Friday, May 30, 2008

Alvin... Where're the cars?

A guy named Alvin Lee, who seems to be from Singapore, sends little notes about his rides and his club to the Bike Friday web site. I enjoy reading Alvin's stories and looking at the accompanying photos.

In various photos, in which Alvin appears to be having a super time, you see him with his Bike Friday tikit folding bike, with his (40-strong) folding bike club based in Singapore - and with an elephant.

In none of the photos do you see a car or a parking lot. Look for photos of US rides without cars in the shots. There are always cars in the photos. We don't like to get far from our cars.

Virtually all US club rides start in parking lots; that's where the riders park and unload their bikes. They ride a loop from their car and back to it.

In this country, SUVs make cycling and suburban life possible. Check it out: virtually all cyclists and suburbanites have at least one.

Bikes accumulate far more miles in or on cars than they do on their own wheels. Four dollars plus per gallon to freight one's 18lb bike to a club ride four miles plus from home. Sure you can afford to do it, Mr or Ms Lawncare, but does that make it any less obscene?

We drive to every ride. Were it not for the automobile, there'd be no bike clubs, no club rides, no more than three bike shops per major city, no Trek, no Specialized, no Pearl Izumi, certainly no Cervelo or Colnago and nearly no cycling in this great land.

The same die-hard commuters and no-goddamn-car-no-matter-what cyclists would be riding. I lift my coffee cup in salute: You guys rule. No goddamn car no matter what.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Editors, a clarification

When I wrote about my decision to stop contributing to cycling magazines (except the Bicycle Paper) I feel I may have misled some of my readers.

Had I felt I'd been particularly badly handled by a particular editor, I'd have simply quit his/her publication. I suspect that a few of you would like to point an accusing finger at this editor or that one, but my quitting isn't the result of casual treatment from any one person.

And I didn't quit because time after time someone mangled my copy. It did happen - far more often than I would've liked or you'd believe. After all, I looked like a star in my featured spot in several magazines, expressing my opinions issue after issue just as if I knew something.

I looked like a star but I got no help from anyone except one guy, Rich Carlson at Winning. What I got from other editors was benign neglect. They liked me fine, I suppose, and liked having my work in their magazines, but they didn't write and they didn't call. One or two didn't pay.

Helping me make my work better was not a concern.

I try to write to fit the space, and I try to submit clean copy. I always make it clear to editors that I'm home at my computer and more than willing to make the piece work for them. No one asks me for that help. They do it themselves. I find out when I the mailman delivers my copy.

I do not believe that my stuff is perfect or that changes to it are negative. I believe that two heads are better than one; two readers are better than one. I appreciate the help. It's a luxury. I like to participate in the editing, and always offer to do so.

I offer to help edit other people's copy, to do last-minute multi-page checks for typos, to help in any way I can. I've offered a hundred times. No one takes me up on my offers.

I do like to see, before it is printed, what the reader will see. I've had to get bitchy, to demand that magazines fax me my page before sending it to the printer - so I could correct any mistakes that may have crept in. It's only my name on the piece after all.

In my Winning days, late '80s, early '90s, I submitted pieces via fax. Rich Carlson would read the article and make notes. He'd call and we'd look over the piece paragraph by paragraph. He'd read a sentence or a phrase and tell me what he took away from it. Is that what I intended the reader to take from it?

If the sentence or phrase did not mean exactly what I intended it to mean, we'd fix it. That's an editor, I'd say. Working with Rick Carlson surely spoiled me, set me up for serial disappointment with other "editors" whose priorities were different.

I cannot tell you how wonderful those phone calls from Rich were, or how I felt, knowing that two of us polished the piece. Two of us agreed that I'd said precisely what I meant to say.

I don't know that I was the best writer I'd ever be then, but my pieces were more perfected than they would ever be again. How can you thank a man who makes your work, nearly the only work you've ever done that matters to you, the best it can be?

Is that so unusual? you could say. Hey, that's his job. He's an editor.

