Thursday, July 22, 2010

Workin' my way up to pack fill!


I'm a newly minted Category 5 road racer. I duly registered with USA Cycling about 10 days ago and then registered for my first race the next day. The day, Wednesday, July 14th. The place: an empty parking lot between Soldier Field and McCormick place.

This one:

To be fair, in the other direction, it looks more like a place you'd have a bike race:

I didn't tell anyone I was doing it except for, on the morning of, I was emailing with my friend Zac in Syria and I told him about it. Beyond that, I just did a normal work day, did a furtive clothes change in the bathroom around 5:30 and rode on downtown. Dunno why I was being so secretive. I guess I just didn't want to discuss it too much so as not to hype it up too much. I hadn't even really been riding that much lately. Lots of working and going out of town. Was probably doing maybe 60 miles a week for the month before, but I had told myself I wanted to do a bike race before the end of year 40, so I only had about 2 weeks left.

I had checked this race out briefly last year. Got a good laugh out of my previous post on the Soldier Field Cycling Series. Here's a funny paragraph:

Basically, there was a maybe 1/2 mile course made from traffic cones and some temporary fencing and people seem to ride around it for about an hour. Apparently that's a criterium. The women's combined field (women always get the shaft I guess) was only about 9 riders, but it looked pretty fun anyway. I was sorry to be out of town a couple of weeks back during the Chicago Criterium. I guess that's an entirely different affair. Anyway, checking it out made me think I might just go down there and give it a shot. It can't be much different than hauling ass up to the Botanical Gardens which I have managed at a almost 20 mph pace including city traffic before.

Ha! The humor will soon become apparent (for those who have ever done a criterium race, it should be already).

Anyway, here's how the day went down. As I was riding down the lakefront path, I came upon a woman on a Storck Absolutist and asked her if she was going to the race. Yes, she said and we chatted a bit on the ride over. She rode for Chicago Cuttin Crew and told me she was riding in the same race as me. I was unaware that women could ride in the mens heats, but apparently they can, which is cool! I prefer co-ed sports, seems like the boys just behave in a little more civilized fashion. Anyway, I watched the womens race and rode some laps on the big area for warming up. During the first mens race, I went over to each corner and tried to get a sense for what was going on. Also got to ride a few laps before the first mens race. Seemed pretty mellow as far as the course was concerned.

I also met a really nice chap, Laurent, who was sporting a Tour de France shirt and a funny accent. Turned out he was the Bastille Day "feature" and got up in the booth and did a spiel in French before each race. Pretty nice! Le Grand Campion du Chicago and such. He along with Megan, a nice gal who rides for XXX that I met whilst buying some parts the week before, told me they would cheer for me since I didn't have any supporters. Let me tell you. It's NICE to have some people cheering for you.

Here's how the race went down:
I lined up with what I thought was about maybe 30 people(?). After Laurent gave his pep talk, we got the rules: Ride for 30 minutes, timer counts down to 10 minutes, after that it goes to laps. If you get lapped stay to the outside and don't contest sprints, you can be pulled for falling too far back, but he probably won't. And we were off! The speed immediately went up to around 26MPH (that's about 42KPH for you modern rest-of-the-world types) and it pretty much just stayed there. It was about 2 laps before I fell off the back. At first I thought "dear God, I'm just screwed." Then I'd think I would catch up, then I realized I was about to be lapped. I'm still going fast, mind you, like definitely keeping it up around 23, but a few miles per hour is enough to get lapped twice as it turns out in 30 minutes! I think I was first in the people-who-got-dropped part of the race. Also probably came in first in the 40+ year old, first race category too, but who's counting?! What would that be? The grey, stained jersey perhaps. So yeah, some cheering was nice. I didn't ever let up from what I felt like I could do and it seemed like a decent first outing. It's pretty exhilarating to just turn yourself inside out (as Phil and Paul like to say) for a while. There were some crushing riders there and it makes me laugh to think that the guys that were killing me wouldn't even be able to hang on the to back of most stages of a Grand Tour or something. Gives you a whole new respect for the lowliest TDF domestique! During the MS150 back in the spring, my friend Jason (no relation) was telling me he thought I'd be able to hang on to the back of a Cat 5 race, and I'm here to say... I can't. But I'm working on it! One day I'll be bonafide Cat 4 pack fill.

Personal stats:
Distance traveled in 30 minutes: 12 miles exactly
Average speed: 22.75 MPH
Top speed: 30.25 MPH (!!)

One very impressive thing is that Jeanette (I think it was) from CCC, who I met on the way over, was part of the 2nd of 2 "main groups" (such as they were) who lapped me twice. Truly a badass. Way to go Jeanette. Here's something weird though... I felt like there was about 30 people in my field and I felt like I came in maybe 23rd or something, but when results finally got posted, it tells a whole other story, which I think may be a wrong story, but who knows. I'm not really buying it, but it looks a lot better for me here. They have the field at 17 and me at 10. That does not seem right at all, but the race before has all 42 people accounted for, so it's confusing. Anyway, next time maybe I'll stay around for the provisional results. This time I just split pretty quick as it was already kind of late. I thought the ride home would kill me (I had already ridden about 20 miles before I got there that day) but going anything less than circa 23MPH felt pretty leisurely and I went on home at a pretty good clip even with a fairly full backpack.

