Saturday, November 19, 2011

Getting a Real Sport

So here it is November, and I look to see that I have posted only three times this year! It is not that it has been a slow year in the bike dork's cycling world. It may have more to do with the procrastinating perfectionist in me. If I am going to post, it must be epic, or at least worth reading. This means pictures and links like those other "big name" bike bloggers use. For me the king of snarky and often insightful bike blogging is Bike Snob NYC. He writes a long and funny post five days a week with videos and links and quizzes and pictures sent in by readers.

Bike Snob uses the clever device of recurring themes and characters on his blog. One of the characters he features is "The Lone Wolf". While The snob lives in Brooklyn, The Lone Wolf seems to live or at least spend a good amount of time here in Los Angeles.

A few months back I was at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, where I met The Lone Wolf in person. We spoke, I took a few pictures, and relayed my encounter to Bike Snob NYC in an e-mail. The next day I got a reply and a request to use my e-mail and pictures on his site. I was honored that he posted the whole thing.

So that was cool. Almost as cool as getting a new bike… That is right, the Bike Dork went big and bought a brand new bicycle.

Over the last couple of years my cycling experience has been confined to commuting 30 miles a day on an old steel single speed. I have built it up and modified over time starting with with a crappy old ten speed, stripping it down to a fixie, then adding stuff trying various parts, straps, racks, baskets fenders, what ever to make the commute a better experience. This bike has become a reflection of my true dorkyness.

While this bike works well on the flat route from Redondo Beach to Santa Monica, it is not much fun to take on more varied terrain. I enjoy the challenge of using a single speed bike on hills, but that gets old fast. I had the urge to branch out, go farther, faster, exploring new routes learning to ride with others.

Also I have been following professional road racing, watching the spring classics, the Giro, the TDF, the Vuelta, all the lesser tours that I could find, and all my heros have nice new road bikes. My plan was to get an old mid 80's vintage road bike. One that was a great bike when it was new, if well cared for would still be a fine bike for group rides and anything I would be up for. Then I got an unexpected bonus from work.

After some research and trying a few bikes, I ordered a Giant TCR Composite from the guys over at Beach City Cycles. Brian and Chris totally hooked me up and I would recommend them to anyone. While I will say that this is a great bike and I totally enjoy riding it, I will save a detailed review for a later post.

What I do want to mention is how this bike has transformed what kind of rider I am. As I have often written I am not an athlete. While I enjoy watching sports and following them as a fan, I have never wanted to be that guy. So it came as a bit of a shock to find out that I am jock. It happened on the way home from work shortly after getting the new bike. I was spinning down 11th Street as a guy hanging out the window of a crappy little Hyundai blurted some expletives at me. I caught up to them at the next stop sign and asked for clarification. The young man smoking a cigarette said "Get a real sport!" I was so taken aback, all I could muster was, "Sport? I'm just going home from work.". They pulled away and I was left puzzled. "Sport… hmm. That's it, I am now a practitioner of a sport. At a glance I could be one of those guys out there cycling just as some sort of athletic thing to do or maybe I am training for a race or some big century ride! Who would have thought. When I started commuting to work by bike, I made every effort to not look like some roadie dork. "Lycra shorts and alien brain helmets, that is so not me…" Now look at me,
Here I am after finishing my first century ride: The San Luis Obispo Gran Fondo.
What a dork!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Measuring Up

While there are many bike computers, power meters, and smart phone apps available for the cyclist, I do not really need any special device to tell me how slow I am on a bike. I am slow. For example the other day on the way home from work, I had been pushing hard into a headwind through Marina Del Rey and across the causeway. When it is windy, and it usually is at this time of year, I like to go kind of hard just to get it the westward sections of the ride over with. Once I turn South on the bike path the wind is most often out of the west north west and gives a little push home.

