Not free wheeling

May 17, 2018 § 2 Comments

There are lots of good ways to self-test, you know, to see how bad the disease is. Number of times each day you check Strava, how well you know the inventory at Competitive Cyclist, and of course the old standby, how many bikes you have in the garage or, better yet, in the living room.

But there is no better diagnostic tool to determine how far the illness has spread than the number of wheels you own. Because let’s face it: A bike can’t really use more than about two. So when you find that you own, say, four sets of wheels, you have a problem. A spare wheelset is defined as more wheels than will fit on your bikes. So if you have two bikes, you should have no more than four wheels.

This time a couple of months ago I had two spare wheelsets. That’s exactly two sets too many. One reason you keep extra wheelsets is because WHAT IF ONE OF THEM BREAKS? This is a huge fear, that you will break a wheel and then not immediately have another one. If you don’t have a spare wheelset you might have to miss a day riding while you shop. Goodness knows you don’t know anyone who has an extra bike wheel you could borrow. No, sir.

Anyway, I had two spare wheelsets. One came with my ‘cross bike. I immediately yanked them off and replaced them with a set of FastForward disc F4’s, because for someone who doesn’t race ‘cross and who hardly ever rides off road, it’s crucial to have all carbon high-performance wheels for all the low-performance rides.

The other spare wheelset was, of course, ma racin’ wheelz. Cuz ever racerz gotta have racin’ wheelz. These were a gorgeous set of Fast Forward tubular F3’s. Light, lighter, lightest, and they handle like only sewups can handle. Problem was, not that there’s ever a problem with having crazy light race wheels, after three years they had less than 2k miles on them.

In other words, I never got to enjoy their awesomeness very much, only about fifteen times a year, to be exact. Also, the tubular tires meant I couldn’t really train on them. Also also, I had just gotten my wife a pair of FastForward clincher F3’s, which weren’t as light as mine, but could be ridden daily. This purchase also resulted in another set of spare wheels and an acute case of spousal carbon wheel envy.

So I worked out the biker math like this:

Sell the wife’s old wheels for $20 + Sell the Giant tubeless wheels for $20 + Sell my F3’s for $700 + Sell my F4’s for $600 = I wouldn’t have any wheels for my road bike.

However, when you add the above it comes out to just enough to buy a pair of NEW F3 clinchers, which like my F3 tubulars are all carbon and made of 100% carbon. In other words, sell four wheelsets in order to buy one.

This doesn’t sound very economical, but it is a huge space saver and plus now I have new wheels and not a single extra pair laying around anywhere. Not even in my living room.

END

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Two tongues

May 5, 2018 § 6 Comments

I am pretty sure that when you ride your bike abroad, the more languages you speak, the better off you are. During the ten years I rode in Japan, being able to make friends with local riders was the key to taking a great experience and making it unforgettable. Same for the year we lived in Bonn-Bad Godesberg. And it was thanks to German that, this past November, I was able to sniff out the hammer ride in Vienna, get hammered, and make a friend.

I am also pretty sure that almost everyone wants to learn another language. In the EU, 59% of students are learning two or more languages. This is sort of good news if you’re an American traveling in the EU, because 96% of those students are studying English. If they’re not already gone forever, they will be, those days when you could theoretically wind up somewhere in France and not be understood.

Still, everything in the first paragraph holds true. Bikers who speak the language in the country they’re in are going to have more fun than those who don’t. Show me someone who says they don’t want to be able to whip out a little Croatian when they order a sandwich and coffee en route to Crikvenica from Rijeka, and I’ll show you a liar.

But how? Learning languages is hard and takes time. Fake and overpriced programs abound. Charlatans and bad methodology are everywhere. Plus, you are soooo busy because, Facebook.

Here is a tip, if you haven’t heard it already: Try Duolingo. My friend Tara U. suggested it to me, but it took a couple of years for me to actually click on the link. Don’t let it take you that long.

Duolingo has lots of failings. So what? Welcome to life. They are:

  1. Computer AI pronunciation of the target language. Sorry, real German doesn’t sound like that when actual humans speak actual sentences.
  2. Passive learning. Duolingo can’t talk back. Yet …
  3. Sometimes questionable vocabulary. Do we need to learn how to say “The bears eat the potatoes?”
  4. Inordinate emphasis on rote repetition.

