's not my job.

Neither is blogging, though. Good thing, too, after the string of lame posts lately.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rock (Not) Racing

Rock Racing's proven and suspected dopers -- Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla -- have been kicked out of the Tour of California because they're all still under a cloud. Their team owner, Michael Ball, tried to jump to their defense. Ha.
"When you have adversity, it brings a team closer together and makes them stronger," said the nouveax riche blue-jeans baron. "If my guys could never race again, I'd still pay them and send them into the city to tell children that there are better things to get involved in than drugs or gangs."
Wait a sec.
Rock Racing is a gang. Ball sure wants us to think so.
And the only reason he could hire three former continental stars to compete on a domestic U.S. team is because drug abusers are out of fashion among most of the rest of the UCI teams.
There is a lot of material to work with in the above. So I'm passing it on to someone who isn't overworked and overdue for bed.
Like Ball, I give and I give.


On Hiatus ... for a Minute or Two

What with the Cavs' blockbuster trade, the Browns signing Jamal Lewis to an extension and whomever doing whatever at the Tour of California, there's just no room in the sports world for a post on my blog.

That and I'm working on a Snake Bite Racing team project:

So once again, I give you no reason to visit this blog.

Well, I do have a link to a photo of Halle Berry riding a bike in the buff. But I probably shouldn't post it ... right?

I'll try to come up with something interesting to say someday soon. I'd hate to disappoint my fan.


Monday, February 18, 2008

That's nuts

I don't know whose idea it was to move the peanuts from slot No. 141 in the vending machine to No. 153, but I'm still pissed about it two weeks later! If I want change from my vending machine, I want it to fall down in the coin return -- not change in the ordering of vendables. Who's loading the damn thing -- Barack Obama?

Last week, I reflexively punched in 141 and what did I get? Some goddamn fruit snacks, that's what. Who decided that? The Reds down at Central Planning? Makes me so mad I want to spray a Diet Coke on someone -- and I don't even drink Diet Coke!

I'm betting the same people are behind the peanut-moving plot who are behind this scandal.

General George Washington Carver didn't fight for this country so people could pull this shit. If someone doesn't put the peanuts back into 141, I'm calling Monday Moaning at The Plain Dealer. I'm not kidding.

- JN

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Not Daytona

A race review, by popular demand.

My younger daughter Claire has a way of putting things into perspective when it comes to my racing nowadays.
"You didn't crash and get hurt again, Daddy," the 4-year-old said as I complained about my performance in Saturday's Frosty Toes Classic, the season opener for road racing in Ohio.
Claire tends to associate Dad's racing with wrecks. She watched me stagger around after two spills last year, and the bloody bandages and moan-filled rehab exercises made enough of an impression that she mentions wrecking whenever she sees me swing a leg over the bike. Apparently for her, it's a victory if I just keep the rubber on the road.
So I won on Saturday.
By the other objective measure, I flat-out lost. That is, I came in dead last after getting a flat tire two miles out from the finish line.
Too bad, too: I felt surprisingly good about the way the race was setting up. I spent the entire second lap out of the wind and felt far stronger than I expected to as we headed toward the penultimate turn. So my race ended with me nowhere near contention.
In a way, then, it ended according to plan. I showed up with no intent to contend at all.
I met my teammates at the race's staging area -- an unpaved parking lot covered with ice and snow at an elementary school in an identity-challenged Licking County hamlet that's alternately described as Hartford or Croton -- with only half an hour to warm up.
We had gone over our plan thoroughly beforehand, though: I'd volunteered to sacrifice myself and work for a couple teammates in the combined Cat 4-5 race -- bury myself to lead them out for a sprint finish, or shut down any pursuit if they got a breakaway. When you do that, you usually finish well down in the bunch.
But at registration, Chris and Pete decided to ride with Dave, one of our Cat 3s, in the 3-4 field -- a separate race that started several minutes before the Cat 4-5 race I found myself riding in alone. My training has been too spotty for me to ride with that stronger field. And I didn't think I'd be strong enough this early in the year to contend in mine.
So I found myself wondering why I even bothered to drive 2-1/2 hours and pay $50 in gas and entry fees for a training ride without any point.
Yet it had turned into a beautiful day for a race after so many days, or weeks, of cold, dreary, windy and snowy weather.
The school's parking lot was a mess, but the roads were mostly dry, and the wind was more moderate than forecast. The sun was shining, and 33 degrees felt like 53.
So I lined up in a field of 15, plus a Cat 3 / masters rider who went off with us because he'd missed the earlier starts. We rode very briskly for the first four miles; he hoped to get a crowd to work hard enough to pull him up to either the masters or Cat 3/4 field, and I hoped to get in the vigorous warmup I didn't get pre-race, and maybe break up the field a little.
His plan was doomed: We were four minutes behind at the start. But mine was working out fine: I was getting warm and feeling surprisingly strong, and we were stringing things out pretty good.
But then came two turns filled with gravel. The peloton slowed down to towpath pace and came back together.
Then a young rider attacked and got a small gap. At first, no one responded. Then some folks decided to chase him down, and I let them tow me up. He gave in when we caught him and everyone came back together. Then he jumped again and dangled there, 50 yards off the front, with his lead growing very slowly but steadily, as we passed the halfway point of the first lap. So three of us took off after him again. Next we knew, we had a little bit of a gap, even though we hadn't organized anything just yet, because we were coming to the 2nd-to-last turn on the 1st lap.
Or were we?
The marshal didn't marshal -- just stood alongside his car -- so the guys up front thought he was just blocking an intersection instead of a turn. Nope. It was a turn. And our entire breakaway blew it.
We chased back on. But from there on, things settled in to a steady sub-LT pace for the rest of the race until I flatted.
I fixed my flat and took the lanterne rouge.
I was Claire's hero.