If that's so, if that's what editors do, he's the only editor I've had who did his job.

Please don't think that some experience with some editor pushed me over the line. It wasn't something that someone I've worked for in the past decade did that provoked me to quit.

It was what Rich Carlson did years ago. And nobody's done since.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Rick 'n' Me

I wrote this about five years ago, while Tamar and I lived in Tucson.

At a local shop, my friend Rick saw a steel frame from a respected builder in French Canada. It'd been assembled with Shimano Ultegra pieces, precisely what Rick wanted. It was just his size. He even liked the colors and paint scheme.

Perfect, he thought, and bought it. He and the dealer agreed that Rick would stop by the store so someone there could set him up on the bike: saddle position, stem length and height, you know.

When Rick arrived at the shop for the fitting, the employee asked him to put on shorts and cycling shoes. While Rick changed clothes, the guy clamped Rick's new bike into a stationary trainer.

The idea was, Rick would sit on the bike and pedal. The shop guy would study Rick's position, then make changes so he'd be comfortable, balanced and in control.

Rick threw a leg over the top tube and clicked into a pedal. When he sat on the seat the bike abruptly fell over, Rick with it. Somehow, the guy hadn't fastened it securely into the trainer.

Rick was surprised but unhurt. His bike wasn't so fortunate. The rear-axle mount on the trainer had scraped the new bike's seat stay just above the dropout.

Heartsick, Rick brushed the scratched area with his fingernail; he saw steel shavings mixed with the paint chips. There was no way to tell if the frame had been weakened. Was the damage merely cosmetic - or was the frame ruined?

Even if he could be sure the frame was still strong, Rick couldn't imagine how he could successfully touch up the paint. His new bike would never look new again.

Rick asked the shop how they wanted to handle its replacement.

Was Rick too fussy? What would you or I have done?

Remember, WE did not just buy a lovely new bike that's now marred (perhaps ruined) by the dealer who sold it to us. It's Rick's bike, not ours. We can be clear-headed and casual – about damage to other people's bicycles.

We might say: If the rear wheel fits like it did before, if it still centers between the stays and under the brake, that frame is fine. It’s strong and straight as new. Clean up the scraped area with sandpaper. Find some touch-up at a hobby store. Paint the seat stay and ride the bike. It's just a bike. Ride it.

And maybe that's just what Rick should do. What should I do?

Last month, I submitted a piece to a local cycling magazine, an article about bicycle seats. It was not Hamlet. I hope it was fun and informative. It came from hours of work and years of learning about cycling.

After I sent the piece to the magazine and before the readers saw it, someone, surely with the best of intentions, "edited" the piece. That worthy person did not find technical mistakes, bad information or grammatical errors. The piece was not overly long, as is all too common. I welcome editorial help with any or all of the above, by the way. This was different.

I suspect the editor felt he had to justify his title, so he went at my article with a chainsaw, not a red pencil.

That person cut-and-pasted the piece into a form I never intended. He or she combined many nice, short paragraphs into fewer, longer, harder-to-read ones. And wrote a silly, senseless sentence and inserted it into my article. MY article.

Does it surprise you that such things happen? Trust me, they do.

By the time I realized that some well-meaning editor had (in my view) sabotaged my article, 25,000 copies hit the shops. Twenty-five thousand readers assumed that because my name was on the piece, I wrote every sentence in it and arranged it precisely as it appeared on the page.

I would joyfully return my paycheck if the nice folks at the publisher’s office would recall all those magazines, but that won't happen.

Looking at the wreckage of my piece, I got heartsick the way Rick did looking at his scratched-up bike. I couldn't stay clear-headed about the way my article turned out. If I could've, I'd have reminded myself that the work I sell to most print and online publications is merely filler. It fills the spaces between ads.

It's not Hamlet, remember. No one reads it carefully. Perhaps no one reads it all the way through. I may be the only person who noticed that stupid sentence or the order and length of the article's paragraphs. Maybe no one cares but me.