But guess what? Duolingo is also pretty awesome. Here’s why:

  1. Inordinate emphasis on rote repetition.
  2. Bite-sized lessons you can actually do day in, day out. I’m on a 29-day streak.
  3. Unimpeachable basic, useful vocabulary.
  4. No grammar clutter. If you have questions about a quiz, there are numerous explanations posted by users. All you do is click on the link.

The best think (letting that typo stand because it’s awesome) about Duolingo, aside from the fact that you will actually use it, is the quiz format. Everything is a problem to solve, and you solve the same problems over and over, which is precisely how you learn to respond to questions and formulate sentences without stumbling, saying “ah, um” or throwing your hands after the first attempt and reverting to English.

Ah, yes, and this one small, wholly insignificant, totally meaningless, completely irrelevant point: It is free.

END

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Blog-gevity

April 30, 2018 § 15 Comments

It’s a jungle out there, a blog-eat-blog world where only the strong survive. Over the years I have seen many come and go, and each day, frankly, is a new day over here at the California Division of Cycling in the South Bay. Were it not for my six paid subscribers, I’d have packed it in a long time ago.

What’s astonishing is how few long-running cycling blogs there actually are, depending, of course, on what you mean by “blog.” In their infancy, blogs were digital diaries written on a more-or-less daily basis by a sole author and directed at a relatively small audience. But what happened was predictable:

  1. Most died, unable to meet the crushing pressure of daily, or even weekly deadlines.
  2. Those that survived did so by becoming online magazines with multiple writers, photographers, and ad sales departments.

There are notable exceptions such as Bike Snob NYC, DC Rainmaker, and Dave Moulton’s Blog, but the single-grape varietal that gets picked, pressed, casked, vinted, bottled, and daily carried to market on a donkey cart seems pretty much over.

Cycling in the South Bay has been published continuously since 2011, with this issue being #1883. I’ve published a handful of guest posts, probably less than ten. The rest of the manure pile is mine, all mine. I didn’t know it when I started, but it turns out that my hero is Karl Kraus and his legendary publication record of Die Fackel, one man doing it all from 1899 to 1936, and even more incredibly, just as angry when he started as he was when he finished.

I had a conversation with a friend last night who asked me how I came up with topics.

“That’s easy,” I said. “I open a screen and start typing.”

Actually, I didn’t say that. I don’t remember exactly what I said as I was already on my fourth glass of craft water, but it was something like this: “Every day I wake up with the realization that I have to write something on that stupid fucking blog. So I try to pay attention during the day so that when something pops up I can nab it before it slips away, like one of Socrates’s fleeting words which always seemed to flit away just before he could nail down its meaning.” [I totally added in the Socrates part just now.]

And I guess the other two things, not so strangely, are reading and riding. The more I read and the more I ride, the easier it is to blog. Fortunately, I don’t have to read very much about cycling, and perhaps even more fortunately, I don’t have to cycle while reading.

What’s also interesting is that the blog format, which promised to be a free space where talented people could let loose with only the finest prose, unencumbered by page limits, nasty editors, rejection slips, publishing house politics, agents, and over-the-transom submissions, turned into a horrible 6′ x 9′ sunless room where people who thought they had something to say realized that they did, and once said, THAT WAS IT.

I’m one of them, I suppose. I just haven’t realized it yet.

END

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Battery doping

April 28, 2018 § 4 Comments

We had hit Trump, I was in my 53 x 17, and Gavin Hoover was pulling away. I was doing my best to stay on his wheel. At the bottom of the Switchbacks he began doing his best to make sure I was not on his wheel, which was pretty effective, not just as to me, but as to the other four riders struggling might and main not to get dropped. When a dude with his sights set on making the Olympic team hits the gas, your day is done. The peloton was a distant memory.

I tried to shift onto an easier rear cog but the derailleur wouldn’t move. I got off the big chain ring but the 39 x 17 was too small to keep up, and they began pulling away. I realized the rear derailleur battery on my SRAM e-tap had died.

Every Saturday afternoon I charge front and rear, and this week I’d only ridden Tue/Thu/Fri, hardly enough to run down the battery. On the other hand, the batteries were two-and-a-half years old. That’s about 130 charges, which I figured was probably enough to have taken the battery to the end of its life.