Postscript: Turned out Snake Bite did have another guy in the 4/5 field -- a new fella named Steve whom I'd met once but failed to recognize. (Neither of us were "in uniform.") He bagged fourth place, he said. Congrats, Steve!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Open Season

Today, our hero mails in a lame post as an excuse to experiment with gratuitously embedded video ...

Well, it all begins tomorrow afternoon.

The racing season rolls off around 1:30 at the Frosty Toes Classic, a small, aptly named road race through the windswept farm fields of central Ohio. I took 3rd last year, but I was in much better shape then. This year, I'm thinking of donning a wig and jumping in with the women's Cat 4s. I'd have a good chance at a podium in that field -- I think there were only two women racing in it last year.

In the men's 4s, I will do well if I can just hang on after a few suicide attacks to string out the field for a couple teammates, Chris and Pete. In a perfect world, I'll draw out some of the stronger riders in a break or two, then fall back in and either clog up the pursuit a little if one or both of them get away, or set up a leadout if they don't.

That would be perfect. But perfection and I rarely show up to race together.
Jen and the girls are coming along, although they won't stay for the race itself -- it's laps around a 10-mile loop, so there won't be much of a race to watch.

I'm not feeling any apprehension yet. But I'll probably start getting nervous as we line up. I always do. Those 15 to 30 minutes before the whistle invariably have me envisioning things like this:

Then again, I could be spending my weekend driving somewhere to do this:

I get particularly jittery at the line in a criterium. But I start to snap out of it when I snap into my Speedplays, and by the end of the first lap or so, all my concentration is on the race, not on what could happen that's bad. I even surprised myself a couple years ago, when some guy accidentally bumped me hard in a turn and I didn't flinch -- I barely cared. He got real scared, though. I think I lapped him at least once after that.

Also, I wrecked twice last year. Someone who doesn't race might think that would make me more freaked out. But it actually has had the opposite effect. I went down pretty hard two times, and each time I f'd up my left shoulder pretty good and lost a lot of skin. But it wasn't half as bad as I expected. I learned that crashes are pretty survivable. They hurt like hell -- especially eight hours later -- but you can't have fun without that risk.

And there are worse things than a hard crash. For instance, certain soft crashes:

Now I'm going to go ride, for the first time this week if you don't count a spin class. Maybe while I'm out there in the snow and cold, I'll think of something good to write. If not, maybe I'll post more video.

- JN

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Kiss their Astana Goodbye

Gasp. I cannot believe that Astana is out of the Tour. (Sniff!)

Spin Cycle

I tried my hand -- or my feet -- at spinning again last night.

Oops! I meant to say I tried my hand at "Reaction Cycling" (TM). Wouldn't want to get a snotty letter from attorneys representing the Spinning (R) people ...

