Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tues morning at the Silver City Public Library

All's well here in stellar clearsky weather. This is evidently going to be a higher level race than the Bisbee weekend; teams of national stature are arriving at our palatial Motel 6. Luckily, it is nextdoor to a Holiday Inn Minus or Junior or whatever it's called, so I can walk a block and enjoy the sumptuous free buffet breakfast there. I feel like such an outlaw.

After years of working at the bicycle races, I have gotten used to the general friendliness and class behavior of the riders and staff. I say general, because I know it's not always, always, but I remember very few rudenesses or gaps in consideration.

My friend Brian came to Bisbee with his mother. Both are native Arizonans and lived in SE AZ in the area around Bisbee. Brian was pleased with the folks he met and had big fun. We especially enjoyed our contacts with the Mexican team called Tecos. The team manager rode with us in the truck during the races and we watched his boys dominate the race. When I got here to Silver City, I looked around for a team vehicle with a bike-washing hose and bucket set up, and the Tecos team was the only one here.

We struggled with my Spanish and their English but had fun talking about the Vuelta de Bisbee and the results they'd had there. I used their hose and a brush and dish soap and my Triumph just gleams. They are, by the way, not skimping along as some of us remember. They have nice team vehicles and fine racing bicycles - they are equipped as well as the "rich" US teams. Times have changed for cycling in Mexico, evidently.

There are all classes of racers here except juniors (16-18 yrs old). The distances vary from class to class, as they should. Asking 50 year olds to ride the final stage, the Gila Monster, would be cruel. It may be the most difficult single day of racing in the country.

Tomorrow's stage is mostly rolling with a six-mile climb to a hilltop at the end. All this is at six and seven thousand feet, remember. Thursday's race is flatter and more wind-battered, still hard, but it favors a different kind of rider, a sturdier, heavier athlete. There's a time trial on a rolling, windswept road on Friday and a downtown criterium around city streets on Saturday.

As usual, the town is taken over by the race; by teams and riders from all over the west, by officials and mechanics and fans...and a few itinerant motor drivers like this blogger. Must be at least 20 motorcycles associated with the race, mostly ridden solo and doing any number of jobs.

I'll be carrying a bicycle mechanic who will in turn be carrying spare wheels. We will follow the breakaways. If a rider has a flat or mechanical problem, the mechanic will hop off the motorcycle and help out. We try to keep bad luck from ruining anyone's race.

I'll be in touch as the days pass here. I hope it's as beautiful and exciting where you are as it is here in Silver City New Mexico, at the foot of the Gila Wilderness...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday morning at the Javelina Cafe, Silver City

I'm back in Silver City, NM, after a few days in Bisbee, Arizona. I worked the two road races in the Vuelta de Bisbee stage race. Because the roads are wide and not technical, I drove a huge American pickup, a king cab model, instead of riding my motorcycle. All went well. There were very few flat tires and no mechanical problems among the 75 or 80 riders in our race.

There was one bad crash, maybe four riders. We stayed on the scene until the EMTs arrived and chased back up to the breakaway - took several minutes at 95mph to catch the break - amazing how much ground the cyclists cover in what seems like no-time.

Tamar's and my friends Zach and Stephanie were in Bisbee. My Denver friend Brian went with us as we looked at homes there; we're talking about going halvsies on a house. I'd escape Denver winter; they'd escape Tucson summers at higher-altitude, cooler Bisbee. We saw several interesting places. If you've been to Bisbee you can imagine the range of homes - from conventional single family dwellings to hippie shacks. Educational.

I knew virtually none of the racers at the Vuelta de Bisbee. One guy did stand out in a field dominated by riders from Mexico and Central America. Big dude Karl Bordine (Team 5 Star) stuck with the tiny Latin racers until the front group shrunk to about six.

At one point he came off the back of the group on a climb about five miles from the end - into a headwind. He was maybe 50 feet off the back with another guy. He accelerated, just perceptibly, and dropped his companion, then rode up to the lead group and...rode right past them!

It had taken him maybe half a mile to reconnect. You'd expect him to sit on the back of the group and rest, but he did NOT. He made them catch HIM. He was reabsorbed and rode with the group - for a while. Then he attacked again, and again! He jumped away maybe four times, making the tired group catch him each time.

No exaggeration - the other riders with him on that interminable climb were 30 or more pounds lighter than Carl. I heard him say after the race that he loved headwind climbs.... He's from San Diego, I believe.

As I work fewer and fewer bike race events on the motorcycle, I know fewer and fewer of the riders, I'm sorry to say. The only racer I knew at Bisbee was the evergreen Lindsay Crawford, who beat me again and again in northern Cal in the '70s and is still looking and going great. What a hero...

I'll try to post something now and then while I'm in Silver City. The road races, the only events I work, are Weds, Thurs and Sunday. The Sunday event, the Gila Monster stage, is brutally difficult. All the stages here are hard, but Sunday...

Thanks for reading and thanks, Robert, for the note of caution... I'll be in touch...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thurs afternoon, 5:00 Rocky Mtn Time, Bisbee!

I'm at a loaner computer in the Copper Queen Library in downtown Bisbee, Arizona. Uneventful ride from Silver City. I visited my friend Ken's bicycle shop/bike museum, the Bisbee Bicycle Brothel. Ken introduced me to a guy named Matt, who is helping him - and is from Denver! He was a friend of Scott Taylor's at Salvagetti Cycles, he says. Nice guy.

Ken has moved his store about a block down the street, Bisbee's old red light and tavern street, Brewery Gulch. He has way more room and his coolstuff inventory just keeps growing!

My friend Jim met me outside the Bisbee Coffee Company; he was riding my sweet old Honda GB500, photos of which are featured on this very blog. It was great to see Jim and to see the Honda again... sniff....

I'll be here until Monday, I think. The racing starts tomorrow night. I'll try to stick my head into this library each day and post something to my blog. I wish I had brilliant statements or cool insights for you, but all I know for sure is that my post-ride shower sure felt good. Motorcycle clothing appropriate for Denver is oppressive in SE Arizona.

Even on my new, more powerful motorcycle, traffic on the interstates, 25 and 10 this trip, moves faster than I care to ride. If I ride 80mph, 5mph over the limit, the semis and cars stream by on my left. I can see them coming now that my mirrors are fixed.

Take care, y'll...and thanks for reading. I'll be in touch!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Silver City NM, 2:00 Weds

I'm in a cool cafe on Bullard, the main drag in downtown Silver City, NM, where guys play recorders in cafes. I've had a fine day and a half on the road, CO and NM 285 to Santa Fe, then the interstate to Truth or Consequences (no kidding) NM and across a fine technical two-lane to Silver City.

I'll ride to Bisbee tomorrow to prepare for the Vuelta de Bisbee, a three day stage race this weekend. Hippie town to hippie town - that's my itinerary.

Except for mirrors that would not stay in place (now repaired) so that I had to ride a few hundred miles with no rear vision, all went well. I'll try to post a little update from Bisbee, where I'll be seeing local friends, Denver friends and Tucson friends.

I changed clothes in Gila Bike 'n' Hike a few minutes ago, where I met a guy from the north of England, Carlyle, I believe, who was riding from San Diego to Florida. Super guy.

Somehow, life on the road is unlike life in one's own 'hood... We meet folks we'll never seen again, and almost every time, they're kind and more than willing to go out of their way for us. Or they're like this British guy - an ordinary looking fellow, not lean and fit-looking, riding all the way across a foreign country on his bicycle...

I'm thinking that it's good to get outta Dodge....

Monday, April 21, 2008

Out of the office for two weeks...

I'll be away from my computer for two weeks, helping out at bicycle races in Arizona and New Mexico on my motorcycle. In the races, I'll carry a technical support mechanic on my Triumph. We'll follow the riders and help them if they have flat tires or mechanical problems. The races are the Vuelta de Bisbee, from this Friday through this Sunday, and the Tour of the Gila, Wednesday through Sunday of next week. You can find both events' web sites easily.

I'm taking a memory device with dozens of old articles stored on it. I'll try to update my blog if I have access to computers in libraries or internet cafes. Thanks for reading; I'll be in touch!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunnyside's Women's Road Clinic....and my own

Written four or five years ago, this piece talks about the terrific women's road clinics promoted by supershop Sunnyside Sports in Bend, Oregon. And a clinic or two I did in Tucson based on the ones in Bend.

Every July for the past five or six years, Sunnyside Sports, a great bike shop in Bend, has promoted a weekend road cycling clinic for women. I’ve helped out at all but one of them and promoted two of my own in Tucson. My two followed Sunnyside’s model faithfully. Why fool with a successful formula?

You wonder why you’d need to educate cyclists. Can’t they learn all they need to know from books or magazines or their computers? I’m afraid they cannot. No diagram ever taught a new rider how a pace line rotates or how hard to pedal while at the front.

No series of photos or drawings ever made a safer, faster downhill bike-handler. No article has conveyed the feeling of drafting at 25mph or riding confidently elbow-to-elbow, chatting the miles away on some sun-dappled country road.

