Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Imelda Marcos

So I was all ready to go for a quick spin in the lanes before work this morning as is my customary wont. I even had my helmet by the door filled with a hat, two inner tubes, tyre-levers, a small multitool and a 15mm spanner. In short, I really was ready, no wasting 15 minutes searching for a tyre-iron or an Allen key today. I just thought I'd wait until the sun came up.

And then the temperature started to drop perceptibly. You could see the numbers dropping on the little Desktop Weathernetwork widget, and those things aren't exactly real-time! The CBC was in full Chicken Little mode, but one thing one learns as a cyclist is that when it comes to weather many folk are prone to exaggerate, just a tad! It's nearly always too hot, too cold, too windy, too icy and it nearly always isn't. When someone says "it's treacherously icy down there" you'd expect a full NHL-legal playing surface complete with face-off circles and blue-lines when in fact (most of the time), all there is is a frozen puddle or patch of leaves. Not today! As I watched, the 4C and drizzle (eminently ridable, 70" fixed, mudguards and Marigolds) turned into OC and snowing quite nicely than-you-very-much.

This changed the co-ordinates of the ride on cost-benefit graph. All of a sudden the prospect of getting creamed by someone freaking out in the snow without winter tyres or getting doubly creamed by a big black truck which thought it was immune to the elements outweighed what pleasure I'd have got. So I thought of Sean Kelly, poured a second cup of coffee and decided to run the 3K to work instead. Not for training you understand, just to get there. You see, all my pretty-boy clothes (and shoes) were in my locker at work and short of driving to work naked, this was the only way I was going to get to the college.

They say you know you're a cyclist (or a runner or a triathlete for that matter) when you don't mind walking into work dressed in tights like a superhero! I know that I do (I'm not sure what my superpower is but I have a sneaking suspicion it has something to do with cookies and mince-pies). I remember when I first got into this gig being embarrassed being seen at work in tight shorts and I used to leave with my jeans over my shorts and take my jeans off 300m down the road where no-one could see me! That was over 20 years ago. Nowadays, I clearly have no shame (speaking of which, if anyone has Elastigirl's number could you pass it on?)!

When I jogged up to the institute steps this morning a colleague said "ah, so you got a puncture this morning". I evidently looked non-plussed (and BSNYC wasn't even the vicinity). Does anyone else have this problem, being associated with people (co-workers, neighbours, distant relations) who aren't able to differentiate between cycling gear and running gear? To us it is so easy; how could we ever confuse a CWX tights, HRC jacket, backpack and Mizuno Ascends combo with a Sugoi midzero tights, jacket with pockets in the back, Chrome bag and clip-cloppy "not trainers" shoes ensemble?

I can see how to the unitiated it is confusing. To them it's all tight bottoms and not-so-tight tops in shades of fluorescent and since wool jerseys went out of vogue the textiles aren't activity specific. Plus, some items, like vests, hats and gloves can do double duty (triple if you're cross-country skiing) and the socks are always white. But really, if they want to know the difference, all they have to do is look down, way down. As my compatriot Imelda Marcos once said, it's all about the shoes!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Demons slain?

This morning was grey and drizzly and foggy and cold, a real Belgian morning. Or perhaps British. A real fixie morning. With mudguards. And the Flemmish-style hat under my helmet. I was also pretty stoked that I could finally try out my Specialized Marigolds (not their real name, more later).

It didn't look like a nice morning for a ride, and the way I've described it, it doesn't sound like the kind of morning you'd chuck your leg over the top-tube for. A funny thing happened though. Or maybe not so funny. It was early enough that I could see through kitchen windows and catch a glimpse of little vignettes of domesticity. Breakfasts being served in warm, bright kitchens while people bustle around getting ready for school and work. To my mind it brought back childhood memories of big bowls of Ready Brek, sausage sandwiches on white bread with ketchup, of chocolates from the Advent calendar while all the time it was kinda cold, kinda damp and getting damper. I realised however, that at that instant, the bike, not a nice warm kitchen, was the place that I wanted to be!

