Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Christmas Bike

We have sent more bikes out the door that are destined to be christmas presents this year than ever before.  That kind of thing is great in our eyes.  Many of my christmas memories center around bikes.  Bikes are a perfect christmas gift: they are enjoyed for seriously long periods of time (rather than the 5 to 10 minutes it takes to exhaust the fun of some battery operated thing), they can actually improve your life (lose weight, get in shape, meet a bunch of new friends who are into bikes, set you on life-long trajectories of seeking dodgy employment opportunities in bike shops where you make vain, half-hearted attempts to not spend you ENTIRE pay check on bike stuff, etc...), and they seem to spark that glisteny-eyed wonderment upon the first recognition of the gift bicycle beside the tree that few other gifts can give.

(OK, my grandfather gave my grandmother a new car for christmas one year.  Big surprise and a total bitch to get under the christmas tree, but a big christmas surprise nonetheless.  Bikes make that kind of mark and are far easier to hide)

The disturbing trend though is that the vast majority of christmas bikes we have sold this year are for adults.  One kid's christmas bike has been purchased.  Unfortunately, I think that many people are getting the Wal-Marget/Dick'smart bikes for their children.  I understand that kids outgrow stuff.  Owen needs a new pair of pants or shoes like every week right now.  But I also place a premium on getting the most for my money.  Pay good money, get good product, get good return on investment.  We buy good quality stuff a little big, Owen wears it until we can't stuff him into it without drawing the attention of DSS and then we have a perfectly good item that we can resell on consignment or pass on to a friend with kids.

The same goes for bikes.  Last christmas, Owen got a Specialized Hot Rock 12" wheeled bike.  He's ridden the hell out of it and I haven't done a thing to it since I built it, except air up the tires and raise the seatpost.  The bike is in great shape and would last for a couple of more kids if we were so inclined (which we are NOT).  But the great thing about buying a quality bike for a kid is that they will outgrow it rather than destroy it.  When the kid outgrows it, you have options.  You can sell it or trade it in at the bike shop for the next size up.  It's win-win!

The most infuriating thing is people waxing nostalgically about their childhood bikes from the 50's and 60's and then complaining about how expensive bike shop bikes are.  Those childhood bikes were high-quality and expensive in their day!  We hear people talking about years and years of use that they got out of these bikes, but then they want to buy a dept. store bike that is designed to last for 50 miles of use (since the average dept. store bike only sees 10 miles of use in its lifetime).  Sad. Why not buy something you'll enjoy riding?

In the future, if you really want to make a christmas gift of a bicycle, visit your local bike shop, spend your hard-earned cash on something of true value, and then watch the recipient enjoy their gift for years to come!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

He's a big pig. You could be a big pig, too!

A steady stream of holiday cheer in the form of homemade foodstuffs has made its way into the shop.  Shortly upon arrival, said foodstuffs make their way into our bellies with little time spared.  Couple this with a serious lack of riding and you have the makings of a significant bloating event.  I feel like a balloon; ready to burst.  Like everyone at this time of year, I may easily add mass and volume to myself with little difficulty.  But resistance is not futile!

There may be a break in the weather this weekend with Saturday's forecast featuring temperatures in the 50's.  This may be our one shot at doing some mtn. biking this break.  Anyone up for some riding at the Whitewater Center in Charlotte?  Charlotte may be the best bet since they didn't get any snow.

In shop news, we are going to be open Christmas Eve from noon to 3pm for any last minute holiday shopping.  We will also have an informal holiday get together starting at 2-ish that day.  We will be closed Friday and Saturday.  Happy Holidays if we don't see you this week!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Right back at it

Before the jet lag had fully left, I was right back into the everyday life that I had escaped in Bend.  It isn't horrible or even bad, really, but that post-trip hangover makes everything about normal life look a little sadder.  But now that has all faded.  The little touch of homesickness that I had (really missing my wife and son) was quickly eradicated when I was greeted at the door by Owen dressed in a triceratops costume, running around like a little whirlwind.  The biggest shock was realizing that he had changed pretty noticeably in the 5 days I had been gone. Wow.

Now, as school winds down for the winter break, the ability to focus on all of the things that the shop needs is a welcome relief.  We have some big things to accomplish prior to beginning the new year and having some days off from school will allow me to help make those things happen.

