Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hanging On By a Thread - A New Kind of Riding

Andrew in one of two races last season
Much has happened on the bike since August, when I last posted. To jump off the end of that post, Andrew did become a racer. While he only did two races at the end of last season, he finished respectably and we settled in for a winter of indoor track. With me observing from the bleachers of one Armory or another, getting fat.

That's right, I did it again, no training through the winter, gained twenty-two pounds and now that we're finally back out on the roads, I'm hanging on by just a thread! Oh, you see what I did there? I worked the title of the post right into the second paragraph here, so now you know the gist of things.

Thanksgiving morning, I always do such a nice ride, early out, brisk air, anticipation of a great day with family (meh) and food. Maybe I get a few more days of riding in and then BAM! COLD WEATHER! I hate cold weather. And as the years go by, I have less patience for cold weather, so no riding. Well, there's plenty I could do indoors, you say? Yeah, right. Go back and read my post; "DAMN!" March 12, 2010 and you'll be up to speed. At least one of us will be...

The Van Dessel Rivet is the epitome of crit bikes 
Anyway, the good news is Andrew and I both acquired Van Dessel Rivets! Oh yeah! Andrew ordered his built up as a complete bike with SRAM Rival, Mavic Ksyrium SL's, Continental Grand Prix 4000s and his special Bontrager seat, which he won't part with.

I, on the other hand, just got the frameset. You see, I've got to build mine up myself in order to become one with the bike. Not at all over the top for me. Part of my involvement in anything is a thorough, practical understanding of the inner workings and a complete delve into the marketing hype, so I'm well versed with absolutely no one to tell. Except Andrew, of course.

So while my Van Dessel Rivet frameset sits anxiously on the shelf in the garage, it now has company in the form of a pair of Williams System 30 wheels. Sweet. I've decided on a Shimano 105 (new 5700 release) transmission. The trickle down engineering and quality make this group one smooth fine value.

Now here's my thinking. With the money I've saved going 105 over a higher priced group, I will replace the bottom bracket with self leveling outboard ceramic bearings. Ceramic bearings spin way faster and way longer than steel. Ha! Not finished.

Off come the chain rings and on go.... wait for it.... Rotor Q Rings. Yep, oval-ized and aero 53/39's. Instant bad ass.
Yes, I know I'm still twenty-two pounds overweight and haven't ridden all winter. Way to kill my buzz...

We are back out on the roads now, trying to make up for lost time. Andrew is in decent shape and has definitely risen to the next level. Where last year I was pulling him all around, now I couldn't keep up with him if I wanted to. He has become stronger and has begun to apply his exceptional brainpower to the sport.

Me, I'll be back down to 150lbs in a few weeks, in spite of continuing to eat as much as a horse. Most rides I'm on, I'm pushing close to failure. I know that's not necessarily the best training method, but I simply find myself at that tempo all the time. My happy place on the heart monitor begins at 168 and when I'm maintaining 172, I get this euphoric elevation of consciousness. Fancy way of saying I am dizzy and barely in control...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Approaching The Edge of a New Vista

I'm in the middle of my third season. Improvements, both physically and mentally, are evident. I am stronger, more confident and proud of my accomplishments. Yesterday was a pivotal day.

After one year of hanging onto my wheel wherever I rode, my son, Andrew (15), who begins his high school career in just a few short weeks, expressed an interest in racing. So as I thought about how to proceed with this request, I upped Andrew's efforts. I increased our pace, I furthered the distance and every now and then, even tried to surprise him with sudden sprints. We joined a weekly group ride out of the Brielle Cycle Shop and pace lined through beautiful farmlands in central Jersey. He excelled on all counts. It was time to hand him off to the professionals.

The Colavita Racing Team, with an international presence on the racing scene, has a wonderful junior program right here in New Jersey. I found them through a link on the Van Dessel website. Van Dessel, Colnago, Cervelo, I can't decide, but that's a story for another time.

I contacted the team, I set up an intro ride. The days leading up to the ride were filled with the unknown. Are we fast enough? Had we put in enough base miles? Will we get dropped? No, no, yes.

