Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I've been being a nerd over here.

I get hobbies, hard. I remember when I felt like I became a musician - not just a practitioner of music, but somebody for whom music was vital. There were rhythms in my stride and melodies bounding through my head. Everything I saw, I sang. Songs - bad ones, mostly, and then better ones - just flew out of my head and out of my mouth and out of my pen and out of my guitar.

There have been others.

Now, it's cycling. Specifically, racing. There's so much there for it - the calmness in my head when I ride. The connection to my body and to the world. The adrenaline and the energy and the triumph. The intricacies of tactical races, teamwork. The speed of a sprint. The pain of breathlessness, the quivering legs.

So there it is.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Being snowed in means that there's no way I can go for a training ride, and that I must ride for work. It's tough but not terrible. At least it's below freezing, which means that it won't be so wet.

I registered for a hilly, challenging race to take place on April 18th. In the early spring, I'm hoping that slightly rising temperatures and more daylight, combined with my enthusiasm for the April 18th race, will get me outside getting in those long, hilly miles I'll need to be ready.

Prior to that there will be criteriums in Connecticut, which mean weekend road trips with whomever I can muster. Early Sunday mornings hopping on commuter trains going north, in lycra and casual clothes, bikes near at hand, eating oatmeal and drinking water, preparing for not one but two races per day around and around tight, short, fast courses.

This morning I replaced my road bike's bottom bracket and tweaked some uncooperative gears, and it's sitting there like a puppy in a headcone, begging me to take it outside and to let it gnaw at its wound.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

These days, as a professional cyclist - yes, getting paid to ride my bike as glamorously as humanly possible under the sweaty or wet or freezing conditions - I explore the meatpacking district, where cobblestones and lard-slicked sidewalks abut slick and sleek boutiques.

Moustachioed men in bloodstained coveralls walk by fashion shoots where emaciated models teeter on highheels in front of clicking cameras and obsessed assistants.

There's a Banksy piece on a wall - a man in a suit, bent down to press a plunger, blowing up a rat in the distance.

Today, I hope I will be warm enough.

Monday, October 20, 2008

With hastily laid plans, Al and I crawled on the 6.43AM LIRR train out to Babylon, our pockets stuffed with Cliff Bars, and at 8 AM pointed our snot-dripping noses toward Montauk Highway and the eastern end of Long Island.

The sun was just coming up over the trees. Commuters lined up on the train platforms. I should have worn another layer on my torso. Al's feet went cold fast. The wind blew right in to our faces.

One hundred miles to go.

A few minor issues required some time off the bikes - three flats (three?), a lost contact lens (never to be found amid the roadside grit, not like we looked), and Al's need to pick up some booties. I started feeling pretty raw around mile 50 - the wind was blowing so hard in our faces. Any efforts above 22 miles per hour were folly, and the shoulder was so narrow that it was hard to get a draft. As if the wind and Al's skinny arse didn't make it hard enough.

I complain a little, but it's all part of the game.

It felt great to get out there and grind the gears for hours on end. After a little over four hours of riding time we cruised in to Montauk, legs wobbly, but with big smiles on our faces - the last few miles of rollers rewarded us with spectacular views of big, long, curling white waves crashing down one after another on to a cold, empty beach.

"Village Pizza!" Al roared, and we pulled off for a snack. We ate, idled for a little bit, picked up a few other snacks, and went to find the train station.

Let it be known, if you want to get on the train to Montauk, bring cash. There's no ticket machine, and you might find yourself drag racing around the immediate and abandoned area trying to find an ATM, with a strict time deadline - the next train isn't for another eight hours.

We made it.


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Friday, October 17, 2008

So, pleasing finishes in my last three races - 3rd in an alleycat/road race, 2nd in a team time trial after one of our threeperson team dropped out with a mechanical, and 2nd in another late night Prospect Park race.

I guess a few weeks of hard riding shapes me up pretty fast. Wish I was riding like this in August.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

We took a trip out to the Trexlertown Velodrome on Saturday for the Fall Swap Meet. The weather was gorgeous - just crisp enough to put on a sweatshirt as we rolled that clunky Cutlass Sierra out of my parents driveway, pre-dawn. Once at the velodrome, the sun was strong.

We waited in the pack by the entrance for a few minutes before paying our entry fee. When the gates were open I put my head down and had to scold myself to focus - it's too easy to get distracted by eyecatching stuff that I don't need, and, what with recent unemployment, I wasn't about to open my wallet capriciously.

I had two main objectives - a Campy-compatible wheelset for my road bike, and a carbon fork with lots of steerer tube for Evan's Viner. I wandered through turns four and three for several minutes, stopping every now and then to pull out my tape measure to measure a steerertube. Then, I wandered inward where I came across a set of Campagnolo Eurus wheels, thoroughly used but not abused, for a very, very fair price. I ran to the ATM for a few more bucks and walked away with them strapped to my bag.