Overall, what a fun time! Nice folks were met and I'm going to go back I think.

TDF: Was going to try and write some fun stuff about it, but I've just been super, super, duper busy and blogging ain't payin' the bills (in case you hadn't figured that out on your own!). Anyway, a few brief thoughtlets:

- Bummer for Andy Shleck throwing his chain and losing yellow. Nice try today on the Tourmalet as well. You'll be in yellow in Paris soon enough I reckon.
- Armstrong. Should have maybe stayed retired, then would not have to be living and working amongst several hundred news reporters asking nosy questions about doping, selling bikes to fund doping and seemingly lying about his ownership in Tailwind Sports.
- Zabriskie and Hincapie. Are they feeling the crushing weight of the Landis allegations? They have both been such non-factors in the entire tour. No presence in breaks. Coming in with the gruppetto many days, not even a good prologue. Too bad. I hope they come clean with anything they have to come clean about.
- Footon Servetto. For sure the ugliest kits I've seen in my active days of watching racing. Many greats from the past can be found for sure, but they are really keeping in funky in those tan leotards.
- Ryder Hesjedal... Nice tour buddy. Methinks that perhaps Garmin should put some serious resources into you as a GC contender. Oh Canada!
- Contador. Boring. Like the Chicago Bulls in the 90s. I deeply crave the underdog win (speaking of which, bummer about Cadel. He was really hanging in there for a while.). I did like seeing he and Shleck get all buddy buddy after today's Tourmalet stage. I enjoy displays of friendliness between rivals. It was all World Cup style!
-Phil and Paul. Those guys jump the shark so, so much it's kind of wearing thin. I know that when you have to blab all the time, your gonna hit some lean material, but man, PAY attention! When you are calling Andy Shleck "Frank" after his brother broke his collarbone 2 days before, you really are just phoning it in. I like Matt what's his name, the warm up guy better.

Off to Omaha for the weekend tomorrow to run sound for Superchunk at the MAHA festival. Going to bring my newly built 1988 Specialized Allez! Did a stealth build of this a couple of weeks ago. It rips! If I was good enough to not need my Ti crutch, I'd do a crit on it just to be keepin it real!

I'll have to make another post about my 68 mile ride in northwest Dane County, WI soon. That was the inaugural serious ride for this bike and was a warm up for the Dairyland Dare in about 3 weeks.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Palos, city riding and other delights...


Okay, so last Monday I remounted my (maybe?) trusty 29er and headed for the much heard of but as-of-then untried "Palos." It seems to officially be part of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, but these guys seem to do a lot of the work involved in keeping up the trails. Closing some, reopening others, making little bypasses when something is eroding too much, that sort of thing. I will say now, nice job guys!

Before I could attempt to ride though, I had to spend a bit of time Sunday de-winterizing my bike. I had last ridden it probably in January. It had Nokian studded ice tires on still (which look so comically small compared to the Conti Mountain Kings that normally go on), a VERY crusty, rusty chain and just needed a going over. I did a deep chain cleansing and lubing, changed the tires, spent some more time tinkering with the rear dropout situation, which was time very well spent. My bike is built around an On One Inbred frame like this:

As you can see, it has rear facing dropouts like you would most commonly find on a single speed bike. Some very mad, mad people (including the wonderful guy I bought this from) apparently ride mountain bikes that way. I cannot fathom how this is done and I currently have this bike set up as a 1x9 speed with a 12-32 cassette in the rear and (I think) a 32-tooth cog in front. Anyway, when I first set the bike up for some reason it didn't seem like the rear wheel would sit all the way up front in the dropouts. SO, I used a trick I read about somewhere on the always trusty interwebs about putting some chainring bolts in there to move the stopping point back some. This caused me to have a problem where, when I really pedaled hard, the wheel would slip a bit because it just wasn't that great having the wheel seated up against the outermost point on a circle instead of being fully nestled inside of a semicircle. Does that even makes sense?! Anyway, on my shoulder separating ride from last fall, I had to stop every couple of miles and tweak the wheel. Not that inspiring to do. SO, I took another crack from scratch with the brake position and such and got it seated all the way up to the front of the dropouts and working well. Still have a little bit of disc brake rub I have to try and futz with soon, but it's not really a big deal beyond the mental zone where I think "this is slowing me down!" Still, I'll have to sort that out soon.

At any rate, the bike performed just splendidly on this trip. I did not eat it in any serious way (did one very comical slow-motion semi-wipeout on a log pile, but nothing except a touch of pride was wounded). Palos is really, really fun and is also in pretty great shape in my limited experience. It looks pretty taken care of. JBI, my guide and riding buddy, has been riding there for years, so even though it had been a good while, he still had a pretty good bead on what was where in there. There are lots of places to drop in and out from these service roads (or maybe it was just one road, I dunno!) and I would have been completely lost without him. We rode for a good 2+ hours and my shoulder did not particularly trouble me and I was careful but still managed to move along at a pretty good clip and have some thrills and chills like one would hope.

Here are some pics:

Dudes at the first stop:

Typical scenery in the non-insane roller coaster parts (why I could stop and take a pic!)