Anyhow I was taking it easy after a bit exertion on the causeway when a rider passed me at a good clip. He nodded a greeting and slipped by. Then I heard another rider behind me. It was my friend The Blue Rider. We see each other from time to time and sometimes he will slow down and we talk bikes and life and work. He smiled and asked "Shall we follow?" Meaning of course, catching the first guy and giving him a friendly race. "Sure, I'll try." With that we were off. Well actually, my friend The Blue Rider was off. He quickly caught "Rider A" on the incline to the parking lot and passed him. I however, was still humping it up the hill. Turning on to the straightaway along the parking lot, I could see them already at the other end. No way. While rider A had what looked like a proper modern multi-geared bike, The Blue Rider is still sporting a steel single speed, much like what I push along on. No excuses, I am not fast.

To prove this point I recently purchased the "Cyclemeter" app from Abvio LLC for my "smart phone". I have never had a bike computer or a speedometer before. In the past I have tried to gauge my speed by counting my pedal strokes per minute and using one of the online calculators to figure out my speed. This works well on a single speed. It gives you an idea of what your average speed might be at a comfortable cadence. Really that is fine for me. However, the one thing I had always wondered was the exact distance I have been going. There is the "Map My Ride" site that allows you to draw out a route, but it is a little funky and sometime it wants to put you on the next street over or not really finding the bike path. For over two years I have been wondering and saying it is about 15 miles.

According to the "Cyclemeter" app, it is about 15 miles, 15.35 to be more exact. For $4.99 Cyclemeter measures and calculates quite a bit of data. Some of it seems more accurate and interesting than others. For example sometimes the elevation jumps wildly dropping me below sea level or up 100 vertical feat. This can be seen in the graph mode that displays the peaks and valleys of your speed and elevation over the course of your ride. Another mode gives splits for each mile. with average speed, top speed, calories burned, and overall time. Since it has no way of measuring head wind, the calories burned must be a ballpark figure. I can tell you that you will be burning a lot more fuel riding at 15 mph into a 15 mph wind, than going 16 mph with a tailwind. There is also a map function that shows your route with markers at each mile. All cool stuff. The kind of stuff bike dorks like.

The first time you use the app, you need to put it in stop watch mode and name the route you are about to set out on. This route is then stored and each time you ride that route again, you can select it and the Cyclemeter calculates and compares your performance. This is cool as well. One of the settings is "stop detection" This is great for commuting, it does not include stops like traffic lights, helping folks with flat tires, or paramilitary encounters into your speed average. This give you a more accurate account of average riding speed while still calculating your overall time.

There are a number of features I have never used on this app. It can post your stats as e-mails, on Facebook, and Twitter. I pledge now to never annoy my "friends" with a daily account of my ride. That is exactly what is wrong with FB... "got up this morning and trimmed my cuticles"... I don't want to know. No one wants to know how much I suck.

It supposedly has internal voices that will tell you how slow you are going. I think you put in headphones for that. I do not ride with anything in my ears and my own internal voice tells me I suck anyway. The other thing is I mostly keep my phone in my bag so I have no idea what this app looks like while riding. I think it has a live speedometer. I'll have to look sometime.

So here it is, my first review as a blogger: The "Cyclemeter" for $4.99 it does a lot of stuff. I personally don't care to use it very often. I don't like having to measure up all of the time. After all I am just riding to work. However it can record data showing how equipment changes, can effect your ride. Recently I was able to measure the difference on switching over to a clipless pedal system. I t seems I am able to ride an average 2 mph faster with SPD pedals and shoes. I guess measuring up makes the Bike Dork happy after all.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Breaking the Law

Cycling brings me great joy. It also offers many challenges. Of course there are the obvious physical challenges: faster, smoother, into the wind, at night, in traffic, in the rain, yes it does rain a few times a year in Southern California. There are however other challenges. For me it has come down to the challenge of being humble. I am not humbled by this simple contraption of conveyance; rather it seems I am emboldened to a state of lawless abandon, or at least this is what I have come to find out.

Nothing says "I am the most important thing going on here." like disregard for our basic public safety laws. There is of course the typical cyclist's approach to traffic signage. I for one err on the cautious side. I see many fellow riders glide blithely through intersections without so much as a look either way, never mind the stop signs. On my regular ride in to work there are places I have learned to stop; others where a judicious look around has been enough for safe passage. I do not think it is cool to roll stop signs, though I do with regularity: law breaker. All of us in our cars, have gone over the speed limit, made an illegal u-turn. I have watched my local police roll the stop sign at the end of my block in order to get to the coffee shop at the bottom of the hill. So maybe this lawlessness is not unique to cycling. Perhaps there is an acceptable level of lawlessness that will not tip the balance too far.