After another few minutes of looking I had a fork for Evan, too.

T-Town is fun for bike geeks. I love seeing lots of bike crap in one place. I like guessing about people based on what's on their table. I picked up a seatcluster lug from one guy, and, at another's table, almost bought half of a handmade frame. He had two sitting there, about 54cm frames with no rear triangle. "I'm never going to finish them," he said. "Fifty bucks, and you can either finish it or just hang it on your wall." He read my mind, but I passed it up.

There were a lot of things that I passed up - a Corima 4-spoke track wheel for $100, another set of Look pedals, and, to a greater extend, little odds and ends that would have cost a few bucks here and a few bucks there and would have resulted in a heavier bag and a lighter wallet.

In the end, I'm glad with what I got - a few cheap parts and an expensive wheelset to freshen up my road bike, and a few bits to help out a few friends.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

It's worth remembering that if I haven't sprinted in earnest in five or six weeks, if I haven't worked on my sprinting since July, and if I'm on only my fourth or fifth long ride since track season ended, no matter how decent I feel at the end of a Prospect Park race, I probably don't have the juice to seriously be in the sprint.

It's also worth remembering - never forget your glasses. Spending thirty seven miles wiping wheelwater and roadgrime out of my eyes is not fun.

Also, I rode pretty well, I think.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

It was raining in Brooklyn; a glance a the weather report (okay, frequent glances) gave some reason to hope but not a whole lot of reason to expect that the weather would improve. So we pulled on kits, mounted water bottles, and filled our jersey pockets with cliff bars before heading out into the rain. It was a steady, misty drizzle that had been falling for several hours, so the roads were pretty soaked. Well, somewhere between damp and soaked. We made our way to the west side bike path and spun our way up to the GWB and New Jersey.

A field was assembling underneath the overpass in Fort Lee. I gave Crihs my twelve bucks and made the rounds, saying some hellos to riders who I haven't seen in a while, and scoping out the field. Lots of road bikes. Lots of people I don't know. A bundle of track bikes. I had no sense how this race would unfold. I did have a plan - and a teammate - but by the time the race was starting my plan had changed to "ride until you're warm again, then reassess." Fortyfive minutes standing around in very damp, thin clothing had left me shivering. As we pulled away on the rolling start, William reached over from his trackbike to give me a goodluck handshake, but I shook my head, saying, "I'm keeping both my hands on the bars until my body stops twitching."

In a few minutes, we turned on to 9W and the race was on in earnest. Attacks were quickly launched by kids on track bikes - did they think they could just ride the legs off of everyone else? I moved toward the front of the field, squinting my eyes to avoid the grit and splatter from the roostertails coming off of rear wheels, and keeping an eye on the attacks. The pace would surge and calm, but no attacks stuck. My secret teammate Alex took a nice flier at 32mph near the Greenbrook turnoff and I jumped to grab him, but the pack wouldn't let it get anywhere - it was our turn to see whether or not we could ride away from everyone else. It was like a Cat 5 race, everybody nervously keeping an eye on everybody, nobody really letting anybody get anywhere.

No worries - the terrain would take care of the pack and I resolved to sit six to eight wheels back, sucking wheel, taking it easy, and waiting for the rolling hills. That is, until I saw the support car pulled over and Crihs hanging out the window with the camera. Then I launched an attack. It went nowhere but I went to the front and pulled at 27 for a bit before drifting backwards into Prentiss's big and tall slipstream.

Finally we got into some quick terrain. Izumi, on his track bike, stepped it up leading into the downhill approach to the State Line. I grabbed his wheel. At the line there would be a sprint for a prime; I know the terrain well, but didn't remember where exactly the line was. I tried to keep my head up and grab wheels - it looked like there were a few subtle leadouts happening and I grabbed the fast wheels as the pace picked up to - oh. My computer conked out in the rain and the wet. Again. I looked up and looked around for the line - ah! There it is, at the crest of that rise, and put my head back down to Alex's wheel and - oh. Neil and Eric, two powerful guys with strong road racing history, had already jumped. So much for that prime. I rolled through the line third and got into a tuck for the descent. The road is wide and the turns gentle so I coaxed the bike into the mid40s with the wind strong in my ears; then the couple on the tandem went flying by, the stoker with her head pressed into the small of the captain's back. Dave Trimble came riding up, reaching deep into the drops, yelling "Go go go go!" As Phil Leggitt would say, the elastic had snapped - most of the field had been left behind. The pace stayed high and we fell into a paceline - seven of us, plus the couple on the tandem, driving hard toward Piermont.