Here's a trail we tried that turned out to be closed (it was a pretty bat cave style entrance to this one and it took a while to be sure that the trees we kept coming across where actually meant to make you not be riding! JBI thought it had been recently reopened as he remembered it from a long time back, but after about 10 unride-throughable barriers we admitted we probably weren't going to get back to anything good without just going backwards. Doh!)

Here is (one of?) the service road(s?) that we came out onto a few different times.

Here's something you don't see everyday:

There are 2 old nuclear reactors buried under us! Follow the link above to see what these looked like. They look like large parts of a building, not just some kind of vat. CRAZY!
Beautiful ride down to the little lake (after a pretty big climb up to the crest:

My pretty raw legs (quite a few thorny bushes on the closed trail part):

And my bike, resplendent in the afternoon swelter:

We even got to catch up with the ice cream man about 5 minutes after we stopped riding and were just puttering around the car. NICE! I had a watermelon and lime Bomb Pop with candy seeds! Looking forward to going back soon.


Actually, I'm not all that crazy about it. Unlike many of my aerospoke front-wheeling, spoke card back-wheeling, carabiner, little caps, no brakes seats too high on a small frame, rolled up jeans, toe-clip sporting brethren and sistren (?!), I'm not really enamored of the gritty, glamorous danger of city riding. In spite of Chicago's #10 ranking in Bicycling mag's bike-friendly cities report, it still seems like a pretty dangerous place to get around by bike. While our bike lanes are nowhere near as disrespected as NYC's Kafka-esque circus of joggers, delivery guys, salmoning riders and cell-phone chatting walkers, it's still not great. Actually, when in bike lanes, things are usually pretty reasonable, but there are still a lot of streets without them and it's hard to rate a city on the amount of drivers who look at you as nothing but a pure obstruction between them and where they want to go. I think to discover that you have to just live somewhere, not cross-reference several lists from other groups and talk to local experts and bike shop owners. Many, many, many people in Chicago simply could give a sh*t whether you are a traffic cone or a human being. I had one woman lay into her horn the other day when I was riding down the street at about 23 mph, right at the speed of traffic and when I pulled up to her at the red light that she had to stop at maybe 3 seconds up the road from where she had to honk and asked "why are you honking at me?" She replied "You out there in the middle of the road like you a car or something. Why don't you get over on the side where you suppose to be?" I began to have discussion about how under IL law, I am required to ride in the roadway and I could actually ride right in the middle of the road if I liked and I was going at the speed of traffic anyway, but then she began throwing up hands and yelling and I just threw a few obligatory expletives at her (maybe not obligatory, but hard to keep in) and just rode off. Of course, she never got as far as me again, but I reckon she had to tap her brake back there or something and over what, a bike!?

Another min-van driving mom-ish looking woman in our neighborhood just was literally throwing up her hands today at one of Chicago's infamous angled intersections because we too were in it waiting to make a left-turn. I reckon she thought we should be on the sidewalk were we belong as well.

My friend Keith was hit about 4 weeks ago, not through neglect but through a good aim and careful timing by some gangbanger dudes who, coming the opposite direction down a neighborhood street, moved over to box him in against parked cars on the right and opened both driver's side doors to send him flying through the air. Just what we all need, thrill-killers. Right?

Here's another great one for Illinois.

Though we certainly don't have a monopoly on ignorance!

We did apparently get a new law signed last week making it a class A misdemeanor to "crowd or throw missiles" at a cyclist, but judging by the sentence given to Armando Reza for drunkenly trying to run over cyclists, I'm not holding my breath for the dawn of a new day of safe cycling from this. Even making it a class A misdemeanor to potentially kill someone with your car is too much for people like this gem of a human being. I'll do my best to stay clear of this suburban bell. Actually, I'll just go ahead and never enter Orland Park, I'm sure that'll work just fine for both of us.

In other Chicago living notes, I always know that summer is in bloom when I take a ride down the lake shore and see all the drinking fountains with their heads knocked clean off, spewing that great Lake Michigan water that we love to use so much of 4 to 6 feet in the air all day and night. Mmm, mmm good!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010



Le tour is underway. Seems like 2010 has been especially heavy on crashes, enough to get rider protest on the Giro, Armstrong out of the TOC (quelle timing!), Cavendish, Van De Velde and on and on. The first 3 stages have kept up the trend. Gruesome but Henry Desgrange would be positively delighted (his ideal race would be so hard that only one rider would make it to Paris)!

Not really pulling for anyone specific (I guess that's not really my style in general, but this year even more so). Liked Wiggins last year, but now he sort of seems like an over-hyped contract breaker, so it kind of took the wind out of my sails. I think I'm pulling for Ryder Hesjedal actually.

Just got led to some HEAVY DUTY links on the Landis biz by Joe Lindsey's almost-always enjoyable Boulder Report blog. Landis seems to have a flair for memory that I don't really have, but then again, if I was doing sh*t that crazy and having to make up complex and intertwined lies about it, I guess such things might focus the mind a bit more than making dinner and having a chat about some job that pissed me off that day or whatever.

