no one line

New York City Nostalgia
November 30, 2009, 3:17 pm
Filed under: General, the cycling world

When I first started discovering New York City’s myriad nooks and crannies as an adult, one of the first things that captured my attention was the mural of Joe Strummer on the corner of Avenue A and 8th St. I had heard the stories of the neighborhood – the squats, the riots – and saw the punks still hanging out with their packs of dogs in Tompkin’s Square Park, saw the food handouts and the line of folks in need.

This photo, by Fred Askew, grabs the attention and the imagination all over again.

Sidewalk bike repairmen are all over those neighborhoods. They remind me that “bike culture” isn’t made up exclusively of things that bloggers rant about. Across the city, country, and world, people use bikes as tools and as toys, without the same level of competition, consumption, and festering need to improve or upgrade.

The Velosopher and I recently talked about the importance of smiling while riding your bike, to remind yourself that it’s fun, to break through the ice and scowls that can too-easily accidentally result from a number of things on the bike – those small, anonymous competitions, or the isolating nature of riding alone.

That picture made me smile, and I had to share it. It was taken by one off the heads behind Continuum Cycles, a fine small shop in New York City. Thanks, Fritz.

Philadelphia and Fixed Gears
November 25, 2009, 5:55 pm
Filed under: accidents, fixed gears, politics

Warning: this post required that I lead with a picture that I found bu Google Image Searching “hipster fixed gear.” So I did. You’re forewarned.

Philadelphia is, apparently, seeking to fine people riding brakeless fixed gears. This article reads like a list of things I hate about journalists writing about fixed gears. It writes and perpetuates just about every fixed gear stereotype available to somebody who logged on to for the first time. Are there riders who are not good at riding or stopping their bike? Yes. Are all of them fixed gear riders? No.

Furthermore, this notion that out-of-control fixed-gear riders are a public menace is absurd considering the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed every year by automobiles and their drivers. In New York City, killing somebody with your car is the best way to get away with murder – it’s assumed to be the cyclist’s or pedestrian’s fault. Despite the law, cars have the right of way.

I’m not going to step up and defend fixed gears or the riders thereof. I just don’t care that much, despite the fact that one of my main rides is a track bike. Mostly, I hate the lazy, simple categorization (a shining example of expedient stupidity), demonstrated perfectly by author of the piece linked above. I hate the seasoned idiots who shake their heads at a broad class of newbies. And I hate the focus on it. I’m willing to step away from anticar rant to acknowledge that there are myriad bad bikers out there, and if anybody wants to correlate poor cycling with use of a brakeless fixed gear, well then, let me see some data, not anecdotal crap, backing it up.

And, for any driver that’s reading this and thinking I knew those cyclists were all bad bikers, please remember a few things: you speed, on streets and on highways. You know that light wasn’t still yellow. You know you cut off that person. You know you don’t use your blinker every time. Few people have a high horse in this argument, myself included. I consider myself a safe cyclist albeit one who runs red lights and does other scofflaw behavior. I will say this, though: the bike infrastructure improvements in New York City have made me a much, much more law-abiding cyclist. Go figure.

A far more level-headed approach to the whole debate/debacle was written in the Guardian’s Bike Blog a few weeks ago. It offers a perspective shift just in the title: “Antisocial Cycling Is Annoying, But Not Harmful.”

Annoying, not harmful.

Something to keep in mind, Philadelphia.

Gender, The Pursuit, and the Olympic Track Program
November 24, 2009, 2:35 pm
Filed under: pro crap, the cycling world, track racing

Recent weeks have seen some fuss and outrage at the decision by the Union Cycliste Internationale and the International Olympic Committee to rearrange the Olympic track program for 2012.

A fine summation of the issue is here, in an open letter from John Wilcockson. The heart of it was the disparity of men’s and women’s events at the ’08 Olympics, which offered seven opportunities for men to medal, and three for women.