Is my article ruined because I alone think it is? If no one else is bothered by the changes, am I just being a big pain? Is the article every bit as effective, every bit as good as it ever was? Am I too fussy?

You could say Rick earned the right to be fussy when he paid for his lovely new bike. You might say I earned the right to be fussy when I made a story out of nothing, out of my imagination.

Hey, Rick's bicycle is probably fine; my piece is probably fine. Enough already. Rick and I should just cowboy up. He should slap some paint on that stay and get back on his bike. I should touch up the scratches in my pride and get back to my keyboard.

I might have done just that, too. But I emailed the magazine, saying that I'd have been pleased to have done any editing they deemed necessary. I've been in town all along, I told them, never far from my computer, always happy to help. I asked them not to edit behind my back.

They told me my scratched bike was better than new. I did what you'd do. Now they're deciding how to handle my replacement.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Part Three: Tech motor driver, the bitter and the sweet

In the ‘90s and until about 2005, I did as much tech motor driving as anyone in the US, probably more than anyone else. I worked primarily for Mavic and Shimano, but I also worked for the Pedro’s program once and the Bontrager program a few times.

Plus I worked for the race organizers when no national program agreed to provide support at the event: the Vuelta de Bisbee comes to mind, the Cascade Classic and maybe once or twice at the Tour of the Gila.

When I worked for Mavic, I rode one of their yellow motorcycles. If I worked for Shimano close to home, I’d ride to the event and use my own bike. A few times we rented or borrowed bikes, memorably in Greenville, SC, at the ‘89er Stage Race in Norman, OK, at the Norwest Cup in Minneapolis, MN and at the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

As the years and races passed, I became known to the officials. Most came to trust me and let me do my job as I saw fit. I was one aspect of the strung-out ballet that they did not have to worry about.

I learned to love certain races and put up with others. My favorite race today is the Tour of the Gila. I’ve been working that event for 10 years, I believe, so I know the staff and I’ve made some friends there in Silver City, NM. Super event.

My near-favorite race and my least favored race were both in Oregon. I enjoyed going to Bend and working the Cascade Classic. The country is gorgeous, the racing always good, the locals are fun and friendly and into the event. The weather has been good almost every year – although it has gotten hot once or twice.

If you have not been to Bend, it’s worth the trip. I wish I’d bought a place there before it was “discovered” and became almost California-pricey. A few bike race people did. The Classic brought them to Bend. They looked around, saw very little to dislike and bought homes there. Lucky them.

On the other hand there was the Tour Willamette, based in Eugene, just over the mountains from Bend. Eugene is a lovely town, a genuinely green town full of sincerely involved people. I hated their bike race. April in Eugene….

It just always rained. The courses were always far from town. The courses that remain in my memory were on Bureau of Land Management property, on remote roads that saw very little traffic except on race days. Those roads were not well maintained.

You’d be flying down a technical descent on one of those nearly flooded roads, chasing the break or more accurately trying to limit how far you’d have to chase it once the road straightened, you’d come around a corner and the road would be gone.

The road surface would be missing, or in chunks. You’d manage to navigate through the pieces of road, and you’d look off the side of the road and there’d be nothing there but drop-off and woods. If you went wide and slid off the road, you’d never be found.

You never had radio contact with the wheel car. You’d already have done a service or two, guys with pinch flats or guys who’d crashed, and you had no more good wheels. You didn’t know where good wheels could be found – or how long it might be until you found them. Without fresh wheels, you were useless.

You were cold and wet and tired and frustrated and useless.

You’d see guys standing on the road edge with a wheel in one hand and a bicycle minus a wheel in the other, guys looking sad and frantic. There’d be nothing you could do.

You were there to help. You’d ridden 400 miles to get there. You’d left a marginal motel at dawn, ridden for 90 shivering wet minutes to get to the start and frozen your ass off for three more hours in the race.

And you could not help that guy - or the other six or eight other guys like him you saw standing there in the miles and miles you rode before you found the wheel car.