Like I said, I was pretty stoked to finally try out those Specialized gloves. They need a name. "Elbow high neoprene gloves" sounds vaguely kinky, "Rain-gloves" insufficiently descriptive, "those Specialized neoprene gloves" not inventive enough. They have a kind of Marigold vibe to them, so in tribute to the sine qua non of washing-up gloves, Marigolds they are.
They are very comfortable. Up to a point it's hard to tell you are wearing gloves at all, and in some ways isn't that the best kit review of all; "I spent a squillion bucks on these and you don't even know you've got 'em on"? I got an excellent feel for the bars, my hand-holds felt bombproof, they did not slip and slide all over the place. I obviously can't speak for changing gears but I can say that my fingers fitted comfortably under the brake-levers and if there had been a paddle there, then moving it wouldn't have been a problem.

I wouldn't say they are the warmest gloves on the market, but that is not what they are marketted for. It was about 0C this morning, and my fingers didn't feel any worse than anticipated (and I didn't even have to pee in them first). Of course if I'd been any kind of scientist at all I would have worn one Sugoi and one Marigold and then after 30 minutes, switched hands. I said, if I'd been any kind of scientist! On a scale, I'd say these gloves are good in the 0 to 10C range. Any warmer and you might as wear wear track-mitts as it doesn't matter if you're wet because you'll be warm (plus these puppies don't breathe at all). Any cooler and you need some insulation.

As mentioned it was a drizzly morning, the kind of day when the water comes at you from every which way. They performed flawlessly, totally waterproof. There's nothing else to say really! In the time I was out, it didn't even have time to soak through my sleeves and run down my arms into the gloves. And those high cuffs? Sealed my wrists/hands completely, with no little draft winkling its way through.

Job done 'd say.

If I had to fault them, it's a lack of a flannel strip for those of us with over-active noses. Not being a textiles type of person I don't know how hard it is to get anything to actually stick to neoprene and given than these aren't Specializeds first pair of cycling gloves I'd say this ommision is more due to the properties of the material rather than that Specialized's Chief Designer was off sick that day. Ditto the lack of any shiny, reflective bits. Having said that (and look away if easily disturbed and/or eating) snot does tend to just slide off the neoprene.

What with these and the neoprene socks (a new pair just came my way too, stay tuned for a review), have the twin demons that are cold n' wet hands and feet finally been slain ? I don't want to presume that they have, but if they have, it only took 24 yrs! Just imagine; a quarter of a century, that's all. A mere blink of the geological (or evolutionary) eye! Just imagine if I could go back to 1986 to see my 16 yo self as he took his first steps (well pedal-strokes really) on that black Peugeot Premiere and say "you know what, you'll finally get that cold-and-wet hands-and-feet problem sorted a couple of weeks before 2010". Would I have stayed? Would you?


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Moment of Zen

Has it been cold these last two mornings or what? In Truro it's been down in the -10C range, making me name-check at least one of the Japanese twins from Goldmember when I stepped out of the front door. On days like this, dressing stylishly (usually the first concern of any cyclist worth their chamois) goes out the door in favour of wearing everything!

The cold has snuck up on us (well OK me). It seems like only yesterday the only concern was matching socks to jersey. Yet first arm-armers, caps, hats, knee-warmers, gloves, then another pair of gloves, increasing thicknesses of tights and then all the jackets have crept onto my body almost without me knowing. Then one day you wake up in the lanes with six layers on! Wardrobe stealth!

Just don't call it training! Goodness knows it isn't. Training is all heartrates and speeds and intervals and structured plans and goals. It can and does suck all the fun out of it. Training does have it's place, I know this, and sometimes I am as guilty as the next person of not daring to do anything "untoward" less it adversely affects my preparation!

Today was not one of those days and December is not once of those months. To me cycling is more about taking your time and smelling the roses than it is redlining. Not that my nose was functioning enough this morning to smell anything, but its the thought that counts, no? Cycling is a means to itself, not a means to an end!

So I will still enjoy it while I can, That hour in the lanes can be the only true peace and quiet all day. When Sean Kelly retired he said the big difference between being a pro and a regular person was that as a regular person he didn't have to ride in the rain if he didn't want to, and Kelly was no candy-ass! In any poll of "hard-man cyclists" he'll be at the top of the list! So if tomorrow is as grim as they say it may be, I think I'll stay in bed for an extra hour instead (Kelly would have!).

I am saddened that soon riding outdoors will not be possible; it will be significantly colder and the roads will be significantly worse (and dangerous). Memories of mornings like this always make it easier to get through the four long months of winter when riding ceases to be a pleasure and does become a chore. This mornings ride was not a chore, it was a pleasure.