If you want more details in this sordid affair (allegations, I reckon it must be said, though some allegations are easier to believe than others), here are the two new insane articles I just got done with:

from the WSJ

from ESPN

Some of the detail in there is just crazy. Selling maybe up to half the team bikes to finance the doping program, I guess it makes sense. Can't exactly put that stuff in the annual budget. Thanks Trek!

Went on a great MTB ride Monday, my first at Palos. More on that soon. For now, it's off to work.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

One bike to rule them all...


Not much posting for not a ton of riding lately. I have been out of town and just had all manner of heavy workload and too many extracurriculars going on lately to get much riding done.

I did get some bike building done though. About three weeks back I purchased this beautiful third-hand Bill Holland 60cm Ti frame with Reynolds fork and CK headset. It arrived in just gorgeous condition. Why I cannot keep a bike that nice for any length of time, I dunno (maybe being clumsy is one, city living too I guess). There is not a lot to find out about these bikes on the interwebs. A few forum threads, a reference to one being used in a quest to build the "lightest bike in the world" in Popular Mechanics. A few references in a Joe Bell interview as he shares a building with Holland and apparently came up under his tutelage somewhat in the (?) late 70s (I think it said). For some reason, that was enough to make me take a chance on this thing.

First impressions...let me start with the welds. They look like fillet brazing. I have become an instant Ti weld snob. There is some fairly gnarly environmental harshness from welding titanium, but I guess at least it lasts roughly forever. It's light. Very light. It even says so here:

A sense of humor to boot (sorry for the crappy photo)!

Building it up was pretty easy. I had to come up with a 1" stem, but I found a fellow parting with this nice Ibis 120mm 0 degree stem and snapped it up. Beyond that, I just moved all my Campy Centaur stuff over to it from the trusty old Look KG381. It came with it's own Ti seatpost. Here it is in progress:

And here is the finished build.

I've only ridden some 50-60 miles on it as of yet, but it is pretty amazing. It's about a half lb. lighter than the Look, coming in just right at 18 lbs. Really feels like it can just go 25-30 mph all day long. Rides similar to a steel bike in terms of road chatter, but feels almost like aluminum when you are out of the saddle. I have yet to climb anything on it, but am dying to! My original impetus to try something else was that the Look was a little on the creaky/flexy side when really out of the saddle on a climb. I think I've got that solved. More to come on all that.

Had a full head of steam to write something about the Landis doping stuff, but it seems like it's all been said better already. Here are a few things that are worth peeping:

Joe Lindsay's column had links to most of the good stuff and some pretty good writing himself.

Then you have to check in and get the BSNYC perspective.

I had actually just finished reading Paul Kimmage's "Rough Ride" about a week before all this came down and I was thinking that he was really just kind of a super downer (and for me to say that, you've gotta really be cramping some style!). Not that I doubted any of what he knew/alleged/suspected (he goes on at length in the 6 or 7 mega-epilogues about different doping scandals after the book was published up to Landis and the 2006 TDF. I was thinking "Geez man, maybe you are TOO suspicious!" but then this stuff all came to light.

In some way it's weird to draw the line at tweaking every tiny manner of aero-bike dweebery and skinsuits on your shoes and wind tunnels etc, but to think that tweaking your body chemistry is cheating. However, I tend to think the same thing. Part of it is perhaps that it's just so GROSS to be stashing away your blood in a fridge so you can pump it back in later and get all your stats to settle down after you've been making blood pudding in your veins for a few weeks or what have you. Estrogen, testosterone, corticoids, etc. etc. What ever happened to Clif Shots? That seemed gross to me for quite a while (I guess I'm more Paul Kimmage than I might like to think, he held out on caffeine tablets for quite some time).

Mostly though, I think it's that cycling is, more than other sports, really aspirational for a lot of the fans. Unlike maybe US football, for instance, where it's difficult to put on 50 to 100 lbs and get a giant kit of armor and play with large teams on a well-groomed field, it's feasible for many fans to get a decent bike and some fancy clothes and ride down the road like you are on a solo breakaway. It sucks to think that you aren't really doing it "like a pro" until you know how to get your microdosing program all sorted out. Training rides ain't gonna do it! Landis amusingly points out in one of his rambling screeds, correctly, that Amgen (of the Amgen Tour of California) is the manufacturer of EPO. Quelle irony! Those letters actually make me feel worst for Dr. Brent Kay, who spent years and years of his life (and one can only imagine piles and piles of money) defending Landis, starting his own procycling team to help Landis come back, etc. and seems to betray a woozy sense of defeat at finding out how much of his life has been misspent in these sad emails.

I think the thing about all this heavy duty, seriously gross, seriously complicated doping stuff that freaks me out the most is that all these dudes (and face it, most people are more or less normal as far as general personality traits, etc. go) had to learn to spend large portions of their adult lives being professional liars, going on and on and on about how clean the sport is or how they've never taken performance enhancing drugs etc. Imagine doing an interview and going on about unproven allegations against you and then heading on over to your flight to go "consult" with Dr. Ferrari and pick up your EPO vials. And so on. Ugh. I think my head would explode in short order. I don't even like little tiny white lies, let alone having to have an entire false narrative about your life (see Landis's now especially amusing book for an epic, epic example of this).