I rarely see the police on my ride to work. A good eight miles of it is on a "bikes only" bike path and "the man" rarely shows. When he does, it's never good. For example one morning a couple years back, I got to the bridge connecting Playa Del Rey to the causeway to Marina Del Rey where a Sheriff's deputy was blocking the way with his car. "Crime scene. We found a body, you can't go through." "A dead body I asked?" "Uhhu…" "If it's dead already what's the big deal, I gotta get to work." The wise guy (me) says turning back to face the only other way across Ballona Creek: the dreaded shoulder-less Culver Boulevard, to Lincoln. Not nice, even in broad daylight. Bleary eyed morning commuters texting and applying eye makeup in their carbon fired velo-crushers at 40 to 60 mph is not the kind of traffic I am comfortable with.

A few months back, on my ride home it was dark and cold as I pushed west down Fiji Way in Marina Del Rey. It ends with a traffic circle and the bike path leads out to Ballona Creek joining the path to and from Culver City. At this point I turn West towards the causeway and the bridge to Playa Del Rey and points south. Just before the causeway proper there is a boathouse used by crew teams and sailing clubs from local universities. When they are practicing they sometimes block the path as they carry their boats and oars, and there are a few parking spots and sometimes they are coming and going and milling about. As I came up to the boathouse, this seemed to be just such a night. I dropped my speed and maneuvered through what seemed to me to be an unusually large crowd. "Perhaps a meet of some sort…" Then I noticed a Sheriff's car partially blocking the entry to the causeway proper. The causeway runs east / west for about three tenths of a mile between Ballona Creek (a branch of the LA River) and the inlet to Marina Del Rey Harbor. It's one car lane wide asphalt and completely unlit at night.

So here is where I made a series of some of the stupidest decisions in my adult life. On seeing the Sheriff's department's car, I noted that I could slip right by it onto the causeway and did so as quickly as thinking of it. Out of the corner of my eye I saw what was probably the deputy, distracted, talking to someone. Once on the causeway I realized what I had done, but going back to get yelled at and sent out to Culver Boulevard did not seem to be a good idea at the time.

Once on the causeway I noticed the police helicopter overhead and the police boat up by the bridge. It was totally dark. No moon, just pitch black and there was something going on up ahead at the bridge, but I could not see what. I had only a small "be seen" type headlight on my bike. I thought "oh crap, I am in some trouble now!" I rode faster, fear took hold and suddenly I was in flight from the law. Somehow all I could envision was tearing past whatever was going down at the bridge as fast as possible and disappearing into the night. I turned off my light, stood on my pedals and went as hard as I could.

The causeway meets the bridge at a ninety degree angle. Approaching It, I was hauling and in the dark, barely made out the emergency vehicles and officers who were as surprised as I was at finding each other in this situation. "Hey, Hey, whoa where are you going?" An officer jumped in front of me, grabbing at my handle bars. I swerved, missed him jumped the curb off the bridge onto the terra ferma of Playa Del Rey and skidded to a stop in front of five or six irate LA cops. I was so busted.

Something physiological happens to you when you are in a state of exertion. Maybe it is that fight or flight adrenalin rush that you hear about. When you are riding you are already pumped, ready for action looking out for trouble, perhaps there are chemicals released by the body that make you more aggressive, ready to race, ready to protect yourself from danger. Anyhow as I sat on the curb with my hands cuffed firmly behind my back, I had a chance to take a deep breath and realize how stupid I can be. "What the hell were you thinking?" was the question the cops asked. It was then that I noticed the emergency trucks belonged to LA SWAT. While the officers dealing with me were regular cops, there were also guys in full paramilitary gear, bullet proof everything, and crazy automatic gas grenade launchers, and sniper rifles with night-vision scopes walking around. "Oh crap, what a total idiot I am. Not only am I another jerk these guys have to deal with, I could have been shot!" "You know you could have been shot!" They repeated. "What's going on here?" I asked. "Did a cop get shot or something? This is crazy." "Can't tell you." the officer stiffened.