By whatever name, it sucks. It does no good for cyclists. In fact, it is bad for cyclists because it trains the anaerobic system.

Those are the things I'm telling myself, anyway. Because I do not really want to go back. That's how bad it kicked my ass.

Spinning is sick. Spin instructors are sick. It goes sorta like this:

First minute and 5 seconds: warm up.

Next 57:50: Ride like you're in a bunch sprint at the end of a criterium.

Last 1:05: Cool down.

I did this several times a few winters ago and thought I liked it. But I think that, as Roger Clemens might say, I misremembered.

Freezing rain was falling, though, on top of four inches of new snow. So I wasn't about to ride outdoors, and riding the trainer is vapid -- not to mention almost impossible when my kids are buzzing around and I'm guilt-tripping at the sight of my exhausted wife.

So I figured, Let's try the spin cycle again. My friend Tim is doing it several times a week. Tim is a Cat 2 cyclist posing as a crippled old broken-down racer who had to drop down to Cat 3. Do not race against Tim on a bet. Because if he is surviving Spinning/spin/Reaction Cycling multiple times weekly, he is going to be hell to beat.

However, Tim might have to find a race that is 45 minutes long and requires him to stand up for 20 seconds, sit for 5, stand up for 30 seconds, sit for 5, stand up for 20 seconds, sit for five, etc. That race, I haven't seen yet. But if Tim can find it, he will dominate.

I steeled myself for suffering and headed for the Bally's near my house. It's not that I expected to suffer too much from the workout. No, I feared everything I'd have to endure before they'd let me sweat a drop.

I signed up on line for a two-weeks-free pass, which required me to listen to the pitch. Bally's hasn't changed since I first walked into a "Bally's Scandanavian" back in about 1990: Some used-car salesman in a too-tight polo shirt descends upon you and starts the high-pressure tactics. This culminates with him trying to get you to sign a three-year contract obligating you to pay $40 or $50 a month for long after you stop going and fall back into your old drinkin' ways. If I were a TV news reporter on assignment to go find subprime-mortgage-crisis "victims," I'd just walk into a Bally's, wave a $5 bill and shout, "I HAVE $100 HERE AND I'LL GIVE IT TO ANYONE WHO LOST A HOME TO FORECLOSURE BECAUSE HE DIDN'T READ THE CONTRACT!" The building would shake from all the dupes dropping their weights at once and sprinting toward me.

The Bally Boy who met me seemed to have had his spirits crushed already by the pathetic nature of his job. I made it clear that he could save the hard sell, and astonishingly, he respected that. Just a quick walk-through and a perfunctory office sit-down where he showed me the bogus membership plans he knew I'd never buy, and we both nodded in a silent acknowledgement that we would quit wasting each other's time. I even gave him one of those light-tap punches on the arm to thank him for laying off. He seemed to appreciate it.

I now would have two weeks to try out the facilities, which is about 1-6/7ths weeks more than anyone would possibly need to realize that no sane person joins a Bally's.

I changed clothes and hurried to the spinning room. That is exactly what it quickly became -- a spinning room. Dude at the front was some aging, psychotic triathlete version of Timothy Leary. Sitting directly across from him was a woman : a wiry 90-pound 50-year-old who looked like she cut her own hair and worked at a BP. You'd picture her outside the gas station, smoking cigarette after cigarette, just running inside long enough to ring up one customer before her next smoke break.

But she was no smoker. This woman was right out of a comedy skit -- full of energy so furious that could only be summoned by crystal meth or a serious chemical imbalance. She looked like a broken ceiling fan: Her legs whirled at a cadence that never dropped below 130 rpm for the entire session. That is not a joke, nor an exaggeration. She was a blur, with her head and shoulders flying all over the place and sweat spraying onto the floor without a single slowdown. She must have had the resistence dial at zero, but that was immaterial: I've never seen such manic concentration. (Later, as soon as we finished, she scurried off to an aerobics class.)
Next to her were the two big lugs -- "husky" guys with somewhat surprising endurance and a respectable commitment to conditioning.

Then, alongside me, were the two office secretaries who probably dared each other to do a sprint triathlon. That's my guess because the Rev. Leary focused on them exclusively as he chanted his patter: "There's the woman up ahead wearing No. 6 ... she must be good because she's got such a low number ... come on now! You gotta catch her! We're sneaking up in her blind spot. We're 10 meters from a turn ... now ... GO!" Then the two gals and the rest of us would start busting our arses and he'd count down: NINE meters! (10 seconds later) EIGHT meters (another 10 seconds) SEVEN meters ..."