Anyway, I still enjoy watching racing, but what a giant pile of shit that stuff all is. Beware of professional sports is the overarching message for yours truly.

Time to get back to basics! Here are some quality freak bikes I have encountered lately. You ain't gonna attack the group on these things, just enjoy the ride my friends.

Spotted a few blocks from the U of M commencement (featuring our leader, B.H. Obama) which I attended last month:

Here are a couple of specimens from a house several blocks from me. I tend to swing by here now to see what's cooking. I think this house may be from whence issues a biker that could be described as my own modern-primitive lone wolf. Perhaps I'll post a shot of him someday.

Anyway, first here is a rare shot of two freak bikes entwined in the delicate act of making sweet freak bike love:

And here is a handmade cargo bike that puts the Surly Big Dummy to shame:

With that, I take my leave. Let's get out and ride!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Another nice old Trek


For the money, you just really, really can't beat a late 80s Trek. They are just great riding, light, attractive (and still made in the USA) lovely steel bikes. This 1988 Trek 360 that I fixed up for a friend has a nice Suntour 12-speed setup with indexed shifting. I swapped out the bars/levers for something a little more upright. Eric, if you're reading this, I take back the aspersions I cast at the Sturmey Archer brake levers, they look very nice and are terrific levers to boot. Thanks!

This bike was gotten for a mere $230 in gorgeous perject working order and after another hundred-ish dollars in persnickety parts swapping, it's a fleet 21 lb. city bike. What does $350 get you new these days? A decent saddle and a set of cheaper STI levers maybe. Certainly not much of a whole bicycle.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

dark lord day and other delights


Went to Three Floyds Brewery's much discussed "Dark Lord Day" a few weeks back. Missed it last year due to I-can't-remember-what, but I DO remember realizing during whatever it was I ended up doing that the weather was a bucket of sh*t around the time folks would be riding their bikes back. I mean, ripping winds, temperature dropping 20+ degrees and very, very cold rain style. In other words, a typical Chicago Spring day!

Well, my buddy Arman was up for it again in spite of the brutal beatdown he took on that one. I think he was also in charge of leading a rather mixed crew of riders in terms of amounts of stops per trip and such, so I believe it came as a relief when only a couple of people sounded like they were going to turn up this year to ride down. The weather was looking pretty bad this year too, but he scoped out a METRA ride home option for this year, riding the 10-ish miles over to Flossmor and catching the train, so I guess one way in some potential rain seemed doable.

We met up on the Lakeshore path across from Buckingham fountain at the 9am hour and while sitting there up rode Jay and Alex, some friends of his, who were heading down too so they decided to join up. Then up rode about 25 other people asking if we were heading to Three Floyds. When we said yup one guy started getting in his bag and asking us to sign in and such. After a moment of confusion in which one of our little gang just signed up (weird what you can get if you just ask!) I asked a few questions and found out this was the (forgive me if I've got this wrong) Chicago Cycling Club official ride down group and we quickly cleared up that we were just heading that way on our own, which I think snapped Arman out of some flashbacks from last year's perhaps overly Keystone Kops-ish experience. He looked relieved anyway. We ended up running across that lot later during the ride, but they had some different instructions so it didn't last more than about a mile or two.

With the late arrival of Tiber, we set off. It was a pretty gloomy overcast morning but no rain, so all was well. Rode down the path and on down S. South Shore drive and continued on what turned out to be a really nicely sorted out route (click here for a PDF of the map)
. Just took a largely neighborhoody and pathy/parky way most of the way down. Got my first ride on the Burnham Greenway, which was just like any other bike path except that it had a dozens and dozens of covered up graffiti spots on it (along with a few fresh examples!). Got my first flat on my year plus old Schwalbe Marathons, found out I can still do a roadside tube change (it's been a while), and with a couple of quick stops, we made it down it something like 2.5 hours (37.5 miles or so).

Some crazy biz, this Dark Lord Day. I forsee it not being in it's current location for much longer as trying to squish about 8000 drunk broheims into the 1/4 mile street of a small office/industrial park doesn't seem like the way to keep up neighborly relations. It was a pretty good scene though. I ate about a year and a half of my normal meat intake. Something like 5 sausages, a brisket taco, some more brisket and probably another thing or two I'm forgetting. Not a very veggie friendly event. Tasted some very tasty brews. Followed my buddy Andrew and his rather large posse through the Dark Lord Russian IPA buying line and helped to portage the beers safely back to the car (I got to buy in on 2 bottles for my trouble). There were some heavy bands playing in the brewery, but the overall drunky far-from-home vibe made me eventually want to head back to the cozy confines of home.

After hanging out for about 2.5 hours, it still hadn't rained and I was feeling like going to the METRA was just going to be a pain (apparently wasn't, but I felt like riding more anyway). I decided to go it alone on the bike back up into town. A couple of pounds of meat and the equivalent of maybe 4 hefty brews made this a different sort of "sport" than the way down. I did quite respectably thank-you-very-much, but was DEFINITELY feeling a bit knackered by the time I hit the Lakeshore path back in town. The map worked pretty well on the way back (Arman guided down so I didn't really have to pay much attention), but I did get off at one point and end up going through some unknown southside zone. Pretty mellow altogether, though I did get a few garbled SOMETHING-UNINTELLIGIBLE-WHITE-BOY! comments cutting through the wind. Guess it's not a well road-biked area in a few spots down there.