The one thing that absolutely can't change is the core principle that we are a bike shop and not a bike store. The differences are subtle in writing but dramatic in reality.  A bike shop, our bike shop, is a place to come and be a part of a community.  That idea of community built out of a love of bikes was stoked hotter and brighter by our visit to Bend. As a bike shop, we want to see you, want you to come by to talk or hang out.  Regardless of whether you buy something or not, the bike shop is there to be the hub of our small bike community here in Lenoir.

Since the last 'cross race of the season is in the books, my thoughts are turning to mountain biking.  I have been swept up in the "Big Revolution" of 29er mountain bikes and it has really stoked me on getting out and riding more than ever before.  To say that I am a convert to the 29er would be an understatement.  I freakin' love 'em! Come out join us for a mountain bike ride, the more the merrier!

Even though the weather is chilly, the season starts now for training and getting ready for the coming season.  Saturday road rides will be heading out from the shop at 10 am, weather permitting (i.e. rain or snow, don't show!). Our highly refined, high tea, dirt road rides will begin soon, so keep an eye out for notifications here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Final day

I raced yesterday at 9:30 am. It was a little weird to wake up, see the temperature at 28 degrees and actually think, "Awesome! It's warm!" Did all the warm up stuff at the house and then rolled down to the course. We are staying less than a mile from the race, so we haven't needed to drive much at all.

The officials started putting everybody in pre-staging; all 180+ of us. I got to stand around for quite a bit waiting for my call up: #130. I lined up, Jeff took all my extra clothes and we began that nervous down time that hits just prior to the start of a race. The gun fired and off we went for about 10 seconds and then a huge crash swept across the field in front of me from left to right. Everybody crashed around me and into me, but I managed to stay upright and unscathed. I got off the bike, ran around everybody rolling around on the pavement and took off after the race. At the first turn, I caught another crash, made it around and then hammered onto the tail end of a long train of riders.

Due to the warmer conditions, the course was totally different from the last race I did. Traction was abundant. The little off camber that you fell trying to walk up was now completely rideable. I fell on the long grass off camber section when two guys crashed in front of me and I had to touch the brakes, a guaranteed fall inducer. Back up and on to the run up, which I now was able to ride up with relative ease, back on to the pavement and the beginning of lap 2.

Slowly but surely, I crept up through the field. Jeff put me in the seventies with 2 laps to go. And then, just after passing the pits, I fell hard on my right side bending the derailleur hanger and putting the derailleur into the rear wheel. Thus ended my 2009 US National Cyclocross Championships.

This has been a great trip. I've had an incredible time and can't wait to come back next year. If you've never been to Bend, this place is beautiful, the people are unbelievably friendly and everyone is into outdoor sports. It was a great choice for the host of this race.

Some sights and sounds of the day:

U23 race - opening lap

Danny Summerhill (Garmin) leads the U23 race

Saturday, December 12, 2009


It's 6:30 and the temperature is 27 degrees. It is still pitch black and I am starting the whole pre-race ritual of getting ready. By my estimation, I will line up somewhere around the 16th row given that I have a 131 call up. If I break the top 100 I'll be doing decent; break the top 50 I'll be doing spectacularly. One paramount goal is to just not get to abused by the course and conditions.

Thanks to Jim Brown for the mantra of the day:

Remember, you are supposed to be in front of that guy ahead of you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The flavor of the Bend course

The video that I shot just doesn't want to upload right.  Didn't think anyone would want to watch an upside down video of Juniors crashing on a seemingly innocuous off camber bump.  The point was to show just how dicey this course is.  By midday it is pretty rideable, but on either end of that day light spectrum it is a game of chance as to how you make any of the more technical aspects of the course.

Fortunately for us, we have stocked up on a little magical elixir that should prove most beneficial during the race:

Not sure how much Bawls would be required for the remaining race efforts that we have, but we will try to carry at least a ton into each race!

The temps are dropping, which means that the few spots that got to thaw will now refreeze with a nice layer of glaze ice.  It is anybody's race until the finish line.

Jeff's flat ultimately cost him a top 20 finish today.  Our bikes and bodies are beat up as multiple crashes do damage to both.  I race tomorrow morning at 9:30, so tonight I am planning on flooding my system with as much antiseptic as possible, i.e. alcohol.