And I'm sitting there thinking, If I have to work that hard for that long to go one fucking meter, I am NEVER doing a triathlon. Ever.

Meanwhile, every few minutes, my SPD cleat would catapult out of the pedal at the top of a 125-rpm pedal stroke and I'd almost hurtle off the bike. Yeah, my pedal stroke was for shit, but Jalabert's would be on these bikes, at that cadence. The cleat still shouldn't have let go. But it did. Over and over. I flipped the pedal over to the toe-clip side. No better.

So 20 minutes in, I felt like a cat in a Sherwin-Williams paint shaker. I found myself watching the clock and praying for the end. The chicks next to me were doing just fine. And I could smell the flywheel melting under Cocaine Katie over there. Please, God, make this stop.

Then I began to feel the buildup of gases in my bowels ... growing, growing, growing. I began to get gastric cramps. It was a small room, with women a couple feet away. I needed some self-control.

I tried to distract myself by critiquing my form in the mirrors that adorned every wall. But Richard, the instructor, was quoting Shakespeare and demanding that we stand and hammer at insane cadences and intensity. My reflection became a blur. And I noticed that Richard didn't even have one.

Even worse, the clock on the wall ahead of me seemed to be moving backward. My spirit almost broke completely before I figured out it was moving backward because it was a reflection of the clock above and behind me.

When the end finally came, I staggered off the bike like Stephen Hawking tumbling out of a clothes dryer.

I slinked out and headed for the leg press. Damn good thing no one else was near and the music was loud, because that gastric distress began to relieve itself with the sound of a Harley rally in Peninsula on a sunny summer Saturday.

I squeezed among the Roger Clemenses and WWF cartoons to do some weight stuff for my legs and realized they were pretty close to shot already.

But it couldn't have been from the spinning, right? Because that could possibly translate to cycling training, could it? I want to think not. Because I'm scared to go back.

Web link of the day: I've added this blog to my faves. Check it out. The guy is a longtime race announcer and racer who just wrote a book about cycling that I'm eager to read upon its release.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Worth A Thousand Words

My critics have spoken.

Well, make that critic, singular.
I've heard sniping from my audience that my new blog isn't visual enough. People want pictures, says my critic. He is what he likes to call a "visual-arts professional," meaning he takes, or took, pictures for money. Now he plays with video, too. So he thinks things should look pretty.

My critic said people want to see pictures of me, and especially pictures of cycling stuff, because this is a bike-oriented blog - nominally, at least. And, he observed, every other bike blog contains pictures of the owner's dog, so that must be important.
I agree with those propositions generally, and I am certainly a dog lover. But got a little bristly and defensive when he mentioned this in the context of my nascent blog.
My words are my art, I snapped in reply, and my art is pure.
Moreover, I pointed out that my blog has a photograph -- a shot of me doing an off-the-front vanity run past my mom and other family members just seconds before I wrecked on the third-to-last turn of a race in St. Louis. And didn't I just illustrate one of last week's posts with a photo of Monroe, Mich.?

Not good enough, he countered. He pointed out snidely, but perhaps correctly, that my blog's readership is in the single digits -- specifically, an up-and-down digit with no curves or intersecting lines. "You want to grow that number," he remarked with understated insight.

I thanked him for his constructive observations as the smoking brass shell casings from my Glock tinkled around his body and rolled across the floor. His rebuke stung. But damn if he didn't have a point. My entire audience demanded more pictures. Would I be selling my soul just to cater to popular tastes? Or would I be enriching my art by making it a multimedia experience?
My new journey in life is dedicated to answering those questions. I've approached today's post with new wisdom. Here goes:
Monday, Feb. 11, 2008
Well, the weather this weekend sure wasn't very conducive to cycling, eh? Sunday's wind-chill factor last I checked stood at -23. Couldn't round up a single riding partner. So I went skating, which is a pretty darn good cycling workout.

But first, I spent a lot of time on the trainer. I hate trainers. But it wasn't so bad today: I watched back-to-back episodes of "Band of Brothers," which really helped pass the time. And I developed a new motivational tool that turns the trainer from something to tolerate into something to celebrate. Just so happens took a picture of myself using it:

I'm a big believer in pictures -- always have been, always will be.