And it has become difficult to learn group skills on local group rides. Few want to teach and few seem happy to be taught. Perhaps our veterans are reluctant to act like self-appointed experts – and newer riders act as if they know all they need to know – especially, if you ask me, new guy riders.

Whatever the reason, many club cyclists ride for years at the same scarcely adequate skill level. They don’t have the tools to enjoy road cycling fully.

So Sunnyside Sports initiated the Women’s Road Clinic. Here’s how it works – and how I organized my own clinics. No reason you couldn’t do a similar event where you live.

This year, in the weeks before the clinic, Sunnyside did bike fittings for each participant, making sure each woman was comfortable on her bike and in a position of control and power. At previous clinics, we’ve done that during the weekend, but it is time-consuming and depends on careful scheduling. Fittings are best done before the clinic weekend.

On Saturday morning, the staff divided the women into groups by estimated comfortable road speed. This year we had about 15 women total, divided into two groups. Each group enjoyed the attention of three instructors.

Our group rode a few miles out of Bend to a quiet road, where we stopped and got off our bikes. We talked about basic group riding, technique and etiquette, and about pace.

We talked about fear of following close and how to maintain a steady pace uphill and down. Staffers talked about delightful, often unexpected, conversations we’ve had on rides. We said we think of cycling as a social sport, and we’re thankful that it is.

The women formed into lines ON FOOT and walked through the motions of two common rotating pace lines, so everyone understood how they worked. I don’t know who came up with this training method, but gosh it’s effective – and safe. Try it at home.

Then we rolled out onto the lightly traveled road to practice our new skills. Raggedy at first, soon the women were riding like the USPS “blue train.” We’d stop a time or two to discuss what was happening and to listen to suggestions or questions.

By the time we’d ridden up and back, we were a pretty doggoned accomplished group. We rolled back down the highway into Bend looking red-hot. For many of the women, this was their first “sitting-in” experience, as it has been every year at the clinic. It’s amazing how fast the transition happens: cautious solo rider to polished pace-liner.

Makes even cynical, white-socks roadie instructors proud.

After lunch, each woman “fixed a flat” on her own bike. Each demonstrated that she could remove and replace her front wheel and her back one. Each indicated that she knew which brake lever operated which brake and how to properly apply them.

The students then listened to a presentation about turning a bicycle. Then they mounted up for cornering practice on a twisty course in a parking lot that sees only weekday use.

On the grass nearby, the women learned to ride close together. They bumped elbows. They jumped their bikes over (or reached down and picked up) dropped water bottles. They briefly touched the rear wheel of the rider in front of them with their own front wheel.

For many of the students, this was scary and adventurous beyond their expectations. They performed like veterans nevertheless, scarcely revealing what must have been wide-eyed fear.

Saturday evening after dinner, a grizzled magazine columnist read a few truly boring stories to an increasingly sleepy-eyed group.

“Could I have more coffee, please. Yes, caffeinated will do just fine.”

Note: After dinner in Tucson, a woman staffer talked about woman-specific issues and a male staffer discussed riding safely and confidently in urban traffic.

Sunday morning, staff and students assembled at a wide spot in the road east of Alfalfa, Oregon, for a real road ride – with hills and wind and maybe a drop or two of rain. We talked about climbing, about standing up and sitting in the saddle, about gear selection and pacing oneself on the hill. We talked about descending, relaxing on the bike and remembering how to use the front and rear brakes.

Each staffer rode with only three women on that Sunday. As I watched my little flock, I could see lessons the women had learned at the clinic come to fruition.

On the way back, we split into two tiny, two-rider packs. We flew back to the cars, forming and splitting, forming and splitting again as our climbing or descending skills separated us. Again, I was proud of my students. I couldn’t have selected one of them as “most improved.” They were all “most improved.”

Please do put together a clinic like Sunnyside’s in your community. Select four or five riders who are empathetic and enthusiastic about cycling, who are, to be frank, nice. Use Sunnyside’s model or design one of your own to meet your particular needs.

When I did my first one here in Tucson in 2001, I had no problem recruiting qualified volunteer instructors. Afterward, several of them said they’d enjoyed the experience far more than they could have imagined. A few called the clinic weekend “life-changing.”

Sharing your love for cycling with excited riders is life-changing. It changes all those riders’ lives…and it changes yours.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

More excellent Dave Moulton posts

Here's a link to Dave Moulton's terrific blog.

I encourage you to read his last couple of posts, particularly the most recent. Dave talks about Scandinavian countries that have never fallen into car dependence, and why they have escaped the excesses that most of the industrialized (and motorized) world has suffered.

Always a thoughtful writer on any number of subjects, Dave's early life in England and later life in the US give him insights that mono-nationals seldom have. He's also bi-coastal, providing more insights yet. I invariably enjoy my visits to his blog.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Allez, Pou-Pou! Go Raymond Poulidor!

Written for Winning Magazine after a trip to Holland and Belgium.

There are so many memories: the lovely Dutch towns, the bike races, the chocolate, the red-light alleyways in Amsterdam... . But you know all about that stuff. Shame on you about the alleys.

You know how cold and rainy the Benelux countries can be and how hard the racing is and how tough the racers must be. I don't know what I could add to that knowledge that would mean very much.

You might enjoy hearing, though, about a lucky meeting I had with a few men I'd heard about for years. I had lunch, in the south of Holland, with several reporters from a major Flemish daily newspaper. Those gentlemen had covered bicycle racing season after season; in fact, they had seen so many races they felt little urgency to follow the Amstel Gold Race closely.

They preferred sitting in roadside cafes, drinking aperitifs and Dutch beer, telling bike racing stories to starry-eyed visitors like myself. Over strong coffee we talked about U.S. cyclists in the U.S., U.S. cyclists in Europe, Mr. Reagan, Libya and Amstel Gold contender Joop Zoetemelk.

Zoetemelk was fortunate enough to win last year's world championships, but, as someone remarked, he has finished second SO many times.

Talk of Zoetemelk led to talk of Raymond Poulidor, who almost never won but was always "there". Surely, most of you remember stories about Poulidor. He rode in the slender shadow of Jacques Anquetil in his early career, and later in the broader shadow of Eddy Merckx.

Pou-Pou, as he was called, rode Tours de France until he was 40, finishing second time after time.

"Never once, never once, did Poulidor wear the yellow jersey of leadership in the Tour," said the veteran reporter. "Never was he a leader on the road, not even for a short period during a stage, so that he could be said to be in yellow. Think of that: the man placed well in Tour after Tour but was denied even minor victory."

The Belgian newspaperman shook his head as he thought about Poulidor. He explained that fans perceived the French racer as a thoroughly human but unlucky man, forced by timing to strive against virtual immortals.

The people embraced Poulidor, loved him. The men who beat him again and again were indeed heroes of sport; fans held them in awe, respected their class. Fans adored Poulidor.

Anquetil parlayed time trialing ability and tactical skill into five Tour de France victories. He won the French race of truth, the Grand Prix de Nations, again and again. Excitement shot through European crowds when he pedaled by.

Poulidor, in defeat, drove them wild.

Eddy Merckx could open a 50-meter gap on 10 cooperating men and hold that distance until the men had exhausted themselves and given up. He could win a mountain stage, a time trial prologue or a field sprint. He rode away from Poulidor and everyone else at every race worth mentioning.

Today, fans gather around Merckx to ask for autographs. They mob Poulidor.

The newsman told me that he'd been in a crowd at a Tour stage a few years after both Merckx and Poulidor had retired. New "grands" had replaced them in the headlines. The fans that day stirred as Fignon, Hinault, Kelly and the others rode by.

Then, in the entourage following the race, someone spotted Poulidor, barely visible in a car.

"It is Pou-Pou in the car!," he yelled. "Pou-Pou, Pou-Pou," the fans chanted. "Pou-Pou, Pou-Pou."

The veteran sports reporter shook his head again.

"The men who beat Poulidor," he said, "were like machines. They were so gifted. Their victories were often without drama, except perhaps the waiting to see how badly they would demolish their opponents.

"It was difficult for the enthusiast to identify with Eddy Merckx, the cannibal, who could crush mere supermen at will. It was hard to imagine what it was like to be Jacques Anquetil, the master tactician, a man who won economically, almost surgically.

"Ah, but Poulidor," he said, "who suffered for all to see in vain pursuit on the cols, who was there for the finish but just a little too slow, who could roll almost well enough to break away... .

"There's a pain in being second," he went on, "that we can all sense. To be as close to victory as one can be, without having it, as close to fulfillment.

"Second is the worst place. Worse than third or fifth or eleventh. Think about it. Poulidor had years of 'almost' and years of adulation. The adulation shows no sign of waning. Was it worth it? You decide," the reporter said.

Ah, Pou-Pou, I thought. Allez, Pou-Pou.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

They're just CALLED Centuries

Written in the mid-'90s, I suspect, probably for a regional bicycle newspaper: California Bicyclist or the Bicycle Paper. A decade and a half later, nothing much has changed. Still big fun...

