Saturday, May 30, 2009

critical mass almost reached / training wheels


I'm punning it up today. I'm killing me. But seriously folks....

I went by the start of the Critical Mass ride on Friday. I just so happened to have made other plans (as always seems to happen), right down the street, but I knew a few friends would be there, so I stopped by to say hello and feel the good vibrations. It was a fantastic day for it. Mebbe next month!

Andrew, you're famous! Actually, you are just in a blog that a very small amount of my friends read, sorry!

I did go check out the new modern wing at the Art Institute. It's free on Thursday and Friday evenings starting at 5:30 throughout the summer. Go check it out! The Cy Twombly "Peonys" paintings are pretty great and also, nice job Renzo Piano! It's a pretty great space that really just makes the city seem like a lot more compelling and dramatic place, in this writer's humble opinion.

Saturday morning, I did something I've been trying to get it together to do for several months, which is finally get up at the crack of dawn and go on this XXX Racing training ride. So I did, and on about 4.5 hours sleep, no less! Here is the skinny on it. It was really fun! There was a bit of an intimidating super spandex bike dude vibe, though not overwhelming and I would say I was made to feel somewhere between not unwelcome and welcome by the different people I met (there was also a good mix of gender out there). At any rate, officially, you are made to feel welcome. It was a huge group. About 30 to 40 people at Wicker Park at 7am and then probably that amount again up at Warren Park, which is the second meet up before riding on to Highland Park. They have a great route and riding at 7 to 9am in the morning on a Saturday, you can really get a taste of what an almost car-free world would be like. That world is very, very nice. The ride up to Highland Park is "no drop" so the group (we actually split into 2 groups due to the total amount of riders there, probably 70 to 80) stops for gaps at traffic lights, mechanical difficulties, etc. We cruised at an average speed of around 20 mph on the way up, which is a nice comfy pace, particularly if you were me and you got to draft behind an approximately 6'5", maybe 210 pound rider. Not super difficult, but it's DEFINITELY a workout! The ride was 2 abreast, about 20-ish riders long and we would often go a few miles at a time without having to stop due to the great route and time of day. Got a little rain close to Highland Park, which had me getting a nice road water spray down from the rear tire of the bike in front of me (Oh, so that's why so many people are wearing the tweaker bike shades on this cloudy morning!), but it ended pretty quickly. We went past some beautiful homes, the Ba'hai Temple, the entrance to Ravinia, all sorts of stuff I'd never seen before. I met some nice folks, did a little chatting about the Giro and took in some serious eye-candy with all the fancy bikes around. There was a dad and his perhaps 10 year old daughter on a tandem road bike, NICE!!!

We ended up at a pretty good coffee shop, Fresh Grounds (?) I think. Nice double espresso, long but very friendly bathroom line and some nice chit chat. After about 20 minutes of hanging around, there was an announcement about one offical ride back and then a bunch of other people go out in impromptu groups according to ability, etc. Unfortunately for me, I didn't end up in the official ride back, which I sort of thought I was, but I should have realized that it was only about a dozen or so people. So we got going and then eventually the tempo picked up to a pretty consistent 28-ish mph. I hung with this for about 4 to 5 miles and then I got dropped like a hot potato! Suddenly riding solo down Green Bay Road, I realized I didn't really have any great idea where I was. Fortunately in the post-iPhone world that I'm currently living in, I could have sorted it out, but I noticed a rider or two that had gotten dropped about a half mile before me and figured I'd wait and see what their deal was. They turned out to be a couple of guys who I'd noticed speaking Spanish to each other on the way up from Wicker Park and I they were in the same boat as me, though one of them had been on the ride before and seemed to have a vague idea about how to get back. I just jumped in with them and we rode a more reasonable 20-ish mph pace for a few miles until one of them flatted. I figured we were a team by then, so I stopped with them and we finally got to meet each other officially and chat. They were Christian and Alejandro and they were guys who met at NW doing their masters program together, from Mexico DF and Colombia respectively. Super nice guys and we had a really mellow and fun ride back down into the city. Nice job on the navigation Christian! Once we got down and popped out on Western, I said goodbye and hopped over onto Rockwell and headed south. That is a nice street to stay on if you have to head south near Western Ave. by the way. Goes for miles in a very mellow fashion. I eventually moved over to Francisco and on over to Addison and home. Made it back in just over 3.5 hours from when I left this morning and rode a total of right about 49 miles. I felt pretty great when I got home, but after eating a big brunch I crashed like a college student after an all night study bender. DOH! I guess naps are kind of the norm for this deal.

Thanks to XXX for creating such a fun event that is open to all and also to all the nice folks I met today, especially to my dropped buddies on the ride home. I think I shall try it again soon!