I did manage to get about 90 minutes of outdoor riding in over the weekend -- specifically, from 10-11:30 p.m. on Friday. Believe it or not, that's not a horrible time to ride, especially when Friday night was about 100 degrees warmer than Saturday.

I couldn't get anyone to ride with me, needless to say. Not even my regular riding partner. Well, regular is probably not the right word. Let's just say his record for showing up for our rides is spotty. And we gotta stop at every goddamn fire hydrant ... and I have to bring TWO plastic bags on every ride because of his unpredictability. Nonetheless, he warrants a picture on my new visuals-oriented blog:

Today it's Monday. It is about 6 degrees outside today, but the wind died down to the point where the wind-chill factor has soared to -10 F. I would've ridden if I could've found the time, but I fell a bit behind this morning. Speaking of behind: Others were out enjoying the warm weather as I (shudder) drove to work. Fortunately, I had my camera:

I hope you found this more appealing.

- JN

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Daddy Day

If you're a cynic, you can call me lazy. I didn't do squat today -- or bench press, or ride. I fathered and husbanded. I did ride for 90 minutes Friday night. (From 10-11:30 p.m. Try it sometime -- it's surprisingly pleasant.) But today, I spent a ton of time trying to corral and/or entertain two little girls. And, with far less success, their mom. I couldn't drag my butt out today.

I feel the same way about blogging. So I am not going to. I'm just passing on a link I think you'll like. It's sort of surrogate blogging.

- JN

Friday, February 8, 2008

Carbon: My Moral Fiber

I want my smugness back.

I rode my bike to work most days for the last several years, through sun, rain and snow. It was easy, because in the job roles I’d had since about 1999, I rarely needed a car. I had a locker room at the office and work hours that kept my daily bike commute out of rush-hour traffic.

I like to think I never rubbed anyone’s face in my moral superiority, except on those few occasions when I actively participated in the Bike to Work Day that ClevelandBikes puts on each month and mingled in the palpable self-congratulation at the ride-end rallies.

Still, it was a bit hard not to feel like sneering a bit on those daily bike commutes: I was out there saving the environment and getting my daily aerobic/anaerobic workout while the motorists around me were polluting and getting fat, stuffing McFatties into their mouths between cell-phone sentences.

I got particular satisfaction when I’d pull up at a stoplight alongside somebody in a hybrid, because I know how those hybrid people are. By and large, they’re a self-righteous bunch who sit in judgment in the driver’s seat from the moment they leave their driveways simply because their new car gets 10 or 20 mpg more than their old one, or yours. They therefore bask in their own glory and use phrases like "gas-guzzling SUVs" so that everyone knows how they’ve taken their place on the carbon crucifix in sacrifice for us all. They want us to pet them in reward.

What irked me was that those hybrid drivers pass their self-righteous judgment every day as they drive in to downtown from Pepper Pike and Avon and other upscale suburbs where folks can afford to pay a $7K premium for a car. By and large, the people who drive hybrids (here, at least) live totally car-centric lives -- driving from their residential-only enclave to the grocery store, their kids’ school three miles from home, their church/temple five miles away, etc.

So I could out-preen them. I was even farther up the purity continuum, so I would mentally put them in their place.

Another reason I discount hybrid owners' global contribution is that I’ve always considered it a bit of a fatuous tradeoff, spending thousands of extra dollars to get an extra 10 or 20 mpg. If you want to save the earth, or curb global warming, there are better ways to do it. Insulate your house, for example, to achieve greater greenhouse-gas reduction at a much faster payback rate. Or send the money to Doctors Without Borders or the Chagrin Land Conservancy or some other organization that really makes the world a better place. Saving gasoline for the sake of saving gasoline simply makes gasoline cheaper. Cheaper gas means there is no urgent social incentive to shift away from gasoline-powered automobiles. And cheaper gas accelerates the explosion in automobile use in China, where a century-long reliance on bicycle transportation is getting ground under the wheels of so-called "progress."

Such are the kinds of thoughts I’d churn around as I did hill repeats up to the moral high ground each day.