Anyway, a fun new trip out of town. I feel a little less intimidated by getting into Indiana on a bike now. You can really just slip right into Hammond by the back door and even in a few spots were we had to brave a bit of heavy-ish traffic, I found Indiana drivers to be pretty courteous and chilled out, at least on that particular day.


Our Gang

Burnham Greenway with blacked out graffito

A VERY slow moving train in Hammond. Note awesome mid-century madness on the 2nd Baptist parking garage behind.

That's some lineup (to buy expensive beer!). Several hours long.

A swamp of party bros.

An expensive litter display.

Glad to have biked. These were ALL OVER, only set off by the occasional
"PARK HERE $40" signs.

A ridiculously undetailed version of the route thanks to the crappy GPS of iPhione 3G.

In other news:

I rode to Milwaukee again today, my first completion since last Summer's aborted attempt (3 flats and a wifely pickup). It was pretty fun, only occasionally grueling. Light to moderate headwind almost the entire way and pretty chilly (low 40s in the morning up to 50-ish by the afternoon).

I can do the whole thing with only a very occasional map consultation. Actually, I might not have had to at all had part of the Wisco bike trail not been closed, but that put me back on the road sooner which speeded things up nicely anway. That gravel is SLOW!

Anyway, home to just shy of downtown, 94 miles, in a total of 6 hours 4 minutes. Probably stopped for a total of about 15 minutes en route, so riding time was about 5 hours 50. Between the gravel and some headwinds and no one to draft on, that ride is some good exercise!

Tried to tune in the Giro when I got home, but managed to just catch the exact spoiler ending 20 seconds. Groan! Anyway, Tyler Farrar finally got some.

Looks like my trusty Look KG381 and I are parting ways. There's a new (to me) frame coming down the line here in a week or so. It's been real, but I like to keep things interesting (
I am bike curious after all) and I have to sell to help mitigate the costs of the new steed.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

MS150 report!


It was one week ago today when I set out with some 14,000 other riders on the 26th annual (now sadly "BP") MS150 ride from Houston to Austin. Here is my best attempt to run it down for those very few who may be interested in the details.

Flew into Houston on Thursday evening and went to a wonderfully filling dinner with my folks and my friends Bob and Carrie who just happened to also have flow in the very same day. We had a big pig out at Cyclone Anaya's, which I do like to hit every so often when in Houston. Kind of local chainy, but muy delicioso!

Crashed out promptly that evening. Awoke nice and early (6:30) as a warm up for the truly gruesome get up times that would be required the next couple of days. Ate a salad for breakfast, which was mentioned in this cheesily written but overall very gripping and inspiring book I finished reading that very night. Not bad for breakfast, a salad. Does bring on the lunch urge a little faster than normal though. Kind of makes me want to get into running too, but we shall see. If my wife goes a bit more whole hog, perhaps I'll be her pacer!

I headed over to the Omni hotel, where registration and whatnot was going on. Registered and poked around in the expo area, which was not nearly a gianormous as I'd imagined it would be. Just one largish meeting hall deal with about a dozen or so vendors. There were some pretty great deals to be had on lycra and other plastic based clothing items, so I picked up a few bits, including this pretty nice Capo bib short (pair of bib shorts?!) for 50% off.

While that special chamois bears an unnerving resemblance to a presenting baboon, I can assure you that it's the most comfy chamois I've ever had in contact with my taintal region. I also picked up a cheapish rain shell/jacket as I forgot mine at home. My bike arrived shortly thereafter with Jason and his lovely mother, Rita straight from Austin. I had ebayed and sent to Austin a Shimano R700 compact crank to have installed on my trusty Paramount as I was a bit apprehensive about the hills of day 2 on a normal 53/39 (probably would have been fine as it turned out, but anyway). It was a weird aftermarket gearing the seller had on there of 52/34, rather than the normal 50/34. Upon giving this thought for a couple of days the week before, I realized a 52 big ring would probably prove less than ideal as on my normal road bike in Chicago with a 50/36, I'm almost always, always kicking around the lowest gearing on the 50 ring, so a 52 would just make that a little bit less appropriate. I ended up ordering a 50 tooth big ring at the last minute and figured I'd change this out at the hotel. Once I got my bike out, I realized that the shop in Austin (which I guess shall remain nameless) did a kind of half-assed job of changing the crank out, leaving the chain at least 2 or 3 links to long (it was sitting 3 cogs up on the rear cassette when I got it out but the chain was already rubbing on the fully collapsed rear derailleur. Thanks for the questionable work small certain Austin bike shop I have spoken kindly of recently in these pages....)! Fortunately, there were a few local bike shops set up at the hotel, so I took this mess over the the West End Cycles folks who sorted me out in short order. Afterwards I took a little 6-mile spin and tweaked some seat height and front derailleur position until everything seemed kosher. Thanks West End! Whilst tweaking my seat, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that my seat post has some sort of stripped seat pivot situation going on. I kept finding my seat in a more backwards angle / taint hurting position than I thought I put it in and eventually realized it was popping back every so often. Groan. It was too late to do anything there but keep an eye on it.