The rearrangement of the program for 2012, however, has attracted much grumbling, largely due to the elimination of the surprisingly fun-to-watch individual pursuit, an event that is young cycling phenom Taylor Phinney‘s bread-and-butter. Apparently suffering from a case of being-a-nineteen-year-old, Phinney has launched a Twitter campaign to save his event. Like his campaign, the mighty muscle of an internet petition also offers no support of addressing the gender disparity. It’s all about the pursuit, isn’t it, boys?

Wilcockson‘s article summarizes the proposed new program: the match sprint, team sprint, keirin, team pursuit, and the omnium. But the omnium includes a pursuit, along with a flying 200, a scratch race, a points race, and a kilo.

It doesn’t exactly take a sharp analytical mind to realize that the pursuit has not been removed from the Olympics – it just means that whiny specialists might have to suck it up and race a couple more races if they want to win a medal.

Wilcockson attributes the inclusion of the omnium to the nostalgia of an anachronism on the UCI Track Commission. Personally, as a fan of the sport (and participant, at its middling levels), I’m much more inclined to want to watch an omnium – to embrace the variables of mass-start races, to have to gauge the strengths of so-and-so in this event against the dominance of so-and-so in that event. It can be a much more exciting, dynamic, spectator-friendly group of events.

The pursuit, while it can have some delightful drama and tension drawn out over its kilometers, is really just two people racing in ovals.

I know which one I’d rather watch.

And considering the self-centeredness and immaturity displayed in the #SaveThePursuit campaign, which fails to sufficiently acknowledge the fact that the UCI and IOC are trying to do the right thing by equalizing medal opportunities for women and men, I’m inclined to hope it fails.

More Cyclocross This Weekend
November 20, 2009, 10:30 pm
Filed under: cyclocross

With plans to race Cheshire ‘Cross and Spooky Cycles’ race in Easthampton, I dug up the small list of reminders that I wrote myself after the races a few weeks ago here in Northampton.

They are:

*you can corner harder
*you can hammer in the big ring
*you can ride that
*but you should run that
*bring ibuprofen
*that’s not enough ibuprofen
*there’s plenty of time to enjoy life after the race.

The first two are pretty helpful. The third and fourth are pretty unhelpful. The fifth and sixth, well, I plan on that. And the seventh will probably be accurate, again.

The Consensus Line
November 18, 2009, 4:42 pm
Filed under: no one line

A recent post by Joe Parkin reminds me of something that I recently learned in a handful of cyclocross races: the consensus line is not always the fastest line. There may be a faster way through a turn than the line worn into the muck and matted grass.

Parkin wasn’t talking about cyclocross, just amateur racing, when he said that there’s a lot of bullshit that passes for conventional knowledge, bandied about by people with little experience. Edward Abbey quips that folk wisdom is nothing more than expedient stupidity; like the line in the ‘cross course, conventional knowledge can be flat-out wrong.

Some people yell “Hold your line” like it’s a Tourette’s tic without ever knowing what it means. Some people buy Zipps before they buy Friel. Some people scoff at racing in the lower categories in an attempt to distance themselves from newbie-status, but nothing says mediocre more than a Cat 3 asserting superiority over a cat 4. And to me, the best part about racing is that it can be incredibly fun and fulfilling at any level, and while I look forward to moving up in the ranks of this sport, I have no intention of deriding where I started from.

What do you think: what gets bandied around as conventional wisdom that you would readily discard?

Fabian and the Hour Record
November 16, 2009, 2:51 pm
Filed under: Hour Record, pro crap

After Fabian Cancellara’s World Championship victory earlier this fall, I asked, “What will it take to get this man on a velodrome to go after the Hour Record?”

I think the Hour Record is extremely cool, a raw testament to an individual’s strength; a rider’s equipment and preparation for the Hour Record is also a snapshot of technological developments and the persistent struggle between the development of bicycles and the competition-legal definition thereof. Of course, this was most noticable in Graemme O’bree and Chris Boardman’s back-and-forth attempts in the early 90s.