I will do better in video and photo coverage after my race. Promise.

The cards have yet to be dealt

Today is Jeff's big day. Having rocked out with his you-know-what out all season, and with Steve Tilford not coming this year, the national title is up for grabs. In his typical low key style, Jeff is trying to play down any attempts at hype, but I think he has a good shot at the podium this year. Conditions will definitely be a factor as his race is set for the same start time as mine yesterday. The course changes rapidly and dramatically as the sun goes down.

Two other NC contenders for National titles race today as well. Beth Frye has a great shot at the women's 40-44 national championships and Evie Boswell-Vilt is poised to improve on her 2nd place performance from last year's race. We'll be cheering like crazy for both of them!

Congratulations to Janet Trubey for braving the frigid 7 degree temps at 8:30 in the morning to complete the first race of these National Championships!

Our host, Sherry, had a little dinner party last night. Her friends came over, became our friends, we ate, talked, laughed. A nice end to the day. Plus she taught me how to make a new drink that is lime juice, grape vodka and sierra mist. Tastes exactly like a Grape Nehi and is fabulously enjoyable. It will be the perfect summer drink when the temps rise again!

Stay tuned for as many pictures and videos as I get a chance to shoot today.

Newton -6, Shawn-0

Amazing what a few hours can do to a race course. After pre-riding at noon, the assessment I had of the course was that it was grippier than it looked and surprisingly unslick given the amount of snow on the ground. Fast forward to 3:30, the sun is low in the sky, the mercury is dropping and there is a slight delay to the start. Things change.

I line up deep in the field, somewhere around the 15th row. I get caught behind weird traffic at the start, but move up and around. My willingness to jump off and run when things bottleneck (thanks, Todd!) means I can move up - a lot. I find myself in the top 50 and moving up steadily, constantly pushing, always trying to catch the next rider. Then I crash. Hard.

Up, remount and off. Pushing, pushing. Catch, pass, catch, pass. Trip at the barriers, falling, break wooden course post with collar bone. Up, remount and off. Another crash. By this time the course is freezing solid. The descent after the run up is rideable for just a few and becomes a harrowing ice slick run down for the vast majority of us. Two guys rode home in an ambulance as the conditions continued to deteriorate. Turns were slow dances with the devil, never knowing if you were going to go down until you hit the deck.

I crashed more in this race than the entire season combined. I finished the race with my knee warmers around my ankles, blood coming through my skinsuit and spit/snot-cicles gathered in my beard. Now to recover, and get ready for Saturday.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Paying it forward, backward and sideways

We arrived at our host housing last night.  The temperature outside was 6 degrees.  6.  Degrees.  Fahrenheit.

No humans were home at our host house, but we were greeted by this:

A sheep in wolf-dog clothing for sure.  Mattsie wagged her entire body before dropping to the floor and rolling over for a belly scratch.  Sherry, our host, turned out to be just as friendly.

It's always refreshing to come out to the west coast, meet somebody for the first time and be immediately accepted in the truest "mi casa es su casa" sense possible.  Sherry quickly established that people have always helped her out in her travels and she is just trying to pay that back to help keep the wheel of good karma spinning.

We're adjusting to the time difference, but the big shocker is the temperature.  In the upper 20's isn't bad, but as the mercury drops it gets progressively uncool.  Poor Janet Trubey and the rest of the Master's Women field who have to race at 8:30 this morning.  The sun is barely up, the temp is still hovering in the single digits and there isn't much prospect for improvement in the near term.

Bend has taken this opportunity to have a big 5 day party with everybody participating.  Every business imaginable is offering racers some incentive for coming in.  The town recognizes that outdoor recreation in general, and cycling in particular are huge money makers for the area.  With no recognizable industry, this town is capitalizing on their natural resources.  Lenoir could easily do the same.

On the road

All good adventures deserve to be chronicled.  Sometimes, the chronicler knows that there words will serve as a record of important events.  Other times, one simply chronicles the day to day activities of life and history sheaths those words with the mantle of importance.

This is neither.

Jeff and I are heading to Bend, OR for the US Cyclocross National Championships. This will be my first time at an event of such magnitude but I plan on handling it with my usual steely aplomb.  Jeff is typically reserved, but his inner schoolgirl is decidedly giddy.