The steed:

The weather was predicted to be pretty poopy, with 50% to 60% chances of rain on Saturday and Sunday respectively. While not as bad as the storms that resulted in the cancellation of the first day last year, it wasn't looking ideal. But if there's one little advantage being from Chicago provides, it's that a bad spring day in Texas is a pretty decent summer's day in the midwest.

I had a lovely dinner at home with my folks Friday night (Grilled shrimp, couscous, roasted veggies and a wonderful bottle of Chardonnay, thanks ya'll!) and went to bed around 10:30 in order to rise at the gruesome (for me) hour of 4:45am. As is the norm when I'm doing a big ride, I slept rather spottily and ended up laying awake from about 3:15 am until 4:20, when I finally just gave it and arose.

DAY 1:

My folks were up shortly thereafter and after wolfing down some sort of slightly preservative laden breakfast burrito and some fruit and coffee, we headed over to my meetup with Ryan, Jason H and Danny at Ryan's sister's place about 3 miles from the start at the Omni hotel. Got there, realized I didn't get safety pins in my lil packet to use for my bib number. Ryan had to wake up his sister for this (who was inexplicably sleeping on the couch at her own place when I arrived). Thanks Sally, sorry about that! She was kind enough to wake up and take a few snapshots of our motley crew. Here we are in all our pasty, chilly pre-dawn glory:

We finally rolled out of there at about 6:30, so as not to be late for the 6:45 start. Almost ate sh*t a few times on the very dark way over. Some pretty industrial sized gaps in the little drainage bibs that stick out into the road. Smooth it out Houston!

We rolled up to the start to find that there was NOT A BIG HURRY! Note to any future riders, unless your oil company sponsored team raised $250,000 or something, you may as well take your time getting to the start. We got to listen to a good 45 minutes of verbal tongue-lashing through a portable squawk box setup that sort of comically threw the breaker on the generator powering it a few times. Accompaniment was provided in the form of various hits of the 80s, Huey Lewis and the News, Survivor, etc. We finally managed to squeeze in with some team that must have rolled out around the 8,000 to 9,000 riders mark. It strikes me that if you pay your fee and do your fundraising, maybe you shouldn't have to sit on a cold road and listen to an obnoxious emcee for most of an hour, but I digress...

It's all better once you're rolling! We took a windy path up N. Eldridge twisting around NW Houston and ended up on some farm road (FM154?) while getting a light raining on for about 45 minutes to an hour. That finally petered out around mile 20 or so. At the first rest stop we almost immediately ran into my old friend and sometime roommate Todd. He joined our little train and we spent a few hours on the road catching up about the last, oh, decade or so! He was on the Sweet Leaf Tea team, but they were pretty well atomized all over the "field" such as it was, so he joined up with us for the day.

Nothing too eventful to report over the course of the day. I had some of the usual energy ups-and-downs that come with 100 mile ride. The route had some very modest rolling hills but was pretty flat overall and we had favorable winds. One thing that is always amusing at these sorts of giant rides, but seemed ESPECIALLY intensive at this ride, is the whole "on your left" etiquette. We all know that sometimes it's quite good to give riders on your right verbal notice if, say, you are passing them pretty closely or perhaps very quickly. However, I think it's fair to say that if you are in a field of 14,000 riders and you are riding on the far right side of the road at around 11 to 13 mph, there are going to be a LOT, LOT, LOT of folks coming by "on your left" pretty much constantly and all day long! It really should come as no surprise! That did not stop a lot of people from seeming really surprised and ENDANGERED that some riders were coming by about 4 to 6 feet away from them on the left without a CLEAR ANNOUNCEMENT to the effect. Reactions ranged from a light sort of tu-tut-ing (yelling "riders on the left" up ahead of them as a little rebuke) to some straight up "you need to call out buddy!" etc. Here's my hunch: Maybe this is a combination of people who have just read the "rules" of riding etiquette and just tend to the pedantic in matters of safety combined with a smaller minority of riders who want to reserve the right to swing wildly over to the left side of the road at a moment's notice and consider it really dangerous that anyone would ride by them without crying out "ON YOUR LEFT!"

At any rate, I think I must have given out at least a few thousand on your lefts over the course of 2 days. Sometimes there were so many in a row that I'd just realize I was saying it a few times even during big empty spots on the road, just sort of muttering it like a crazy person.

With about 20 miles to go on "Stage 1" we got passed by a few of Todd's buddies on the Sweet Leaf team and ended up jumping on their train and powering into the day's finish at a nice 20-ish mph clip. I think one guy pulled us the whole way. No complaints about that, he didn't seemed to object or care one way or the other. Some pics of day 1 (psychedelic photos courtesy of the my pHoine somehow):

The end was at the LaGrange fairgrounds and was an instant village of corporate team tents, miscellaneous vendor and support tents and the like. Pretty cornfusing layout, we wandered around in a semi-daze for a while before we all met back up at the Sweet Leaf team tent where we were graciously allowed to park our bikes for the night, saving us from the (presumed but not confirmed) mess of official bike parking. Wandering around ensued. Got some tasty morsels of food from a few friendly grillmasters, some delicious beers courtesy of old Emo's alum Vince, who now is the brewmaster at St. Arnold's in Houston (who also had a large team out on the ride).