Here are a couple of quickly snapped iPhone pics from the Warren Park stop (guy standing there is giving everyone the skinny on splitting into 2 groups) and from the coffee shop in Highland Park.

Here is the route from mapmyride.

I also just got done talking with Andrew about what an awesome time he had at Critical Mass. Color me jealous!!! I am going next month!!!!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

a word from the mechanic...


Here is a pretty neat interview with Pietro Piazzalunga, a pro tour mechanic for about 40 years. The thing that impressed me the most was the high gears these guys were riding. We're all wusses these days with our 53/39 by 12/25 (let alone compact cranks!). Thanks for my buddy Matt for finding this on the interwebs.

Monday, May 25, 2009

a forever bike?


I know to any of the very few people who read this blog I may seem like a deranged, addicted bike swapper, but really I'm just curious! I have probably moved through about 7 bikes in the last couple of years and I just enjoy building them up and learning about things. However, this trend has been veering dangerously into the lower echelons of expensive bike habit and I've just taken another little baby step in this direction. I sold off my Orbea last month. I was actually doing it in pursuit of a Serotta titanium bike that a guy was selling but he literally sold it off to someone else the day I made my sale (I am smart enough to sell first, buy later nowadays at this level of spendiness). So, I was casting about for another build candidate when this beautiful Look KG381i popped up.

Having built up a Look KG171 for my wife last year, I was really impressed by the weight and elegance of it and how much the missus enjoyed it immediately, so I figured I'd give this thing a try. I also decided it'd be fun to check out a Campy group to learn / ride on something new. I haggled around and came up with a price for the frame and fork and then put out a feeler on the Serotta forums (a great, great place to buy things from) for someone selling off Campy stuff and found a guy who had sold off an Eddy Merckx Leader frame and fork but still had the whole Campy Centaur group including wheels that was perhaps 3 years old and barely used. So this basically equaled a whole bike. Once I got everything in, I had to end up replacing the BB cups since the Merckx was Italian threading, but other than that, it was a pretty much complete bike in a few boxes.

Here are some pics of the build:

It came together pretty quick. I went over to Chicago's own Get A Grip cycles to have the cups put on (I later realized I already had the tool for them, they use the same style tool as Shimano external BB cups, a surprising moment of sanity in the non-interchangeable bike parts war), but it was good to have it done there as I got some needed instruction on putting the Ultra-Torque style cranks together. Thanks Get A Grip! They also have the greatest shop dog there who was the official greeter of the shop it seemed.

I rode the bike the following day and what a dreamboat!!! The Look frame is comfy but super responsive, and the Campy group was a strange but pretty neat departure from Shimano shifting. The "ergo power" (I believe it is) style shifters have the unique ability to shift across up to 3 gears in either direction (Shimano can only shift across multiples on the upstroke but releases one at a time). They have a real clunky feel compared to Shimano, but some find this a more perhaps "reassuring" shift. It was a blast to ride anyway, I just did a quick 12 miles over to the lake and back, but I just felt as if I could go 20 mph all day long on this thing and on a quiet section of Marine Drive, I even sprinted up to 30 a couple of times. NICE BIKE!!! I think I'll keep it!

The frame is a Laurent Jalabert signature model. More info on "Jaja" can be found here. His nickname is slang for a glass of wine in French, a beverage he apparently continued to enjoy regularly during his pro career. Less than a year older than myself, he retired as a pro in 2001 and began competing in triathlons placing very respectably in the 2007 Ironman competitions in both Switzerland and Hawaii. This frame was the team frame of Team CSC in 2003/2004 and it's really the first time I know what it feels like to ride a bike of ProTour quality. I'll say this, it doesn't make things harder!

My total investment was just a hair over $1600 for this gorgeous machine, a bike that would cost about $4000-$5000 to reproduce in current model/group pricing. Other peoples' castoffs rule (sorry to not be supporting the new product economy enough, but my dollars are circulating)!!

In other news, WAY TO GO Carlos Sastre! What a raging Stage 16 performance he put in today at the Giro. Methinks I'm pulling for him! The Giro is streaming online in the morning live and then (I just found out) is rebroadcast on one of the NBC sub-channels if you have a digital tuner (it's 5-3) for Chicago. Watch it!

Finally, I'd like to give another big shout out to my trusty Surly Pacer on which I rode approximately 250 miles in about 10 cities around the country and shipped 3 times. It's rather a beast at about 29 pounds with lock, frame pump, spares etc. strapped on, but it rides more like a gazelle and did not let me down on crappy pavement, 7% grade climbs, crushed gravel paths, light mud or steep descent. Thanks buddy!

beantown, back to NY and home sweet home


My last day of tour riding was a quick 12 mile trip around the Charles River in Boston on a gorgeously warm Wednesday morning. Another city that was good to have some iPhone/GPS capability in, I did have a pretty nice ride with minimal path sharing required. The riverside path here definitely seems to have some different vintages along it's length(s), some portions being a pretty nice mostly flat 5 foot wide modern macadam path and other points being more of an old sidewalk width cement path with a fading dashed line painted down it (it would take a rider with skinnier bars than my current 44cm width to observe these lines! Pretty gorgeous river to check out though for being in the middle of the city. Biked by Harvard, across a few nice bridges and just had a nice little workout.

