Monday, September 17, 2007

A very recent conversation between my officemate and I:

she: "mumble, shit..."
me: "did i hear you cuss? you know i don't stand for cussin' in the officeplace."
she: "fuck you."

we both try to act professional, but we both fail. though, despite this story as evidence, i think i fail more than she does.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It's possible that I'm starting to sound like a broken record on this subject, but New York City amazes and fascinates me, and I love exploring it by bicycle. When I'm somewhere I've never been before, I'm amazed that I'm still in New York City. The outer reaches of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island feel like these little isolated suburban refuges that seem to be imbued with a bit more life and liveliness - if quiet - than the sterile, hypoxic repetition and grids of the suburbs that I am familiar with.

Sunday was Transportation Alternatives New York City Century, which meant an opportunity to pay a couple bucks to ride upwards of a hundred miles around 4 of the boroughs, with checkpoints every twenty miles or so, in the company of friends and a couple thousand other people.

The bike - a street-worthy fixed gear. I chuckled, looking at it with its road drops and brake levers with hoods, and its low gear. Last week, it had track drops and a super high gearing, for velodrome racing. It is quite multipurpose, this bike of mine.

My alarm went off at 4.45 - after a cup or three of coffee, some whole wheat bread and peanut butter, and a banana, I strapped on my camel back and hip pouch, threw a leg over my bike, and set out. It was still dark as Heidi and I rode to Manhattan to the north end of central park. She left and I met up with some buddies, and after a few minutes navigating the confusion of the beginning - long lines of bikers of all types - we left the park, heading West. It was just light out by the time we started, and we all felt good. "What say we pick up the pace a bit?" I asked, and with a wink, we fell into a paceline and spun up to 25mph or so, passing by all the cyclists who filled the road.

We made our way down Broadway, to the Brooklyn Bridge, and eventually to Prospect Park at mile 15, where the first rest stop offered us bananas, oranges, bagels, and donuts. Not wanting to either bonk or overeat, I took some fruit but stayed light on the heavy foods. After staying around to regroup and with some of our number waiting in line to refill water bottles, we headed out.

The route took us down to the South Brooklyn waterfront, into Coney Island, and through Sheepshead Bay. I'm amazed at how often I forget that New York City has such an extensive and beautiful waterfront - but so many years of heavy industrial and commercial use (combined with Robert Moses' highways on just about every waterfront in the city) have left New Yorkers with surprisingly little access to the waterfront. Not so in South Brooklyn. It was a beautiful place to be at 8 AM, and we were all smiles rolling into the second checkpoint. Another chance to snack and refill water, and then we were off again.

The route turns north into Queens, and I start to feel the fatigue of the early morning and fitfull sleep. We start going through neighborhoods I am terribly unfamiliar with, street names I've never heard, and surprisingly high-numbered avenues. At one point, I grab a leaf off a low hanging tree, turn around, and toss it at Gabe, letting the wind carry it back to him - deftly, he reaches up and grabs it, and I shake my fists in the air triumphantly.

We reach Kissena, do a lap amid jokes ("match sprints, anybody?"), and head out to the Northest, Eastest corner of Queens, where some friends are mechanicing at the checkpoint. At this point, about sixty miles in, I'm hungry and much desirous of coffee. I wolf down hummus sandwiches before we head out. I could use a nap, but opt to get back on my bike instead.

We venture West through queens, along the waterfront, past LaGuardia airport, and I gaze longingly at the Bronx across the water. I wouldn't mind napping there.

How to pick up the energy? We stop at Gabe's house and get a couple beers. It's midday, or early afternoon - no problem! While we're at the Astoria checkpoint, flirting with a mechanic, we see a guy who's wearing chammois briefs. Unreal.

The diversity of bikes is terribly wonderful. Super-blinged out modern road bikes, time trial bikes. Gorgeous classic steel racers. Clunky mountain bikes. A softride time trial bike. Several tandems (hooray!), including one with a softride rear (weird!). Horrible jerseys. What a fashion show - I loved it!

We set off over the triboro bridge - my legs felt good but I wanted to sleep. It took us back into manhattan, and once again, as I got on first avenue, I went into alleycat mode, spinning madly up the avenue, grabbing an SUV to skitch... of course my buddies could all follow, but it was fun to ride hard amid a more casual pack of cyclists. Finally, there was a loop through the Bronx. The most trying thing about this last leg of the Century was the fact that there were a lot of turns through small side streets, which was just wearing to ride. I'd rather be on some open roads, some long straightaways. But alas - it was a tough twenty miles to the checkpoint in Van Cordtland Park, where stood an older (ex-military?) man in an ugly kit barking orders to nobody in particular, "Okay, you've got eleven miles to go. Food is there, water is there, use the bathrooms, they're over there..." He had a buzz cut. Tired of his drone after just a few minutes, we resolve to hit the road quickly.

Pleasantly, the route avoids some of the monster hills of Riverdale, and brings us over the Broadway bridge. I would have preferred a straightshot down Broadway - reminiscing from the Broadway Bombin' race - despite the hills, but we've internalized the authority of the spraypainted arrows on the street, and we follow the prescribed route. Finally, it turns us back on to Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, and Central Park is a half mile away. TIme to sprint again! Might as well finish strong, so I get out of the saddle and hammer, trying to stay smooth.

