Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's actually a race! For real!

Who would have thought that the Tour would be in the state that it is in now? A frenchman in yellow in the final five days? All of the main GC threats still clustered together within just a few minutes? Alberto Contador unable to punch home one of his trademark huge jump in the mountains attacks?

After years of seeing the same formulaic racing where the eventual winner does one big day in the mountains and then plays defense for the last week and a half until the final time trial allows him to stamp his seal on the race and call it good, we are actually seeing a race of seconds. We're seeing men probing and shadow boxing, taking a few seconds here and there, but not the attack that takes minutes away and all but ends the Tour early. It's exciting!

Laurent Fignon, the last frenchman
to wear yellow into Paris
After such a crash filled first week, the race has recovered and some truly amazing performances have come out of it. Pierre Rolland of Europcar continues to impress as he slays himself in defense of Thomas Voekler's yellow jersey. It is great to see a wild card team make it to the biggest race of the year and actually do more than just get some tv time by throwing lambs to the slaughter in the early no-hoper breaks of each day's stage.

The next three days will be the make or break days of the Tour. The underdog lover in me would like to see Voekler gut it out in the Alps and go into saturday's time trial with a minute of his lead still intact and then turn himself inside out for 24 miles and keep the yellow jersey by seconds into Paris. The rationalist in me knows that this is so improbable that not even Voekler thinks it is realistic. My prediction for Voekler is a final spot on the podium in Paris, but thursday and friday will have to see him ride like an immortal to make that a reality.

Stage 18 and Stage 19 should be days of major warfare. The Schlecks have to take time in the mountains to survive the time trial assaults of Contador and Evans. Look for Samuel Sanchez to try to ride onto the podium with a stage win in one of these two hard days. The only thing I know for sure is that I haven't been this excited in the final week of the Tour in years.

We've got a few things rolling at the shop right now. We're putting together an order for pink Luna kits. You can get a jersey, shorts or just about anything else in fabulous pink! I'm hoping to rock the pink long-sleeved skinsuit for cyclocross this season... Also, in honor of all the successes of Specialized sponsored teams and riders at the Tour, we are selling the 2012 S-Works Prevail helmet (MSRP $230) for $199! You can order any color offered for that price. These helmets are unbelievable light and incredibly well ventilated - a must for surviving the heat we are experiencing now. And believe it or not, if you are having thoughts of cyclocross this season, now is the time to be seriously getting your affairs in order with regard to 'cross specific items like frames, brakes and tires. Most everything is available now, but by mid August pickings start to get pretty slim.

Now get out and ride!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Cycling Karma

You've got to wonder sometimes if there is a certain natural order in the professional cycling world that rights wrongs beyond the scope of UCI, WADA or any other authority. Then again, it may just be the natural ebb and flow of changing fortunes as careers rise and fall. This opening week has seen a typically nervous and eager Tour de France peloton crashing hard and often.

Alberto Contador goes into the mountains with a deficit to his chief rivals, but also with the extra efforts of several chases back to the peloton and the commensurate bumps and bruises that come from "touching the floor". Is it just bad luck? or does the Tour enforce its own code of ethics on its participants?

Radio Shack have suffered mightily, but I think their woes are less of the karmic kind and more an example of going in to a major race without a clear goal in mind. A disciplined outfit like Radio Shack, who are more accustomed to going in to the Tour with the singular purpose of putting Lance Armstrong on the top podium are now like an elite fighting force without a leader. Sure they are good on paper. Sure they have several guys who could step up and be "the one", but without that clear, decisive leader they are riding without much direction or fire and the large number of crashes and losses they have suffered so far are the result of that kind of listlessness.

This theory does little to explain the broken collarbone of Bradley Wiggins who looked to be an interesting threat this year. But then again, I've been watching British Eurosport coverage of the Tour and to say that they had a bit of bias would be a definite understatement. I though that commentator David Duffield was going to start crying on air when Wiggins was seen holding his collarbone. Commentator Sean Kelly serves as the nice, dry Irish counterpoint to all of the English wingeing. His subtle, rapier-like comments are great and he truly struggles to try and be magnanimous when he is asked about riders that he raced with in the '80's and '90's. His struggles to try to say something nice about Djomoladine Abdoujaporov, "the Tashkent terror", were painfully comical as he broke down exactly why Abdou was a dangerous sprinter to be around.

But let us not forget the Luna Cycles p/b Whoever wants to give us money Fantasy Tour de France and my complete and utter domination of the first week in this prestigious Fantasy cycling event. It goes without saying that Team Roadspeeder is in this thing to win it and if we make the other fantasy teams look silly in the process, so be it.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A funny thing happened on the march to summer...

Arrival at OVT for an early morning mid-week shred
I've finally decompressed from the school year and relaxed into the summer break. Those last weeks of school when end of course testing is the focus of all of your efforts and energy, when you spend half of each day walking around a silent room watching students take a test for two and a half hours is a kind of slow torture that bleeds the life out of you. Then it's over and BOOM!, you fly headlong into a dizzying bachanal of over the top summer stress release that is akin to rising from a dive to quickly and getting the Bends. But finally, you settle in to a a nice mode of relaxing and being productive with all of the things that you put off during the school year.

Jeff Welch giving an impromptu skills clinic

This has been the time when I have fallen in love with mountain biking again and I must share this new fervor with you. I must come completely clean that I will now be proselytizing for the Church of the One True Gear. I strayed from the fold for many years. My embracing of the single speed mountain bike was a dabble really. I never fully committed; never truly gave my heart over to what I knew to be right. I always held back, always had the geared bike to fall back on, but friends, I have embraced the single speed with all of my heart and there is no turning back!

I look down at my bars and see nothing but brake levers and a clean expanse of carbon fiber. I ride securely in the knowledge that I will miss no shift. I can concentrate on flowing with the trail and seeking a oneness with the ride. It is a beautiful thing.