This all comes to mind today, as scientists produce still more proof that biodiesel is a big fat environmental hoax -- a colossal, politically driven transfer of wealth from cities to farm states. It’s probably worse than that: Biofuels, like hybrid cars, are a phony panacea designed to soothe our guilty consciences and let us think we’re doing something, while our carbon-based global economy continues to burn like a bomb fuse.

It’s been self-evident from the outset that biofuels do nothing to curb global warming – you still gotta burn ‘em, and release the carbon, to get energy. But because people buy into the "greenness" of it, they forestall the urgency of developing real clean-energy alternatives, such as wind, solar and fuel-cell technologies.

That’s the kind of hypocritical self-delusion I wallowed in as a bike commuter. Gradually, I realized that bike commuting made me much fitter and faster on the bike. When I got fitter and faster, I started to race. When I started to race, I started driving to Monroe Falls or Mansfield or Westlake or Dayton for races. When I drove to those places, my emissions savings from my daily commute started spewing out the tailpipe.

Not to mention that those rides to work substantially increased the frequency of flat tires, and when I flat out, I grab my CO2 inflater and release 16 grams of greenhouse gas -- the equivalent of a mile or more of driving emissions in my Honda.

Did commuting produce a net benefit, financially and environmentally? Perhaps. Well, probably, yes. But I got to feeling a little more self-conscious and a little less prone to gloat.

Now I've surrendered all superiority. I got a new job assignment in December that requires me to have a car at hand most days, so bike commuting has become the exception rather than the rule.

But I haven't given up on myself. After all, my daily bike commute comprised most of my race training. Now I'm a walrus -- fatter and more out of shape than I was a year ago. I'll probably get my ass kicked in races. When I get my ass kicked, I'll be even less inclined to race. If I'm disinclined to race, I won't drive all over God's not-so-green earth to line up. So I'll spew fewer greenhouse gases in pursuit of my passion.

Ahhh ... I'm feeling more haughty already.

And it occurs to me that I'm a hero of the environment in another way: I ride a bike with a carbon-fiber frame. That frame traps carbon that otherwise might have ended up in the atmosphere.

I'm feeling much better.

Damn all you people who drive your polluting cars!


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fridrich's: RIP?

Overheard when I was in Fridrich's Bike Shop in late January: The landmark store at W. 38th and Lorain will probably shut down this year, an employee told a customer.

That's kind of profound, if you think about it. The place once sold bikes to Civil War veterans -- it's been in business since about 1901. And I wouldn't be surprised if some of the inventory there now is that old, too. That is both the store's charm and its downfall: It is solidly stuck in 1977, or '67, or '57.

If you're a fixed-gear enthusiast, it's the place for you. Ditto if you're rebuilding your Schwinn Paramount. If for some reason you want steel rims, or 20 pairs of training wheels, or a real 10-speed deraillieur, it's indispensible. Not-so-big secret: When you go into Spin or Century to get 7-speed parts for a hybrid or maybe a coaster-brake hub for your kid's bike, those shops buy the parts from Fridrich's. Retroheads can have a field day there, because there's enough pieces-parts to fill an airplane hangar -- and that's just on the first-floor showroom. There's a whole 2nd floor brimming with even-more-obscure stuff, if I correctly recall what I read in a great story in The Plain Dealer's now-defunct Sunday Magazine about seven years ago.

In fact, Fridrich's has everything.

Everything, that is, except anything that any serious cyclist has wanted since, oh, 1983 maybe. Its flagship bike line is Raleigh, and it has about one or two aging Raleigh race bikes in stock. No real mountain bikes or cyclocross or touring bikes. Fridrich's doesn't know Ultegra from Ultrasuede, from a sales standpoint anyway. This is a shop where aluminum is the cutting-edge frame material and 700-cm. wheels are the "new" roadie standard.

I like going there. I replaced just about every component on my first "adult" bike, my beater/bad-weather/trailer-pulling hybrid, with stuff I bought at Fridrich's. The purists and tourists who need 27" tires or NJS junk or downtube shifters have no better place to shop -- maybe anywhere.

But by my guess, Fridrich's stock in trade is the kind of bike that bike shops are getting killed on nowadays -- kids' bikes and other stuff from the cheapo end of the spectrum that Wal-Mart sells for 50% less. Same thing for helmets, tire pumps etc. Low-margin stuff.

