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.)


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, 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

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!