I love riding. You know this; and so I did really enjoy my ride this morning, fingers and toes notwithstanding. The countryside was very pretty with the snow and the sun, a crummy little camera phone can't do it justice, but these pictures are a hint of what I saw these past two morning! As a bonus, the roads were good too; very little black ice. I think what I saw and what I experienced mentally was worth a little distal physical discomfort.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Vos and Janssen

OK, well not Marianne Vos, currently ladies cycling world champion of pretty much everything, or Jan Janssen, the first Dutch winner of the Tour de France (in 1968) and not only that, without having worn Jaune until the last day in Paris (it'd be pretty cool two-up though!) . Instead I present Marc Vos and "Boy" Janssen a couple of Dutch BMXers with groovy bikes and an (alleged) penchant for heights.

Don't try this at home (obviously). Well, the neon frame-tubes maybe, but not the bit down the side of the Willemswerf, which even though has to fake (the angles are all wrong, the green bike is in the wrong place and buddy isn't actually dead) doesn't mean you should try and show it can be done.

I think the tag line is along the lines of "if you fall over, do it lightly as usual", which you'll agree has to be their life's motto or else they'd be in a perpetual sulk (regardless of the height of the "jump"). Certainly it's an idea worth considering (taking things lightly that is, not taking off the top of a 94m high building on a bicycle). Even if you don't like the visuals, the music's pretty cool uh? I've got the song stuck in my head and I ain't complaining.

In the mean time, take a deep breath and repeat after me; als je wilt opvallen...


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gloved up

Ever go into your LBS and leave with what you came for, and only what you came for? Thought not.

I went in the other day to get a sprocket changed (the 15 was killing me) and ended up picking up a pair of these on sale.

No, they really are cycling gloves. Specialized Neoprene gloves and despite looking like something you'd find in a triathlon yes they really, really are cycling gloves and yes, they'd be illegal in a triathlon.

I'm not sure Specialized still sell these, I got them in Hub's bargain bin, but there must be something to be said for them as I've seen them on pros hands, most recently in the last picture I saw of the late Frank Vandenbroucke.

I've always had a soft-spot for Frankie but not because I think he was a great cyclist. Well in a way he was because, as he himself said, in a perverse way there was a level playing field at the '99 LBL. They were all doped up. When we saw him accelerate away not once but twice from Michele Bartoli on La Redoubt we all said "wow, what a guy" which morphed into "yeah, but what was he on" which has subsequently become "well they were all on it so perhaps he was still better but I still won't, can't, 100% believe in the athleticism per se".

Rather the soft-spot is because Frankie was on the cover of the last Cycling Weekly I ever bought.

It was 1998 and I was flying to the States for the first time to do a postdoc (March 17 1998 if anyone is counting). I needed something to read on the flight and loaded up on magazines at LHR. Frankie had just stamped all over Paris-Nice and was stamped all over the cover. He was seen as the next big thing in the Classics (or more). It was a strange time for cycling. It was post Indurain, pre-Armstrong. We all thought Ulrich was going to be the next dominant stage-racer, figures like six Tours were bandied about. Armstrong was just some one-day dude who'd won Worlds once and was trying to come back from cancer. If memory serves, '98 PN was his first big race back and he packed, making everyone think his comeback was over already. We were naive enough to think that drugs weren't a problem, I mean they were getting tested now and how hard can it be to find Belgian Pot? Phil and Paul's commentary was still quite balanced (if you don't believe me, check out Fat Cyclist's "Armstrong Drinking Game Equals Certain Death"). Cinelli's Spinacis (in effect very short ITU draft-legal tri-bars) were legal in mass-start racing. Lotto were still riding steel framed Gazelles and socks were still mostly white and ankle length.

And I thought I was only popping over for a post-doc and would be back in a year or two.

Times really have changed.

But back to the gloves, for now. They're certainly snug, but for one I like tight gloves. The loose, flappy ones tend to get caught and your hands squirm aound inside them, making it hard to get a good solid hold on the bars. My wind- and rain-proof overmitts are way too baggy and this makes it hard to change gear, brake or even get a grip (I'm often asked to "get a grip" and at least on the bike I can sometimes blame it on the gloves. If only it was this easy in life!). It's not just cycling, I'm like this in the lab too where a lot of guys automatically use medium or large gloves even if they're clearly too large. I think it's a macho thing; "it's emasculating to use any latex product marked 'small' " they think as their gloves get pulled into a pipette or trapped in a lid. Certainly riding them home from the shop they seemed plenty grippy enough and in terms of feel they felt more like liner-gloves than even regular mid-weight gloves.