Really tough racers loved the Tour Willamette. They felt it was a true test. No doubt you had to be a no-foolin’ all-around rider even to finish, let alone do well.

I was never nearly that tough. I survived two or three of those Tours but I never enjoyed one day of working them.

Friday, May 23, 2008

From the NY Times, another super link...

From today's NY Times, David Brooks' piece about the evolution of the nerd. Great article from my favorite observer of...well, us...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Part two: Dude, you're a neutral support motor driver.

Photo shot at the San Francisco GP in '04

In 1991, the Trump race became the Tour du Pont – and I became a Mavic tech support motor driver.

The race flew me to New York. A van took a bunch of us to BMW Headquarters in New Jersey where we were introduced to our new bikes. In my case it was a BMW R100GS with 600 break-in miles on it. Our bikes were to become BMW’s road test fleet after the race.

I confess: I was not sure when I accepted the tech motor driver job just what a tech motor driver did. Greg Miller, Mavic’s most experienced race mechanic, trained me. A wizard race reader, he knew what was gonna happen before it happened. He made sure we were always in the right place – 90% of the tech motor battle.

Almost 20 years and dozens or hundreds of races later, I still do some things the way he taught me. But I’m often surprised by how a race unfolds. Greg seldom was.

Here’s what the tech motor is and does. A tech support (or neutral support) motor is a motorbike, a driver and a passenger. The passenger is a bike race mechanic, carrying bicycle wheels and hand tools, so he can help riders with flat tires or mechanical problems.

The yellow Mavic tech motors are the ones you see in TV broadcasts of the Tour de France or Paris-Roubaix. The motors are reserved for mountain stages at the Tour; cars suffice for flatter stages. For Paris-Roubaix, Mavic uses dual-sport (street-dirt) motors.

Here’s how a typical service goes: When a rider flats, he will raise his hand and move to the right-side edge of the road. The driver will stop the motor immediately behind him. The mechanic will jump off, remove the flat tire wheel and put in a new wheel. Takes between 15 and, oh, 40 seconds.

The mechanic will then push the rider off. The motor will follow him up the road. He’ll jump on and the driver will find the neutral car, where they’ll exchange the dead wheel for a good one. Then they’ll slot back into position behind the pack or breakaway.

When the pack is together at the beginnings of races, the tech motor can do services or leave the services to the neutral car. If there’s a crash, the neutral car and the team cars will stay at the crash scene to help the fallen riders. The neutral tech motor will follow the riders who did not crash, supporting riders who are still in the race.

If a breakaway goes off the front of the pack, when that break gains 30 seconds on the pack, the officials will send the tech motor up past the pack. The motor will catch the break and shadow it to support the riders. Until the break gains a minute lead, team cars are not allowed in the gap between the pack and break.

If there are three riders in the break from three different teams, and the three team cars come up to the break (after the lead grows to a minute or more) the tech motor will continue to follow the break to watch for a split in the breakaway riders – into which a team car is not allowed.

As the racers climb a long hill and the pack or break strings out, the tech motor will work its way forward, supporting the top riders – at least the top three.

If the event is a stage in a stage race, and the yellow jersey wearer is not among the leaders on the climb, the tech motor driver and mechanic must decide where to place the motor on the road – to cover the leaders but not abandon the yellow jersey.

A word about descents. On tight, technical descents in pro races, only the best motor drivers can keep up with the cyclists. Veteran bicycle race motor drivers (officials, marshals, tech drivers, time-board drivers) know that and try their best not to get caught on a descent by a swarm of cyclists – passing on both sides with millimeters to spare.

In a race like the Tours of California or Georgia or the old Trumps and DuPonts, the race passes through several police jurisdictions each day. Each change of area means a change in the motor-mounted police who accompany the race.

The officers are justly proud of their motorcycle handling skills. They have no idea of the speeds that professional cyclists can attain on descents, especially twisty descents with corners marked 10 and 15mph. We bike race motor drivers would warn them, but we'd sense their skepticism.

