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.....