They're just called centuries

I love riding centuries. I always intend to ride several each season and end up only doing a few. If you're a racer or knarly mountain bikin' dude, you may think centuries are for wimps or "poppy-watchers." That's your loss: centuries are fun.

If you've never ridden a century, here's what it's like. You travel (probably, sigh, by car) to a place, most likely scenic, where you do not normally go.

You park the car early on a weekend morning and stand in line a few minutes to register; costs a modest amount of money. Maybe you pay a little extra for the souvenir t-shirt, better looking this year than last, but not as neat as the one from '92.

Then you unload your trusty ol' Murray or Merlin ten-speed and ride it 30, 50, 65, 100 or 125 miles, whatever you feel like. They're just CALLED centuries - you don't have to ride 100 miles.

The nice folks at registration will give you a route map or you can simply obey the color-coded arrows painted on the road. No worries: hardly anyone gets lost. For long.

Remember, the routes you're riding are the finest the cyclists in that area (the scenic one to which you would not normally go) can find for your riding pleasure. They're proud of their area and their roads, and they'd like you to be impressed too.

Note: With your new-found knowledge you can, at your option, return to that area and ride those roads again, without benefit of registration, map or color-coded arrows. No one will mind but you will not receive a souvenir t-shirt.

As you ride the century, every so often you stop and snag food from tables heavy-laden with food. You get cold drinks from icy-cold coolers on tables nearby, equally heavy-laden with coolers. Sports drinks, lemonade, iced tea and water are typical choices.

If you ride 65 miles, my favorite distance, you may stop, oh, three times for food (newtons, maybe, bananas, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter/jelly sands, orange sections) and liquid.

If, say, you demand maximum effectiveness from your tough weekend morning workouts, you can ride right by all the roadside rest stops, featuring, as they do, that tasty food and those cold drinks. Suit yourself. Most people, honestly, do not ride right by. They stop, take off their helmets, eat and drink.

Sometimes, as they eat and drink, they sit on the grass under shade trees in informal sweaty groups. Some remove cycling shoes. They stretch out their legs on the grass and chat with one other about how good the food tastes and how cold the drinks are.

Perhaps you've just eaten as you read this. You have to imagine how good that food tastes and how pleasant it is to down about a gallon of icy-cold lemonade - after, oh, fifty 90-degree miles.

Any of this century stuff sound objectionable so far? No?

As I said, I like riding 100 kilometers, about 65 miles. Sixty-five miles seems like a real ride - but I can still stay awake later in the day when, feet up on the couch, frosty can of electrolyte replacement fluid in hand, I listen to my non-riding wife tell me how HER morning went.

Sure enough, riding the distance, enjoying the good roads, food and drink are important parts of the century experience. But here's (sound of trumpets) the best part. While you're out there on those roads, hundreds of other folks are out there too. Same roads, same morning. Hundreds of cycling persons you don't know.

You can talk to them.

It's easy if you use this proven technique.

First, pick a person; use any criteria you judge appropriate. Then - check behind you. When the road is free of traffic, simply adjust your gear selection and pedaling cadence until you and the person with whom you wish to speak are traveling the same speed.

Next - align your bicycle with that person's in the road, front wheel next to front wheel, rear wheel next to rear, either on the right side or the left, maybe two feet away.

Once you've done that, you'll find that you and that individual are side-by-side in the road, spaced apart a convenient distance for spoken communication.

Merely say hi. Smile, maybe. If that person responds, and you respond to their response, and they respond once again - you've got a conversation going. Actual human contact.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Try it. It works nearly every time.

I love riding centuries.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker

Here's what I do. I read the book reviews in the NY Times online. Once or twice a month, I see one for a book I think I'd enjoy. I go directly to the Denver Public Library (yay!) web site and reserve the book. Typically copies have not arrived for circulation yet, but when they do, I'll get an email from the library that the book is waiting for me - at the branch I've chosen.

I waited about three weeks for Human Smoke, copyright 2008, Simon & Schuster. It's a history, sortof, of the period from the beginning of the First World War (or Great War) to just after Pearl Harbor.

Human Smoke is a series of vignettes, little stories about people who wanted to fight and people who hated fighting: Hawks and Doves, we'd call them today. The stories are a paragraph long or a page long. To my mind, they paint a stunning picture of a world we only learn about from spin: Someone's purposeful interpretation of what's happened or what's been said.

Here's a sample vignette or two:

From pg 46, Human Smoke:

Eleanor Roosevelt addressed the ninth annual Congress on the Cause and Cure of War. There were five hundred delegates at the congress, representing eleven organizations with a combined membership of eleven million people. "Any one who thinks, must think of the next war as suicide," Eleanor Roosevelt said. "How deadly stupid we are that we can study history and live through what we live through, and complacently allow the same causes to put us through the same thing again!" It was January 17, 1934.

A week later, Clark H. Woodward, a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, gave a fierce speech before the assembled delegates of the ninth annual meeting of the Women's Patriotic Conference on National Defense, a promilitary, anti-immigrant umbrella group. Admiral Woodward had won many medals and fought in many wars - he had helped crush insurrections in Nicaragua and Haiti.

Subversive propaganda in favor of disarmament was being "viciously pushed by radical aliens, foreign-born and un-American Americans," Admiral Woodward said to the patriotic women. "Proselytizing parlor pinks and treacherous paid lobbyists have renewed their sinister, intensive and destructive efforts to convince our statesmen by insidious appeal and academic reasoning of the futility of future preparedness."


H.C. Englebrecht, author of Merchants of Death, a bestseller about arms dealers, spoke at a conference of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. "Armament is an industry that knows no politics, friends, right or wrong - but only customers, " Englebrecht said. "If you can pay, you can buy."

The French arms company Schneider had recently sold four hundred tanks to Hitler's Germany, Englebrecht observed; the company disguised the sale by shipping the tanks via the Netherlands. The Germans had also ordered sixty airplanes from Vickers, the British maker of bombers.

"In every war," said Englebrecht, "the armaments maker who sells internationally is arming a potential enemy of his own country - and that, practically if not legally, is treason."

It was April 14th, 1934.

I could not stop reading Human Smoke. I can't recommend it to you highly enough.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is it selective memory - or is it Memorex?

I wrote this piece between '94 and '97 while I lived in Berkeley - before I moved to small-town northern California. In my memory, my troubles with traffic developed several years later, in Tucson. Clearly though, I was already having problems in Berkeley.

VN is VeloNews.You will note that I used quotations marks around the then-new phrase "road rage." Jeanne Golay, whose bikes fit me, was a star racer for Saturn. A Helios was or is a Giro helmet. Och's guys were the Motorola team; the Sheriffs were the Chevrolet-LA Sheriffs racing team. The "district's" means your areas regional championships. Shell-shock is what folks used to call Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Traffic Blues

I live in the "suburban" San Francisco East Bay. Why the quotes around "suburban"? Because many VN readers would look at my 'hood and call it urban: dense with people, dense with traffic and increasingly mean.

Mean streets, angry drivers: Hey, we got 'em. It's not just inattentive, inept, infirm or inebriated drivers scaring us road riders. These days it's all of them and the infuriated, too.

And not just here. England's all abuzz with reports of furious drivers. The papers there call the phenomenon Road Rage.

Having to share the road with so many yo-yos has changed my riding. If it ever was carefree, it no longer is. As a protective reaction, I'm doing fewer miles and trying to minimize my exposure to traffic.

Riding less might be easier for me than for you. I have no fitness goals beyond staying lean and being able to eat whatever sounds good. I don't own a heart monitor, don't record mileage, don't read training articles.

I'm not trying to peak for the district's. I never time myself over sections of rides. Any fitness I gain on my regular rides isn't aimed at competition. It is training, though.

I'm training for upcoming social opportunities.

I want to stay fit so that the two or three annual, multi-club rides we do in the fall will be fun. So they're conversational outings, not tongue-on-the-tire death-marches on someone's wheel.

I want to stay fit so that this November I can finish 112-mile El Tour de Tucson — with my friends and without post-ride oxygen.

I want to stay fit so that, in the mornings before afternoon stages at the Women's Challenge, I can borrow Jeanne Golay's spare bike and roll around with the racers for an hour or so. I want to be able to hear the women's voices over the sound of my own breathing.

I want to stay fit so that if the USPS or Saturns or Sheriffs or Och's guys decide to hold early season training camps near here, I can tag along on easy days and not embarrass myself or my VN jersey.

I want to stay fit so that, the day before next year's CoreStates, I can hang in on the Founders' Ride. That's 60 glorious, rural New Jersey miles with a bunch of my heroes, guys who were legends to me when I was learning to ride.

Those rides and eight or ten others like them keep me on the road, but road training is less appealing every year. Increasingly, you gotta pick your times and routes. You want to use common sense, meaning you pass on Friday evening rides and you avoid pedaling on airport runways.