These gloves also go way up the arm overlapping with your sleeves, helping to keep away those drafts that always find that one square millimetre of exposed skin at the wrist. Being 3mm neoprene they're totally waterproof, as you'd expect. I've not been out for an extended stay in a torrential downpour yet so I can't say how they stand up to a real-world road-soaking, with spray coming at you from every which way. I rather suspect they'll behave like my neoprene socks, which although initially waterproof eventually become wet on the inside, but because water ends up soaking down my legs into the socks rather than taking the direct route through the sock! I wonder how long this impermeability phase is. For the socks it's about 30 minutes, which is long enough for the rest of you to get thoroughly miserable before your feet go too! There should be a slight warming effect then as the trapped layer of water is warmed by your skin, just like a regular wetsuit, but I wouldn't recommend peeing in them to get them warm first as I know some of you do in your wetsuits before a tri (don't deny it, I know you do).

I'll keep you posted on long-term performance; I'm eyeing that glued seam on the middle two fingers with interest. In the interests of science I'll also see how cold you can go. It's one thing to be kinda warm and wet but around zero, totally rugging up with the baggy gauntlets may be the way to go. I'll let you know.

It looks like Specialised have realised that no matter what, your hands are going to get wet, so they produced gloves work with that, not against it. So much for theory, now lets go practice.....

On The Mend

It took a little longer to get out of the apartment this morning seeing as I was frozen into inactivity by the Chicken Little tone on the CBC. Listening to them gave the impression Halifax had evidently eschewed salt trucks in favour of Zambonis and had spent the night carefully grooming the highways. Seeing as it was significantly colder in Truro than Halifax and Halifax was (apparently) an icy hell, this did not bode well for a ride, indeed I clearly should have stayed in bed, the evidence of my own eyes notwithstanding! Sure, the view out of the window might have looked nice but the CBC was telling me it was treacherous, and if you can't believe the CBC, who can you believe?*

Anyway, it wasn't an icy hell, it was actually very nice. I think Environment Canada might have been in on the conspiracy too, as it didn't fell like -6C. It was the nicest ride I've had in a while. Partly, I think, because the pain in my ribs is starting to subside (finally, after nearly three weeks!) and it no longer hurts to yawn, sneeze, breathe deeply or get out of the saddle. What little pain there is feels more like the after-effects of a stitch.

I was able to get out on fixed again today too. Not being able to get out of the saddle negates going fixed because as nice as they are to ride, they do need muscling up climbs which is incompatible with dinged ribs. Makes you think of pro riders soldiering on with cracked ribs and broken clavicles and the like. Robert Bartko just DNF'd the Zesdaagse van Vlaanderen after racing four days with cracked ribs. The day afterward I couldn't open a door, can you imagine doing a hand-sling? Pass the Advil...
Fixies are great winter bikes by the way. There's that feeling of "oneness" with the road. Cutting through the hipster "spiritual" bull there is an aspect of truth, You do feel the road through your feet and when conditions get dodgy, fixed feels safer. There is no feeling the bike is trying to run away from you to dump you ignominiously on the shoulder. There's also the mechanical aspect. There aren't any moving parts to get all gunked up with salt and spray. Oh, well I suppose there are a few moving parts but they're all ball-races and I don't suppose any of us strip our hubs down after a wet ride! Well now I think of it, once upon a time Dazza and I used to strip our racing bikes down to the hubs and BB every Saturday before a race but don't get me started on cassette BB's or we'll be here all day and current evidence to the contrary I do have a couple of papers go go through and order something flammable. I guess too, if you crash on a patch of ice there's no gear-hanger to snap or bend. It's one thing to lose your gears in a crash, but unless you're carrying Allen keys and a chain-tool you're going to have to ride home with the rear derailleur clink clink clinking in your spokes! Then there's the purely practical. It's hard to change gears with big lobster mitts. Even if you can squeeze your hands between the 'bars and the lever then trying to flick that little inside lever doesn't come quite as easily as it used to!