I expected to go through Tallman State Park - Prentiss and Al turned in but Dave, Dan, and the others kept going straight. Knowing that one of my goals in the race was to mark the two of them, I stayed with them. Would Tallman's narrow roads and steep descent be slower than this other way around? I didn't know. We descended into Piermont, Dave almost getting right-hooked by a car that didn't realize that a race was coming up behind it. We turned toward the pier and saw Prentiss and Al with a good minute on us. That answers the Tallman question.

We hit the flagpole, collected the info we needed (the last word on the plaque, and the year) and turned, fast. I went to the front and took a long pull up the bumpy road. Toward the end of the pier we started to see racers on their way out - we had a good lead. With five of us working together we'd catch Prentiss and Al, and it would be anyone's race.

Or would it? The climb through Tallman and the fairly brief respite before the climb up to State Line changed that. Dan and Neil left the three of us in Tallman; by the time we got to State Line, they had good time up to the top of the hill as Prentiss, Al, Eric and myself fell into a paceline to see if we could catch them. But we couldn't even see them.

Prentiss would move to the front and pound away in a huge gear; we sheltered Eric for a while as he gamely clung on. Al would spring to the front for strong pulls and I'd move up, too, carefully counting my strokes before moving over. It was starting to dry out. I felt warmed up. We were really cooking it; glances at my speedometer were only occasionally helpful, as it went in and out as it dried out and got wet again. We were steadily at and above 25 mph, and spending good time up around 28. Where were Dan and Neil?

The race finished at a bar in Lower Manhattan, which meant crossing the GWB and entering a traffic free-for-all for another nine miles. Alex and I looked at each other - when you enter traffic and enter alleycat mode, you don't have teammates anymore. It just doesn't work like that. We took the smart route south and east; Prentiss turned off to go through Central Park - bad idea. Eric clung gamely on as we tore down 5th Avenue. It started to rain again, torrentially. I smiled through Alex's wheelgrit in my face and thought, what a good way to end a good race! We traded pulls and split around taxis; I sought buses or minivans to grab quick accelerating skitches to no avail. 5th Ave got a lot less clean once we were clear of the park, and Eric dropped back several blocks as Alex and I were engaged in no holds barred traffic attacks - who can take the light fastest? If you can get through a light a second faster you can get to the next one two seconds faster and have a chance to increase your lead. But by 14th St we were still together, and Eric had caught back on. Okay, he wasn't just some roadie we could catch in traffic. A red light at 2nd Avenue gave us pause but we plowed through a good sized gap while Eric turned south. A good idea?

There was Dan, cruising casually ahead of us. Did he think he'd just slide on in for the win? I put my finger to my lips, cautioning Alex to be quiet until we flew by him - that was when we saw he had a flat.

Alex and I turned on to Avenue B wishing each other luck in the sprint, hollering at jaywalkers, and tearing down... only to find Eric turning the corner of 10th Street ahead of us, taking Second Place as he got to Neil - First Place - waiting on the sidewalk. I hopped off my bike and tagged Neil a few seconds before Alex.

Dan rolled in a few minutes later - he'd ridden the flat since he was in the 100s. Dave rolled in, not feeling so fine, followed by Prentiss and William, who took first track bike and 7th overall.

Evan rolled in in the mid-teens, and I was pleased as punch to see him finish his first race. He must have been on his own for most of the race - once the field shattered there were few opportunities for people to work together.

When's the next one?

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Today is Nyack and Back, an alleycat-style road race organized by Crihs (yes, it's spelled that way). There will be a sprint for undetermined points at the State Line, and climber's points on the big hill on the way back.

If it dries out, I'll contest the sprint; but if it's wet and people are being cautious, I might go a little bit earlier for it. If it's wet and people are racing like it's dry, I'll sit back and let people blow if they'll blow.

I'll stay hydrated and remember to eat these miniCliff bars that I'm stuffing in my jersey. I'll save energy and mark some Studs and try to stick with them. I'll also not expect to be in the top three - placing really high expectations on myself and getting pissed off when I didn't do as well as I wanted was one of the reasons that I stopped racing alleycats. When you're an uptight nut who's pissed over sixth place instead of third and it's not fun anymore, it's time to stop.

First road race on the new bike...

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Things remaining on my fun new road bike:
  • Put on a more comfortable saddle
  • Trim down unnecessary steerertube
  • Fiddle with front derailleur
  • Get a nonsetback seatpost
  • Get fun-looking wheels
  • First race on it (Sunday!)
Things already done
  • Built by myself! except for headset installation
  • Fast rides with quick people
  • Oozing excitement all over everything
  • "New bike day" photos posted to Preferred Bicycle Messageboard.
  • Made list of I-can't-wait-to-race races.