Here's my program. I can ride from home in three directions and make 25-mile loops, all eventually hilly. One loop means an immediate climb on cold legs, a two-mile grade starting at the end of my driveway. I have to be in the right mood to go out that way. One day I may be.

The second route starts out flat but passes though a couple of strip- mall, 4X4, Harley-decal towns where bikes are not all that welcome. On your bike in those towns, you survive close calls with faded El Caminos with dirty mags and half-scraped-off One Day at a Time stickers.

We're talkin' El Caminos tracking crabwise down the road, skinny women driving, smokin' generic filters, wearin' unflattering lipstick, Hard Rock Cafe tank-tops and fake Oakleys. Sound attractive to you? Me neither.

So I go the third way, meaning I ride through downtown Berkeley, not as scary as riding through war-torn Bosnia or The Valley of the Shadow of Death, but surely scary enough. And not about to improve anytime soon: Christmas Season's nearly upon us, ho ho ho.

I take the cross-town route local riders have always taken, the "bikie way." These days, however, that way's as friendly as the forbidden tomb in a Harrison Ford movie...

Let's brush aside the cobwebs and puzzle out the symbol writing on the tomb wall: O foolish brash cyclist! (It says) You had the effrontery to enter here into forbidden downtown Berkeley on your bicycle, invoking the ancient curse. You have angered the Traffic Gods.

Read and know: Early in the second Hyundai Dynasty, Traffic Lord Lexus sealed this square-mile tomb. He placed a curse on rash roadies whom sorcerers predicted would someday defile it. He posted sentries, turbaned mercenaries from the warlike Checkercab sect, to punish those defilers.

Foolish bikie! You think that Helios will protect you here? Will you cry out to Ergo-Power for help? Too late, offending roadie, too late...

Hark! Hear the huge boulder rolling to crush you and fulfill the ancient curse. Hear the Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer rolling to crush you and cause the driver to cut short her cellular phonecall.

Hear and smell the sanitation truck hastening to pass you mid-block, O foolish cyclist, only to turn unannounced across your path at the corner, crushing you and causing its driver to drop his comic book into his lap and dribble smokeless tobacco juice on its pages.

Hear and smell the city bus rolling to crush you and ruin its proud driver's 2-week, no-fatal-accidents record.

Maybe I'm a little shell-shocked.

Even if I knew I'd never get hit, it disturbs me to watch people drive so badly, so carelessly, so obviously in states of emotional upset. Just watching them sends shudders through my fragile serenity.

We know how vulnerable we are out there, protected only by wariness developed over miles of sad experience. We have to be totally defensive, totally vigilant, totally aware of everything around us.

Evidently we can't depend on anything but bad driving and bad attitude from our fellow Americans.

Hey, all this exercise and fresh air's supposed to make us mellow, am I right? If I finish rides angrier, more agitated than I was when I rolled out, am I doing myself favors? Am I fitter for other aspects of life? Is fitness solely physical?

Write or email me care of VN and tell me what you think. (That won't work. Send me a comment; that'll work!)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fast shorts....

Written in the fall of 2004, not long ago but before $5,000 wheelsets and Rapha clothing. Hey, that stuff is really "fast."

Fast Shorts

At Christmastime, I’ll have been riding for 3 decades. Gosh. I learned so much the first two or three years – those years remain especially vivid in my memory. I was SO green. Everyone else had been riding forever - or so it seemed. They had class. I had no clue.

They had cool clothing and gear. I had tacky stuff I’d seen reviewed in bike magazines. They had virgin wool Sergal or MoaSport outfits from Italy. Titanium plates stiffened the soles of their Sidi shoes.

I had saggy shorts, mid-calf cotton socks and cheap Detto Pietro shoes, floppy as house slippers. They had Masis, Eisentrauts and Colnagos. My neo-pro (‘70s-speak for entry-level) Raleigh was undistinguished. The components were unremarkable.

I joined a club, rode, listened and watched, learning whatever I could. I tried to ride with good cyclists whenever possible. Most people were gracious, I’m happy to say, but a few guys looked down their noses at my Raleigh and me. Neither of us measured up.

The cool guys and women remembered that they’d been green too, perhaps not that long ago. They treated clumsy new riders like me well.

Others, guys who were trying to pass as classy, accomplished or seasoned, invariably pointed out my faults. And - you could not fail to notice – always bought conspicuously “fast” gear.

Note the quotation marks enclosing the word fast, indicating that all is not what it seems.

Those guys were sure the stuff they bought was fast, but it wasn’t. It was “fast.” The heavily hyped gear promised big performance but didn’t deliver. Despite the hype, that gear didn’t make them faster on hills or flats. It didn’t make them better bike-handlers.

They were good (but not great) riders before they bought it – and good (but not great) afterward. The engine remained the same: The same good but not great rider.

Trick cycling gear is fun but it isn’t fast, it’s “fast.” And merely owning it impresses no one. Guys still try, though. Just as they did in the ‘70s, some guys need to buy their way to superiority in specific, carefully chosen ways, ways so subtle the non-cyclist might never notice. Three decades have passed; nothing has changed…

In the ‘70s a few bucks-up guys bought Assos or Vittore Gianni clothing, good stuff. Both brands were upscale and classy, never flashy. So if you wore Assos or Gianni, only the local cycling “elite” noted the coolness of your “fast” team-embroidered shorts.

You’d succeeded: you impressed the group you longed to embrace as your peers.

That high-budget clothing, while no doubt durable and comfy, was disappointingly not all that fast. Often the very cyclists wearing those prestige pro-team shorts found their stylishly clad derrieres drifting off the back on Saturday mornings. Maybe those shorts were slow after all. Is that possible?

In the ‘70s most cool bikes and all the cool parts were Italian. There was only one brand of snob-approved “fast” parts, Campagnolo, familiarly called Campy but often referred to by affectionate nicknames like Cramp-and-go-slow, or Camp Granola.

Most US riders pronounced Campy, “Campy,” except for a few “elite” cyclists who’d been to the UK or met someone who had. They said “Campag.”

Those guys also knew how to say “toe clip” in Italian. They knew Campy part numbers and used them in conversations at parties. They left those parties early to get home to the dog-eared, grease-stained pages of their Campy catalogs.

Alas, none of that knowledge helped them up the hills. I watched many Campy aficionados struggle on steep sections. Many, coincidentally, also knew the Italian names for various wines, pastas and sauces. Perhaps there was a connection. Or maybe those Campag parts were (dare I say it?) slow…

There was an extra-elite, by the way, a tiny group of Campy-haters who would use any other (European) parts brand to avoid supporting the Wizard of Vicenza, as they called Mr. Campagnolo. They found immense satisfaction in having snubbed the snobs.

“We’re not fooled,” you could sense they were saying. “We see through the hype and cachet. We choose to use appallingly bad French parts rather than that solid, dependable, perfectly acceptable popular stuff. Anyone can ride bikes equipped with Campy, SunTour or Shimano parts. Even people working for blue-collar wages. Ugh.”

Often, you’d see those visibly superior folks stopped on the shoulder of the scenic route. They’d be trying to unlock severe kinks in their chains or they’d be whacking their chain rings back into flatness with roadside rocks.

You’d hear them braking on descents, their fine French center-pulls shrieking like a thousand Parisian fingernails on a thousand Parisian chalkboards.

When those French parts worked perfectly, (Bastille Day and maybe one other weekend day per year) they were rare and refined but not all that fast. Frenchified bicycles and their riders often slid noisily off the back as the Saturday ride proceeded – at what seemed to most of us to be a moderate pace. What a shame, no?

In the ‘70s, before indexing and eight, nine or ten-cog clusters, you could use any old chain with any chain-rings or cogs. Most of us used Regina or Sedis chains, as I recall. There were a few expensive lightweight chains, with hollow pins or holes in the side-plates. Some were made of exotic materials; titanium comes to mind.

And there were aluminum and later titanium cogs you could buy and use temporarily – until they wore out or broke. Oh, but they were “fast” while they lasted.

A style-less but thoroughly functional Sedis chain sold for about six dollars, a Regina maybe nine. A titanium chain weighed less but had a regrettably short life. It sold for $100, enough to buy tires, bananas and pancake mix to last the summer long.

Used (as they so often were) with quick-wearing, lightweight freewheel cogs, those naughty titanium chains skipped and jumped when they should’ve meshed. That had to be irritating.

Despite the expense, the agony and their brief service lives, trick chains did not appear to be successful (fast). Ti chains especially were expensive and exclusive, no doubt: “fast.”

Alas, they just weren’t fast. What a disappointment that must have been to guys who stepped up and bought them – instead of Michelins, bananas and Aunt Jemima mix.

Today the confusion is gone. Thanks to years of development, race-testing, advanced metallurgy and computer-generated designs, cyclists worldwide agree that certain brands and models of bikes, clothing and parts are genuinely superior. They’re for-sure fast, not merely “fast.” Fast.