Cancellara thrills spectators with his raw power. In this year’s Tour, his long breakaway on stage 15 was caught at the base of the final climb to Verbier and rather than sink to the laughing group, he kept riding at the front of the main field for as long as he could, setting a punishing pace up the lower slopes of the climb, whittling away at the field.

This morning it was exciting to read news that both Cancellara is eyeing the Hour Record. The article also erroneously reports that David Zabrieski is considering it, despite their inclusion of his comment that “It’s not something I’m targeting in the near future.”

It would be extremely exciting to see Cancellara, a world-class rider, launch a concerted effort on the Hour Record.

Bring Gabe Home: A Raffle and Fundraiser
November 9, 2009, 3:54 pm
Filed under: accidents, crash, teamwork, the cycling world

Gabe is a big, tall, smiling bundle of friendliness and subtle, simmering humor. Since a collision with a car while he was on vacation in San Francisco in August, he’s been working his way out of a coma, recovering from some fairly serious brain damage. Medical updates have been posted on Get Better Gabe by loving family members and his incredibly supportive and strong girlfriend, and they report so much progress.

I was incredibly proud to be a part of a benefit party in August that raised money to send to them, to help support them while they subletted, staying in a city far away from home to care for him. I posted some information on this blog and on twitter, and some of my readers, several of whom I’ve never met, had contributed to this get-well-soon, we’re-thinking-of-you, we’d-like-to-help-somehow fund. That generosity touched me.

A crucial next step is getting Gabe home, and an Air Ambulance is incredibly expensive. There is a raffle to raise money to bring him home where he can continue his recovery. The top prize? An all-expenses-paid custom frame from Maietta Cycles, built by Tony Maietta, a childhood friend of Gabe’s. I met Tony this past weekend at the Cycle-Smart Invitational, complimented him on his frames, admired his support of Gabe’s recovery, and drooled over the ‘cross bike that he was racing.

If you don’t know Gabe, and don’t know Maietta’s bikes, take it from me: you want Gabe back home, and you want a Maietta.

The full sized flier for the raffle is here, and there is plenty of information at Get Better Gabe and Tony’s blog. A ticket is $20, which is a small price to pay for either getting Gabe back east, or a shot at riding a Maietta. I’ve bought my ticket. Have you?

It’s The Feeling Afterward
November 9, 2009, 3:41 pm
Filed under: cyclocross, race

In the spring, my good friend and riding buddy William made a daring statement: “We don’t race for the thrill of racing. It’s the feeling afterward. We get to feel so accomplished and badass.”

At the time, I didn’t agree with him. I love the thrill of road racing, the patience and stretching of being in a pack, wondering if I have the perspicacity to identify the crucial moment, the right break, or wondering if I have the legs to be one of the top wheels over the decisive climb. I love the chessgames of a breakaway. And I love the speed of track racing, condensing a whole race into maybe a few miles, tactics compressed, a shot of adrenaline, sprinting elbow to elbow around the banking. No missed shifts, no mechanicals – just: can I go fast enough at the right time?

I’m not sure, but I think I usually get off my bike with a smile on my face. William, on the other hand, has a distinctive look of death and pain when he dismounts after a race; red-faced with matted hair, gasping, making me wonder if this race or the next one will be when I hear him swear off racing forever (he has assured me this will not happen).

However, after a weekend full of cyclocross, courtesy of the Cycle-Smart International here in Northampton, Mass, I’m starting to come around on this notion that racing is far more terrible than the before and after times. I’m not much of a cyclocross racer – I’ve done a handful, and I like it, and each time I race I feel pretty good and decent but see where the skills of superior racers push them ahead of me. You can corner that tightly on grass? You can keep your rear wheel on the ground over those roots? How the hell do you get through all that sand? However, I was psyched about this weekend – a bunch of teammates and buddies were coming up to spend the weekend at my apartment, there was a case of beer in Aaron’s trunk, a dinner party planned, and Robot of Team Geekhouse had offered the hospitality of their tent. It promised to be a fantastic weekend.