This Saturday marks the beginning of another Tour de France, but the real drama will happen in the Luna Cycles p/b Whoever wants to give us money Fantasy Tour de France. All of the fantasy thrills and fantasy spills that you have come to expect each summer will once again drive home the fact that we may not be good at much, but we are some solid fantasy TdF Directeur Sportifs. Go to Velogames to register your free team and then join our mini league by using the mini league code 28111322. Prize list has not been finalized, but rest assured it will not be worth all of the fantasy training and fantasy stress that you have and will undergo over the next few grueling weeks.

Don't forget that the start of the Tour marks the end of our Giro cycling shoe sale. All of our Giro cycling shoes are 40% off while they last!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lightening up

The last months of school leading in to the summer are a time that seems fraught with stress and a sense of too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Coupled with the final graduate school projects of the semester and you have a recipe for "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". But now, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it isn't a train about to run me over. I'm feeling everything about me letting go from the stress; I feel lighter.

I've had the good fortune to do some really great bike rides this past month. Cycle to Serve was unbelievably fast as my first experience with the 62 mile version proved to be a barn burner. The best part was getting to ride with Golden and some of our teammates in the second group on the road. The weather was cool, the rain held off and we rode a strong pace. The next day was The Ascent at Reynolds Blue Ridge. Two words: effin' steep. I climbed 9 miles in 1 hour and 4 minutes and had an epiphany that compact cranks would be a good thing to have. The views were spectacular and once you reached the top, you looked out on an endless sea of rolling green hills spread out in all directions. The folks at Reynolds Blue Ridge treated us like honored guests. Put that ride on your calendar for next year!

Two of my rides stand out as some of the best moments in my life and they all happened in the last couple of weeks. The first was on my morning commute the day after the bad thunderstorms rolled through. The rain had poured down, blowing hard against the house and strong winds ripped trees apart and scattered them all over town. I hit the underpass on 321 and rolled through, only registering a man laying down after I had gone by him. I have to admit that I thought he was dead the way he was laying there awkwardly. I turned around and asked, "Are you ok?"
No response.
"Are you ok?" He rolled over *sense of relief* and said he had gotten into the underpass to escape the storm.
"It got real bad," he said. I poured him some of my coffee and split part of my lunch with him. He said, "I'm not gonna lie mister, I could use a beer." Well hell, it's 7:30 am on a Tuesday and I'm heading off to teach High School students about Magnetism, I understand that sentiment completely.
"Well, coffee is the next best thing, so drink up."
We talked a little bit, he kept asking me to pray for him. I don't pray, but I have thought about him quite a bit since then. I think our interaction did more for me than it did for him. That quick realization that I could easily share what I had and be no worse for it was immense. It was a good reminder.

The best ride I've ever had happened this past Sunday. We headed out to Dark Mountain. I rode a lap with Jeremiah the FNG and a couple of guys we met in the parking lot. We ripped around, I crashed (and laughed about it), we talked about bikes and made one of those quick friendships that seem to naturally occur on the trail. I got back and got Owen ready for his first big mountain bike adventure on his own bike. We've ridden trail together with him on the tag-a-long and he did a little offroad on his own at the Aquatic Center, but this was going to be the first real mountain biking he'd ever tackled on his own. We pushed up a steep little rise and caught a climb up to the corridor trail. He rode some of the climb on his own, but his gear is just way too big for sustained climbing, so we walked some too. Golden was out trail running and she heard us, so she decided to come join us. We pushed up a very steep rise to the main corridor trail and Owen rode while Golden ran. At the end of the corridor trail, we turned around and started riding back and Golden kept going to finish her run.

The best thing about riding with Owen is he constantly talks about anything and everything. He especially likes to talk about being faster than me. We rode to the very steep descent at the beginning of the corridor trail and I told Owen we should get off and walk it down to the next trail junction.
"No," he said, "I can ride it."
Well, I am not standing in the way of that kind of commitment. Whether he rode it or not, I wasn't going to kill his confidence.
"Stay on the brakes and stay in control." I said.
We pointed the bikes down and I rode the brakes to show him a reasonable speed. I didn't hear anything as we rode down, so I assumed he was remaining upright. I got to the bottom and came to a stop. Owen shot past me and started heading down the next trail.
"Dude! Did you ride that whole thing?" I asked.
"Yeah." he said in that little kid no-big-deal tone.
"You ready to do the next down hill?" I asked.
"Yes!" he said with more than a little excitement.
We got onto the next trail which wasn't as steep, but was much more technical with lots of rock, roots, dips and turns. He rode behind me. Wiped out a time or two. Led down the trail a bit. Passed a couple of riders who were climbing up, making quite the sight: this rail thin 4 year old all knees and elbows riding a little bmx bike down the trail with confidence. I'm idiotically proud.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The beautiful win

photo by Frederik De Buck
Out of respect for my riding partners yesterday, I didn't write anything about the beautiful win of Johan Van Summeren at Paris-Roubaix since they had yet to see the race. I woke up yesterday morning, fired up Eurosport and a pot of coffee and settled down to watch my favorite race of the year.

The dry, dusty conditions and sunny skies can easily make you think that Paris-Roubaix is an easy race, but then you notice the choking clouds of dust, the hurtling of flesh and metal to the ground without rhyme or reason and you see that L'Enfer du Nord has a vast array of ways to take a toll on those who attempt it.

Van Summeren was the unlikely hero of the day, not because he is incapable of greatness, but simply that that is not his lot in cycling life. He is a worker; a domestique. Granted, he is an exceptionally good one, but imagine being paid not to win, but to cut through the wind and slog so that others may find their way to glory and accolades. Van Summeren was the dutiful worker, out in the early break of 2nd tier hopefuls and other riders acting as rabbits to the pack of hounds cooling their heels in the peloton until the awful moment when they get down to the business of winning a bike race and sweep the early break away with seemingly little effort.