Now I had never been in a situation like this; my only other experience with cops as an adult being the occasional traffic stop… be polite, yes sir, no sir, absolutely sir, have a nice day sir. Sitting on the curb in hand cuffs is a very humbling experience. I am not some kid, I am old, old enough to know better. People from the neighborhood are out, they see you, and you are that guy in hand cuffs. The bad guy, the unlucky fool, the lawbreaker, Johnny Too Bad. After a while one of the cops started chatting about cycling, asking about my ride, my route, wasn't I cold… Anyway, I ended up being a pain in the ass for them as I was another bunch of forms and paperwork that would need to be filled out. I was un-cuffed and given a citation for failure to stop for an officer and crossing into a crime scene. These are serious charges, I was totally mortified by how dumb I had been.

The next morning on the way into work, the only sign of the previous night's action at the bridge was a few scraps of police tape fluttering in the bright morning. I stopped and tore off a strip, rolled it up into my pocket… some kind of reminder to not be an idiot. I checked the local news sites and found out a man with a gun had passed out drunk on the jetty that extends west of the bridge and causeway. LAPD had responded big.

It took several weeks for me to enjoy my ride again. I felt ashamed for being stupid and getting caught at it. A month later, I went for my day in court. I waited in line with others like myself who had somehow ended up on the wrong side of the law. When it was my turn at the clerk's window I handed over my citation and ID, ready to face the judge, ready to tell what I have told you here. She punched the numbers into her computer. "Your case has been rejected! Go to the fourth floor, City Attorney's office." There, I found out "rejected" is a good thing - no judge, no fine, free to go just keep this piece of paper and here is a wallet size one to carry because sometimes these things stick in the computer.

Lately I have been going hard, five days a week. Pushing myself trying to learn to pedal more smoothly and efficiently. Going hard into the wind on the causeway. Summertime it stays light late and blows cool out of the west northwest almost every evening. Smile, enjoy, be humble, pass with a wide berth, try not to judge others, just be me: a dork.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Racing Days

As any bikedork knows, it is full-on professional racing season. That's right, we have been through the spring classics and are just finishing the Giro de Itallia. I have personally been getting up early… 6:30-ish and watching the euro-action "live" on the internet. While there is a broadcast of this race live daily, I like the british guys who call the race on Eurosport. Here is a link to a site that has links to a bunch of racing stuff.

Even if you do not follow pro cycling, you may have heard of the tragic death of Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt who crashed on the third stage of the Giro. I was watching that morning and it rocked me. When I left for work they had not said that he had been killed but seeing the two second shot of the medical staff attending to him, I knew it was not good. Not good at all. Sometimes it takes death to bring out the best in people. The next day the the riders did not race. They rode the day's course at a steady pace, each team taking a turn at the front, with Weylandt's Leopard Trek taking the final run. Kind of gives me chills. The rest of the 21 stage race was the Alberto Contador show and he just dominated in a way that made it an impressive demonstration of personal strength, but dull racing. I watched anyway, and enjoyed it.

Of course the europeans are not the only folks who have bike races. Last weekend saw the finish of the Amgen Tour of California. The mountainous stage 7 took place just east of Los Angeles on Mt Baldy. A few years back this race had it's final stage Redondo Beach. That was cool but at that point The race was new and did not attract the big talent that now participates. Since this shorter 8 stage race now coincides with the Giro, The big teams have to decide who races in the Giro, and who comes to Cali, maybe saving their legs for the Tour de France. Now that some of the biggest and best teams are American, (American owned and or sponsored, with riders from all over including a few Yanks) We get to see some of the best riders in the world here on our streets.

We decided to head out the San Gabriel Mountains for a day and take in this challenging mountain stage. The tour website had great info on the route, where to park, road closures, and times. After winding up and up, the spring wildflower studded mountains, we found a great spot and set up camp on the Glendora Ridge Road; a spot the race would pass twice, once on the way down and then coming up after looping through the town of Glendora. With the back of the car open and picnic and chairs ready we enjoyed the parade of non pro cyclist out enjoying the course before the race. A lot of people enjoy recreational cycling… who knew!