Until after they had worked their first mountain stage. Then – they were believers. Oh yes.

I've just read Dave Moulton's fuel piece...

And my buddy Justin has just a week or so ago bought a new Prius. Nice car. He has just filled the tank for the first time, discovering as he did so that he's getting 47mpg. I rode in the car; it's nice inside, has that rear-view camera and GPS and plenty of room.

I just rode to Arizona and New Mexico on my Triumph motorcycle. I discovered on that trip that my bike will sometimes go 40 miles on a gallon of premium fuel, 10 cents per mile. If I ride at bicycle speeds while working in support of a bike race, it'll get 33mpg.

Everyone who buys a Prius has mileage in mind. No one who buys a motorcycle has mileage in mind, at least not at the time of purchase. No one in the US needs a motorcycle; they are lifestyle statements and weekend toys for most owners. So the manufacturers offer bad-guy glamor and risk-taker chic rather than cheap, fun transportation.

When Justin tells me about his Prius and its 47mpg brand new, I am pleased for him and embarrassed for myself. His car can haul four people and luggage miles further on a gallon of regular than my modestly performing motorcycle can travel on a gallon of premium.

There must be a simple reason why that's so, a reason even I can understand. If you know why a 450lb motorcycle with one person on it uses more fuel than a Toyota Prius, send me a comment.

I'd like to know too.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My life as a tech support motor driver - in two (or maybe three) parts - Part One

When I started cycling in 1975, I’d been riding motorcycles for 13 years. In those days, before US TV began broadcasting European races, many American fans were unaware of the role in bike racing played by support motorcycles. I had no idea. There was motorcycling, and there was bicycling. The twain will never meet, I figured.

By the mid-‘80s, when the Coors Classic stage race, previously a Colorado event, brought big-time racing to California, I had seen the dozens of motorcycles that accompany high-level races. I dreamed about riding support - on my own motorcycle.

And I had clout, sort-of; I was writing the column in the back of Winning magazine. I had no credentials as a bike-race motor driver but my editor at Winning, Rich Carson, could pull a string or two.

The first year, I followed a stage or two; Sonoma to Sacramento comes to mind, and tried to stay out of the way. I must have been only a minor nuisance, because no one screamed at me. The next year, Rich pulled strings. Winning sent a photographer to the Classic; I was to be his driver.

I worked Coors Classic stages only in California and Nevada and only for two years. I never worked stages in Colorado, and I did not go to Hawaii when the race ventured there. But I had amazing experiences working those California stages and I wrote about them for Winning.

I carried some of the best cycling photographers in the US. They taught me a bunch. I met Bernard Hinault and Didi Thurau. I saw top-class bike racing from my motorcycle and from the best spots on the roadsides. It was just magical.

By ’87 or ’88, the Coors Classic was no more. A new race back east called the Tour de Trump, sponsored by The Donald, rose from its ashes. I was asked to carry Darcy Kiefel, racer Ron Kiefel’s wife and the official race photographer.

The weather both Trump years was awful, dumping rain day after day. The first year, as I recall, the race started in Albany, NY, and ended in Boston. The second year it again started in Albany but ended in Atlantic City. I rode BMWs borrowed from a dealer in New Jersey.

In Albany one of the two years, as we prepared for the first stage, my buddy Simon and I rode down a busy urban street. A strange-looking, matte-painted Lamborghini pulled up to the light next to us. It was a super expensive desert car, ugly and low and flat, and Mike Tyson was at the wheel.

He wanted to tell us that he thought our motorcycles were cool. We talked to Mike Tyson at maybe four traffic lights, that high-pitched voice unmistakable. Later that day we saw on TV that he'd been arrested for speeding, for doing some ridiculous speed on a city street.

