Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rambling on Bidons, Sinai, and the chase.

I have long had a love-hate relationship with bidons.  Let me explain.  For several weeks now, my buddy Matt has been badgering me to ride the fast shop ride, and I finally had the chance (read: finally ran out of excuses not) to ride.  The route is bascially two loops up the Mt. Sinai Rd. climb.  In theory, it's not that bad of a climb, and I'm not slow, but these guys are rockets.  The cracks had already started forming at the base of of Sinai, but I muscled my way up the climb in the middle of the pack, running on adrenaline and the amazement that I was actually sitting in with these guys up what is the biggest local climb we have.

The inevitable crack happened at about 20 miles in.  I struggled to hold wheels, but slipped steadily back through the group.  Matt tried valiantly to pace me back to the pack, an effort as worthy as any Jens Voigt exploit in recent years, but my legs were long gone.  The closest I got was about 30 meters from the back of the group before I motioned to Matt to go.  I watched him float, seemingly effortlessly, back to the group while I lowered my head and sucked in as much air as I could, arms braced on the hoods, pedaling with that knock-kneed stroke signaling a cyclist whose mind, body, and/or soul have finally surrendered, but knowing that I still had one more assault on Sinai and I had to do it alone.  And it was then, looking down with bleary eyes, pedaling only enough to stay upright, that I saw my bidons.

Normally, I love my bidons.  They are filled with cold liquid that quenches my thirst, balances my electrolytes, refuels my muscles, and  replenishes my spirit.  And I'm vain enough that I'll admit they look so damned good on the bike.  At the top of a hard climb or dropping off after a hard effort, a single swig from the bidon is like drinking a magic elixir that stirs me onward.  But today, as my empty legs did their best to turn the pedals over on the steepest part of Sinai, I hated my bidons.  The mere thought of two liquid filled bottles conjured images of anchors (ancres if you're French) digging into the asphalt behind.  They may only have weighed a few ounces, but it may as well have been tons.  It was then, amidst the normal doubt and fear that clouds the mind of an exhausted cyclist with more climbing ahead of him, that I had the thoughts about my bidons I always have on a hard climb.  If only these bidons didn't match my bike's paint scheme so damned well.  If only they weren't so damned expensive.  Then I could jettison these bricks attached to my bike, and surely my legs will propel me to the summit like an eagle.  A rocket propelled, two wheeled, death-eagle.

But, realistically, I knew that it wouldn't make a difference.  The bidons weren't slowing me down, and this damned hill wasn't going anywhere.  So instead, I climbed, and I cursed.  I cursed the bidons.  I cursed the sun.  I cursed my legs.  I cursed the heat, and the humidity, and the others in the group for daring to be faster than me.  I cursed the grass and the trees and the leaves because they got to sit still on the side of the road while I climbed.  Basically, for the remainder of the climb, I cursed just about everything I could think of.  Loudly.  Creatively.  I invented curses I've never thought of.  I'm a bit of an artist in this sense, and suffering on the bike is my muse.

I passed the church where the road flattens out to a gentle false flat.  I clicked into the big ring, and tapped my right hand, going a few gears higher on the cassette.  The bike responded with a gradual acceleration.  I reached down and grabbed the bidon on my downtube, taking a deep drink of the delicious nectar it contained.  Instantly, as the cool liquid coursed through my body, all the faults the bidon had accrued on the climb were forgiven.  I looked up an could just pick out the lead group in the distance up the road.  Catching them before the end of the ride wasn't likely, but it didn't matter.  The pain of the climb was already a distant memory.  There was still riding left to do.

One more swig from the bidon, two clicks up on the cassette, and a deep breath.  Come out of the saddle, damn it.  Kick, kick, kick.  Keep you head up.  Kick, kick, kick.  Shut up legs.  Kick, kick, kick.  Stay loose.  Chase.

Monday, May 9, 2011

In Memoriam: Wouter Weylandt (1984-2011)

Image courtesy of Cycling Tips

Between the thrill of the Spring Classics to the majesty of the Grand Tours, it's easy to forget the dangers associated with bicycle racing.  Unfortunately, today in the third stage of the Giro d'Italia, we were reminded of those dangers in the most tragic way.