We headed out this morning from Lenoir at the ungodly hour of 4 am in order to make our 6:40 am flight in Charlotte.  Rain varied from cats and dogs to gigantic buckets of water being poured across the car as we drove down 321, but we made it safe and sound to the airport and began our cattle drive trip through the labyrinth of American air travel.

I will be posting here as time and internet access permits, but will also do photo tweets and video uploads through our Ustream account to maximize your participation in this particular little adventure.

But for now, I’d like to just reflect on everything that has happened since I last wrote a blog entry (which has been far too long for anyone to even be expected to still be visiting this site, but I am posting nonetheless).

This ‘cross season has been, or at least felt, long.  For the first time, I have been able to race as a family since Golden has decided to race ‘cross this season as well.  Owen has logged many miles in his command module in the Element without complaint.  We have raced in two states other than North Carolina this season and Oregon will make another for me.

I have made the incremental improvements that I had set as goals this season, but haven’t set the world on fire with anything stellar.  I have long ago determined that bike racing is something I do for fun, plain and simple.   Enjoyment is in the doing.  Meeting new people, seeing new places and overcoming the personal challenges are what makes it enjoyable.

For me, racing is a conversation with myself.  Sometimes I yell, sometimes I whine, but I am always honest and it is learning to talk yourself through the immediate stress of the situation that personal change emerges.

I recently finalized a project that I had been working on for years.  My very first race bike, a 1986 Trek 760, has been through the wringer over the past 23 years.  Nothing but the frame remained, and I had been lugging it around the country with every move with the intent of building it up again.
Justin Pogge, of Old Field Cycles in Tallahassee, was the first piece to fall into place.  I had Justin build up a nice steel fork with similar lugs to the frame as a step towards building the bike back up.  The fork was so nice, I decided that I should get Justin to build a custom steel stem for me as well.  The two looked perfect together and made the reality of riding the bike again a bit closer.

All of this languished again.  On hold for lack of paint.  I finally sat myself down and started calling local paint and body shops asking if they would paint a bike frame.  The guys at American Paint and Body were the first ones to say, “Sure.  I don’t see why we couldn’t.”  I went down with the frame, fork and stem, handing them over with reluctance.  This bike frame was an important artifact of my childhood and adulthood all rolled into one.  This was Bike Zero for me.  The starting point that launched me on this trajectory that I still find myself on.

I went back in a few days and was immensely pleased with the job that American had done.  The frame was a deep, sparkling grey; nondescript, yet classic.  I took it to the shop and started building it up with the SRAM Force group that I’ve been riding for the past few years, slapped some fenders on it and started commuting on it to school.

The first ride brought sheer amazement.  I floated along the road, buoyed by a flood of memories the bike brought forth.  I was that 16 year-old kid finding his dream bike by the tree on Christmas Day again.  That joyful floating feeling of freedom and possibility that I got every time I rode as a kid came back in spades. It was beautiful.

My mom tells a story about me that I have no memory of.  After my first serious MS attack, I couldn’t stand up without assistance and walking without a cane was out of the question.  When my parents took me home from the hospital, my mom stayed home with me for a while.  I somehow convinced her to let me go for a bike ride.

She helped me to the drive way, helped me onto the bike and then held the bike for me while I clipped into the pedals.  The deal we struck was that I would ride for five minutes.  She watched me wobble out of the driveway, head down the road and disappear out of sight, doubting the sanity of her decision to help me get on the bike.  Five minutes later, I came riding by and yelled, “five more minutes” before disappearing out of sight again.

I rolled up the driveway and mom helped me off the bike and up to my room.  Mom says that I slept the rest of the day, lying in bed with my clothes and bike shoes still on.

I am incredibly thankful everyday to be able to ride a bike. Now I am able to ride THAT bike once again, and that is special beyond words.  Thanks mom, for helping me ride that day.  And thanks mom and dad for that Christmas 23 years ago (the best Christmas I ever had before Owen) when you made my dreams come true with the gift of that teal and violet road bike that people always told me was ugly, but was beautiful to me.  That bike launched a thousand others and I love you with all of my heart for putting me on this path.

For everyone wishing for the latest and greatest technology and for all of the endless debates over the minutiae of cycling, I hope that you learn that sometimes the bike is so much more than the sum of its parts.  Sometimes, a bike can be a part of life itself.