I wouldn't bother even trying to get, say, a new wheelset or a 100mm threadless stem or a pair of DuraAce-type brake pads there -- or anything else marketed since Greg LeMond, for that matter. I bought a Shimano crankset last year, with the external BB, that cost more than most of Fridrich's bikes. In contrast, at Fridrich's, the cartridge bottom bracket is still apparently considered innovative.

It's easy to say that that is my stupidity, my problem -- not Fridrich's. But the result of its failure to change with the times is that I'm the only customer in the joint about 90% of the time I go there.

That's too bad. If it closes, it will really be missed.

But its inventory would probably be worth more on eBay, or trucked up in its entirety to New York City, where dumbass hipsters evidently love to pay $1.25 on the dollar for old crap.


Monday, February 4, 2008

That Place Up North

I had to make a business trip today to southeast Michigan -- mainly, a town called Monroe. It is a little place north of Toledo that boasts having the largest coal-fired power plant in the world (or at least it was as recently as a decade ago, when we could still laugh at our eventual masters in Red China).

Before today, Monroe had just been a place to pass through on the way to Detroit which, in turn, is the place where Satan sends you if you fart too much in Hell. I actually have gone there for other reasons. Detroit, that is -- not Hell.

Other than an Indians-game road trip back when the Jake was always sold out and a number of other business trips, I've not had much use for That State Up North. It's not that I foster hatred for the Wolverine State -- this isn't going to be one of those Woody Hayes-inspired rants. Its western shore on Lake Michigan has it all over the Lake Erie coastline. Ann Arbor has a nice little early-spring crit series that has a beginners' program, which is where I did my first bike race. And Michigan has several dozen women with little or no facial hair. (Do not confuse the Michigan women with the Detroit Red Wings; the hockey players are the ones with the longer mullets and better teeth.)

All in all, Michigan is a fine place, not a place to blindly disparage, like some hardcore Buckeye fans do.

Anyway, aside from the power plant thing, I knew nothing about Monroe until today except that we have a friend named Julie who is from there and who used to drive home every week when her husband was out of town. So it was news when I learned today was that Toledo used to be in Monroe County, Mich., until a border skirmish called the 1835 Toledo War. Michigan and Ohio fought over 500 square miles of territory. When the smoke cleared, Toledo was in Ohio. I guess Michigan won.

As an aside: I've always called Toledo "Little Detroit" because I can't really tell them apart. I eventually figured out that Toledo is the one with the better art museum and the better baseball team, and Detroit is the one with a few more dead bodies.

As for Monroe, it's just a pass-through. Here is a photo that is pretty representative of the area:

My work took me to several bars in between Monroe and Toledo. It became apparent from the license plates in the parking lots that a good percentage of Greater Toledoans wish the war would've turned out differently: Michigan still allows smoking in its bars. Or maybe it requires smoking in its bars, I'm not sure. Either way, Ohioans flock there to burn their butts. In one place, I thought it was so packed that I had to push my way through the crowd, but in fact, I was only pushing through the cigarette smoke -- there were half a dozen people in the place. Every one had three cigarettes and four Keno games going at once.

It struck me on the ride back (I didn't have to drive) that, for better or worse, that whole area is even closer than I remembered. The point: That 4-week race series in Ann Arbor is coming up -- starting Sunday, March 30. It's going into its 24th year, so it's pretty well organized. The route is through an industrial park by Ann Arbor's airport, with a somewhat steep hill for a 1K crit circuit. There's A and B races, and a C race with a decent little pre-race clinic and in-race observers for newbies; I might drag a junior or two to it. And it's only 3+ hours away -- as close as some Team Columbus races, and better run.

I'm not promisin', but thinkin' just maybe ...


Friday, February 1, 2008

Nicely Done

A quick glance at this site intrigues me. The layout is cacaphonous, and I can't tell if the author is seriously advocating riding bare-kneed and embrocated in the winter. But there's some cool writing and thinking going on, as in the Jan. 31 post.