We enter the park, relax, stretch, give each other massages, and, before too long, agree that it is Beer O'Clock.

It's three thirty, and I'm pooped. We chill for a while before I head home. My arse is sore, my body is tired, but my legs feel good. I resolve never to ride long distances on that saddle ever again. I think back on my eating, hydrating, and electrolyte-consuming habits, and think I did a good job of fueling my body.

I start thinking about what it would take to do some other long-distance rides... like a 200K brevet... or a 300K, or a 400K... or 600, and maybe, if I like it, if I grow to like it in four years, 1200K.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Yesterday, I finally went out to the Kissena Velodrome in Queens. It’s a bike track – a banked concrete oval, made for riding track bikes (one speed, no coasting, no brakes) very, very fast. Despite having ridden track bikes on city streets for years, despite having lots of friends who race out there, I hadn’t yet taken the plunge and gone out to race.

Yesterday I did. I put a higher, faster, harder gear on my bike (Beth: 48.15 – what do you ride at the track?), borrowed some drop bars, got up early, packed water and food, and went out to the track.

The racers assemble on the infield, making adjustments to their bikes, pinning their numbers onto their jerseys, stripping off casual shorts to reveal padded shorts or bibs. Many are pumping up their tires; more than one put packing tape over the valve hole on his several-thousand-dollar aerodynamic disc wheel. Others shark around checking out gear and garb – I chatted with a rider from Sleepy Hollow, New York, who had a lovely classic Raleigh as well as a totally awesome jersey with the headless horseman on it.

The races are separated by class – Women’s, Men’s A, Men’s B, and Masters. I’m in Men’s B, which has a curious mix of first-timers, the skilled but (comparatively) slow, and the dudes on super expensive bikes with thighs the size of my torso, who should probably be riding in the A group. So, fortunately, there’s plenty of time to wait around and rest between races.

My first race is a match sprint – four riders, two laps. Typically the first lap is very slow as each rider tries to avoid being in front. A rider in back can predict if and when the lead rider will make a move, draft the lead rider, and pass them on the final turns and beat them in the sprint on the homestretch.

As we’re finishing our casual first lap, I’m behind the lead rider, and the advice I got a few nights ago (“Just don’t try to win your first time out”) is ringing through my head. We enter turn one, high on the banking, and I glance behind me. If I make a move, will Nick and Jack catch it? I shrug. I’m not trying to win, I’m just picking up the pace. I dive down the banking with a big burst of speed and as I come out of turn two I get low, low, low in the drops against the velodrome’s backstretch headwinds. I chance a glance behind me – I’ve got some space! I swing around turns three and the bumpy turn four and stay low and put on one last desperate burst of speed and as I cross the line, I realize that I’ve held off Nick and that my friends in the infield are cheering my name! Holy crap, I won!

I sit to spectate for a while, and, between races, hop on a paceline and do twenty or so laps to keep my legs warm, which comes in handy when my group is called to the rail for a 10 lap scratch race. A scratch race is a basic race – a bunch of laps, with winners at the end.

A few laps in, two guys break off the front, and another young rider who I’ve met a few times at bike events asks me to work with him to reel them in. For five or six laps we’re alternating pulls (riding in front, breaking the wind for the rider close behind to be fast with less effort), closing the gap little by little. For a while, we’re between the leaders and the rest of the pack, but the pack catches up as we close the gap. On turn 2 of the last lap, we catch the leader, who pulls up track and lets us go by (remember, in racing strategy, if you’re in front, you’re at a disadvantage! Kind of like golf in that regard). I’m not in great position for the final sprint; a big guy comes around me on the inside, riding on the grass to sprint past my buddy Nick who’s sprinted by (with me encouraging him!). Coming around turns 3 and 4 we lap another kid – Nick uses him as a blocker to ride high on the track and come down fast, and he’s got the advantage on me. He finishes second to the big guy, and I take third. Not bad for my second race!

After that, it seems, I was pretty done. I raced a miss-n-out, where the last person on each lap is eliminated. Mark and I worked together again to push the pace forward, but didn’t achieve any kind of a breakaway. and besides, there’s not much point in a small breakaway in a miss-n-out. I think one is better served racing smartly with the pack, and not being boxed in during the final sprint. We did a good job, but when the pack caught us after several laps, I was in poor position – on the inside of turn 4 – and was caught out.

I also had the match sprint semifinal, against two very fast guys, one of whom just came from behind, ate me and the other like a shark, easily dispatching us. Later, the other pointed out that it’s wise to get the fast guy in front during the casual lap. Of course – it made me wonder why his strategy was just to cruise along at a fairly brisk pace during the first lap.

I also entered a 20 lap scratch, which was open to Masters (30+ year-old riders), all women, the A group, and any Bs that qualified. It was a fast group, and I was struggling to stay on the end of the pack, hurting every time there was an acceleration. With nine laps to go I bailed, pulling up track, and not feeling bad about it either.

Well, I’m hooked. Beth, you helped me get inspired to get out and race. It’s too bad the season is ending, but I’m excited that by next season, I’ll have my dedicated track bike.

I definitely got the courage and skills to go out there because of Heidi’s prospect park race series, summerslam. Awesome stuff.

‘till next season…

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