Fit, fast, and falling apart at the seams

December 8, 2012 § 16 Comments

This past year a number of fit, fast older cyclists here in Southern California have keeled over with various heart and cardiovascular ailments. The ones I know have survived. I’m sure that if they hadn’t been active cyclists, the illnesses would have been fatal.

We often treat cycling like it’s some kind of magic bullet against disease. It isn’t.

What cycling does, unfortunately, is mask some aspects of ill health by allowing us to engage in intense athletic activity. When we do the hard workout or finish the hard race, we imagine that we’re healthy. Sometimes, we aren’t.

The longest-lived people in the world, the Japanese, didn’t get that designation due to being competitive cyclists. They’re older than anyone else because of what they eat.

Every time I hear some cyclist proudly crow that “Cycling allows me to eat whatever I want,” I silently reply “No, it doesn’t.”

You can’t argue with the health benefits

I’ve met so many people who went from being a physical shambles to being in great health simply through cycling. A guy I used to be friends with in Japan, an undertaker, had high blood pressure, was about to go on beta-blockers, was at least eighty pounds overweight, had all kinds of joint pains, and looked about twenty years older than his real age of 40.

After one month of easy bicycling along the Tagawa bike path his blood pressure plunged to normal. After two months he’d dropped forty pounds. Once he upped the mileage and got “into” cycling he lost the remaining forty, shed an additional ten or fifteen, and became stronger and fitter than¬† he’d been since his football-playing days in high school.

While commuting home two weeks ago I ran into an older guy, mid-50’s, who’d also been told to drop fifty and get on blood pressure meds. Instead he started riding, and six months later, same thing: No need for medication, all the excess gone, and he was fit enough to do a daily climb up Via del Monte and a loop around the Hill after work.

Stories like this are so commonplace that they hardly bear repeating, as the pattern is the same. Person is fat and has high bp. Person takes up cycling. Person is transformed.

Cycling as an apology for bad habits

What we talk about less, especially among ourselves, is the other trajectory, the fit and fast cyclists whose lifestyles are posters for bad habits, but who, thanks to decades of hard athletic endeavor, can tolerate the abuse and still perform on the bike. They’re our friends, our acquaintances, our teammates.

Often as not, they’re shedding us from the group or breaking our legs, so who are we to criticize them?

What they also are is getting older, and no matter how tough or how able to tolerate the abuse, every human body has a limit where the booze or the grease or the big belly start to claim their due.¬† What I’ve seen this past year, and what I expect will become more commonplace as we age, is the “surprising” onset of heart disease among fit cyclists. It’s heart disease that would have or should have gotten underway lots earlier, and perhaps it did, but cycling somehow masked it or allowed the body to continue performing even as the illness progressed.

All this talk about health has made me hungry.

Pass the Hag bars, would you?

So, like, what’s a “Between Bike”?

September 18, 2012 § 11 Comments

This marks the sixth consecutive year since learning about Interbike that I haven’t gone. Back in Texas, mid-September was always so intolerably hot that you were still trying to find a telephone pole for shade, so the idea of going out to Las Vegas, a/k/a THE BLINDINGLY HOT FUCKING DESERT to look at bike stuff wasn’t exactly exciting.

In September of 2007, though, I noticed that suddenly everyone in the South Bay had vanished.

“Yo, where’s Junkyard?”

“Interbike.”

“Oh. Uh, what’s Interbike?”

Withering look of contempt, unmixed with pity. “It’s nothing. Just the biggest annual bike expo on the planet that showcases all the upcoming stuff for next year. It’s a must if you’re in the industry.”

“Oh. Well, what about Sketchy?”

“Sketchy?”

“That dude who’s on all the rides, has the cool shit, but, like, doesn’t seem to have a real job.”

“Interbike.”

“He’s in the industry?”

“No, but he knows a lot of people who are. So he has to be there, you know, to be seen.”

“Ah. Of course. And Twitchy? Where’s Twitchy? He never misses the Pier Ride.”

“Twitchy?”

“Yeah, Twitchy. The old retired dude whose shorts are so ancient the elastic is worn out of the waist and cuffs so that they sag on his can and flap on his thighs. The dude who never buys anything, ever.”

“Oh, Twitchy. Interbike.”

“What the fuck’s he at Interbike for?”

“He likes to see the latest stuff.”

“But he never buys any of it!”

“He’s good friends with Zoner and Pooter, and they’re…”

“…in the industry.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, Zigzag’s not here. Don’t you dare tell me he’s in the industry. I know for a fact he’s a mechanical engineer with Megadeath Contractors and Global Radiation Products.”