There is no agreement, however, as to which brands and models they are. Sucks, huh?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

At the light - from 1995 or thereabouts

At The Light

My buddy Phil lives in Hollywood, rides bicycles and motorcycles and has for years. Phil traveled to Montreal to watch Eddy Merckx win the World's in 1976. He lived in Marin back then, riding an old Colnago while his buddies Joe Breeze and Gary Fisher, woolly roadies both, began cobbling together fat-tire bicycles to rocket down Mount Tam trails.

Though he's long since paid his cycling dues, Phil keeps his membership current. He sprung for a CyclArt restoration of his beloved old Raleigh Professional and just bought a newish Cinelli track bike. Not one of his several bikes hangs like an ornament over the fireplace; he rides 'em all.

Recently, Phil says, he was pedaling his fixed-gear bike down some L.A. avenue, traffic light to traffic light, when he noticed a guy on a motorcycle stopped next to him waiting for the green. The guy was riding an older BMW very much like the one in Phil's own garage.

Nice bike, he said to the guy as they waited, I've got one pretty much like it. Mine's got Brand X carburetors, though; I see you have the Brand Ys. Do they work OK?

They reached the next red light together, the next and the next. At each light they chatted about their old BMWs, about twin-plug heads and seat cowls and stuff only Beemer nuts care much about.

At the fourth light, the guy on the motorcycle suggested they pull off the road into a parking area and chat further. Phil said that sounded great. They talked about their motorcycles. The BMW guy said he rode bicycles too so they talked about them.

Eventually Phil asked him what he did, and the guy turned out to be Production Executive for Shukovsky English Entertainment, the TV production company that makes Murphy Brown and Love & War. They were about to begin work on Double Rush, the guy said, an upcoming sitcom series about N.Y. bicycle messengers.

Phil says, hey, I'm a sound mixer myself; if you ever need someone, call me, and he hands the guy a card. I always carry cards, Phil tells me. They wave goodbye. Take care. You too.

Four weeks later the phone rings. Two more days, Phil is working for Shukovsky English on the first Double Rush episode. Phil says it's the best working environment he's ever experienced. Terrific people. And a neat show, he told me.

Chances are, Double Rush will run 13 episodes and Phil will work the sound on all of them. He may even help with other Shukovsky English productions, all of which prospects have put a mile-wide grin on my man Phil's face.

Now Phil's a good guy, easy to meet and easy to talk to, and he brought years of sound experience to that chance meeting, but those qualifications did not make this thing happen.

Phil knows he doesn't ride in a vacuum. Like all of us, he rides in a real world, chock full of good stuff and bad stuff, stuff that may have little or nothing to do with his ride. He watches what's going on and waves at the occasional courteous motorist, other cyclists and presumably motorcyclists.

He's out there, he's in the picture. He's not a car driver, anonymous and isolated in a glass and steel box.

I'm not claiming he climbs off mid-ride and wanders in roadside meadows to get close to nature, or attempts to engage each passing motorist in conversation. I'm not suggesting he takes any opportunity he can to quit pedaling and chat.

Phil realizes a ride is a ride, not a mission, not a race, not an end in itself. Like most of us, he can be confident that he will not be competing at Atlanta in '96, on road or velodrome, and that is, I'm guessing, pretty much OK with him.

Phil does not ride as if the world were 18 inches wide and his front tire were cutting it precisely in half.

Perhaps, unlike Phil, you do ride as if you were in a tunnel: head down, eyes fixed straight ahead looking for broken glass, left-turning cars and maybe some cyclists to pass. Perhaps you shut out everyone and everything but average speed, cadence, heart rate and the road coming at your front wheel.

If you believe that narrow focus means you love cycling more than my buddy Phil does, lift your head up and take a look around.

Never can tell what you'd see. Might be some really good stuff out there.

Friday, April 11, 2008

About Lance - in 1999

I wrote this as Lance was winning his first (of seven) Tours de France. Then as now he was an easy target, easy to criticize. In the last couple of months, Trek has severed its relationship with our other US Tour winner, Greg LeMond, for suggesting that Lance may not be above suspicion of doping. And Lance has opened a Trek bike shop in Austin not far from existing Trek stores.

I admire both guys and cringe when I hear criticism of either. I'm sorry about what happened with Trek and Greg, and I wish Lance the best with his shop and his other pursuits. Good guys, both of them, I'd say. I don't feel any different about them today than I did in '99.

The Truth

As this is written, Lance Armstrong is about to win the Tour de France. A cancer survivor will win the toughest bike race in the world.

We will have had TWO U.S. Tour winners in a decade, Lance and Greg LeMond. Both of them won Tours after surviving terrible misfortune.

Someday, perhaps, we'll have a homegrown cycling hero who has only his opponents to defeat. Hard enough, winning the Tour de France, without having nearly died from testicular cancer or from getting shot.

I met Lance in Italy in the early '90s, at a U.S. National Team training camp near Bergamo. I'd heard his name, heard that he was from Texas, had been a star triathlete and was hell-a strong. At that time, I believe he was still living in Plano at his mother's home. Austin came later.

The National Team guys were about to begin the Settimana Bergamasca, a hard pro-am stage race. Lance, totally unknown overseas then, won the Settimana. He stunned the Euros, and not for the last time, eh?

When I got to the pizzeria/hotel where the team stayed, a couple of the guys on the team greeted me warmly. Someone pointed across the room, paused and said, "That's Lance."

He was already set apart just a bit because he was so awful strong. You knew he was going to do great things. And he did, winning the Pro World Championships in '93, still a young guy.

But the cycling press was not good to him. He was portrayed as a brash young guy, maybe a little short on consideration, a shooter-from-the-hip. He didn't always show proper respect, was the feeling you got. He was not Greg LeMond, the gracious, smiling sweetheart.

And he wasn't Greg LeMond, not ever. He was always Lance Armstrong, and that wasn't always easy in the immediate post-LeMond era. The press didn't help. You wondered where the critical attitude came from.

He has clear eyes and a steady gaze. He looks at you and listens when you're talking. So he can seem a little intense. He is never, ever loud. He doesn't badmouth people. He always, always remembers his friends.

The cycling press made him out to be a cocky Texan nonetheless. Until he got sick. Now, he's a different guy. Now. Now he's stared down death and not blinked, NOW he's a good guy. NOW he's sweet, NOW he's the boy scout he could have been all along. What crap.

Lance Armstrong has been a good guy all along, a guy you'd be proud to have dating your sister, if he were a big star or a burger flipper.

I'll tell you a couple of stories about Lance, stories I know 'cause I was part of them; you tell me if he wasn't a good guy all along.

Before a Tour du Pont stage in '94, Lance, in his rainbow-striped World Champion jersey, pedaled over to me to chat. We were saying hi when a fan with a camera walked up.

"Would you mind, guys," he asked us, "if I take your picture together?"

"I'd be proud," Lance said, pointing at me, "HE's famous."

The fan sent me a copy of the photograph. I tell the story and pass the photo around when I do appearances. Lance said that, I say.

A year later, I lost my motorcycle driving job at the DuPont. I was devastated. I couldn't imagine not being there. When the TV race coverage began, I couldn't force myself to watch.

One day I did watch. I'd had the TV on five minutes. The camera was following Lance and a few friends as they pedaled along early in a stage. I thought at one point I heard someone onscreen say my name. How could THAT be?

But it was my name. Steve Hegg and Lance were talking about ME on TV, Hegg telling Lance that I'd lost my motor job.

Lance, World Professional Road Champion Lance Armstrong, America's hope, turned to the camera. He told the hundreds of thousands that the guy he and Hegg were talking about, their friend Maynard, was not at the tour.

"We miss Maynard," Lance said. "The race isn't the same without him. We want Maynard."

THAT was the greatest recognition anyone's ever given me. I hope the same sort of thing happens to you sometime. I get choked up even now thinking about it, five or six years later. Lance did that.

Later that same year, Different Spokes, the big San Francisco gay-and-lesbian bike club, asked me if I could get a signed jersey from Lance. They would auction it off to raise money for the fight against AIDS.

Seems strange now, doesn't it, that Lance was so willing then to help fight a disease...but he sure was.

He over-nighted me a gorgeous World Championship jersey, Motorola logo, only jersey like it in the world (only one World Champion on the team). He'd written: "Thanks for helping in the fight against AIDS" and signed it.

Lance did that.

Don't believe it took some near-death experience to turn Lance Armstrong from a cocky kid to a good-hearted grownup. Someone who could benefit from controversy invented that change, someone who cared more about stirring the pot than telling the truth.

You're reading the truth right here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

From VeloNews at holiday time, mid-'90s

This above image is the original David Brinton cartoon that graced this piece in VeloNews. Is it wonderful? Was I lucky? Are we grateful to Brintoni for providing these drawings for my blog?
Yes! Yes! Yes!

Living Light

Except for all those bikes, he was a perfectly normal, charming guy. He had bikes everywhere in his none-too-secure urban one-bedroom flat, so many you had to walk carefully - sideways - through them.

He had three dozen bikes and no junk, just beautiful bikes you'd be proud to own, each covered with a plastic sheet, protected from dust and cruel sunlight.