As far as riding goes, I'm determinedly living in the present. I know, on an intellectual level that there are very few rides left this year but I'm not letting that bother me. I'm pigheadedly riding outside knowing that soon it won't be a question of pigheadedness as of something entirely different (actually there's a guy in the department who makes us all look like big girls blouses when it comes to riding outside but we'll meet him in February). I'm enjoying every ride and not saying "gee it seems like only yesterday I was in shorts" or lamenting that the CBC (and my own significant inertia) made me late this morning and I had to go shorter than I wanted. No, today was a great day to be out and I enjoyed every second, no ifs, ands or buts.

I'm even looking forward to tomorrow! Yes I know it's supposed to rain (but I've got mudguards) but if it does then I might get to "drop" a new pair of gloves. Stay tuned....


*This is a rhetorical question by the way.....

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Breathless in Brookfield

My last few morning rides have been breathtaking. Not because it's been cold (because it hasn't really been that cold), or because the frost makes even the weeds look pretty in the morning sun.

Or because the new bridge over the North West River has just been finished and it has the best pavement in Colchester County (all 300 m of it).

Gotta love that stimulus money! We should get the province to stick a couple of banked 180s at either end for the first velodrome in NS (if you've seen the way onto the MacDonald Bridge bike-path I think you'll agree that Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal clearly have the expertise)!

Or even that it is so much nicer now one can stop safely in the middle of the bridge and see the view

Rather, the aetiology behind the breathlessness is rather more organic (and self-inflicted). At the 3rd 'cross race ten days ago I had another silly little prat-fall trying to clean a steep narrow muddy leafy bit and had one of those absurdly fore-aft angled stationary moments sawing the handlebars back and forth before I went down in an undignified heap. So no change there then. I did however stick one of these fine pieces of engineering into my mid-section...

Ouf! I swore profusely (as is my want) and then got on with the thing. After all, this sort of thing is what 'cross is all about. Actually, it's also all about Duvel, frites and mayonnaise but that would have to wait!
Oh, and cowbells, but you can't eat cowbells....

Didn't have too bad a race actually. It was a muddy slippy day that slowed everyone up. I spent just as much time on my arse as the week before, but not so much due to my ineptitude this time as the conditions were as bad as I've seen. I was also running way too much air meaning I was losing what little traction was available, which definitely didn't help in the verticality stakes! All this notwithstanding I was actually feeling pretty relaxed and dialed in and even caught a couple of guys I hadn't caught before. Job done!

The conditions really took a toll. Each week maybe one guy has a mechanical and, say, flats out. It's 'cross, it's to be expected. That week there were four or five DNFs, (about ten percent of the field), all with broken chains. We must have littered the park with snapped links!

Old Bess was making funny squeaking noises but this wasn't mechanical. The bottom bracket shell (and the front fork crown for that matter too) was totally jammed with mud, grass and sticks and the wheels were barely spinning unimpeded!

I was caked to the point that you'd be wondering what colour my socks were, how high they went, what design was on them and, indeed, if I had socks on at all!

You know it was a bad day out when even the back of your number-plate is covered!

Anyway, back to that prat-fall and the thing is, ten days later it still hurts to laugh, sneeze, cough, yawn or even breathe too deeply. So you know that bulbous bit of the brifter that you hold on to, the bit that contains the working guts of it ? I think it might have cracked a rib!

That'll do it!

Still running, still riding and even raced the 'cross last week! But somewhat gingerly and definitely not out of the saddle! Aficionados will probably recognise that it was hurting just a little more than usual!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I rarely dream about bikes. If dreaming is the subconscious mind trying to make sense of your experiences, perhaps this is understandable. Bikes are one thing, perhaps the only thing, I don't have to "rationalise" and "understand" they just "are".

If bikes do make it into my dreams they are in the context of the classic anxiety dream. Being late for the start, going one way when everyone else is going the other, not being able to find my chip, losing a shoe. Or turning up in calf-high black socks, next to which turning up naked is eminently preferable. Besides, let's face it, most Sunday's we're functionally naked in public anyway, with only a single layer of high-cut lycra we fervently hope isn't too see-through between our collective modesties and the little old lady who got caught on the course while driving to church.

Last night I dreamt I was in the UK renting a bicycle. A fixed-gear bicycle. Every time I said "fixed" the rental guy said "single speed". Even when I was talking to my travelling companion, if I said "fixed" he'd "correct" me.