This group of "juniors" is a poised, serious, well-conditioned team. 12 to 19 years old, going on 30. MPH that is...
They flowed down the road in a seemingly effortless undulation that looked like ballet. The coaches encircled Andrew and set about nurturing him to be a part of that ballet. At least I'm pretty sure that's what they did, you see, I was 'bout a half mile back at any given time... gasping for air.

Well Andrew, on the other hand, never left that group. Sure, he dropped behind a few times on the climbs, but the coaches pulled him right back up to the group. He doesn't quit and I think he performed remarkably well. I knew he was hurting, way out of his zone, as I was, but determined.

For a brief stretch, just after cresting a hill where I fully expected to see snow caps, one of the coaches rode next to me to chat. I was clearly in another league, pushing beyond my limits, speaking in one word sentences, but all I could think of was how after a few weeks of this, I'll be only a quarter mile behind the group, or maybe right behind!

The coach said to watch for Andrew's reactions after the ride, listen to what he says and how he says it. It will be the indicator of whether or not he'll continue. Andrew was hard on himself. He expected to be on par with who we came to learn, were State Champions and Nationally ranked riders. But his disappointment could not mask the exuberance. He is on the cusp of the next level and he knew it. His face was beet red, his legs were weak, but his eyes sparkled. Andrew's gonna be a racer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Coast the Coast MS Ride 2010

My first organized bicycle ride, en masse, was this past Saturday, May 22, 2010. The Multiple Sclerosis Society's Annual New Jersey Coast the Coast Ride took us through the most beautiful neighborhoods along the shore coastline from Monmouth University in Long Branch, through Asbury Park, down to Brielle, where, after a brief rest, we doubled back for a total of just about 50 miles.

The organizers had every busy intersection manned with local police officers and each turn and stop street was under the direction of a volunteer or two. Imagine riding for a few hours without having to stop for traffic! Imagine not only being noticed by motorists, but actually having the complete right of way! A carefree, stress-less afternoon on a bicycle!

In addition to enjoying the ocean views, the pristine summer homes and shanty shore towns, I was most interested in the diverse collection of bicycles and rider styles I observed within our ranks. Some bikes; the epitome of design and function, I marveled at, and some I just shook my head and thought [what are they thinking?]... creeky wheels, rusty chains; a wobbling cacophony of determination and innocence. No matter, we were all smiling with common cause; to raise money while riding our bikes. The MS volunteers; all accommodating. The riders; excited and thankful. The police support; respected and welcomed. The towns people, supporting us, most times with just a simple nod. The way it all worked as planned. It was a good feeling all day.

My daughter, Amanda (23), my son, Andrew (15) and I, true roadies, were joined up with Team Buttocks, a 10 year team headed up by my sister-in-law, Julie. Know this; she has a big heart.
All Julie wanted was for all of her teammates to enjoy themselves throughout the day. And we did. It was perfect.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I suppose what has happened to me, happens to many. I have lost my fitness.

By Thanksgiving of 2009, I was in the best of shape, having cycled for 2 years, most everyday, like I was being chased. I spent every waking minute waiting until it was time to ride again. I ate only healthy foods and maintained proper "everything" all the time, all in order to stay fit and healthy.

For some reason, the cold and darkness that is winter denied me my morning ritual of up at 5:30AM, suit up, fill the bottles, check tire pressure and ride 25 miles through three I was being chased.  It would be one of five routes I devised to improve my endurance, my speed and my climbing. I tallied my efforts, I pushed a little harder, I felt the power develop. But now, I just didn't want to get out of bed ( I have a beautiful wife who I love dearly). The rest of my day prohibited any opportunity for a regular ride.

Ahhhh! A spinner bike! Sure! I'll put one of those babies down in the basement and pedal an hour a day! No cold wind, no cold rain, no black ice. Lemme go see what ebay has...

After looking at a few bikes far and wide, that were in no way properly represented by their seller's descriptions, I found my beauty in Brooklyn. The Greg Lemond Revmaster!