The bikes spanned four decades: mountain, time-trial and road bikes, classy bikes and ordinary bikes, nearly every one gleaming, in perfect running order. Rides them all in a loose rotation, he said.

He'd given them names, claiming each had its own personality, even the two identical model-and-equipment Cannondales. They're different to ride, he explained. He still had the first bike he ever owned: a Bianchi bought new in 1989, and the second, and the third.

He insisted he sells a bike now and then, but the prospective owner must submit to a thorough screening interview. The bike's gotta go to a good home. Uh, okay...

Much as I liked the guy (and you would too), I still got a strange feeling seeing all those inert bikes. Forty bikes, living under plastic shrouds in a sort-of shrine where few people ever even see them. Forty bikes, each ridden a few times a year by its doting owner.

Gave me the willies: Looked too much like a morgue in there.

I thought, hey, all but a few of those bikes need new homes, homes with folks who'll ride 'em, not just love 'em and keep 'em clean, oiled and covered up. What IS an unridden bike? What does it represent in the mind of its owner? Is mere ownership satisfying?

I certainly didn't say anything critical to the guy. It's his business what he owns and what he does with it. All the same, walking into that apartment made me face my own multiple-bike guilt: I don't have 30 bikes, but I do have six, and I don't ride them all.

Then I went to the vintage sports car races at Thunderhill Raceway, near my new home in Chico, California. There, people were racing every kind of old sports car you could name, using them as they were made to be used, especially the purpose-built racing cars.

Does racing rare old cars seem too risky? Too costly? If you watched the racing all day, you’d see a car or two spin out, but not one car get damaged. You’d see no dramatic engine failures, signaled by big clouds of expensive smoke.

Instead, you saw people having fun, using “precious” machines that other people hide away in heated garages so cruel sunlight won't fade the paint.

It looked like so much fun. I lusted to drive many of the cars, or ride in them (those that had passenger seats) while someone more qualified drove. And, cough, cough, someone else took care of them mechanically and paid the bills.

Bicycles, in contrast, are such simple machines, relatively cheap to buy and far cheaper to maintain (even for racing-style use) than the lowest-budget race car or motorcycle.

Beautiful as some of the cars were, I didn't want to own any of them. I only wanted the experience of riding in or driving them. I didn’t even want to own the knockout red '58 Ferrari Testa Rossa. It'd be a responsibility rather than a pleasure. Gravity, not wings.

I crave the wings, the experience some machines can provide: Track laps in the race car, rides in the country with friends on the bicycle. You want to fly, not own an airplane.

Use makes the machine worthwhile. Joyful use. Not mere ownership.

Here’s an ownership story my buddy Phil told me. Phil likes "classical" stuff, stuff you buy at bike swaps from folks who, when they heard about the swap, already had the stuff in boxes to take to the dump.

A framebuilder, Phil's brazing up a Frenchified road frame, recalling early '70s Peugeots, Gitanes and Merciers, bikes we were only too glad to be rid of when they were a season or so old. He’s collecting charming old French parts to equip it: Simplex, Stronglight and Huret. Parts that, like chicken pox, you only get once.

Phil's buddy William, a collector, has approximately eight Ideale saddles, French-made, Brooks-like riveted leather relics, new or nearly unused (Quelle surprise!). Phil asked William to trade or sell him one of them. What nerve, that Phil.

“They're my babies,” protested William, whose house is bursting with stuff, five percent of which he uses. He meant: “NO, I'm keeping them all, shielding them from usefulness and cruel sunlight. I don’t care if they’re EVER used.”

If William is hit by a bus, his heirs will box all that stuff up and take it to a bike shop, hoping for ten cents on the dollar. The shop will look at all that gear, worthless to all but 20 people in the US, and give William's heirs directions to the dump, "second right after WalMart..."

At the dump, the eight Ideale riveted leather saddles will be revealed as what they are, what they've been since 1975: weight. Ballast. In poor William's absence, gravity will determine their value, so much per pound.

The best things are invisible: Love, laughter, hope, joy, respect, honor. I wish you houses-full of each. Sadly, you can’t hoard any of them, nor can anything you CAN hoard, even cool bicycles or old French saddles, secure them for you. Stuff is no substitute.

The best things are invisible. You want to fly. Stuff is hard to get off the ground. More stuff is worse. If you have more stuff than you use, there’s no time like the holidays to pass it along. Give stuff away. Get light.

Fly into the New Year.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The first Race for the Roses

I wrote this in '97, after Lance Armstrong got sick but before he became a household name for his appearance in Dodgeball - A True Underdog Story. He had at that point not won his first Tour de France. No one was sure how his racing would go.

Cynical as we all are today, it's easy to chip away at his feats, his style and his commitment to clean cycling. Then - we were in awe. I still am.

Saying that The Race for the Roses, more properly The Ikon Office Solutions Race for the Roses, was a March 23rd century in Austin is like saying Lance Armstrong rides a bike. Doesn't tell the story.

Austin itself is part of the story. Austin has made Armstrong its own — and he has made Texas' capitol a center of US cycling. Lance moved to Austin from Plano (north of Dallas) and became a favorite son, a local hero. Austin loved Lance in triumph and in health. Then he got sick.

And Austin drew him to its heart. Go there and walk around with him, eat dinner with him in a crowded Mexican restaurant. See how he's treated, how folks enjoy seeing him and knowing him and kidding around with him.

In the week before the race you'd hear a radio commercial for the Roses ride featuring Armstrong and beloved ex-Texas Governor Ann Richards. In the ad, Richard quips that she's won some races and lost some, and wonders aloud if a cycling helmet will fit over "all this hair."

The Race for the Roses was a chance for the rest of us to meet Lance and get to know him a little, maybe ride with him, kid around with him, see for ourselves that he's okay, so we can stop worrying.

He is okay. He has a full head of short hair, no scars visible. His color's good, his eyes are bright and he is optimistic in what seems to be a realistic way.

His friends remark on changes in his behavior. They say he is more mature and attuned to others as a result of his illness and recovery. He cannot know if he can take up his career where he left off. No one knows. He can live with that doubt; he is happy just to be living. People say life-threatening illness can give you that kind of clarity.

Sometimes, even in a crowd of people, Armstrong's attention will go away briefly. He'll look past those people and gaze out into the distance, focused on infinity. What's out there? Who's to say?

Armstrong wasn't the only star at The Race for the Roses. He asked some friends to come by, friends who might want to help him raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation at the foundation's first big fundraising event. Virtually everyone he called appeared and rode.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation raises money to promote awareness of cancer, particularly testicular cancer, which often affects young men (like Lance Armstrong) who may not feel vulnerable, thus may put off getting examined. "Cancer? Me?" Well, maybe...

You met Lance's helpful friends in the Austin Hyatt Regency when you lined up to register for 10, 25 or 100-mile events. If you rode the 100-mile distance you saw them again on the road.

As you walked through the registration line, you could buy a T-shirt, jersey or poster, beautiful stuff, and you could get that T-shirt, jersey or poster (or a free postcard) autographed by one or more of your heroes. There were heroes aplenty.

Speedskater Dan Jansen was there, and another speedskater, Eric Heiden, multi-Olympic gold medalist, the first US Pro Champion and one of the founders of the South Club, the organization behind the 7-Eleven and Motorola Cycling Teams. Doctor Heiden is currently serving an orthopedic fellowship in Birmingham, Alabama.

Downhill mountain bike champion Brian Lopes was there signing away, and Davis Phinney was mobbed. Lance himself was in that line. Next to Lance was Sean Kelly, yes Sean Kelly, and you could chat with him or shake his hand and he would graciously sign the six T-shirts you'd bought for yourself and the guys back home.

Kelly is bigger than you expect, quiet-spoken and not as chatty as you expect Irishmen to be. He is racing weight or not much more and wears his hair short. He wore a golf-style shirt and a sweatshirt or sweater thrown over his shoulders with the sleeves down the front.

Kelly's eyes are everywhere; you feel he misses nothing. He says he's excited about the Tour starting in Ireland this year and is working on that project. He told this reporter he felt that he did indeed realize more power from the clips-and-straps he favored well past their expiration date. He was clipless in Austin, nonetheless.

Jim Ochowicz was there behind the scenes. Jonathan Boyer. Chris Carmichael and Sean Petty from the federation. Paul Sherwen did the start-line announcing. Phinney and Jeff Pierce were there representing Bicycling Magazine.

None of the above merely came to sign autographs on Saturday; they all rode the Roses ride, mostly the 100-miler, leaving with the second (Been There Done That) group that started shortly after the Top Gun fast guys.

Giro, Nike, Pepsi and Oakley were among the event's sponsors and sent people who helped out and rode their bikes. Lance's buddy, retired motorcycle racer Kevin Schwantz, was there and rode the 100-mile event.

Riders came from Texas and nearby states plus New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania and who knows where else. A group from Maryland donated $5,000 in memory of a cycling friend who'd recently died from cancer.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, 500 riders did the 100-mile loop, 1500 did the 10- and 25-mile rides.