It was the worker in Van Summeren that set off alone out of that break in the close of the race. A human hedged bet played by the Directeur Sportif. "Go it alone" would have been the call and Van Summeren wold have set off not really to win, but to provide a last line of defense for his team captain following the call to glory. Van Summeren would have done that last bit of work for Thor Hushovd had Fabian Cancellara followed his usual script and towed Hushovd and Allesandro Ballan towards the velodrome in Roubaix.

But Cancellara's failure of imagination, his notion that with 50k to go he would simply dig deep, unleash a powerful surge and ride men off of his wheels on his way to another Paris-Roubaix win was not to be. As happened in the Tour of Flanders, the other strong men have grown wise to this strategy and nullified it. Cancellara's decision to back off and insist on the other men's help in reaching the velodrome had consequences for all at the head of affairs yesterday. For Van Summeren, it was the most awful consequence of all, the weight of possible glory now piled on to his lanky, tired frame. 

You can see a lifetime of suffering in the slump and roll of a riders shoulders as they squeeze every single watt from their fragile body and Van Summeren's lanky frame was no exception. Moments of self doubt were writ large upon him, but some internal voice willed him back to effort and the beautiful hand that Fate had played him. 

Van Summeren rode in the wheel tracks of other domestique breakaways. Thomas Wegmuller and Dirk De Mol in 1988 came through the streets of Roubaix on a similar day as yesterday. A plastic bag lodged in the rear derailleur of Wegmuller's bike, rendering shifting impossible and making him easy prey for De Mol in the sprint. Or the less successful Patrick Versluys who raced Paris-Roubaix 8 times in his career, never finishing less than 15th and who, in 1987, came to the race with the single-minded purpose of winning. Versluys was the unlikeliest of potential winners, but he seized the moment in an early breakaway in awful wet, snowy conditions and rode with fire as those around and behind him faltered and crashed. The mighty Sean Kelly rode as blood flowed down the side of his head and mixed with the mud that covered the right side of his body. Like so many before him, Roubaix proved to be about 800 meters too far from Versluys. Eric Vanderaerden, the dutch star from Panasonic, roared up to the beleaguered group of unlikely stars and announced, "I'm here!" before unleashing his trademark sprint and dashing Versluys to the second step of the podium.

Surely Van Summeren was too lost in a shroud of effort to think of these things. Then the powerful, aquiline form of Fabian Cancellara bent to the bars and cranks and began the inexorable drag race to the velodrome in Roubaix. Second after second was taken back. Van Summeren felt the blue cobbles of Pave Secteur 1 under his wheels and looked back nervously wondering if he would see the stalking form of death metronomically grinding away with awful power the last few meters that separated him from "the catch". But Van Summeren saw nothing but empty road behind him as he swung the right turn onto the concrete velodrome. He hit the blue apron, mashed the last bit of effort out of his spent body and crossed the line. I imagine the first thing he felt was not a sense of wonder or glory, but of relief. 

Chapeau, Johan.

Monday, March 28, 2011

It's not easy being green

I've gotten some new bike stuff and it has me all giddy. First, through the generosity of Jeff (read: pity), I have a new to me commuter bike. A couple of weeks ago, Jeff jumped on my commuter bike and immediately said,"what is wrong with this thing?!?!" My commuter bike was extremely noodly as you could easily move the front of the bike and the back of the bike in startlingly different directions while riding. He switched out his Globe Live 2 for my Globe Daily 2 and I have been rocking it ever since. The benefit has come from the aluminum frame of the Live being much stiffer than the steel frame of the Daily. Gone are the odd twistings of the head tube moving left as the right crank arm goes down pushing the seat tube to the right. I really liked the Daily, but heavy load commuter bike it isn't.

Oddly enough, this is the perfect segue to my other new bike. I am going back to my beloved steel as the frame material for my new mountain bike. After much deep thought, I decided that the inherent flex of steel would add just enough give to the full rigid 29" wheeled mountain bike equation to make the ultimate in mountain bikes. Sure, aluminum is light and stiff, scandium has a nice flex profile like steel with the lightness of aluminum and carbon is all of the above, but steel just seems right. Now to get the thing built up in time to race this Saturday...

I managed to get up early yesterday, make coffee AND remember that Gent-Wevelgem was on, all within a reasonable time period of each other. It is the first classic I've watched live this year and it was exciting to the end. Small breaks looked destined to hold off the chasing peloton, but a final catch within sight of the finish line led to a completely anonymous Tom Boonen popping out of the group to take the sprint for the win. I watched Sporza coverage (the Belgian sports channel) and not once did I hear the name or nickname of their beloved Tommeke once until he crossed the line with his arms in the air. After the massacre that Cancellara layed down on the way to a decisve solo win of the E3 Prijs Vlanderen the day before, the first major shots of the Spring Classics have been fired. With the hors-d'oeuvres consumed, the real meaty races are still to come with De Ronde de Van Vlaandren and Paris-Roubaix being the two standouts.

A cold and rainy commute awaits today. Don't ge too wet and keep thinking all those cycling thoughts because the season is now!

Monday, February 28, 2011


This weekend, the crocuses bloomed.

The red wing blackbirds arrived.
These guys are regulars since the wetland restoration in our neighborhood was completed.

That can mean only one thing:

And so, with a hearty breakfast
Hell yeah!

we set out for a day of mountain biking. Our plan was to start at the Overmountain Victory Trail, riding to the end of it and then ride the road to the Warrior Creek Trail, ride a lap or two there and then ride back on the Overmountain Victory Trail. We headed out on the OVT, taking it easy and warming up well. The temperature was around 75 degrees according to my new-to-me Specialized Speedzone computer (thanks, Jeff!). The sky was that strange mix of sunny with dark rain clouds mixed in. The trail was perfect - fast and flowy. We didn't see anyone on the OVT on the way out.