Here are some pics and route map for this ride:

Here also is a pic of the graves of those shot in the Boston Massacre (Crispus Attucks et al) and statesman and (originally) failed brewer Samuel Adams:

After this, I packed up the bike in my trusty Polaris case and put it into the Fedex ground at the Kinko's right next to the Orpheum Theater. Convenient!

A day back in NY followed and, walking around, I began to notice a trend that kept popping up of bikes with sometimes elaborate and sometimes utilitarian versions of the same thing. Namely, being covered in tape from BB to top tube. The ones that caught my eye at first were mostly covered in brightly colored electrical tape, but I began noticing some with different tinted transparent tapes and a few in just dirty looking old black electrical tape too. Also, there is this certain sort of flipped up rear fender style that seemed to be the calling card of food delivery riders. Funny trend. A quick search on the interwebs didn't turn up too much, but I did find one other blogger commenting on the same thing (a New Yorker himself) here.

Kind of a nice look to spruce up an unsightly bike, but how many rolls is that anyway?! Bar tape, eat your heart out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

i don't love NY


I wouldn't say I HATE it or anything either, but when it comes to being a reasonable place to ride a bike, you've still got a LONG way to go New York City!

After a brief one mile ride yesterday from the bus to the hotel. I went with the missus to rent her a bike today and go for a ride together. We went to a little joint on 9th Ave in midtown (where we are staying) called Liberty Cycles. It was (like so many NY businesses) stocked with the same sort of generic surly New Yorkers that you might think you'd find in an auto body shop or something, but they had reasonable rentals of okay bikes, so we rented a Schwinn road bike and went on our merry way!

We followed the Broadway bike lane down to Union Square, where it seemed to just finally end. Picked up a few more lanes here and there whilst heading over to Little Italy/East Village area, but it was not a great experience. Lots of cars parked in the bike lanes where they are just painted on the side of the road including all manner of delivery truck, private cars, numerous police cars (!?) and so on. On some of the parts of Broadway where there is a large median in some cases with planters and benches between the street and the bike lanes, it's pedestrians who've claimed all this new real estate, just walking willy nilly across and backwards down and to and fro all over what should have been some pretty primo safe and comfortable bicycle right of way. I would say bikes get significantly less respect here than in Chicago, and I almost didn't think that was possible. None of the other 10 cities I have biked in can claim the same thing! DC and Philly were perhaps similar, perhaps, but you really need to be on your toes here.

Here is a recent NYT article on cars in bike lanes.

There were intrepid bikers everywhere, but you really have to recalibrate what is comfortable conditions to ride in here. We later headed over to Central Park for a couple more miles of riding. But, even in Central Park on the nice road loop around the lower part of the park, joggers (for some weird reason as the park is full of nice sidewalks and smooth gravel paths for pedestrians only) seem to just LOVE jogging all over the area specifically marked as a bike lane. I mean thousands of them. It's kind of insane, there is far more chaos all over the place than you usually notice once you have the vantage point of a bike. Weird town.

The bright spot of the day was heading over to the bike path that follows the route of the West Side Highway. We took this terrific, two-way, unbroken, divided bike roadway for a good 4 or 5 miles. It was hard to leave, just an oasis where you can really look around and enjoy where you are. More like this one please!!

Going to Boston tomorrow (actually "tonight" at 3am).

Some pics:

On Broadway (to the tune of "On Broadway")

Our steeds at rest in Central Park

And this amusing proto-comfort bike we passed just warranted a shout out. Keepin' it real!!!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

the ride of brotherly love


I just finished a glorious 22 mile ride from downtown Philly to "Walnut Lane" (or some other little markers said "NW Ave") a 5-ish mile crushed gravel road with no motorized traffic that follows some wonderful little river in a big wilderness area to the east of Manayunk.

I just sort of had a vague notion of riding down to Manayunk and back, so I headed out Kelly Drive, which follows the Schuykill River out of downtown. There was a big rowing competition just wrapping up so some chunks of the road were closed to through traffic, which made for some nice road riding for a couple of miles. Eventually I got onto a bike path and after one wacky detour that looked like it was going to put me onto some little mini freeway up against a cliff wall with nothing resembling a bike lane, I backtracked about 50 yards and found the trail again which ended up in this little woodsy paradise. I couldn't even hear traffic at all out there, just birds and the occasional plane overhead. There were lots of walkers, a few bikers, a few fishermen, quite a few dogs, waterfalls, old retaining walls, it was a really nice scene!