If you left with the correct group, you could ride up next to Lance or Sean Kelly or Davis Phinney and say hi. You could, if you looked as if you would not crash anyone in the next few hundred meters, sit in with guys you thought you'd never meet, and you two would chat, riding side-by-side through the rolling, sun-warm Texas countryside. Imagine.

It is the fervent hope of everyone who attended this year's Race for the Roses that it become an annual affair. Perhaps it will be difficult for Lance Armstrong to attend each year, because he will be busy makin' 'em hurt in Europe, another fervent hope.

Whether he is there or elsewhere, if future Races for the Roses are even pale imitations of 1997's event, you won't want to be anywhere else. See you in Austin in March, '98. Buy ya a Shiner Bock.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

RIP, Randy Van Zee

Note added 4-11:
This piece got away from me. I'm writing this PS because not everyone who reads the post will read the comments. I got upset thinking about another good cyclist gone, and I let the upset push me around. I did not intend to make poor Randy Van Zee seem responsible for what happened - as if he'd have had a choice in rural Iowa of the country road or a bike path. I see many bicycle advocates as unsympathetic and unhelpful - insisting that we are legally, optimally part of traffic - as traffic mows us down. Forgive me for losing it a bit in this post.

Fifty-six year old cyclist Randy Van Zee from Sheldon, Iowa, was killed last week when a 21 year old driver hit him from behind on a country road. The driver had no insurance and may not have stopped immediately "to render aid," as the law demands.

Van Zee was not just any cyclist. He was a Race Across America finisher in '04. Wasn't easy.

His neck muscles failed in New Mexico as he rode east. The rest of the ride he wore a brace to support his head. His ankles and feet swelled terribly but he pressed on in pain. He fell off his bike in Ohio and broke his pelvis but kept riding, having to be lifted on and off his bike by his crew.

It's safe to say that Randy Van Zee was a fine bike rider, a seasoned cyclist. He was not a risk-taker. He was a grandfather and an example to his crew and the RAAM community.

Randy Van Zee was taken from his family and friends because he shared the road with motor traffic, entrusting his physical health to careless strangers.

In small-town Iowa he had no option, no other place to ride. Most of us live closer to cities where we do have options: We can ride on the streets or we can ride off-street bike trails. Had Van Zee been lucky enough to have been riding an off-street bike trail he'd be hugging a grandkid today.

So-called cycling advocates insist that bikes are traffic; cyclists should take their place on the road - a road those cyclists share with untrustworthy Americans like the young lady who took Randy Van Zee's life.

Those advocates are taking a lot on themselves. I hope they're sure they're right.

They don't just encourage cyclists to ride with traffic. They discourage highway planners from building alternative bikeways. I see their hands stained with Randy Van Zee's blood.

I've tried for years to understand their position. Since Tamar and I moved to Denver, we are able to ride off-street trails that take us all over the metro area. We are seldom exposed to Mr. and Mrs. Murderous America in their cars. We like it better and they like it better.

What's the downside? What is it about bike trails that upsets advocates so?

Granted we could have a mishap on a bike trail. We could break a collarbone or scrape a knee or elbow or both. Unlike poor Randy Van Zee, we would not give up our lives.

We wonder and we suggest that you wonder about cycling advocates who think that bike paths are roads to hell paved with good intentions. We wonder if those cycling advocates ride their bikes. What is there about a bike path or bike trail that a rider can hate?

Some so-called advocates tell planners just what planners want to hear: Don't spend any money. Don't paint lines to create bike lanes. Don't convert that old railroad right of way into a bike path. Don't create roadside paths for bikes and pedestrians.

Cyclists should take their rightful place on the road.

That's where Randy Van Zee was: in his rightful place on the road. The funeral is today in Sheldon.

PS. As Kansas Cyclist points out in his comment, this is not the most logical post I've put up on my blog site. I thought about Randy Van Zee's death and then about how many riders we've lost to drivers who were distracted or drunk or who merely tried to scare a cyclist and misjudged. That led me to thinking about our expert advocates who want us out there with traffic - because that's where we belong. Hey, it's for our own good. Those damn bike paths are dangerous...

Ridin' with the Chico (CA) Harley Owners Group

I wrote this in '97 or '98. I was new to Chico and to the company of Harley riders. I must have had a preconception or two about those folks. It was good to see what is really going on.

If you're a bicyclist, please don't feel this piece is not for you. Thanks!

Way Rowdy

Twice I've shown up at 10AM at Hall's H-D here in Chico for the Sunday ride. Twice I've had a super day on the motorcycle.

They weren't just great rides. Not to gloat, but great rides are easy in northern California; terrific roads abound. The Hall's rides were great social experiences with people whose paths I seldom cross off the bike.

Great social experiences -- even though both times, I've been on the one non-Hog in the bunch. A (British) Triumph's not a Harley but it's not Japanese; maybe that matters. I don't think so. No one appears to care much.

Certainly, they notice what you're riding. If it's a Harley, they notice if it has changed since they saw it last. If it's not a Harley, some just ignore it, some ask you how you like whatever it is you ride.

A few may truly be interested in your non-Harley; More simply want to make some conversational contact, to get to know you or put you at ease in their company. They accept you even if you're ridin' a silent green Brit-bike without a square inch of chrome. What the hell.

Someone who knows you introduces you to the others. If you're a first-timer, if no one knows you, someone will shake hands and introduce him- or herself. That person will introduce you to the rest of the group.

You're not going to be allowed to remain anonymous. You're going to be introduced into the company of riders, one by one. You notice the near-formality of it and you are surprised.

Soon the uneasiness you feel from seeing all those chaps, headbands and H-D logos, so unlike your jeans and gray, white 'n blue Vanson jacket, disappears. You stop noticing sameness and start noticing differences.

You do notice that nearly everyone rides an 80-incher, a Big Twin. Nary a Sportster. The one Buell is ridden by a guy who went from a rigid Panhead he'd ridden for 17 years directly to the Buell. Is he the typical Buell buyer? Who IS the typical Buell buyer...?

You get the feeling that many of the riders have known each other for years. Some of them were buddies before motorcycles, or they work together. They use nicknames, tease each other, they're a COMMUNITY.

As you watch, you think: This is part of the Harley package, this togetherness. It really is. Guy buys a FZR or CBR, he's just bought a motorcycle, not a clan. If he finds out about the sportbike hangout and shows up there Sunday mornings, someone may speak to him, may not.

Buy a Harley from Hall's; Someone will tell you about these Sunday rides. Show up, be nice, and it's like you're invited to dinner. You'll have friends you can count on, unless I totally misjudge this group. It's family, or as close to it as many of us are likely to get.

Also, unless I miss my guess, you don't have to qualify to belong. You have to have a motorcycle, but as I said, I don't think it has to be a Harley. Maybe, about the 15th time you appear, someone will ask you if there's one in your future.

You don't have to have scrubbed your tires to the tread edges cornering fast. You don't have to have one-piece leathers with knee pucks. You don't have to have an old, flat-black Norton or a new carbon-fiberized Ducati. You don't have to have any particular motorcycle or any particular attitude.

You just have to be nice, meaning not immediately discernible as an asshole.

When I rolled up for the first ride, there was only one motorcycle there, an immaculate 35,000-mile Dyna Wide-Glide just back from its third trip to Sturgis, ridden by Larry and Kathy.

At a time when I had scarcely been invited into anyone's home in Chico, they insisted we stop at their place BEFORE we started our ride. They wanted me to see their Sturgis photos, fresh from the processors.

We looked at pictures and then took a great ride on nearby back roads, narrow bumpy twisty perfect roads. I followed Larry and Kathy on that 80-incher for miles and miles, three lengths back. We rode a sporting pace, quick enough to be fun, not fast enough to scare ourselves or the few motorists we encountered. It was perfect.

We'd stop in roadside country bars for a couple of Buds for them and a coke for me. We'd play darts, then climb back on the bikes and ride some more. I never ride like that on my own. I’m too anxious to get from A to B, I guess, but it was fun. A change of rhythm.

Larry's a workin' guy. So are most of the others I met on the second Hall's ride I did, Chico-Downieville-Chico with about a dozen Harleys. The Hall's Sunday ride guys aren't rich, urban or professional. I didn't meet anyone anxious to impress me with what he did, didn't see a pager or cell phone.

Those guys make good wages in blue collars, I think, and choose to spend a sizable chunk of that money on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. They don't just buy those Harleys. They RIDE them.

Some of them rode two-up with wives or girlfriends; the couples do nearly all their riding together, I believe. A few women rode their own bikes, Big Twins, like the men did. They rode 'em well, like the men did.

At the restaurant in Downieville, we (well, THEY, really) got a little raucous: loud laughter, jokes, guys ragging guys, gals ragging guys.

An old couple sat across the aisle, hardly spoke to each other over their lunch. I fretted that we'd ruined their meal, their quiet-time together.