WTF indeed. Firstly I was in the UK, the one place I don't need subtitles under me when I speak. Or so I thought. Have I lost the ability to seak British English. Was I now speaking some mid-Atlantic collabo, mixing bits and pieces from the various (English-speaking no-less) countries I've lived into a creole that only I understand?

Secondly, I was being corrected on a point I knew something about, and indeed being corrected "incorrectly". Sure, all fixies are single-speeds but not all single-speeds are fixies. Yet the rental guy was adamently, and consistently, mis-correcting me. Grrrr.

So the dream ended, presumably when I turned over in my sleep to say to my dream-land companion (sotto voce)...

"This guy knows nothing about fixies"
"Single-speeds, sir"

...and I woke up. Not screaming or covered in the night-sweats, more a vague sense of academic disquiet; why this dream this night? I'm not worried about anything in particular, or at least I didn't think I was. Sure I worry about the usual things; did I turn the oven off, making the rent, did I use monobasic or dibasic potassium phosphate in the PBS, but who doesn't? Besides, Boston isn't for another 146 days and the dream wasn't in the traditional anxiety-dream mould anyway. If anything, things are pretty copacetic, on and off the bike. Right? Must be the cyclocross. After all, voluntarily spending 50 minutes red-lined in the granny in the mud with ominous grinding noises emanating from your hubs, bottom bracket, headset, knees, lungs and chest is enough to make one question one's most deeply held beliefs. Ya, must be the 'cross....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Red Lined in the Granny

Still getting out on the bike, just don't call it training 'cos it will spoil the fun. I look at it more as "mental health" maintenance. I seem to be progressively wearing more and more layers to the point I'm losing what little flexibility I had in the first place. Having said that I, as I can still reach the drops what more flexibility do I need? The occasional frozen toe notwithstanding, an hour in the lanes before work is infinitely better than spending an hour indoors on a bike clamped in to the hamster-wheel, especially when you see the leaves...

I finish my rides at work most mornings. I have to admit that I am lucky that the college is well prepared for cyclists! I don't think they meant to, but we ding many of the cycling-friendly points that cycling-activist groups say are important for encouraging bike commuting. The big one is changing and shower facilities. No more getting changed in the bathroom, hopping around on one foot trying to sponge-bath the grungy bits and hoping a colleague doesn't come in! The staff-lockers are fairly underused which is a good thing as you can see, I do have a tendency to spread out, especially when everything is wet. No-one has complained yet though!

The reason we have these facilities is because the college is essentially a small farm with a lecture-theatres and a tissue-culture unit built on the side. The lockers are there for staff to wash the smell out of their hair before going home. However, asides myself, the only person using the staff lockers is a colleague who works on ruminant reproduction. In the best traditions of James Herriot, he has a fine collection of coveralls with manure down one side only! So between my running shoes and Helly Hansens on one side and his James Herriots on the other, the staff lockers smell a bit like a cow's gym!

Speaking of a cow's arse, my performance at the last 'cross race was at about that level. As we discussed previously, I had never thought of my Kona socks as my "lucky cyclocross socks", a fact that was borne out only too well in by dint of the sheer amount of time I spent on my arse. Something needed to be done. Going back in time to practice a la Bill and Ted wasn't an option so instead I approached the wall of DeFeet socks at MEC to see if I could find something luckier. I plumped for a pair of gray but sunny "Life Is Beautiful"s and decided to see if they were any better.

Perhaps in addition to being not too long, kinda mud-translucent (even after the race they don't look too bad, non?) and having a funky but not outrageous flower motif, they were luckier than the Konas. Round two of the Cyclesmith Cyclocross was distinctly better than the first. Besides, what with the the complete inability to clean anything other than my own clock and more Limanda limanda than the North Sea what could be worse? The total suckitude exhibited my yours truely is probably exemplified by the following shot showing how not to negotiating the barriers.

Never mind bunny hopping these things, or even progressing over them at speed without breaking too much of your rhythm, I'm apparently stepping daintily over, lifting my bike high (by the saddle no less!) as if to keep it out of the mud! Don't want to get dirty! What a wuss!

Anyway, the last race was a lot better. The laps were longer and more technical with some gravel thrown in as well as another little muddy pitch, this little beauty here.

It doesn't look much but it claims scalps every lap! The trick is to take the line on the outside, even if it leaves you with a sharper turn once you're on level ground.