I had the best job in the race, I believe, hauling around lovely, gracious Darcy Kiefel. But the Tour de Trump and my days of carrying race photographers both ended when, in 1991, the Trump race became the Tour du Pont – and I became a Mavic tech support motor driver.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Further thoughts about my quitting - for the three of you who care

First, thanks for the comments about my decision to stop contributing to cycling magazines, except for the Bicycle Paper. All of the comments were kind save one - written by someone who elected not to identify him/herself. Write me again with your name and mailing address, Anonymous, and I'll send you a can of Proofhide. Can't have too much Proofhide.

I've felt for some years that as a writer I represented fewer and fewer cyclists. In the '80s and into the '90s, before cycling became popular among so many middle-class Americans, you could meet a rider and assume confidently that as bikies you had lots in common.

That's over.

Scarcely anyone waves back today. Last month a hipster on a fixie waved; I nearly hit the chain-link fence next to the bike path. Club riders don't point out holes and aren't aware that cycling etiquette exists. Guys buy Sevens and Madones and put hi-rise stems and three-speed bars on them. Many Colnago riders can't fix a flat. No one rides to rides.

No one sees anything the matter with the behavior described in the above paragraph.

It was time for me to quit. Certainly the frustration of dealing with editors over the years wore me down. I miss Rich Carlson of Winning, RIP, who cared about my work and tried to make it the best it could be. I knew even then that it would never be that good again...

One more piece of mine will run in the Rivendell Reader. VeloNews has a piece that the editor agreed, months ago, to use. Maybe it'll never happen.

Thanks for your support over the years. You too, Anonymous...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sorry for the week of no posts. I've been thinking...

I started writing about cycling for California Bicyclist and Winning in the spring of 1983, so I’ve been doing it for 25 years almost to the month. In that time, I have had maybe 20 editors – more accurately people who dealt with the business of producing publications.

Only a few have returned my emails, even simply to acknowledge that they had received some piece I’d written and to assure me that they would read it when they had time. Some, I’m convinced, did not glance at the pieces until deadlines loomed. They were busy.

Only one or two worked with me to make the pieces better. The writer/editor relationship that you imagine is scarce indeed. And fleeting. Editors have other priorities.

Often, if they did read the pieces, they took clean, fussed-over copy and inserted errors, making me look and feel like a fool. This has happened countless times. Not once did an editor apologize to me or explain to the reader that the error was not mine.

I have never done well with this sort of casual treatment. I have also never made much money, certainly not enough to wait for email responses that never came or to put up with editorial sabotage.

I have decided that 25 years of this is enough. I will no longer contribute articles to editors of cycling publications – with one exception.

The exception in my cluster of editors is Claire Bonin of the Bicycle Paper in Seattle. The BP pays me in pennies but Ms Bonin is a prompt and thoughtful correspondent. She makes it worthwhile for me to continue with the BP.

I will continue to write about cycling for my blog and the Bicycle Paper, and about motorcycling for CityBike, Motorcycle Sport and Leisure, and Classic Motorcycle Mechanics.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ah, Italia...

Here's a link to an old (1995) piece by Dean Adams of Superbike Planet. It's about the motor racing circuit at Monza, near Milan, but it's really about Italians, their enthusiasms and the way they live.

If you have not visited Italy, trust me: Dean Adams gets it right. If you have visited Italy, you will nod your head and wish you were there today.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A couple of Mitch Clinton's Tour of the Gila shots

In the upper photo, you see my mechanic/passenger Todd and me during the final stage of the Tour of the Gila - the Gila Monster, as it's called. I'm eating a Nutter-Butter, my favorite mid-race food.

The Gila Monster is an epic 105-mile stage with long, steep climbs and fast, technical descents. It begins at 8AM and ends about five hours later, so you will understand how I might get hungry.

As you see, Todd is carrying a pair of spare wheels. If a rider has a flat or other mechanical problem, we stop. Todd jumps off the motorcycle and does a "service."

In the lower photo, we're following a three-man breakaway. The rider on the right is Tamar's and my Tucson friend Curtis Gunn. As breakaways slip off the front of the pack, stay away or get re-absorbed, we watch the action from the acknowledged "best seat in the house."