Cycle races and Marathons are among the few sports where spectators can watch for free and get within inches of some of the best athletes in the world. On mountain stages, when riders are going slow,some fans jog along side the riders, yelling at them creating "fan gauntlets".

At the Giro this year a lone Italian rider Stefano Garzelli threw an elbow first at a drunken shirtless guy who would not give it up and then an older guy who's moment to shine as an amateur coach needed to come to an end. Here is an athlete who has been riding for 16 days who has managed to get out ahead of everyone to take a summit of some huge italian alp type mountain and you have to be a part of it.

I had no intention of taking my shirt off and running along side these guys. On the first pass they came by so fast. We crouched on the inside of an S turn on a moderately steep section. I was holding the phone, Mimi had a cowbell loaned to us by a couple of fans down from Santa Cruz. It is unreal to feel the speed, the sound of the freewheels buzzing, see the sweat and intensity in the eyes.

An hour or so later they came by again this time laboring up hill. Not so fast, but the intensity really there. Along with a couple of cast off water bottles, I got few nice shots of some of the guys coming by.

All this racing has inspired me to push a little harder a few days a week. Not to race, just go faster, challenge myself and enjoy cycling.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rough Rider

It is funny how some things work in some situations yet not in others. For example spaghetti and hot dogs would not be on anyone in the US's breakfast menu; yet when served in Haiti, it is quite delicious.

The same can be said for my bicycle. In Los Angeles, going from the Southbay to Santa Monica, it makes complete sense, is functional, and of course, unlike the guy riding it, looks cool. Put this same bike into the back of ones' gas-pig, drive 12 hours east into the desert of New Mexico and this same practical, quick, and comfortable bike becomes rather foolish. Tires: (we have not gone far enough east to call them tyres) way too hard and narrow, basket: vibrates so much on the rough pavement that it began to self destruct, single speed: so wrong for climbing miles of relentless incline.

I am visiting my folks who live out side of town and there is a preponderance of gravel roadway. As I am accustomed to a bit sand, the loose gravel is ok yet 28mm road tires are not the way to go. When I get out on the actual "paved" road, it is more like gravel that is being held place by some blackish stuff. It is rough. The kind of rough where a kidney belt might be in order.

That brings me to the hill. This bit of "pavement" in the middle of the desert, heads down to town or up to the mountains. I have been heading towards the mountains each morning at dawn. Needles to say it is up hill; one of those hills that gets steeper and steeper as it goes. With the elevation at 4500ft above sea level, I was winded within the first mile. Standing on the pedals, hunched over my fancy French style handlebars, I barely made it 2/3 of the way to the top (or where the pavement ends).
Multiple gears would be good.

Now I have been here a few days and can make it to the end of the paved road with only one rest break. I have removed the basket to preserve it from being torn apart. I actually saw this little piece fall off. I love the desert and New Mexico has long been a second home for me. Life brings us changes and challenges, I feel like we have to get up each morning and ride towards the mountains in the East as the sun rises and not get too caught up on what we ride. It is more about how we ride; how we see who and what is around us, how we take on the challenge of the day.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Case For Baskets

First off I must apologize for abandoning this blog for so long. Perhaps we can call it a summer break. Mimi and I did even take a break to celebrate our 20th anniversary with a trip to San Francisco.

Now break-time is over and it is back to work.

Next or second off I must say thanks to Bike Snob NYC for putting my entry to his "Cockie" of the year contest and a link to my "Radio Bikes" story on his blog. I was so excited. I tried to explain it to my coworkers and all they could do was shake their heads and mutter something about me being a dork under their breath. So I am feeling very famous.

Thirdly and where I am at now is the first anniversary and completion of the "Sonic Flyer".