We hit the road and covered the roughly two miles of pavement pretty quickly and went flying through the Warrior Creek parking area and up to the trail head. We downed some food, mixing espresso Hammer gel and Perpetuem solids and washing it all down with Endurolytes Fizz and then headed out for a lap at Warrior Creek.

Warrior Creek was in perfect condition. We flew, riding faster than I ever have there. It is difficult to describe how well I got into the flow of the trail. It felt amazing to get out in the woods and ride fast.

We saw the great folks from the Brushy Mountain Cycling Club building a new bridge to replace the one damaged by one of our numerous winter storms.
These guys work hard. Thanks!
We ran into a group of riders from Boone Bike and Touring (Shaw Brown, Donovan Carroll, and Chuck Luddeke among them), but other than that, it felt like we had the trail to ourselves. Warrior Creek really swallows up riders and makes you feel like you have the place all to yourself.

We finished up a lap of Warrior Creek, took the road back to the end of OVT and rode the trail back toward the car. We took a detour to include Shiner's Run on the way back in. We passed a few people, but not many. The amazing thing was that it rained several times on the ride, but we really felt anything since we were in the woods during the rainy spells. We got back to the car and took off for home. We were eager to get back to Owen. It was fun riding long and fast, but I missed pulling him on the tag-a-long.

Owen and I shot stomp rockets into the sky as Golden got cleaned up and then it was our turn. We headed out for dinner with my parents and filled up on salad and pasta. It was a beautiful, wonderful, fantastic day filled with so many things that I am still giddy with happiness, but the absolute best part was Owen's steady stream of hugs, kisses and "I love you, daddy"'s.

Thank you, Spring. You were worth the wait.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Speedgrips and Footis-head screwdrivers

Bike shops are one of the last bastions of unfettered equality left in the world. Sure, you can walk into those big, posh bike stores where everyone performs a visual credit check on you to decide whether or not to help you and how long they should wait before actually acknowledging your presence. But that isn't what I'm talking about. I mean your good old rough around the edges, slightly crusty in a charming sense local bike shop where the shop employees love bikes and love to talk about them.

These shops try very hard to offer help to everyone who walks through the door, no matter who they are. This brings us to the topic of today's little entry: equality for all doesn't mean that some people aren't still a little touched in the head. There is a whole cadre of bike shop customers who are united by a few things in common-
                1. They love to talk. They love to talk and the bike shop provides a perfect audience because our first instinct is to be nice and greet everyone who walks through the door. Problem is, these people not only love to talk, they love to talk crazy. Not weird or eccentric, CRAZY. Some barely pause between sentences to breathe. They will talk for as long as you give them an audience, so you have to figure out a way to signal that you need to get back to work or that you need to help other customers.
                    Example of actual, first person experience: Customer asks, "If a cheetah could ride a bicycle, how fast would it go?"
                  2. They ride bikes everywhere they go. I like this about them, so don't think I'm bashing anyone for using a bicycle for basic transportation. These customers don't have a driver's license and while you would think it was for DUI, it is usually because they just can't possibly pass the test to get a license or they have had their rights taken away by the court (I'm not kidding on this. I know this because they are usually very forthcoming about telling you they have had their rights taken away.)
                   3. They are usually going to make some very odd request that is going to provide an easy nickname for referring to them in the future.
                        Example of actual, first person experience:
Customer: "Do you guys have speedgrips?"
Me: Do you mean grips for your handlebars?
Customer: "Yeah, speedgrips (speedgrips spoken slowly to help my understanding since I am obviously a little slow).
And thus, the customer is now known as "Speedgrips".

The true beauty of this type of customer is in how they sort the experienced shop employee from the inexperienced. Experienced shop employees have a sixth sense that warns of the approach of the "touched" customers who are known. Be it the tell-tale squeak of their bike coming to a stop or the faint sound of their voice outside the shop, the experienced shop employee senses the approach of a known "crazy" customer and suddenly finds a need to organize things in the back of the shop, step out the back door to fetch something from somewhere/anywhere else or needs to go to the bathroom, thus leaving the FNG employee to enjoy a new life experience with the "crazy" customer. It helps if the experienced shop employees place themselves in such a way that they can make eye contact with the FNG as this provides an unexplainable amount of entertainment. The FNG usually slides quickly from a friendly persona to that of a trapped animal in under 10 seconds. Their eyes go wide as their brains desperately try to make sense of the nonsense that is being spoken at them.

I enjoy this aspect of the bike shop life. It shows that we are providing a welcoming atmosphere to everyone. It's also funny seeing the reactions of our mainstream customers when the "crazy" customer comes in. The reactions are usually along the lines of wide-eyed, open-mouth wonder. The times when a straight customer remains after the "crazy" customer leaves, they usually ask, "does that happen a lot?" To which we can confidently reply, "Pretty much everyday" and keep right on working.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New beginnings

The seed catalog from Burpee showed up in the mail yesterday, so you know Spring can't be too far behind. I've come to a good place in life when something like a seed catalog brings excitement and anticipation to the house. Golden sat beside me on the couch, flipping through the pages, circling the plants she wants, and asking me, "What do you think of this?" every few minutes. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one champing at the bit to get Winter over and done with.

