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....