Some wildly random musings

* Glad to see has finally grown up. I rediscovered it today, after pretty much giving up on the site. Part of my abandonment had to do with the offseason lull in pro cycling, which I don't follow terribly closely anyway. But mainly I avoided it because visiting the VeloNews website was an assault on the senses rivaled only by a casino or an old-time carnival -- cheesy ads blinking and flashing and screaming for your attention like slot machines or midway hawkers. Except that cycling, unlike track and field, doesn't have bearded ladies, as both carnivals and slot parlors do.
Maybe took some HGH.
* Speaking of HGH: Does The Plain Dealer's Bill Livingston need an injection of it for his brain, or what? (I promised this wouldn't be an all-cycling blog ...)
Today's Livingston column (buy the paper, please, but if you're too much of a cheapskate, here's a link) is preposterous -- the epitome of hypocrisy.
Livvy, like all sports scribes, can get comically self-righteous. He consistently (and correctly) lambastes the modern-day sports culture of self over team, the narcissistic pursuit of SportsCenter highlight appearances etc.
He (correctly) hailed the Indians last summer because it was a "team" of scrappy underdogs and underpaids. He (correctly) trashes Barry Bonds and other me-first jocks who dominate as individuals but can't put their teams over the top.
Yet what is his main criterium for dismissing the Patriots as one of the greatest football teams of all time? That the Patriots lack a ton of sure-fire future Hall of Famers. (In an ironic inconsistency, he then ticks off a handful of HOF-bound players on the team to decimate his own argument.)
Livingston contorts the history of 10 other Super Bowl teams to pretend they got there solely on the backs of one or two or three HOF'ers. Idiotic.
Even more idiotic: He ranks the 2004 Patriots ahead of this team. Using his own yardstick, that team sucked -- it had even fewer HOF players and standouts (exactly one, by my reckoning). And that team lost two games. What's the explanation -- did it play in "a different era"?
I am not a Pats fan. I barely care about football anymore since my own NFL career ended. I'm just sayin' let's have a little consistency here.
But we all know that he wrote the column just to stir up some shit -- Livvy himself acknowledged as much with his sophomoric wink at the end. What else is there to do amid the deadest two weeks on the sports calendar?
So why am I biting? Boredom. Same reason he wrote it, I guess.
* I have a column idea for Livingston: How about declaring openly that if NFL players were subject to the same testing for performance-enhancing drugs that pro cyclists are, the failure rate would approach 100%? The NFL is by far and away the biggest doper joke in all of sports (unless you consider bodybuilding and pro wrestling to be sports).
The circumstantial evidence against footballl is so overwhelming that it's almost irrefutable. In my own incredibly short lifetime, we've gone from a state where typical linemen weighed 275 and it was an item of conversation when Dan Dierdorf tipped the scales at 300 lbs., to one where the typical lineman weighs 340. (Yeah, these guys now wear a tire of blubber that wouldn't be tolerated in 1980, but even the ones with 15% body would make my bathroom scale read "TILT".)
But more to the point, linebackers and safeties are probably 30 lbs. heavier now on average, yet with lower body-fat percentages than their predecessors. They "eat better" and "train smarter," right? Suuuure ... I can't wait for Congress to start sending some subpoenas that way.
Livvy and the rest of the sports media turned blind eyes to it for 15 years in baseball, to the point where they were clearly complicit in the scandal. Now they're doing the same with football.
If you're anywhere near my age, you may remember these:
We all gaped when Glenallen Hill and Mark Whiten joined the Indians: Their chiseled 230-pound bodybuilder physiques dwarfed everyone on the field. They were just on the cutting edge, though: Within two years, the Indians' infield averaged about 215 lbs., and Omar was the only one who didn't top 200. Then, in 1997, Sandy Alomar reported for spring training sporting about 20 pounds of rippling new muscle -- from his "offseason conditioning." Ditto for Julio Franco, who should get an HGH endorsement.
Livvy et al. now state the obvious about baseball's beef explosion and cluck their tongues at MLB because club execs didn't stop the doper epidemic. Wasn't it only a few years ago that all the sportswriters were ganging up on that big liar Jose Canseco?
* I can't help it, but I laugh my ass off every time I see the billboards for The Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland -- the ones with the smiley snowman with the big carrot nose: "You see a snowman. A hungry child sees dinner."
This attempt at emotional manipulation is so clumsy and over the top that it's hilarious. Who's their ad man -- Carl Hiaasen? Or Charles Dickens?
Obviously, my kids aren't hungry. Try getting them to eat carrots.
* Back to cycling: I'm looking for investors for my newest venture -- producing 2-inch headset bearings -- with ceramic balls to reduce the fatigue that accumulates from turning the handlebars. The universe of bike consumers gets more gullible by the day. Who wants to help me exploit it?