Wouter Weylandt was born in Ghent, Belgium on Spetember 27th, 1984.  He first tasted success in the U23 ranks as a junior member with Quick Step, the highlight of which was a victory at the U23 Tour of Flanders.  As he progressed at Quick Step, he showed great form in the spring classics, and was instrumental in Tom Boonen's pair of victories at Paris-Roubaix.  By all accounts, Wouter was friendly, well liked, and a model domestique: selfless and always willing to sacrifice his own result for the good of his team and team leader.  Individually, Wouter also claimed victory in Ronde van het Groene Hart as well as stages in Ronde van Belgie, Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen, and the Vuelta Espana, among others.  In 2011 he signed on with the new Leopard Trek team, following his breakout 2010 which saw him win Stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia.  

It's ironic, then, that it was the exact same stage that claimed his life today.  By eyewitness accounts, Wouter was looking over his shoulder while trying to bridge back to the peloton during the descent down Passo Del Bocco, about 25km from the finish when he clipped his left side against a small wall and was launched from his bicycle, falling some 60 feet to the road below.  Despite almost immediate medical attention, he died soon after at the scene.

While it's easy to begin assigning blame, we should remember that Wouter was a sprinter, and as such, one of the best bike handlers in the world.  What happened to him was an accident.  I don't know if it was a moment's inattention by Wouter or a particularly dangerous route by the race organizers.  Perhaps we'll understand better tomorrow or perhaps we'll never know.  Personally, I don't think it really matters.  Determining fault won't bring back one of the most promising young riders of the peloton, nor will it remove the inherent danger of our sport.  

Wouter knew of and accepted the immense risks involved every time he clipped into his pedals, yet, that did not dissuade him from pursuing a sport he loved.  He should serve as an inspiration to all of us.  Cycling is dangerous, but it is also beautiful, and connects to us in a way no other sport can.  Tomorrow, go for a ride in memory of Wouter.  Ride safe, of course, but ride hard.  Find the biggest hill you can and climb it as hard as you can, until your legs and lungs burn and your shoulders shake from the effort.  And when you collapse back down on your saddle, grimacing from exertion and gasping for breath, be thankful that you still have the opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle.  That, I think, is what Wouter would want.

Wouter Weylandt is survived by his girlfriend, who is expecting the couple first child in September.  My thoughts and wishes go out to Wouter's friends and family.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

These guys are badasses

Even though I ride both mountain and road, it's no secret that I consider mountain biking a tougher and more arduous discipline.  Having said that, these guys are (A) completely out of their minds and (B) totally badass for riding in wind that I wouldn't even leave my house to go driving in.


Waiting out a rainy day here in the Dirty-D.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Ride 3-27-2011: Silence is Golden.

I didn't want to ride this Saturday.  In fact, if it wasn't for the newly installed fork (more below) on the Hammer, I doubt I would have made it out my door. I got up late, didn't eat right, felt dehydrated and tired, and my legs really didn't have a ride left in them after Friday night's tough training ride. But the new fork needed to be sorted out and dialed in, so I packed up the gear and the Hammer and headed out for Crabtree.

I decided to ride without a Camelbak, something I've been doing more and more lately for shorter rides.  I stuffed my jersey pockets with a spare tube, a CO2 cartridge, a energy gel pack, and a multitool.  It was a cold day, so I wore a light jacket.  I still felt a little tired, but was surprised at how good my legs felt.  Most of the early climbs were done in a low gear and high cadence.  I stopped a couple of times to tweak settings on the fork but it actually came pretty dialed in straight out of the box.

I should mention that lately the Hammer's been making a creaking sound that has been driving me crazy.  I checked every thing I could think of: bottom bracket, headset, stem and bar mounts, seatpost clamp, etc.  None of it helped.  It got so annoying that it almost made me not want to ride the Hammer.  It was during a short stop to adjust the lockout threshold that I decided, for no reason, to wiggle the rear triangle and--voila--the supporting strut for the seat stays creaked a little.  I quickly traced the noise to a loose bolt in suspension.  A quick turn with the multitool and suddenly...silence.

