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 -- -- listed as 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 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

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


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