Eventually our trusty "team car" in the form of Jennifer, Ryan's S.O. came along and scooped us up and off we went to our digs for the evening in the evergreen woods outside Smithville, TX about 20 miles away from LaGrange. Her sister has an incredible little spread out on 7 acres on a dirt road off a dirt road. We couldn't have asked for a nicer spot to relax and recharge. After showering, we drove to Bastrop and had a nice dinner at a little local Italian/Greek joint. Bellies full of pasta, we didn't last long upon our return. I think I was in bed by 9:45 and got to sleep through a night of pretty glorious thunderstorms with just a screen door between myself and the great outdoors. Beautiful music to sleep to. Must have rained a couple of inches overnight!

Buddy, our host and VERY reluctant outdoor dog:

Jason relaxing with his personal digital device:

Mini-cabin and my sleeping digs for the night:

The lovely grounds and our trusty team car:

Ashen, team dog along for the ride from Houston:

More beauty from the front door:

Relaxing, porch style!

DAY 2:

Another 4:45 wakeup. In hindsight, we should have probably been quite a bit earlier, as we rolled back up to the fairgrounds right at 6:35 or so to find WELL OVER 10,000 of the 13 or 14k riders all lined up already being barked to anew by the emcee. There was no team x leaving first deal this day, just letting the line trickle out the gate. The place was a swamp with all the overnight rain and we were running all over creation to try and find our way back to the Sweet Leaf tent. Finally managed to locate our bikes (schlepping through soupy fields in cycling shoes does not rate as one of my favorite activites!). We queued up with the Sweet Leaf folks on our little arterial roadway and waited while they slowly let people out the gate by the few hundred at a time. UGH, wait, take 2 steps forward, wait, take 1 step forward, wait, wait, take 1 step forward, etc. etc. Took about 40 minutes to get out of the joint. We probably rolled out around riders 10,000-ish, an inauspicious start for the second day in a row. Fortunately there were 2 routes right out of the fairgrounds, us taking the hilly challenge dealy, which seemed to be at least a bit less trafficked once we got going. Left into a light rain again and it was QUITE chilly for TX, like 53-ish degrees).

Here are some images of the morning including the ridiculous lineup getting out of that joint:

Riding, riding, riding. After about 25 miles, we hit Buescher State Park. It IMMEDIATELY got really beautiful. Small road, just barely 2 lanes. Towering trees. This part of the route was about 12 miles of pretty decent rolling hills. Maybe 100-200ft. each, probably rode a couple thousand feet of elevation change. I really enjoyed this part. Did most of my climbing out of saddle using my big chainring. It got to be a sort of experiment after a while. I only gave in and went to the little ring twice for about a minute each time. Feels good climbing and you always get the downhill payoff. A bunch of exhilarating 40-ish mile downhills throughout. I was sad when we suddenly got dumped out onto Highway 71 with the rest of the riders. We powered along to lunch and on, keeping a pretty great clip for the remainder of the ride. There were some pretty decent headwinds here and there, but we got a fair share of nice tailwinds too. Lots of false flats that seemed MUCH harder than the actual steep hills of before. After some time, it was just Ryan and I doing a little 2 man "breakaway" all the way in for the final 20-ish miles. We must have passed a few thousand riders in that time averaging around 19mph for the whole end of the ride.

Came into Austin on FM969, nee MLK JR. Blvd. Eventually got routed through a neighborhood, over to Manor Road and on into town on Dean Keeton/26th street. Had a nice surprise when we found my brother and a couple of old friends waiting out on Dean Keeton for us, they gave a big yell and took off on their bikes to meet us on the other side of UT at the finish. We turned into campus and ripped through there on those nice rolling campus roads with almost no one at all around us, having just happened to find a big break in the pack there. It was REALLY fun and brought on a nice burst of energy that carried us all the way back onto MLK through the barricaded last few blocks with thousands of spectators lining the road. Felt like a little faux race finish and actually got me a little verklempt to see all that support. What a big event this thing is!

Then, it was over! We decamped from our bikes on a little right of way a couple blocks past the finish and waited for our friends. St. Arnold's was no longer providing beer, saving what was left for their team. BOOOOO!!! Have some more for sale for cryin' out loud. People who have just ridden 80 miles will often need a beer! The whole second day I felt remarkably good. I was worried about feeling like a wet noodle after the first day where, at times, I was feeling pretty shagged out on the route (around miles 60/75). Not to worry though. No problems from my right knee, even with all the climbing and just felt pretty great overall. The 4 mile ride back to my brother's house did leave me feeling like I had ridden enough for the day, but it wasn't excruciating by any stretch.

The rest of our "team" made it in within about 20 minutes total and the lot of us rode back to my brother's house for a very nice BBQ dinner party that had been put together. Showers for all and a nice beautiful sit around (it got sunny and ALMOST warm for the rest of the afternoon!). Thanks to Eric Hartman who very generously brought over a massive spread of pulled pork and brisket, mac/cheese and beans. Good times!!