The thrill was only shattered when I started racing. Elbows in the starting chute, backing off on the hole shot sprint, needing to make up positions, sprinting by people, fighting for the line on the hardpacked grass, bombing into corners, bombing down the descent, struggling to right the bike before we go into the tape, fighting through the sandpit, falling on the ride-up, falling on the run-up, riding over a fallen racer, heartrate through the roof from the gun to the finish line.

The first half of a cross race is all, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and the second half is a painful, dire, “No! No! No!” The leaders are going too fast, too hard. I caught all the guys in front of me, and now they’re pulling away again. This is my fast spot. It’s over too soon. This is my slow part of the course. It came back too soon. My teammate is in front of me? Bastard. Crap. That’s a gap I can’t close. That guy passed me in the same corner, again, and I’m going to have to sprint over the tracks to catch him.

And then, miserable at the end, in the big chainring for some godawful hubris-filled reason, pounding at the gear, closing the final gap to the people in front of me, the only race that matters after half of the race, struggling to hold the pace, the course deposits us onto the one hundred meters of paved finishing straight, and I get to sprint and feel the wind and wind-up of a road race, accelerating in the draft, low in the drops, coming up on the riders in front of me, throwing the bike at the line, making up a few precious spots in a few seconds.

And falling down under the trees beyond the finish line, taking minutes and minutes to stop heaving, gasping for water, wanting to burst and cry and shit and never do it again.

After some recovery, after water and an orange and putting pants on and ignoring the bike, the fun resumed: beers in the sun on a beautiful autumn day, sitting by the tape at the sharp descent, heckling the riders coming down: “Don’t brake! Get air! Go go go go go!” and spending the day with my sweet squeeze, a gaggle of excellent friends and teammates all in good spirits, and by the time I got home – belly full of pizza from a spot in downtown, legs exhausted, body exhausted, brain an incompetent slurry, there I was, registering for another one a few weeks from now; this time for two races in one day.

Photos courtesy of teammate Dave August

November 6, 2009, 3:18 pm
Filed under: no one line, training

Despite an injury to a major typing finger, I’ve returned from spending many chilly autumn days restoring an old farmhouse in Duchess County, New York to update No One Line. No, I haven’t been too busy to post because of being best friends with Joe Parkin; rather, work and the necessities of setting up life in a new place have kept me away from idle hours at the keyboard.

Instead, I’ve spent my leisure time absorbing Joel Friel‘s The Cyclist’s Training Bible. Its audacious title is accurate; any rider new to serious training is bound to hear “Want to get faster? Read Friel.” I train with neither a heart rate monitor nor a power meter, as he recommends, but the book still offers a lot of potentially useful information. It took a bit of time wading through the chapters before getting to the bits that made all those pages sort of crystalize, but once I felt I absorbed it, I realized that the book contains information on what exercises will develop what areas, where to locate which developments within a larger training structure, and how to plan a season. It takes work, but it’s valuable.

And with that absorbed, I’ve been sliding back into the waters of serious riding, starting with the all-important Fun Riding. Friel calls it a Preparation Period, before the building of the base. Some off the bike workouts, combined with, for me, the re-experiencing of the joy that comes with throwing a leg over the saddle and discovering new places. There are farm roads here that lead out to nowhere, to climbs with thousand-foot elevation gains, to roads along ridgetops. There are flat river valley dirt roads perfect for stomping around on my cyclocross bike, fording muddy puddles and sliding around wet silt while orange-vested hunters call their dogs back from their run through endless cornfields. I could explore forever.

Yesterday morning, a buddy and I woke up early at the worksite. I slammed back a cup of steaming coffee and we launched our cross bikes at the equestrian trails running through the woods, bunnyhopping up to plank-bridges over small streams, picking our way through rocks and roots, and taking arcing lines through patches of mud. We were just out playing bikes, and it was excellent.