I pulled over to swap the front battery onto the rear. Swarms of riders passed. I fumbled a bit but got it done, hopped on, and pedaled away. After a bit Derek the Ninja Destroyer caught me, dragging Ivan and someone else, and towed us to about 200 yards from the first chase group, throwing burned and shellacked droppees into the Destroyer blender as he passed.

I hopped up the last couple of hundred yards and rode up Crest, towed the whole way by Bryant Rolf, who recently relocated from the East Coast back to L.A. and brought a vicious pair of legs with him. I sucked wheel until the end and sprunted around him.

The group re-agglomerated and as we rode into San Pedro I told Gavin what had happened. He nodded. “I don’t think my cables ever lost their charge during a ride or race,” he said.

END

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The boozification of Starbucks

January 13, 2018 § 1 Comment

Coffee didn’t used to be part of cycling. It had nothing to do with it, period. I remember being out on some ride in the middle of nowherecentraltexas with the Dicksons and Fields … you think anyone ever suggested stopping for a cup of coffee? Or an espresso? Water and a coke and a candy bar, let’s roll.

Fer fuggsake, we didn’t even know what espresso was. Coffee was bad tasting watery black shit that came in a big can called Folger’s and you drank it in the morning to wash out the taste of your hangover.

I still remember my first Starbucks, in an airport circa 1999. I had been in Japan for years and was making a brief trip back to the States, and I think it was in the DFW airport where I wandered up to the counter, attracted by the sign and the giant word “COFFEE.”

“Seems like a thing,” I thought. “What will those crazy Americans think of next?” I stared at the menu like a monkey perusing a calculus textbook. “May I help you?” the lady asked.

“A coffee, please.”

She waited. “Would you like an espresso drink, sir?”

“Sure,” I said.

She waited some more until it became clear I was lost. “How about a latte?”

“Uh, okay.”

“Tall, grande, or venti?”

“What’s the difference?”

“Shots, bigger is more shots.”

I thought about that for a minute. “Can I just get a small coffee? It’s too early for shots.”

She nodded and made me what I later learned was a Tall Drip. Small coffee = Tall drip. Got it.

When fancy coffee came to town

A few years ago I was riding with Marshall Perkins, who is about a hundred. He knows the history of cycling in SoCal better than anyone this side of Ted Ernst. “Marsh,” I said, “when did coffee come to LA cycling? Was it always a thing?”

“Nope,” he said. “I remember the first time we ever stopped for coffee on a bike ride was in the late 70’s. Before that no one drank coffee as part of biking. It was a little joint in Santa Monica, I think, made espressos, lattes. Then after a while it kind of became a thing.”

LA was years ahead of Texas, naturally.

Of course nowadays you can no more ride without coffee than you can ride without air in your tires. And I’m pretty okay with that, not being a fan of riding on flats. But yesterday after the Flog Ride we wandered into Starbucks to grab a quick cup and noticed that they had just rolled out a new campaign, “Blonde Espresso.”

I roast my own beans in a frying pan and I know that any bean that might be light enough to be mistaken for a blonde is gonna taste like shit. But for a marketing name, it was pretty good. It was supposed to make you think of … what?

When crafts collide, or the boozification of covfefe

It didn’t take much ogling to figure out what they were selling, and it wasn’t sex. They were selling booze, or rather they were selling the image of booze. The subliminal messaging was astounding: Blonde is a variety of craft beer as we all know, and then the ads said “straight-up” and showed the coffee being served in proper shot glasses.

Along the back wall all of the syrup flavors were arranged in bottles, just like the hard alcohol in a bar. And the coloring, black and yellow, was exactly like in a Miller Genuine Draft ad.

Of course it all makes sense. There are millions of people who get up in the morning and the hardest thing they will ever do is make it to 10:00 AM, when they have their first drink and all becomes right with the world. That’s how it is when you work 14-hour days, counting the days to retirement, working your ass off to pay for things you can’t enjoy because you’re working to pay for them, a slave to status and buy-buy-buy clickbait, leading to double-margarita lunches, nightcap dinners, and a bottle of Jim Beam in the worksleep cubicle. And I guess the boozified coffee makes it seem like you’re cheating the clock and getting a little nip at the very top of the morning. In fact, the imagery makes you want to add a splash of whiskey…all a coincidence, I’m sure.