After going about 12 miles out, I turned back and made some pretty smoking time coming back. I got up to 26 mph or so on this gravel path in a few places. This "Walnut Lane" gravel road was as wide as a city road and was really pretty smooth and nice. Eventually, I got back to Kelly Drive, which was still closed down and I got to pretend I was on a solo breakaway on a grand tour stage or something, just blasting along at 22-ish mph on a closed 4 lane super smooth road. The street I came in and out of the city on, Spring Garden, also had a nice marked bike lane and deposited me back a block away from the venue, the super poopy and depressing Electric Factory.

Anyway, the ride definitely cleansed my palate from the rather depressing day I'd had going at the venue today. Electric Factory, get your shit together, sheesh!!

Here are some pics:

Here is my route from Map My Ride:

Friday, May 15, 2009

east side


We had a quick stop in Sandy Eggo (San Diego for the rest of you). I managed to leave the club and ride down to Ocean Beach. There are some decent bike paths around there, I was just sort of stumbling my way around with the help of my trusty iPhone, which certainly kept me from getting lost on this relatively short (4 miles each way) journey. There are lots of confusing overpasses and winding viaduct type roads around where I was riding.

The following day our whole entourage flew to Richmond, VA. There I reassembled my bike and got in a short ride to Cary Bicycle Works for a little chain lube and seatpost grease. All that rainy NW riding had taken a toll on my trusty steed. Pretty nice place Richmond. It had been some years since my last visit. Thanks to the nice folks at the shop for some free quickie maintenance.

Yesterday morning we arrived in our nation's capital. After a quick breakfast and shower, I went off for a morning ride to Rock Creek Park. This little wooded oasis is really one of the gems of Washington DC. You can really forget you are in a major metropolitan area when you are in the thick of this place. Just loads and loads of trees, rolling hills, a beautiful creek, lots of little rocky cliffs and whatnot. I ended up finding my way to the path with a little trial and error and rode north about 10 miles. It's about half not-that-great bike path and half lightly trafficked roadway. I read one web page that advised to stay off the roadway part of it, but I found that to be the most relaxing part of the ride. The cars that did come past were few and far between and did a pretty good job of courteously waiting until a nice open section to pass me wide in the other lane. The bike path on the other hand was not great. It wasn't totally awful, but it did have a lot of cracks that had swollen to big wrinkles and was pretty bone-jarring at times.

Overall, no big complaints though on a pretty great warm overcast morning in a gorgeous park. I ended up with a nice 20 mile ride before 11am. Here are a couple of shots of the park. The first is the bike path and the second is the portion on Beach Drive, which is the shared roadway on the north part of the trail.

Finally here is my route. The mapmyride application choked partways on the trip out, but tracked the trip back and gives a good sense of the whole thing.

On a final note, I also got a nice feeling riding around and thinking that the Obama administration was pretty much firmly running things all over this town. After so many years of coming through here during the Bush adminstration, where there seemed to me to be an almost physically palpable sense of how incongrous this city's heterogenous population was with the hostlie posturing of Bush and company towards large urban areas in general and particularly OVERWHELMINGLY Democratic populaces such as the District, there was a feeling of things being much more right around town. I saw a number of unsanctioned paintings of Obama on the alley sides of buildings that were already looking rather weathered and comfortable. One day they'll just be barely decipherable pieces of ephemera marking a time in the life of this city. I don't think there are any lovingly handpainted Bush portraits on the walls of DC buildings that will be making the same journey into the future.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

the hollywood hills


Woke up in Hollywood after an overnight drive from Oakland and ended up heading up into the hills right behind the Best Western on Franklin Ave for a little sightseeing. I headed up Beachwood Drive and rode straight up to where it ended at "Sunset Ranch."

You may know this place from the film Mulholland Drive as the place where the creepy cowboy did a little speechifying:

Walked up a trail with my bike a few hundred yards to take in this spectacular view.

If the resolution was good enough, you'd be able to see downtown LA through all the smog, but you get the general idea.

Afterwards, I preceded to just ride up and down the crazy twisty and topsy turvy streets for about 45 minutes. It felt like I'd imagine riding through a little Spanish or Italian town, little old roads that look more like driveways in a lot of places. Lots of crazy houses. Some look like castles, some like little hobbit huts, there were some pretty crazy mid-century gems tucked away in there too.

Riding up on this fairly cracked me up:

I guess this is pretty legit real estate up in this posh zone! Just look next door to the "lot!"

Crazy stuff! I got my climbing legs on again today.