We follow the riders up the long hills at the lowest speed the motorcycle will sustain in its lowest gear. We follow them down the descents as fast as I can ride, the fastest I'll ride all year long.

I saw (fellow Triumph owner) Mitch Clinton's Nutter-Butter photo in a gallery on Mitch, an old friend from my days doing this support work for Mavic, graciously sent me the Nutter-Butter photo and included the second one as a bonus.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Saturday, criterium day, racing downtown all day...

Jim and I are still at the motel, but soon we'll ride downtown to watch the various classes (and local kids) race around a one-mile course on bumpy city streets. This is the big spectator day at the Tour of the Gila, a major party during and after the bike race.

Tomorrow, the race I'm working starts in a park near downtown at 8AM. It should finish in a tiny town uphill from Silver City called Pinos Altos at about one. That event, called the Gila Monster, may be the most grueling I've witnessed. The climbing is steep and endless, the descents are technical and scary, the flat miles windy and sketchy in the gusts.

It's 105 miles for the Pro men, the only race class that rides to the Cliff Dwellings that are one of the area's major tourist sites. Just finishing a ride of this difficulty is heroic, but racing on that course? It's amazing.

Jim, whose race is shorter, should have finished his work a half hour before our race ends. He and I will roll back into town, fuel up and pack up, and head across a lonely, super twisty road to I-25, an hour or so away. We plan to ride partway to Santa Fe, where on Monday we'll separate: He'll head west for Durango, I'll ride north on 285 for Denver.

If all goes well, I'll be home to Tamar on Monday afternoon. I'll have been away 13 days, plenty long enough. I'm ready to be home with my sweetie on Capitol Hill in Denver Colorado.

I'll try to post another update this evening, but if I don't have the opportunity, I'll be in touch from home. Thanks to those of you who've followed my travels and sent me notes. It's great hearing from your friends when you're far from home.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Fri noon at the library in scenic, remote Silver City

Not so windy today. I mention the wind because it is a big factor in the bicycle race and in just being here. It's so strong it howls in the trees and tries to move you around as you pass gaps between buildings. It's a bit eerie and unsettling.

I imagine that when people first came here and there was no shelter but the mountains, the wind must have been hard on them emotionally.

The road signs (detour or bike race ahead) are mounted on springs so that they can blow almost horizontal and spring back up. Normal tripod mounted signs, even with sand bags holding down the legs of the tripod, would be blown over in no-time.

The town is full to capacity with bike racers and staff. All the motels are full and many of the teams are staying in private homes with guest hosts. The cafes and restaurants are busy with skinny out-of-town visitors. The race and the blues festival a few weeks later are the busy times here, I believe.

There's concern that people from Albuquerque and Tucson may not drive here for fun weekends away - at four dollars a gallon. The many art galleries and cafes depend on tourist business year 'round... and it's a long way here from almost anywhere. Except Lordsburg or Deming.

Among the race staff, faces do not change often. There's one or two new faces, but most of the officials and support staff come back year after year. They come from Idaho, Wyoming, norCal, east Texas. Whatever is going on in their lives in late April and early May, it is set aside so he or she can come here for the race.

One official had motorcycle trouble the day he intended to leave from Davis, California. He had to wait for the bike to be fixed, at which point he pointed it south and rode in one long effort to Silver City. Eleven hundred miles? I think that's what he said...

None of us wants NOT to be here. We like the town and the event and we like each other. No one says, maybe I'll see you next year. No one says maybe.

There's a significant difference in the communities here from that at Bisbee. This race is on the national calendar; it's a race that attracts the big teams from the US and Canada and Mexico. So many of the race staffers are men and women who were racers themselves, long ago and not so long ago.

Ex-Saturn star Gianna Roberge is here as team management, having moved here with her sweetie. Mike Engleman is here as is Scott Moninger, both running teams. J-me Carney with Cheerwine. Gord Fraser is here; Henk Vogels says Gord is working with Chris Carmichael Training - coaching a group of Guatemalan masters racers! Carmen Dialusio (sorry abt the spelling, Carmen) is here coaching the Aaron's team.