Owen and I hung out in the backyard for as long as the weather tended toward warm yesterday afternoon. We turned the two mountains of compost in the bins, keeping an eye out for bugs and snakes in the inky black mass, but unfortunately, we didn't see any. I have to admit that I like composting more than gardening. There is just something about watching all of that organic material become on uniform black mass that really brings happiness to me. O played in the sandbox for the first time this year, while I took old plants and wove them through the fence for I don't know what reason, but it was contemplative and peaceful.
photo by Dvortygirltalk

This little shift in the weather back to a more seasonal coolness is good as it will give us a little chance to catch up in the shop. The first warmth of Spring always brings a flood of repairs that are typical of bikes that have been sitting in a basement or garage all winter. To help you with your early season bike repair triage I offer the following Public Service Announcement:

Bike tires are inflated with air inside of tubes (true, some tires are tubeless, but if your tires are tubeless, you know it because there is a lot of effort required to actually utilize tubeless tire systems and no, your MegaMart bike is NOT tubeless) and it is natural for these tubes to leak air over time. Just like you have to inflate the tires on your car periodically, you need to put air in bike tires frequently or else they go flat. If they do go flat, they probably just need air, so inflate them and see what happens. If you don't have a bike pump, buy one. Being able to pump up your own tires will save you money in the long run and shows a basic level of self-sufficiency. And no matter what you do, DO NOT take your flat tired bicycle to your local bike shop and expect them to patch the tube. Bicycle shops replace tubes, people patch tubes in their spare time or in acts of desperation on rides that involve multiple flats and a limited number of replacement tubes.

We are getting new bikes in for the season all this week. Both Fuji and Specialized have had a fair collection of 2010 closeouts that we have grabbed in order to offer people the most bang for their buck. There are some ridiculously low prices on 2010 road bikes while the inventory lasts from both of these companies. We are also getting in 2011 bikes in road, mountain, and greenway varieties. We'll be building them up and getting them out on the floor all week, so come by and check 'em out!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I heart you

Valentine's day is all about sharing love with someone important. I got to thinking about all those emotions of love, lust and passion, and it was passion that I got hung up on. Passion is a strong and rare thing.

I'm not talking about passion between two people despite the fact that it's Valentine's Day.  No, what got me thinking was the idea that we can be passionate about something, not someone. How completely and utterly you can fall in love with something. I stand in awe of people who have the extreme good fortune of having turned their passion into their vocation. The really tricky bit is once it becomes your vocation, staying passionate about it.

FROM STEEL: The Making of a Soulcraft from michael evans on Vimeo.

I guess it should come as no surprise that my passion is bicycles. If you have read this blog for more than a moment or two, I hope that the sense of love and wonder that I have for two wheels has been evident. It is beautiful to watch the care and effort taken to produce a handbuilt steel frame from start to finish. It is funny how disdainful people can be about the cost of a handbuilt frame, but I hope that watching the video above gives you a better appreciation for how much soul a builder can imbue a frame with as they build it from start to finish. What magic there is in taking a pile of tubes and turning it into a bicycle frame.

So whatever it is that you do, try remembering the passion that you feel for it and give it that little bit of extra love that it has been lacking. Hopefully, you'll see a little magic in the results.

ps - Oh, yeah - the song in the video is from The Mattson 2. They're rad as hell, check 'em out!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The great snowdown

 I'm pretty sure I speak for us all when I say that I am tired of winter. Sick and tired. Sick and damn tired. So now that yet another snow storm bears down on us and the prospect of having school on Saturday looms, I have to say that I am officially declaring Winter over. I am reversing the decision of Puxatawney Phil. Seriously, how many major life decisions are you going to hand over to a rodent? So why trust one with a major weather prediction?

From this point forward, we will no longer use the term snow. Instead, we will discuss "dense humidity" and its natural air conditioning effects. If we change the language, we will change the very nature of our reality.

Or we can just hunker down, suffer through and look forward to the sweet, breathtaking rewards that Spring will heap upon us in the not to distant future. As soon as next week, we may be frolicking and cavorting about in shorts with the sun dappling our pasty vitamin D starved knees and arms. We will spin along on group rides, turning the pedals over effortlessly and playfully joke about not being under 12 layers of clothing just to survive being outdoors. Ladies and gentlemen, our discontent may - nay- must draw to a close soon.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The hamster wheel

photo by Klaus

I've definitely been silent from this little chunk of the internet this past week or so. Funny how the beginning of the semester for me as a teacher and as a grad student is always the same:  scrambling around trying to find a groove I can get into and get things done. I had my second Web Design class last night and spent an hour and a half discussing the basic web pages that we have created so far. I haven't created a website from scratch since 2000, when I made a horrible site for a class at NAU. It's amazing how easy it is to have a significant web presence these days without doing any backend work to build a website. This blog, facebook, and twitter allow the shop to have an internet reach (I'll refrain from calling it a broad reach) without really doing much coding in html, except when I want to make things look pretty.

It's been an odd few days at school as my colleague Alex and I have been getting a great deal of attention for the scores our Physical Science students made on the NC end of course test last semester. What I felt was attributable to low standards, is still significant as we outperformed the other high schools "significantly" as administrators have put it. They have started asking us how we did it in order to try and duplicate our results with other teachers. If this were a movie, it would be shortly after this initial glow of success that people started accusing us of cheating. Let me go on record as stating unequivocally that I do not care what my students test scores are, I don't feel that it is a complete measure of who I am as a teacher nor do I feel that standardized tests are an adequate measure of a student either. There are too many intangibles in this life that cannot be neatly quantified in the form of a multiple choice test. Simply put: I don't care enough about standardized testing to cheat and since there is no monetary incentive, that can't be used as a possible motive either. I get paid the same no matter how good their scores are.

I don't know what to say. We were as shocked at our scores as anyone else, so us giving up the "secret" to our success is akin to asking the bird why he flies so well or the rabbit how he jumps so far. They don't know, they just do it.

I've been hitting the greenway every school commute and it is such a peaceful way to cover the miles. No cars and no one on the greenway when the weather is cold and wet, makes for an empty path that I can fly along on. I love having such a long car free stretch to commute on every day and our town is lucky to have such a progressive project going on. I've ended up facing two cars driving head on at me in my lane this past week and incidents like that really make you appreciate a safe, car free alternative.