I brought this baby home, stripped her down, washed her up and lubed her good... sounds like... nevermind.

So now I'm fitted to the bike, don't have to worry about kit or weather and I shall begin a new routine in the morning!

Riding a spinner bike in the basement in front of Good Morning America SUCKS. It SUCKS. It SUCKS. It SUCKS.

I could barely get one hour of spin time! It was killing me! It SUCKED. I stayed in bed ( I have a beautiful wife who I love dearly) and now, here we are; Lost Fitness, March 2010.

Finally, I've got temperatures which my pussy ass can accept and I'm suited up, bottles full, heading out to play "getting chased." Whoa! I'm sucking wind on hills I was crushing in the Fall. If I was being chased, I'd now be the bitch. Shit!

OK, so I've regressed. Bad decisions got me here and I accept full responsibility. I'll just start over. I know just what to do and I know how to do it.

The following morning I get suited up, fill the bottles and go out to the garage to check my pressure...... hey! WTF! A flat!?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lance at my side

Thanksgiving weekend had come to an end. The house was back in order, the guests all gone home. Before we headed north and back to reality, I grabbed my bike for one last ride in Island Beach State Park. I knew the Park would be completely empty of people and cars. One of those rides right down the middle on the yellow line! My luck, a head wind, but no matter, the sky was big and blue.

So I'm starting out slow, warming up, digging the solitude when at about two miles in, somebody rolls up alongside me and it's Lance Armstrong! He's all alone! He asks, in an oh so polite humble manner, if I wouldn't mind him riding with me! I was so startled, shocked and confused, I couldn't utter a word!

So I'm regaining composure, smoothing out my pedal stroke, conscious of my every technical move! I mean, holy crap! Lance Armstrong is watching me ride! WTF!

I noticed how calm and unassuming he was and it helped me settle down and we did have an absolutely wonderful ride, talking about bikes and rides and family and jobs and the economy and all the stuff you'd discuss with a regular old buddy! He rode a wheelie, so I did a bunny hop. He laughed, I laughed, we were pals!

Before I knew it, the ride was at it's end and it made me realize yet one more reason why I ride a bike the way I do; the day dreams.

The day dreams are so vivid and rich with detail.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

To see or not to see

Early spring, early morning
I’m pedaling through sweet air, and
SPLAT! a fucking bug flys right into my ey-!

You need to wear glasses when riding a bike.
My question is why must I spend $80.00 for “cycling” glasses?

I went to the Home Depot and picked a really cool pair of SAFETY GLASSES. They’re safety glasses, for crying out loud! Seems perfect for cycling! $8.00! And I think they look as good as the fancy ones. Even better when you think 80/8!

One thing I noticed– darker lens sunglasses must come off at dusk, then what? These lighter lenses serve double duty for daylight and dusklight. I was using a pair of yellow lenses, like shooting glasses. That’s a real trip! The yellow causes your brain to become more alert, more clarity in quick descision making and the reactions of a ninja.

Anyway, my son needed a pair, loved ‘em and well you know about when your child wants something....

Tush Talk

Most of us are riding away from a pain in the ass... To have one on the ride makes no sense to me.

After trying several different saddles to alleviate my discomfort, I found the Selle Italia Anatomica. I read through the website, I scoured the reviews. It all seemed reasonable. I pulled the trigger and bought one.

My first ride on this saddle, I wasn’t aware of the saddle. WASN’T AWARE OF THE SADDLE?! RIght! From the very first ride this saddle has been a non issue. No pain, no problems, no notice. Each side of the saddle moves independantly from the other. As nice an ass as you may think you have, it’s not symetrical. When you pedal, one sit bone may piston down further than the other one. The Anatomica moves right along with those sit bones. It acts like a hammock. No pressure points. It has a tension screw which will stretch the leather. I adjust this saddle tension, based on the ride I’m about to embark on. Hammerfest with the douchebags from the shop? Tighten it up. Longer base mile ride or meander, loosen it for more comfort. OK? Enough tush talk. When you've read the whole blog, then go click the link on the sidebar.