I ordered a double blonde espresso, and it tasted good. Lots better than the usual motor oil flavor that Starbucks is famed for, but not nearly as good as the beer I used to love knocking back well before noon. I wasn’t sure what to think about the boozification, other than to acknowledge that the marketing was pretty slick. But I did end up ordering a second round. For old time’s sake.

END

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The eyes have it

January 12, 2018 Comments Off on The eyes have it

I finished racing Telo on Sunday, changed, and hopped in the car for the drive to Santa Barbara. A few days passed and I got ready to ride again and couldn’t find my riding glasses. “Have you seen my cycling glasses, honey?”

“No. You had them at Telo, though.”

“Probably in the back of the car somewhere.”

“I’ll run look,” she said, and she did, and she came back in a few minutes with my cycling glasses, all right, but the frame was split in half along the top. “You left them under the hatchback and they broke when you slammed it shut.”

These were my SPY Quanta prescription riding goggles, the best eyewear I have ever had. My eyes are very bad and you can’t ride a bike and survive for long at all if you can’t see, and see well. The Quanta was the first wide-screen frame that could accommodate my ridiculously thick prescription.

My awful eye history

I’ve had bad eyes ever since I was a little kid. I always used to fail the eye test in class because the school nurse thought I was “clowning.” She’d set up the chart with the big, giant, monstrously huge “E” at the top and all the little tilted ones getting smaller and smaller as you went down.

She’d call name. “Davidson!” and the class would titter because they knew what was coming as I did it every year.

“First line?” the nurse would say.

“I can’t see it,” I’d say, and the class would break out in howls as even a blind person could see that huge, giant, monstrous, whomping “E.”

I was a cut-up and made bad grades mostly because of my personality, but also because I could never see the blackboard or anything on it. I think I did pretty good, especially in math, considering that.

When I was thirteen we were driving along US 59 in Houston one Sunday on the way to a movie. In Texas every ten feet there is a 400-foot tall billboard along every freeway. “What does that say?” I asked my mom as we passed right in front of a sign so big you could have read the print on Mars.

“Are you serious?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, which everyone knew meant that I wasn’t serious at all.

But later at the movie my parents noticed for the first time that I was sitting on the front row like I had been doing since I was six. Afterwards my mom asked “Why were you down there on the front row?”

“I’m always on the front row,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because I can’t see.”

The next day I was sitting in the office of Dr. James Key, ophthalmologist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. It was my first real eye test ever. I remember what a nice guy Dr. Key was, and how he had the thickest glasses I had ever seen. Afterwards he said, “You don’t really see much of anything at all, do you?”

“No, sir,” I said.

“We will fix that,” he said. And he did.

The day I put on those first eyeglasses it was amazing. The world was so filled with sharply defined objects! The colors all had edges! You could read from a long way off! And I could figure out whether my shoelaces were untied without having to guess.

MMX to the rescue

From that day on, my cycling glasses became the most important article of clothing I owned, and many years later my SPY Quanta glasses were the gold standard for eyewear. If you rode with me even once since 2012 I was wearing those glasses, which were developed and designed by my friend Michael Marckx while he was the CEO at Spy Optic. He went on to develop some of the best cycling glasses ever made by anyone, anywhere, during his tenure, but none worked for me like the Quanta simply because it could handle my thick lenses and had a ridiculously wide field of vision that didn’t distort at the edges.

I stared at those poor broken frames and thought about all that we had been through together: Crossing continents, hitting the pavement, chewing through incredibly bad weather and rough roads … those were the cycling glasses that had kept my eyes safe and had kept the road in front of me focused and clear. All of those things were nice to reflect on but what really struck me was the incredible generosity of which I’d been the beneficiary, because Michael had given me those glasses with the prescription lenses as a gift.

In fact, he gave countless sets of glasses to friends and grifters, most of whom never bothered to say thanks or who thought that because they raced for an amazing masters team of 50+ grandfathers they were somehow entitled to expensive eyewear as they “promoted the brand,” i.e. wore the glasses. Unlike the traditional frames that Michael also designed, these were built to protect your eyes and your face. And that’s exactly what they did, more important to me than any wheel, any frame, any drivetrain, any bicycle outfit.