When the two got up to leave, one of the black-leather badguys in our group touched the old man's arm, told him he hoped we hadn't spoiled their lunch with all the commotion.

"Hell no," said the old guy. "We're in an RV club. We're way rowdier than you guys..."


Monday, April 7, 2008

Before the old school was built...

The vintage-looking gentleman on the 1909 Indian racing motorcycle is Nicky Hayden, 2006 MotoGP world champion. The Indian, displayed at the Indianapolis Speedway Museum, was ridden in the first motorcycle race ever held there - 99 years ago.
Because no one had ever ridden the newly finished MotoGP course at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Hayden (the "Kentucky Kid") held the lap record for an hour or so - at nearly five minutes. The bike would run 45mph wide open.
These images and the information that made me sound so informed were stolen from Superbike Planet dot com, a stud-hoss web site for sure.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Half of my cycling poems...

The Old Days

Written in answer to "Why you would like a BOB (Bridgestone Owners' Bunch) fanny pack." Bridgestone was the most retro major bike maker around, thus the retro-style of the poem. I believe the poem, probably without the glossary, ran in a Bridgestone Bicycles Catalog. If know that not to be true, write me a comment and set me straight.

Because you have to come to reading this with a wealth of useless cycling lore and because of the many bits of jargon in the poem, here’s a glossary:

Inch-pitch - old chain and sprocket tooth spacing.
Hack – old, well used track bike. A tool, not an icon.
Pletcher rack - the old (and current) cheap-but-cheerful luggage rack.
Dettos - Detto Pietro shoes, popular old low-priced shoe.
Mafac - French manufacturer of light, powerful centerpull brakes that shrieked like fingernails on a chalkboard when you used them.
Sachs - Richard Sachs bicycles, made in CT, fine old-fashioned hand-crafted bikes.
Paneled downtube - painted like an old British frame.
Kelly's clips - Sean Kelly used toe clips years after everyone else in the pro ranks switched to clipless pedals.
Kestrel - high-tech, non-retro bicycles.
Coni – the "blue book;" the old Italian Federation training bible.
40 holes - old super-strong wheels used 40 spokes.
Wooden rims - either all-wood or aluminum rims, wood-filled - for tubular tires.
Gino - Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi's rival in the '40s and '50s.
Real-bike hour pace - Eddy Merckx's hour record was the last set on a conventional bicycle.
Shifters clamp in place - before frame braze-ons.
Dura-Ace – Campy’s competition; the racing parts new-comer.
Silks - expensive, hard to repair sew-up tires with silk carcasses.
Laughing pack - the chatty group that has given up trying to be competitive in the race but is trying to finish within the time limit.
Bob Jackson - well-known British builder, then and now.
Beige-box pieces - old Campy parts came in beige boxes that many of us saved.
Bindas - Alfredo Binda toe straps, the best brand back then.
Black shorts – the traditional color
Young guys would ride the track – to learn how to race the old-school way
S.L. blacks – the black-caged Campy Superleggera pedals that many of us rode.
Warm bee's wax - Grant Peterson of Bridgestone's recommendation for thread lubrication.

Good Enough for Fausto, by BOB 450 (That was me!)

Would I like the old days back?
Will I ride my inch-pitch hack
Till they bring the Yardbirds back?
Do I love my Pletcher rack?
And do I want the old days back?
By Bianchi green - I do.

Do I like my Dettos black?
Am I tattooed (twice) "Mafac?"
Will I ride my early Sachs
Till the paneled downtube cracks?
So do I want the old days back?
By Kelly's clips - I do.

Am I put off by Kestrel's act?
Do I take the Coni book as fact?
Will I ride 40 holes in back
Till proper wooden rims come back?
Do I want the old days back?
On Gino's health I do.

Do I defend, face-to-face
Merckx's "real-bike" Hour pace?
Do my shifters clamp in place?
Do I forget I never raced, just
Ground along at tourist pace
But passed by women, always chased?
But do I want Dura-Ace erased?
Trust me; yes I do.

In my world shorts would all be black,
All young guys would ride the track,
And fix my silks at a buck a crack.
See, I speak Campy but my voice is cracked,
I'm clipped and strapped but I'm off the back,
I learned the lingo but forgot the knack,
I'm retro-suffering in the laughing pack.
Getting dropped is what I do.

Enough already with the sordid facts;
I've admitted I want the old days back:
Like a red Bob Jackson in Santa's pack,
Beige-box pieces, front to back.
Cinelli, Bindas, S.L. blacks,
Each thread lubed with warm bee's wax.
We love our dreams but we live by facts;
I'd settle for a BOB-club fanny pack.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Falling off my mtn bike, early '90s


I'd ridden that trail before, but soon as we turned off the road and began the rutted, dust-slippery, steep single-track descent, I felt "off," intimidated. I imagined myself crashing.

I ride descents like that one with my rear brake locked and tire skidding. I crab down, using the front brake only when I think I can get away with it. Maybe Ned Overend rides them at 30mph, but I don't; I skid the tire and crab.

Because I felt unusually slow and uncertain, I pulled over to the side of the trail and let my buddies Dave and Robert go by. No sense getting in the way. I looked back up the hill; no sign of our fourth, Derek.

I started down the hill. I remember that as I began rolling I felt clumsy; I had trouble getting my second foot in its clip. I remember the bike was pointed at a good-sized rut.

That's all I remember. I woke up lying in the trail. Several paramedics hovered over me, asking me questions. What day is today? Where are we? I felt pretty with-it and thought my answers sounded OK, cool even. I remember telling the guy examining me that, if he touched me THERE, he'd better mean it.

Derek, I learned, had seen the dust cloud my crash generated, saw a prone figure and thought it was Robert, who'd begun the descent immediately in front of him. When he checked, though, sure enough it was me, unconscious, mouth open, rattling noises coming out, tongue flapping, one ear all bloody. Gross.

Freaked ol' Derek out. He ran up the trail to a house and called 911. About then, Robert and David, up ahead somewhere, concluded that half the group had failed to follow them down the hill. They stopped to wait, then heard sirens, shook their heads and started walking their bikes up the hill. When they reached me, the paramedics were already on the scene.

First I got carried up the steep hill on a high-tech board by three guys who had to set me down a couple of times on the way. Then I got the lights-and-sirens ambulance ride. I stared up at the diamond-plate ceiling while the guys stuck I-Vs in my arms and asked me questions. It felt, of course, as if it were happening to someone else.

Somehow, somebody removed my beloved battered orange rain jacket, given to me by my friend Penny several years ago, and my jersey, a beautiful multi-colored Casati (bicycles) one given to me last spring by Signore Casati in Monza.

At the hospital, however, trauma team personnel cut my polypro t-shirt, shorts and tights off me. Sliced my favorite ancient holey-butt, double-front bib tights. Damn.

Ten hours at the hospital. Holding Shelly's hand. Chest X-rays. One or two broken ribs. Concussion. Double vision. CT scan. Scrapes and bruises here and there, a helmet strap burn in front of my left ear, cuts above my left eye and on my right ear. The blood that worried Derek did not come from inside my head, but simply from the cuts. Simply.

My Bell helmet (thank goodness for that helmet, given to me a year or so ago by my buddy Don Davis of Bell) took most of the impact on the left temple area.

Today, the micro-shell remains intact. The ground chewed up the polystyrene liner where it's exposed below the shell. When you look inside you see cracked lining and glued-in sizing pads that have been forcibly moved around. You can see bloodstains on the lining and the shell.

As I type this, eight days after the crash, my broken-rib side hurts like mad. I have to close one eye so I can make out the words on my computer screen. I'm hoping the double vision will go away, that one morning I'll wake up and mysteriously it'll be gone. Meanwhile I can't drive or ride; I can't decide which center line is the real one.

Note: This 3mph mountain bike crash created more long-term inconvenience than any other fall I ever had. I had to wear special glasses for weeks and weeks – to help my two eyes focus on the same point.

I've thought about trail riding quite a bit. It seems to me that I won't do it again without at least one companion. Had no one been with me when I crashed, who knows how long I'd have been there, how long it would've taken me to find help. Luckily, we were on the edge of civilization, very near a phone.

You could say that I might've been going slower had I been alone, that there would've been less pressure to keep up with the guys. Maybe. I bet I wasn't traveling five mph when I crashed.

I don't think I'll do much riding without a helmet, either. I bet I can get Don Davis to send me another Bell. I believe I'll pay more attention when that voice tells me I'm not quite focused on riding my bike, too.

You know, I hadn't crashed for several years. Maybe I won't crash again for an equally long time, maybe longer. Still, I think I've spent as much time in the trauma center as I'd like. Not that the folks at Highland Hospital weren't nice; I don't want to sound ungrateful.

I'm going to try to ride carefully. I'll try to remember, even after I've been riding crash-free for months or years, that eventually I'll crash again.

How about you? Why don't you, too, try to ride carefully. We'll ride carefully together, you and me, but separately, because you're there and I'm here. Let's do it. Whattaya say?