Of all the scalps it claimed, it didn't get mine, but goodness knows it tried.

Perhaps it was the socks, but it was also down to a hefty dose of "less haste more speed". Last time I was just a bit too frantic. I slowed down a bit this time and thought each obstacle through and slowing down to nail the muddy bits (and the gravel!) I kept the speed up. Cleaned everything every time (well apart from one little Limanda spp). The final finishing position still sucked (as expected) but I managed to finish on the same lap as most people, albeit at the end of that lap. but the same lap nonetheless. As you can see, it still hurt!

Which is why I'll be there next week, red-lining on the flat in the granniest of granny gears.

Speaking of being there next week the race organisers are thinking about putting on a kids race at one (or more) of the three remaining events. Spread the word!


Wednesday, November 4, 2009


OK, so I took a bit of a break. After all three weeks of updating twice-weekly can get a bit much for a guy. Anyway....

The local cyclocross season started two weeks ago. This was imeadiately followed by a week's break during which I discovered that in addition to having the best tunes, the seventh level of hell also has the best chicken. We're back at it this weekend (cyclocross that is, not music and chicken). Three weekends in a row of mud, sweat and tears and I can't wait. Java Jim Diakos sexed up some photos of last years cross provincials and the gravelly sound of Johnny Cash's voice complements not only the event but the sound of my headset and hubs afterwards.

I had to get Old Bess in shape first; the poor girl was still in touring mode and needed to be 'crossed up right quick! She's versatile, but not that versatile. Off came the pannier rack, lights, bottle-cages and any pretense of a placing. On went the 35Cs, SPDs and a generous coat of oil.

Before and after; ready for a relaxed meander in the lanes (above) and a not so relaxed meander off the lanes (below)

Race-day dawned windy and wet. The clouds blew over and the sun was out by the time we rolled to the start. It turned out to be sunny and warm in direct contradiction of and as this is an official government website, it would appear that the weather was flagrantly disobeying the party whips! After a night of rain the ground was a disgrace and this was before twenty-plus bikes had been all over it ten times each. Well, we say disgrace, I think we were all secretly glad it was muddy, probably because we all also secretly wish to be the star of our own "Sunday in Hell".

The course was very similar to last year; fast and not too technical. One carry and two sets of obstacles. The planks were close enough that for v-diff bumblies such as myself it was easier to run between the two sets rather than mount and dismount twice. This was complemented by juicy climb with a totally gratuitous 90-degree bend at the muddiest spot and, purely for recovery purposes, three descents; one on tarmac, one on mud and one on grass. As all three were liberally covered in leaves with a corner at the bottom they felt a tad manic and I think my HR was higher going down than it was going up!

Doesn't look bad from this angle, but it felt positively suicidal at the time! I don't think going off-line helps either!

I say twenty bikes, but there was a record turnout of some thirty-five. As a mass-start, the first lap was always going to be nervous, especially as we quickly funneled into singletrack and an obstacle within 100 m or so. I self-seeded myself into the final third of the pack, a conscious decision and always one that was going to be a risk. On one hand I didn't want to hold up the race. I'm not exactly the most technically adept off-roader and the last thing I wanted to be was a moving roadblock. I don't mind contributing to the outcome of a race but not when people complain the break got away because they were stuck behind fat-boy before the first climb! On the other, you're at the mercy of the bunch in front, concertinering back and forth, taking the line you're given and not the line you want and are generally more likely to get caught in a crash at the back. I'm not dissing any of the people around me, that's just the way it is.

And so it was. I rode into some guy's wheel on the first obstacle. He didn't crash all on his own, rather it was a concertina effect as he'd run into someone else, who'd ran into someone else and all the way up the chain to the guy who'd originally dropped it! Coincidently it was a guy I knew from back before at Dal and it was good to see him again, but its generally better to do the social stuff over coffee, not when your handlebars were tangled in his spokes!

I pulled myself out of the mess and started chasing. I may have lost places and was dangerously near DFL but at least I was on my own. I made a few places up straight away and then was pretty much in no-man's land for about 35 minutes when I started to lap the very occasional back-marker. I got lapped a lot though. It is always amazing to see the bike-handling at the front; the leaders (Andrew Esperance and Garrett McLeod) were drafting up-hill, down-hill and over the obstacles with nothing to separate them (Espy eventually won). It was also very polite, I guess it has to be with so many people of varying abilities packed into a short loop at the same time. A short "on your left" or "coming through" is all it takes. Oh, and not storming through a non-existant gap or cutting someone off. For your turn, all you have to do is hold your line when being overtaken (roadies are big on holding your line!).