That is right my red bike I ride to work everyday is now (in it's phoenix like rise from the ashes of crappy old tenspeed-dom) a year old. To celebrate I finally had the new headset I bought a few months back installed by my friends at my LBS. The headset is to me one of the most boring parts on a bike so I was in no hurry to get put on. I purchased it in a moment of panic when my old headset was out of adjustment and I thought "oh that's it, It's done for." While the old headset was kind of rusty and one of the spacers was a now unused cable-stop, it worked fine, so my new one is really me succumbing to the great American consumer mentality. Someone has to keep us afloat. Also it looks nice.

What does not look nice is the basket I put on the front of my bike. Yes I have gone all Rivendel and zipp-tied a big basket to an old aluminum rack on the front of my bike.

The Bike Snob chides basket users for their smugness, and he is right. my smugness quotient has gone right through the roof. It is so uncool yet so functional.

The extra weight in front is spooky at first but once you get used to it, the ride seems smoother. Then when I get to the store on the way home, I can take on two grocery bags. Of course I try to have a reusable bag in my kit. I mean what bike dork is going to be caught in line at Whole Foods with out a reusable bag!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bike Dork: Behind Bars

While I was diverted from my usual route today with a trip to Vidiots on Pico. My ride home was as usual until I reached Dockweiler Beach. The same area where I "fell" a few weeks back. I knew something was up as I had received a call before I left work from my boss Bill warning me not to take the beach route, and that everything was messed up trying to get south of the airport. It was all could do but retain my smugness when I said "yeah thanks for the heads up, but I am on my bike today"… So, when I got to the parking lots at Dockwieler and noticed the police and police tape and news crews up on Vista Del Mar. I was all like, "hmmm". Then I over heard one of the news guys saying something about gang activity and observed a bunch of young men, in the south parking lot, lined up alongside cop cars, hands behind their backs.

Now it has been windy as of late along the coast of Santa Monica Bay. Very windy. When the wind blows a good 35- 50 mph out of the west - northwest we get sand drifting across the bike path.

I am not complaining; this is just what happens, and if you ride, you deal with it. Along some stretches of bikepath you ride for a half mile or so of 1/2 inch to 5 inches sand on the path. Past 5 inches for a few yards, I think you have to get off and walk your bike.

Because of this sand I have been looping up past the entrance shack and cutting through the RV campground to avoid a heavily drifted section of bikepath.

This is now a crime scene. There are people in their RVs doing what ever it is they do as they "camp" in their boxes. There are cyclist down on the path. There are people all over the place; it's LA there are a lot of people here trust me. As I loop along, two LAPD officers with their car blocking the road are like: "Hey you can't go here." (even though there are a ton of people going there already). And I am all like skidding to a stop and and saying: "Great, you want me to take Vista Del Mar (insanely fast and narrow 4 lanes of shoulder-less cycling horror) so you will have an actual dead body to deal with?!" Not only am I a bike dork, I am a dramatic bike dork. Cop shrugged, "Yeah what ever…"

This of course brings me to what is really on my mind: my new handlebars.

While at the time of the beach gang riot, I was still riding these svelte bars untaped, they are as of yesterday, taped and shellacked and looking good. Why you might ask did the dork spring for new handlebars, and what was wrong with the "old" ones. Well you may ask.

To me handlebars, and seat (or saddle in bike dork-ies) are the two most important parts on your bike. Funny as they are most often an afterthought with cranks and wheels seeming to get a lot of attention. After all the seat is where you put your butt, and handlebars where you put your hands; two of the most sensitive areas of the body.

The bars I had been riding since I built the sonic flyer where as far as I can tell original to the bike. Alloy "Randonier" style marked Sake Randoner SR.

This is a handlebar designed for touring that splay out wider in the drop section of the bar. They are very comfortable, allowing one to ride deep in the drop without rubbing your forearms against the top curve of the bar. While I like these bars, I found that because of the bike frame size I was stretching a bit far out in the drop position, and also when riding with my hands on the brake hoods. So for example in heavily trafficked sections of my ride, when I wanted to have my hands close to the brakes, I was also sort stretched out with my neck crooked up. Not awful, just not so great.

My new bars are "Portuer" bars from Velo Orange. They had them made after an old French front cargo bike design. I find them to be very comfy. I positioned my Campy style brake leavers out on the front curve of the bars creating a second hand position. I feel like these bars have set me free… ah yeah kinda dorkish