“Ziggy? He’s tight with the Specialized rep. Every year he goes to Vegas and gets the bro deal.”

“This place is a fucking ghost town.”

“Welcome to Interbike season, Wankster.”

The many reasons I’ll never go to Interbike, ever

My biggest problem is semantic. I can’t get past the name. What the fuck is an “Interbike”? Eurobike, I get. It’s bikes in Europe. Or bikes for euros. But “inter” means “between.” Between bikes? The only thing between bikes should be open space, specifically, 3-4 inches to keep from overlapping wheels.

My next biggest problem is money. I don’t like to spend it. I especially don’t like to spend it in Vegas. Plus, I don’t have any.

My final biggest problem is that Interbike and its ilk exist for one reason, and one reason only: To solve, improve, ameliorate, or eliminate the Three Laws of Cyclodynamics, which are natural and immutable physical laws. I’ve listed them below for your easy reference.

  1. You’ll flat.
  2. You’ll fall.
  3. You’re too fat.

Fixing the problem of flat tires

From time immemorial, or at least from the time they graduated from steel wheels to rubber wheels to pneumatic tires, bikes have gotten flats. I’m not going to Vegas to look at someone’s newest great idea on how not to get them. If the idea’s any fucking good it will show up at my LBS quicker than herpes at a frat party. (Hint: if it promises to drastically reduce flats, or make them lots easier to fix, or eliminate them, it’s not.)

On the other hand, the latest greatest flat elimination concept is more than likely something along the lines of a tubeless tire. Those who swear by them eventually swear at them. Any bike device that requires injections of sticky green goo is a device whose time has not yet come.

Fixing the problem of falling

From the days of the high wheeler, when riding a bike meant “taking a header” and falling from six feet up in the air onto a rock or into a mud pit or under the hooves of a horse, cyclists have come unhitched from their bikes. The severity of falling has been somewhat reduced by the safety bicycle (that’s the thing you ride today, with two equally sized wheels rather than a giant one in front and tiny one in back).

It’s been reduced by helmets, though they now make you look like a cockroach.

And of course it’s been reduced by our national highway transportation system, which discourages cycling and keeps the brains of countless millions intact, safe inside their cars where they can run over the few idiots crazy enough to think “share the road” is more than a political sop.

Ultimately, though, all of the crap at Betweenbike engineered to increase stability, improve braking, improve helmets, make lighting more powerful, and generally safety-ize the bicycle will never eliminate the rendezvous you’re soon enough going to have with gravity. And I’m not going all the way to Vegas to look at things that will be rendered obsolete by the first bimbo who’s texting with one hand and scratching her ass with the other.

The true purpose of Betweenbike: Fat reduction compensation

But the true holy grail of Betweenbike is to make you faster. No matter what anyone says, the bike industry is all about speed. The naked hookers at the booths, the screamingly bored pros trying to pretend that they’re interested in the 4,000th person to say, “I’ll never forget the time you attacked in the Hooterville Crit with two to go and Snots Buggerly bridged and the two of you won that box wine prime, and it looked like you’d hold off the field until Herndy Doo took a flyer and nipped you at the line!”, the fanboys and blogboys and mediaboys and Tweetboys all trolling the aisles desperately looking for something original to say about things that aren’t original…they’re all there in Vegas to pimp speed.

One year it’s a powermeter in your pedal! The bomb!

Another year it’s electronic shifting! The bomb!

Another year it’s textiles that cheat the wind! The bomb!

But after all the hype recedes into interest-only payments on your maxed out credit card, and no matter what anyone says, the cheapest and quickest way to go faster is to drop twenty pounds. Or forty.

Since dropping extra weight is so damned hard, and since it’s so much easier to drop $2k on a “fast” set of wheels than to drop 2kg off your third chin, the bike industry annually churns out newer, lighter, faster, more complex stuff to do what a good, old fashioned famine could have effected in 90 days or less.

Tested in a wind tunnel! Dimpled for drag reduction! Particle image velocimetry proven!

These and other complex and totally legitimate scientific principles get applied, each year, with greater precision and with wider application to the entire field of bicycles, clothing, and components. The problem is that you can get all of their benefits, and lots more, by just laying off the double cheese Sicilian deep dish and the three Hag bars.

Of course, Betweenbike and “the industry” aren’t stupid. Which one is more fun? Giving up life’s greatest pleasures to become a lonely, recalcitrant, ill-tempered stay-at-home blogger, or indulging in them AND adding trick swag to your bike cave?

Case closed.

See you next year, maybe.

In Vegas.

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