Funny thing; that first-lap snafu totally cursed that obstacle. We'd gone down the park the day before for a bit of practice and I nailed it every time. Same on the warm-up lap. I'd round the corner, point her straight ahead and pedal. At the top there'd be what Tom Wolfe would call an "adrenal moment" when the bike was perfectly stationary where the gravitational pull back down the muddy slope would be exactly balanced by the forward force through the pedals. You'd hang for a second wondering "will I won't I?" and resisting the temptation to dab a foot before the rear dug in a bit more and you were off. That was then. Now, nada. The lap-counters say I did nine laps and I swear I didn't clean that obstacle once. Didn't matter if I went left, right or centre, either the wheels slipped out from under me, I dabbed a foot or on one lap I'd forgotten to change gear (too much fixed!) and couldn't even get the damn pedals 'round.

Evolution of a scar; 1 hr post, 1 week post, 1 year post.

One thing they say about 'cross is that you should expect to crash. Last year I picked up a nice three-suture job at the first race, so happy first birthday scar! In no way confirming the myth of "triathletes as tricky bike-handlers" the only two triathletes in the race last Sunday (I haven't done a tri since Yarmouth '06 so one wasn't me) both walked away with road-rash and/or stitches. To be fair however, it was also the first 'cross race for both of them and they were both truely entering into the spirit of 'cross. And by "spirit of 'cross" I don't mean insanely strengthed Belgian beer. Well not this week!

Pink Elephants on the course: cause or effect?

You should also bank on writing off your socks. This is no place for a nice pair of gleaming white DeFeets. The Mud Caveat is in effect here and it is acceptable to wear dark coloured socks at the 'cross (or MTBing or even a wet road-ride).

I went for a pair of gray-and-red Kona socks. I actually got these as a draw-prize at the 'cross a few years ago and even though I've worn a hole through the toe, I still wear them. I've certainly never thought of them as my "lucky 'cross socks" and given the amount of time I seemed to spend off the bike they certainly didn't bring luck on Sunday! Despite being red and (shudder) gray they do have a couple of things going for them.

Mud? What mud?

Frankly, they match. This really is important but you'd be surprised how many people don't try to match their socks with everything else. Sure, when the socks are white they'll match everything, but with colours you have to exercise some judgement! In this case the red goes well with either the Cyclesmith jersey or my Crest CC jersey (nothing goes with the Heartland Tour jersey). They even match the shoes! The length isn't too bad either; sure they may seem long but shorty short short ankle socks look silly when there's frost on the ground! Secondly, even after ten or eleven laps in the mud (or a long loop around Victoria Park) they don't look that bad either. Admittedly this may be a minor point but whilst muddy white socks at this point would look a disgrace, muddy grey-and-red socks don't and are definately the better of two evils. Speaking of acceptable socks, check out the sweet Roubaix following the race!

Now that's what I call a Roubaix sock!

I remember reading somewhere that cyclocross was "an excellent way of maintaining post-season form". This may be true, but why spoil what would ordinarily be a good time by thinking of training? Firstly, its fun. Another 40 minute ITT to the turnaround and back singing along to your mental jukebox it isn't. Every minute there's a distraction, something to do and something to do right! Unless you have a flat-lined learning curve, 'cross will improve your confidence and your bike-handling skills. Despite the naysayers who will maintain that the ability to stay upright in the mud does not translate to better bike-handling whilst in "the position" in an ITT, I think that there is some truth to this. You can also enjoy it as a true "B" race! For me, I know I suck so just getting to the end without a broken scaphoid is victory enough. For many however, the real reason may be that after 45 minutes balls-out in the mud you can eat like a goinfre, and as you can see, I did!

Post-race food is the tastiest food

Round #2 is this Sunday, Seaview Lookoff park at 11:00. It's $5 a race or 50c a lap so it's really too cheap not to. No studded tires, bar-ends or, and this should go without saying, no tri-bars! Come down and have a go, or come and have a laugh! I mean this thing makes DILB seem absolutely sane....