It's in the bag

Knowing the various problems that may occur on a bike ride, I can’t imagine traveling any lighter.

The obvious is an extra tire tube. I carry two; both individually vacuum sealed in sandwich bags. A patch kit and tire irons fall into the obvious category as well.

A Blackburn canister inflator with one cartidge installed BACKWARDS for storage saves space. If you’ve seen me use one of these things, then you know why I also carry two more cartridges...

On the subject of flat tires; I cut sections of old tire tube to use when “booting” a bad gash. I prefer this more durable method than the folded dollar bill. You see, the dollar fluctuates too much to be reliable...

I do , however, leave a few buck-a-roos in the bag for emergencies as well as a Presta -Schraeder valve adaptor to allow gas stations to serve as air stops (be careful of pressure).

A handful of cable ties and an assortment of hex wrenches round out the stuff that is ALWAYS in the bag.

On longer rides I’ll include a fully charged cell phone and a few snacks for refueling.

Reduce this array of stuff and you’re sure to be inconvenienced or forced to do the walk of shame.

Bicycle Tail Lights

A bright red binking light on the back of your bike will save your life countless times without you even knowing it. So I mounted two...

For all of my first season, I used a single Blackburn Mars 3.0. It is a good quality, bright light with blink or steady light beam choices. No problem, until I read reviews for the new NiteRIder Cherry Bomb. At double the cost, this Cherry Bomb required some attentive investigation.

The technical term for my results is “holy $hit!” This little light is so bright it will probably save my next life as well! If, as a driver, you don’t notice this light, you must be blind.

In my opinion, the light needs to be mounted as if it is pointed directly at a drivers eyes. Any off angle and the intensity falls off.  The side spread of the light beam is very good, but head on, it’s like the second coming... Excellent design with regard to the housing, gasket, switch and reflector crystal.

I decided to mount one directly on centerline, facing rearward, tucked in under my seatbag. Not ON my seatbag, because there, the light points downward and it’s complete effectiveness is not achieved. I used an old reflector bracket/arm, the one that comes with any new bike, mounted to the seat post. This arm allows the tilting adjustment required to position the light for maximum effectiveness.

Since I’m the kind of guy that wears a belt AND suspenders (just a metaphor), I mounted a second Cherry Bomb on the bottom of the roadside seat stay. Again, this one is angled upwards slightly. I used a rubber sleeved pipe strap to fit my seat stay diameter. Neat, simple and clean.

So now, with my two Cherry Bombs carefully positioned, drivers must think they’re coming up on an emergency vehicle or a UFO.

I duplicated this set up on my twenty-three year old daughter’s Specialized Dolce, for she has a similar riding regimen and needs to preserve her life as well...

What about the old trusty Blackburn? I mounted that on my fourteen year old son’s new Trek 1.2 for his daylight rides. But soon, he too will appear as a Cherry Bombed UFO on the roads of New Jersey.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sigma Evo Pro Headlights

My normal riding schedule has me rolling out of the driveway at 6:00AM. For a good part of the year, it’s dark at that time of the morning and a good lighting system is neccessary .

My research began, both on-line and at various LBS. After balancing price and quality, I settled on the Sigma Evo Pro. Good quality build, good design and as it turned out; slightly above average lighting ability and very poor battery life. I was penny wise and pound foolish. The LBS would not exchange, nor allow a return.

I believe this two light, one battery system was bundled by Sigma from existing, but separate product lines. The battery plugs into a yoke splitter which connects to each light head. The battery simply cannot support both lights at full power for more than 30 minutes. Fortunately, one of the light heads has a full power/low power selector switch.

So the work around for this shortcoming is to only use both heads at full power in the darkest, ie. park trails, or high traffic areas. Otherwise, it’s one head at full and the other at half power. It’s not terrible, and I have become accustomed to the characteristics of the two light beams, one being a flood and the other a spot. I simply direct the flood down to the road in front of me, which illuminates approximately 15 feet up front and 10 feet to either side. The other head, the spot, drills through the darkness out to about 40 feet and it’s spot circle is approximately 6 feet in diameter. That’s at full power...low power is not much help at all.
 With this workaround, I get just over one hour of battery life, which is OK with me most of the time, since the sun comes up just as this battery dies down.