It's amazing how quickly your mood can change based on little things.  With the Hammer running smooth and quiet for the first time in months and the fork dialed in, I didn't want to stop riding.  Coming off the powerline, I swung onto loop 5 at Crabtree, a fast, flowing ribbon of singletrack that snakes along the edge of Lake Crabtree and characterized by one big climb.  My normal time around this loop is 9:45, but with my new found energy, I made it around in 9:37 and felt great.  So I did it again: 9:30.  The third time around the loop, I managed a 9:27.  This went on for another hour, I set PRs at most of the climbs around Crabtree.  After about 20 miles, my legs were getting tired and I was already late for dinner with a friend, so I packed it in and headed home.  Considering this was a ride that almost didn't happen, I'd count it as a success.

Oh, and the fork.  It's a Fox F100 RLC.  All I really need to say about it is that it's a Fox fork.  Buttery smooth, quiet, stiff, with excellent adjustment.  It also looks a whole lot nicer than the old gray Fox F100 RL I had on the bike.  The fork seems to help front wheel traction too.  I had more confidence leaning the bike into turns and craving through bumpy corners.  I attribute this to being able to tune the slow speed compression on the RLC model.  For those of you wondering if the low speed compression adjustment (the "C" in RLC) is worth the extra $200, the answer is unequivocally yes.  You can actually set the fork up at a platform to match the platform rear shock.  The only bad thing I can say about it is that it still creaks occasionally, especially under heavy braking, but it's so rare that it really doesn't bother me. If you can afford it, there really isn't a better race fork than this.

I'll see you on the trails.

- E

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bike Profile: Fuji Team Pro

I guess I could start off this review like every other review of high end carbon bikes: this bike is laterally stiff but vertically compliant.  It climbs like a [insert analogous object known for climbing abilities], descends like a [insert analogous object known for descending], has quick handling like a [mongoose?], but is stable through corners like a [not a mongoose].  But Bikesnob already beat me to that joke.

So I guess I'll start off by saying that this bike fits me like a glove.  And because of that, it is, by far, the most comfortable, fastest, best climbing, best handling road bike I've ever ridden.

It's specced out with an Ultegra 10-speed gruppo and  Cosmic Carbone SL wheels, and Continental GP4000 tires (amazing by the way).  Eventually, I might go to ceramic bearings, just so I can have the ability to smugly declare I run ceramic bearings.  Last time I weighed it, with cages and empty water bottles it came to 17 pounds.

The truth is, this bike's abilities far exceed my own.  I'm 6'2" 220 pounds, so I'm not a small guy, but when I stomp on the pedals, this bike doesn't even flinch.  But it doesn't really launch like it's fired out of a gun either, it's just a smooth surge of power with each pedal stroke.  I wouldn't call it a pure sprinter's bike, it's too long and the headtube is a little too tall.  It's not a pure climber either, it's too beefy.  It's basically a perfect bike for someone who likes to log long fast rides year round.

Fuji made a lot of decisions that cater to the enthusiast rider with this bike.  External cable routing is less sexy than internal, but makes changing cables a breeze, machined aluminum dropouts mean you're not worried about over tightening when transporting the bike or swapping wheels, 27.2 seatpost combined with a full carbon fork and slightly taller headtube means hour six still feels bearable.  And I have to admit, I'm a sucker for the classic horizontal top tube.

Complaints?  There's a few but they're small.  For one, the frame doesn't drain.  At all.  Seriously Fuji?  A couple of drain holes in the bottom bracket is too much to ask?  Also, one of the water bottle cage bolts snapped inside the frame, so I've had to resort to using a zip tie.  It works fine but speccing some bolts made out of something other than paper would be nice.

So far, I've logged about 2000 miles on the bike since purchasing it last May, and it's been flawless.  Can't wait to rack up some more miles this summer.

- E

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Welcome to The Nerdy Cyclist!

Hi and welcome to The Nerdy Cyclist. For better or for worse, I'll be dispensing my thoughts on bike culture, bike parts, bike racing, bike riding, and bike riders. I hope you guys stick around, it should be fun!