What was funny is that I never wanted the glasses in the first place because I had no idea how transformative a great set of frames could be. Oakley had just come out with a narrow, razor-band style of glasses that could hold my prescription but that provided almost zero width of vision; they were like looking out of a gun turret slit, and I’d shelled out almost $400 for them. I was dubious that these new glasses would be an improvement, as simply having prescription sunglasses was revolutionary for me. Until then I’d cycled in John Lennon frames, with every manner of grit and shit getting around the lens and into my eyes.

In fact, with those John Lennon specials, every couple of years I’d have to go to the eye doctor to get pieces of steel surgically removed from my cornea, tiny bits of grit and road detritus that got blown into and lodged into my eyeball surface. The Quantas took care of that once and for all.

But Michael is nothing if not persistent, and when the Quantas showed up and I put them on, well, everything really did look different. If it weren’t for him I’d probably still be wearing those crappy Oakleys because, cheap-ass. And of course I wondered how many other people had been the beneficiary of his largesse, how many other people with significant eye problems had found an amazing solution thanks to this and some of his other phenomenal designs.

As I wondered what I was going to do, I rummaged around in my Random Bike Shit Drawer, and there in the back was another pair of glasses. Quantas. Worn maybe twice. It was like finding a winning lottery ticket as I took them out and tried them on; perfect fit and perfect prescription.

Thanks, Michael.

Quanta cycling glasses

Cracked by the hatchback!

Quanta cycling glasses

Long and faithful, hardworking friends!

END

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Flat earth theory

January 11, 2018 Comments Off on Flat earth theory

My wife rides a road bike with flat pedals. It’s interesting to watch how people react to that. Rather, it’s interesting how reactions are so uniform.

“You need clipless pedals.”

“Why don’t you get some riding shoes?”

“You are losing so much power.”

“When are you going to ditch those flat pedals?”

“You’ll go so much faster with clip-in!”

And etc.

Most of the people who see fit to comment on her sad state of pedal affairs know that we are married and that I ride a bike a lot, so it’s kind of curious that they don’t run that through their filter, like this: “She’s got flat pedals, but she’s married to Seth so she probably knows about clip-in pedals, so there’s probably a reason …”

But no.

The reaction is uniform and knee-jerk: “Are you going to get clip-in pedals tomorrow? Or today?”

I wondered why people care which pedals she uses. The ostensible reason is that she will pedal more efficiently and therefore go faster. But that’s a bad explanation; the last thing that a new cyclist should do is go faster. New cyclists should go slower and learn to control the bike at lower speeds. Physics aren’t linear when you fall off your bike. Incremental increases of one or two mph result in much greater force when you fall off, and therefore greater injury. Telling beginners they need to go faster is like telling new drivers they need to go faster. Huh?

And from a psychological perspective, why would you want someone to go faster anyway? Doesn’t that mean they will beat you? You should want them on the worst equipment possible, in fact, eating nothing but peanut butter and ice cream five times a day.

The biggest reason people want you on clip-in pedals, I think, is because without clip-ins, you look like a Fred. This means two things: If you’re riding with me, and you’re a Fred, then I’m a Fred, too. Or it means that riding with you reminds me of when I was a Fred, and it’s a lot more comfortable to think I was born knowing how to drape myself coolly over a 100% carbon bike that is all carbon and made of pure carbon rather than to remember that, yeah, I used to not know anything, either, and I looked like it.

And of course in road cycling there’s the fashion element, where people instinctively shun those who are clearly unfashionable in an activity where the way you look is oh-so-important.

With regard to safety, everyone should start with flat pedals and most people should never leave them. On a road bike there are too many instances where taking your feet off the pedals will keep you from crashing. Anyone who thinks that you need clip-ins to climb well should have seen Josh Alverson or Stathis Sakellariadis shred the Donut Ride the times they rode it in sneakers.

And a bit of Internet reading confirms that the idea that clip-in pedals somehow yield huge improvements in pedaling power is not true. At best, the differences are negligible. Tellingly, the athlete in the power test confides that he still wants clip-ins because they help him when sprunting for peak power. Not sure that has any meaning at all for 99.999% of all people on bikes.

I’ve used both, but prefer clip-ins for a very particular reason.

And I’m not telling why. At least not today.

END

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