The system is designed such that a second battery could be mounted so each light head has it's own. WIth the added expense of an additional battery, the system is still priced far below the fine offerings available today.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The view over my handlebars

This is what Island Beach State Park looks like when you ride it in the summer, early morning. Straight and flat. Peaceful. Easy to lose yourself in thought. And I did. Best therapy money can't buy.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How I spent my summer vacation

Since I am self employed, and the powers that be have decided to punish the ambitious, I was able to spend most of the summer "on vacation" with my family down at the Jersey shore. Each morning at 6:00AM I'd ride Island Beach State Park. 8.3 miles in and 8.3 miles out. I'd try to maintain a 19 - 21 mph average. I considered this an intense workout for my 52 year old former smoker's body. I loved it. Then at 9:00AM I'd go back into the park with my 14 year old son and my 22 year old daughter and do another in and out with them. I loved it even more. We three approached this type of riding with fitness, performance and spandex as our priorities... It strengthened our bonds and gave us a sense of accomplishment.

Damn ebay!

The new Schwinn Super Sport was fine. I was rollin along, rackin up the miles as the months rolled by. Then one morning I returned from a ride and noticed my toes, rather the fact that I didn't feel my toes...winter was setting in.

Off to Diamond Cycle I went to buy a trainer. Again, I was very excited and had visions of grandeur pedaling and sweating and pushing to the limit on my trainer in my garage. You know, spring races are won here in the winter garage... I was to be a quite formidable force just like CLUBBER LANG...

Well, I gotta tell ya, riding a trainer in the garage in front of Good Morning America is awful! I decided to do interval sprints during TV commercials. Problem was there are way too many commercials in a row and I damn near died a pedalin fools death!

Still feeling like Superman and reading all the cycling magazines in the bathroom, I got the bug for a "real road bike." If you remember, I mentioned 5 kids, 4 dogs and all that? No new road bike for me, but wait! Why not a used bike!? Sure, they're all quite cared for and imagine how fast I could go! I just gotta get in the drops!....

Enter EBay. The magazines in the bathroom were replaced by a hand carried laptop, propped carefully on the wastebasket as I searched and reviewed, watched and bid. All winter... it's surprising I didn't drop my bowels...

Then one night, late in February; a new listing came in. Had all the credentials, fair price and not much action. I bid. I won. I shall fly.

I pulled the trigger

After slogging around on the old Schwinn Sierra, I made an interim jump to a 2008 Schwinn Super Sport GS. Oh, my God! I'll never forget that first ride on 700/28's !!!!!!!! I thought I was flying! Nimble! Light! Responsive! I was in Heaven. Come on you cyclists I see, I'll kick yer ass! Drop you like a bad habit...i got smoked...

No matter! I was thrilled with my new ride and my new found technical abilities. While I continued to ride every morning, I read everything I could get my hands on in the bathroom at night. Proper cadence, smooth pedal stroke, breathing, gearing, etc. I was a cyclist.

How did this happen? (or how I began riding again)

My first cardiac stress test was scheduled for July 8, 2007. I was 50 years old, self employed with a great deal of stress, five kids, four dogs, buildings, houses, no exercise and I smoked.

I decided I wasn't going to have a heat attack during that stress test, so one month before, I began riding an old bicycle ten miles around town every morning. I enjoyed it!

The sights, the sounds, the smells, the temperature changes. I was familiar with the experience, having ridden motorcycles for many years, but this was different. Each one of those sensations validated I was alive. I was much more connected to my surroundings. The sound of my breathing was something I was now "monitoring." The constant demand on my legs was euphoric and I felt like Superman the rest of the day. Every day. I was hooked.

That was three bikes and 4000 miles ago. I have since "upped" my pace, increased my distance, lightened my load and spandex without underwear is a lonely and wasteful experience on a bike...

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