As part of my MS 365 Project, I'd like to update you on the stats for January. Yes, I rode at least 1 mile outside all 31 days of January. I have ridden a total of 345 miles as of January 31st; maintaining a >10 mile a day average to stay on track for 3,650 miles total for the year. I have no idea if I have raised any money for Can Do MS nor have I received any new pledges since the opening weeks of the project. I promise not to shill too much for donations to this cause, so I will limit myself to some NPR-style, end of the month pleas for a small donation. If you can, take a moment and give a little to this worthy group so that people with MS can learn that a life full of exercise and activity is the way to a healthy and enjoyable life with MS.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Redemption and ending

Last weekend's 'cross race was not a lesson in perseverance, but a test of mettle. Multiple trips to the ground, hanging out well off the back of the race and periodically having to stop to remove clods of mud and grass in order to get the wheels to roll was a test of not giving in to the siren's song of dropping out. It is those times that mean you must be satisfied with simply completing what you started. DNF'ing is a slippery slope; each time you dropout, it gets a little easier to do it again the next time.

So I headed to the last race of the NC Cyclocross series on Sunday with an eye towards redeeming myself in my own mind. My previous race in Wilkesboro was not how I wanted to end my season. Those low points and bad performances can haunt you until the next season comes. I had a better race left in me and I needed to let it out.

After spending about 4 hours resurrecting my bike from all of the mud and crash damage suffered in Wilkesboro, I was shocked to get to Greensboro, hop on the bike and start hearing a loud and disturbing creak emanating from my bottom bracket. After borrowing some tools (thanks to Kerry Shields and the mechanics from the American Classic team), I got things right and set about warming up. Riding the trainer, listening to Girl Talk put doubts about the bike out of my head.

For some reason, the bright sunshine gave the illusion that it was warmer than it actually was. I arrived to the line with simply a long sleeve skinsuit to keep me warm. No gloves was my call and it was almost the wrong call as my hands got so cold that braking and shifting were difficult, but at least not impossible.

We took off from the line going up a paved climb and then swinging right on to a grass field. The course was undulating with lots of flowy turns on grass with a few patches of mud peeking through to keep you focused on your technique, a double sand pit and a nice set of stairs. There was little flat riding as the course was either going up or going down.

It was good, close racing as the course was open enough to see everyone around you. It is a lot of fun to see the people ahead of you as you chase them down and motivating to see the people behind you chasing you down. In other words, you couldn't let up for a moment. I rolled across the line in 8th place, having flirted with 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th during the race. I didn't crash. The bike didn't explode or fall apart. And I redeemed myself with the best finish of the cyclocross season.

Thanks to Carroll Composites for the fantastic King Louie cyclocross frame and carbon wheels that I and the Fiets Maan Racing team have been on this season.  The King Louie is hands down the best cyclocross frame I have ever raced and it has been a pleasure to ride it every time I have swung my leg over the top tube. The cyclocross specific carbon wheels have proven to be light, fast and confidence inspiring with their wider rim bed to get more glue surface for the tire to adhere to. They've never even hinted at allowing the tire to peel off the rim.

With the close of Cyclocross season, I'd like to encourage you to get out there and race this coming season. You've got 7 months to get ready...

Friday, January 21, 2011

What is mastery? Proficiency?

photo by Leo Reynolds

I'm deep into standardized testing week with my students. I long ago gave up the stress that many teachers associate with this since, to read any major educational researcher is to know that standardized testing is not a  way to measure learning, but rather a way to measure the students preparedness for a test. With that in mind, my attitude is that the test cannot possibly measure what I do as a teacher, whether students do well or not.

After getting my student's scores back, I am shocked at how high they are.  Almost all of them showed a significant amount of "growth" from what they were predicted to make to what they did make. Now remember that I said this test doesn't measure what I do as a teacher. Many teachers say that when the scores are bad, but then take credit when the scores are good. I am not one of those teachers.

I started digging into the numbers that were given to me for all of my students.  This somewhat cryptic data set that isn't clearly defined ended up being somewhat decipherable after spending a bit of time with it. What I deduced from it was shocking to me as a teacher and really makes me feel like a cog in a big, dirty, broken machine designed to churn out intended results rather than alert and able people ready to strive and make positive contributions to society.

To be considered proficient and on grade level meant getting 50% of the multiple choice questions correct. If the test were complex and complicated, I would agree with such a percentage, but it isn't. It is a fairly basic and low level test of mastery of just a few basic facts, ideas and methods.

I hate the implications for our future that this current testing regime in education has. When students do little, know little and then are branded as proficient or even said to have "mastery" of the content, we teach them that little is actually a lot, that poor results are actually good, and average results are actually excellent. We are electing people and encouraging the gaming of the system. We aren't encouraging results, we are tabulating numbers. It is smoke and mirrors. It is as if I decided that I am no longer middle class but actually quite wealthy because I now consider every dollar I have to actually be worth ten dollars. That is just a numbers game and signifies nothing in reality. Unfortunately, that is the education system that we have gotten.

Have you noticed how since education became politicized (beginning with Kennedy and then exploding with Reagen) that everyone is busy trying to fix education, while everybody else is busy measuring how broken the system is? We are in an educational ouroboros that is spinning out of control. Meanwhile, we grind our future into dust by tacitly encouraging mediocrity in the generations that will form the future of our society. It is a recipe for disaster.

Monday, January 17, 2011

In defense of friction

photo by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Friction is usually the enemy.  It wastes energy, turning it into heat.  It resists force and motion.  It's the reason why our world doesn't behave in perfect Newtonian ways.  Imagine getting on your bike, pedaling up to speed and then not pedaling anymore, but never slowing down.  Friction is what you have to blame for the constant need to pedal.  Whether it is the friction where the road meets the tire or you having to fight through the thick soup of gases called air, friction is the steady hand that pushes back on you.

But friction is not all bad.  Before we had indexed shifting systems on bikes (yes kids, shifters used to not "click"), there was good old downtube friction shifting.  Pull the lever and the derailleur shifted.  Push the lever and the derailleur shifted.  It was simple, elegant and bomb proof.  But more than anything, it was a direct connection between the rider and the drivetrain.  The rider had to get the derailleur in the right spot not to make noise,  The rider had to learn where the gears were in order to shift smoothly and cleanly.