Vogels rides for Toyota-United. After an exhausting Tour of Georgia, he and one other guy drove the huge team motor home from Georgia to Silver City, a two and a half day trip. He's fried and getting sawed off in the mountains. Not that this is his kinda race even when he's at his best. Like most good pros, he's philosophical about his racing here. He'll do well at other races down the road.

The scene here is not urban, not hip and happenin'. I have not seen a fixed-gear bike for days. People get along without cars but do so on whatever they own, not stylized "city bikes." There are a few scooters and lots of motorcycles, especially in the evenings on Bullard Street, where they are backed against the high curbs in front of taverns, mercifully silent.

The racers are out on an unsheltered road outside town riding a time trial. Not much wind yet this morning. Some of the riders have opted for solid "disk" wheels, a scary ride in gusty winds.... Shaving those seconds...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

5:30 Thurs on my pal Jim's laptop

I'm in my lavish Motel 6 room having my first wifi experience. It's not as liberating and different as I expected; it's just like home, but without those wires. The laptop keyboard is the odd aspect. And the drag-your-thumb cursor.

The Cheerwine girls are staying here with the team staff. One of the girls fell today, separated her shoulder and was ambulanced to the hospital. Falling off bicycles is the terrible part of this racing deal, I'm afraid. I have seen far too many crashes from the seat of some motorcycle; I can deal with guys' crashes but I just hate it when women fall down. Call me sexist; I can't stand it.

I spend most of my day behind three guys who managed to stay a minute ahead of the 70 guys chasing them, mile after mile. It wasn't enough of a gap when the finish neared. They got caught and swallowed by the charging pack. I know the winner's name but I couldn't pick him out in a lineup.

The Tecos boys were aggressive again today, always in a group at the front, and I feel sure that one of them is still in the leader's jersey. They are not all Mexicans, as I may have mentioned in a previous post. There are Columbians and a Chilean, and there's a Brazilian guy here on another team. He told me that in Brazil people are happy with a little money and lots of fun.

The downhills here are steep and very twisty. The road often bends right back on itself. The pro cyclists fly down those descents, amazingly fast. If we want to keep them sortof in sight, we have to fly down too, or as best we can. I worry about those descents in the days before I have to do them at racepace, but while I'm doing the descending, I'm okay.

Jim, whose laptop this is, is working the elite women's events. He's doing fine, learning all the lessons about the radios and the wind and the sheer descents. I feel sure he's having fun and will come back next year.

By the way, the race provided me a passenger/mechanic yesterday and a different one today. Both were super good motorcycle passengers, even in somewhat sketchy situations, and both were evidently having fun. I've had problems over the years finding willing bicycle mechanics to passenger with me on the support motorcycle, but when people do it, they enjoy it. It's "the best seat in the house" for sure. You can never watch a bike race so up-close-and-personal any other way.

I'll try tomorrow and Saturday, my days off, to ride to the library and send you longer posts. By the time I've worked a 90-mile road race, I'm tired and not excited about getting back on the bike in the late afternoon, but I work no more races until Sunday. I'll be in touch...

Thursday afternoon at the Silver City Library

I've just finished the second road race, this one with a lot of climbing and fast, technical descending, and I'm looking forward to two days off. Tomorrow is time trial day (one rider at a time on a measured course against the stop watch) and Saturday is the downtown criterium (lap race). I have no work at either and I'm pleased; I'm tired from what I've done so far.

It's windy here, really windy, so windy that when my friend Jim and I walked to dinner last night the gusts tried to knock us off our feet. The wind makes the races more dangerous; the riders cluster close together for shelter from that wind and bikes and riders bump into one another. Riding in gusty wind is a skill most of us do not need to develop. Frankly, if it were this windy at home, I wouldn't ride.

I'm out of time on this computer. I'll post again later. Sorry....