Index shifting has introduced a level of convenience and dependability to cycling that allows the newest rider to shift cleanly and smoothly.  By eliminating the learning curve for clean shifting, however, it introduces a level of abstraction between rider and machine.  The beginning rider understands less and less what is happening in the drivetrain.  The race to incorporate electronics into this equation introduces and even greater level of distraction.  

I have ridden the new Shimano Di2 electronic group.  I've also ridden bikes equipped with Mavic Mektronic, Mavic Zap and I've even seen a mountain bike that had a Browning Automatic Transmission on it.  Di2 is remarkable not just in the fact that it works (unlike any of the Mavic attempts - at least in terms of reliability), but that the shifting is so extremely precise and requires no thought on the part of the rider.  I rode it trying every dumb shifting combination and technique that usually results in a thrown chain or missed shift and it handled it flawlessly.  

This means that the rider can now buy perfection rather than seek it within themselves.  I don't think of this as a step forward.  There are trials and tribulations that we have to go through in order to initiate ourselves into things.  We must be cautious about offloading the difficult things to technology.  I am no Luddite, but I fear a loss of intimacy with the things that we love and depend on.  The only upside to the electronic shifting movement is that the cost is still prohibitively high, but the trickle down is coming soon.  Within this decade, it is safe to assume that electronic shifting will become the most common form of shifting on bikes (at least road bikes).

If you ever get the chance, take a bike that has friction downtube shifters out for a spin.  Feel those tiny, elegant levers move smoothly through their range of motion.  Notice the fluid sweep of the derailleurs as the move fluidly with the lever.  Note the quietness of the shift and the different tones of chain on cogs as you adjust the shift to the perfect position, known by the lack of noise coming from the chain on the cog.  It is a simple, beautiful thing and it will be gone before you know it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The buried winter

Every mile is two in winter. - George Herbert (1593-1633) Jacula Prudentum

Ray's Weather has officially buried their mild winter forecast having realized that we are experiencing one of the coldest winters in quite a while.  Their previous seasonal forecast said we would have a very mild winter with no snow and warmer than average temperatures.  As I write this, it is 14 degrees celsius, the roads still have patches of ice on them from last Sunday's snowfall, students have been out of school all week and are on a 3 hour delay today.  So much for a mild winter.  It is little comfort to have your hopes dashed and then receive an apology for having them built up in the first place.  But such is the nature of weather forecasting.  Despite our best, most advanced attempts at quantifying data and observation into prediction, Nature just does not neatly fit into a data table and behave as it should.

Winter for a cyclist can be a grim and lonely affair.  The warm group rides of spring and summer are like hazy mirages seen in the distance.  When group rides do occur, they provide relief from the loneliness of riding the trainer, locked up with your thoughts on a solitary hamster wheel in your basement, but the quest to remain warm, to keep blood flowing through your extremities can put a damper on the camaraderie of the group.  

Few cyclists are solitary creatures.  Sure, there are the time trial specialists who prefer to suffer alone in the quest for perfection in the balance of power and aerodynamics and there are the triathletes whose complex multisport workouts don't lend themselves to more than a training partner or two at best.  For most of us though, cycling is as much social interaction as it is athleticism.  The bonding ritual of shared effort that comes from group rides is of great importance to all but the most elite cyclist.

This is what is missed most by me in the winter.  Seeing friends.  Riding with friends.  Meeting new people out on the bike.  Having new people come visit the shop and ride with us. So how do we capture the magic of the balmier times while suffering through the bitter doldrums of winter?  Rather than putting off riding until it is warm, or grinding away on the dreaded trainer in solitary penance for your misdeeds, the answer is to ride indoors together.  

In our ongoing effort to eradicate SCAD (Seasonal Cyclist Affective Disorder) from the world, we will be holding group trainer classes beginning Wednesday, Jan. 26th and then every Tuesday/Thursday after that.  Classes will be from 6:15 to 7:30 (please try to arrive by 6:00). Classes will be $10 per session or 8 classes for $60 paid in advance.  These will be structured workouts featuring loud music, lots of motivational yelling and anything else that can be done to help you through this bleakest of winters.  You will need to bring your trainer/rollers (we have a couple of loaners), a towel and water.  We need to have 5 people prepaid by Monday, January 24th in order for the class to take place.  No matter what level of cyclist you are or hope to be, a solid winter base will help you achieve your riding goals for the coming season.           

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hell sNOw

Cottrell Hill descent on Sat. 1/8/11
Don't get me wrong, I like snow.  There are a lot of very cool things you can do in the snow.  Fun, active things that make steady, predictable amounts of snowfall enjoyable, even something to look forward to.  But that isn't the case here.  Sure, every now and then it snows enough to make me wish I hadn't gotten rid of my cross country skis when I moved here, but that is only a couple of times every few years.  That isn't exactly a record that would indicate this place is a winter wonderland of snow sports and activities, now is it?

No, snow sends most people here into an apoplectic tizzy that results in everyone stocking up on batteries, generators, and as Charlie Frye is fond of saying, French Toast ingredients (eggs, milk, bread).  There are those who react with an opposing level of indifference as indicated by their false belief that a 4 wheel drive vehicle can be driven the same way regardless of weather and road conditions.

We find ourselves blanketed with snow once again today.  The 2 to 3 inches of unplowed snow currently on my street makes everything feel isolated and remote.  There is no rejoicing with such a snow event here (other than students being happy that school is canceled).  You get a sense that now everyone will hunker in to their bunker-like houses, cautiously optimistic that everything will be ok, but also keeping an eye on the family pets just in case the isolation runs longer than anticipated and protein is required for survival.

I must also confess that all of this bad weather is probably my fault.  Resolving to ride 1 mile outdoors every day for a year seems to alter weather patterns pretty dramatically.  In the past month, we've had snow, winds that threatened to lift me and my bike off the ground, a week of sunshine and temperatures approaching the mid-50's and now more snow.  Consistency we ain't got.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Zen and the Art of Pillow Fighting

The pillow fight is an ancient, venerable form of combat that stretches back millennia.  The earliest accounts come from ancient Greece where young Hectorus of Nod is said to have first picked up a pillow and struck his brother, Boger the Nosy, as retribution for being wronged.  But while we have this deep seated tradition that is passed on from generation to generation, few of us receive any formal training in the pillow fighting arts and it is that egregious oversight that this guide hopes to overcome.

Know your opponent
 Appearance is the first offense of the pillow fighter.  Their reliance on a carefully cultivated look of both innocence and defenselessness is a time-honored first attack that is designed to get you to relax and drop your guard.  Do Not Fall For This Ruse!
 For in reality, this innocent is a highly trained, highly skilled adept of the combat arts whose favorite weapon is whatever is closest to hand!

Exploit the weakness of the Offense

The classic opening attack

The typical opening salvo of the 4 year old, classically trained pillow fighter will be pure offense: an overhead blow designed to strike the head of the opponent and calculated to leave them momentarily dazed and confused.  This leaves the opponent open to the more devastating side blow attack which can and will inflict maximum damage.

The side blow (or Roundhouse) sequence in 3 shots

But let us note the weakness of this offensive posture: the knees.  At the opening of each attack, the knees and lower legs of the attacker are clearly undefended.  Confident of their training and intoxicated by the knowledge that their training has given them, the typical 4 year old pillow fighting adept forgets to protect their foundation and concentrates solely on the attack itself.  As the pillow fighting master, it is incumbent upon you to show the young adept the error of his or her ways.

At the beginning of the attacker's power phase (or the windup), a well placed low powered blow to the soft spot just behind the knee will send your opponent crumpling in a heap to the ground and leave the open to a fast and merciful final blow.  Thus will end the pillow fight.  Dispatching your opponent without regard to their age, size or attempts to use laughter, giggling or feigned outcries of love and affection for you will only make the pillow fighter into a pillow warrior, ultimately saving their lives in times of battle.  Teach your children well for the Pillow Wars of old may one day yet revisit us...

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Topic of discussion: Is steel really real?

I walked into the shop after school yesterday and sitting on the counter was a brand new, gold Niner SIR 9 frame.  A bit of disclosure before we continue: I have been lusting over this 29" wheeled bit of Reynolds 853 steel goodness since before we became a Niner dealer.   Those slim tubes, that huge, oversized eccentric bottom bracket shell that allows the SIR 9 to be converted from a geared bike to a singlespeed....  Sorry, I'll pull myself together.

Its funny after owning a lot of bikes, riding a lot of bikes and seeing thousands of brand new bikes at countless industry tradeshows, I still get excited and to be honest, fall in love with particular bikes.  Its like being attracted to another person.  There are no hard and fast rules about what will be attractive, but when you feel it, you know.  Well, needless to say, this particular frame caught my eye when looking through a bike magazine and I happened to catch a glimpse of it in an advertisement.  Now the object of desire was in my hands.

I don't know what it is about steel, but it just looks right as a bike frame material.  It has the right blend of strength and fragility to my eye, I guess.  The other frame materials like aluminum and carbon with the large, oversized tubes look like they are trying to hard.  While titanium with its dull gray color looks cold and uninviting.  But steel in the raw with its rainbow of heat marks around the welds looks fascinating.  Then when a lustrous paint job is applied on top of that it becomes this warm, inviting to the touch frame that just begs to be ridden.
But everyone has their different tastes.  This I know and understand.  And while I would love to sell a lot more steel framed bikes, I am not such a hopeless romantic to think that steel is right for everyone or even attractive to everyone.  Enter the Jet 9 full suspension frame from Niner.  To most reviewers, the 29" wheeled full suspension bike is the sweet spot of bike set ups; the "if you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one bike" bike.  This I cannot speak to with authority, since I have not ridden one.  The beauty of it all is that both of these bikes are being built up as Demo bikes for anyone to take out for a day of riding on the local trails so they can see exactly what they are like where it counts.

I might just have to take that SIR 9 out and make sure its okay before anyone else tries it out. Kind of a quality control check...

Saturday, January 01, 2011


Yesterday's ride capped off an almost complete year of riding.  I managed to be on my bike 360 days in 2010.  I rode back and forth to my teaching job through snow, rain, wind (one particular gust stopped me dead in the middle of Hwy. 18), sunny weather, heat and humidity.  I've developed a pretty thick skin when it comes to how some people in cars act towards a cyclist on the road (waving - its like a weapon to be friendly to rude people).  I've ridden for sheer fun on the road, the mountain bike and cyclocross bike.  I've hauled 6 ft. folding tables, loads of 2 x 4's, carried a complete mechanic's work station to do neutral race support for the local triathlon (it was especially great to ride up the hill fully loaded past the triathletes walking up the hill because it is "really steep"), done a bike tour in a new to me section of the Blue Ridge Parkway while hauling camping equipment and a wiggly 3 year old.  I've raced the disciplines I mentioned previously, and even managed to find the podium (3rd place at the Warrior's Creek 6 Hour mountain bike race in the co-ed duo division with my wife, Golden).

What started out as a Facebook challenge called 30 Days of Biking, became a passionate quest to do as much by bicycle as possible.  For 2011, I have started the MS 365 Project which ups the ante a little bit.  I plan on adding a Surly Big Dummy to my stable of commuter bikes and I hope to get a Surly trailer to make hauling lumber, bikes and other big items that much easier.  All in all, I hope to a have another great year of health, family, riding bikes and meeting new friends and hanging out with old friends all while keeping a thriving bike shop running on all cylinders.  I hope your 2011 has as much fun as you can stand plus a little more for good measure.

Happy New Year!