Friday, August 26, 2016

The Paceline.

In my continuing search for the end of the internet, I stumbled across The Paceline Forum. Since most of the forums I frequent have either faded or devolved into an endless cycle of the same old topics discussed the same old way, I joined up looking for a fresh take on the subject matter.
So far, it looks like there's a healthy chunk of the active membership that could be classified as custom builder fetishists, mixed in with a bunch of people that just like to ride road bikes. Plenty of dogmatic beliefs on display that characterize all bike forums, but little of the "big man behind the keyboard" syndrome that make so many of them unbearable. People respectfully disagree, almost as if they recognize that other users are actual human beings. It's weird, and I'm not quite sure how to deal with it. It won't last. It can't last.
Other than the freakishly civil behavior, there's a very active classified section that has a lot of really nice parts. For a parts whore like me, it's a dangerous place. Every day there are new listings that have me contemplating new projects. I've never owned a really nice steel frame. What if I combined this with that and made something else that would fit into this hole in my bike quiver that I never knew existed but now seems completely obvious to anyone with half a brain. Dangerous.
It always nice to find a place on the internet where people can get together and talk about what unites them, without excessive guidelines or moderation. Just people acting like adults, like they would in a face-to-face encounter. These days, it's becoming rarer and rarer.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Roadie Arms Race.

When it comes to my bikes, I admit a certain amount of vanity. OK, a large amount of vanity. I like them to look fast just sitting there. Low and lean, with a certain aggressive air, even if the tub of lard sitting on the saddle exhibits none of those characteristics. Components that are too nice for the abilities of the driver. Like most roadies- dare I say most cyclists (even if they won't admit it publicly)- I like for my bikes to look the part.

Deep carbon wheels are a prime example. They just make a bike look faster. Since the advent of cheaper, open-mold carbon wheels, pretty much everyone can have that look on a budget. Of course, performance is another matter, because those wheels often have cheaper hubs and somewhat questionable braking characteristics. They can't roll worth a crap and won't stop worth a damn, but man, do they look cool. Slap a set of cheap carbon wheels on an entry-level road bike, slam the stem, and suddenly you have something that will impress the casual observer.

You see it in every level of the local road racing scene. Guys (including me) fighting for control in crosswinds as their fast-looking carbon wheels develop a mind of their own. Howling brakes on descents, as the riders pray that they'll stop before that T intersection ahead. All in the name of looking cool.

I won't deny the performance gains. I also can't say the investment is worth it, because that would imply some sort of tangible, measureable, and meaningful return. Some of those gains are likely between the ears. Nothing wrong with that. I probably would have been better off training more and spending less, but I like them. I like the way they look on my bikes. Again, they look cool, and there might be a small bump in performance to go with that as a bonus.

I have multiple sets for different purposes and different bikes. Most are in the 50mm range, which is the all-around carbon wheel size. I have a TT disc wheel that sounds really cool and demoralizes slower riders as you pass them. I have a big, fat rear wheel for sprints and hilly time trials. Eventually you have carbon wheels for every situation, plus a set to act as a spare in case you happen to flat right in front of the wheel pit instead of 20 miles away (never happens). The returns that started diminishing when you bought the first set have flat-lined, and you have to look for a new place to waste your money.

My bet for the next big trend in image-conscious fluffery? Handlebars.

I've always used aluminum handlebars with a flattened top section, because they were the most comfortable for my hands. Plus, they said aero, which added to the bling-factor. My go-to bars were 3T Ergonova Pros, with a matching stem to show I paid attention to system integration and all that crap. They worked well, or at least I never had a catastrophic failure attributable to them. The main problem I had was that they were flexy when sprinting out of the saddle. It took a significant amount of energy to flex those bars, energy not transferred to the pedals. Besides, despite claims of being aero, they lacked the surface area of the Spruce Goose's wings that would scream AERO! to everyone in the immediate vicinity (living or dead).
After doing exhaustive research, I ended up finding a set of Easton EC90 Aero handlebars for a reasonable price that provided both the looks and functionality I was looking for. I briefly considered a set of Chinese carbon bars, but after my recent clavicle mishap I was less than anxious to trust my well-being to a molded conglomeration of old dish towels and super glue. An established brand from a reputable company is about all I'm willing to gamble on in this case. Once installed (with matching stem, of course), they will pronounce my aero-ness to the world, ultimately triggering the next great bike arms race as all of the competition rushes to close the equipment gap.
If you think the arms race will stop there, you haven't been paying attention. After all, I have a lot of bikes...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Horse That Threw You.

I watched it carefully, making no sudden movements so as to avoid spooking it. This wasn't out of fear, but rather caution. Caution borne out of our last interaction, which didn't end up so well for me. I wanted things to go better this time around. I wanted us to be friends. This part of the ritual was delicate, where trust and faith and all of those sorts of things combine to make magical things happen. When the belief is gone, the magic goes with it. I wanted to believe again. I needed to believe again.

Since our falling out was my fault, I tried to make amends. I replaced the front derailleur and wrapped the bars with new tape, as I had shredded the old tape on the pavement. I wiped down the tubes as best as I could, and tried to double-check all of the alignments and adjustments. If I saw something that wasn't quite right in my eyes, I fixed it. Things I would have let slide before were corrected on the spot, lest they ruin the moment. I noted a small dent in the downtube, which wasn't a result of the wreck but a gift from my friends at the TSA. I re-checked everything I could think of, trying to make sure I didn't miss any more presents from that fine, bike-loving organization.

After work I pulled the Storck off of the roof rack, careful not to aggravate my collar bone. I did anyway. Soon enough the bike was on the ground, the front tire in the fork, the skewers tightened. I took a deep breath and threw my leg over the saddle, taking some time to fiddle with my Garmin as I contemplated what was in front of me.

The doctor gave me the OK to ride outside again, as long as I promised not to fall down before the clavicle healed. I made no such promise, because that would have been tempting fate. I think he understood. You don't focus on what you're not trying to hit, so I'm not focusing on the ground. As long as I stay up here and it stays down there, we're good.
The roads were wet from the day's sporadic showers, but it wasn't actively raining. I had slapped on fenders to keep the bike more or less clean, and shoe covers to do the same for my shoes. I was going to get wet, but I was trying to manage the amount of post-ride cleaning I was going to have to do.
I clipped in my right foot, back-pedaled to the top of the stroke, pushed off, and fumbled a little to get the other foot clipped in. Funny how rusty you get in a short time. A few pedal strokes in, and there it was.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lucky I Have Such Bad Luck.

So I came across it on Craigslist. The seller, essentially a junk dealer that picks stuff up at estate sales, auctions, and the like, had no idea what it was. I tried to set up several meetings to pick it up, did my research, and was ready to go.
It was a 2007 Giant OCR 1. A decent groupset on an entry-level frame for dirt cheap.
Drop a little money on it and sell it for a profit, or just sell it to a buddy for what I had into it. That was the plan.
Text messages flew back and forth. He still had it. I kept missing him at his shop. Finally, I caught up with him and he showed me a pile of rusty Walmart bikes and a beach cruiser. Nothing remotely resembling a road bike. Sorry about that, dude.
In retrospect, I dodged a bullet.
I have enough projects piled up in the garage waiting for my attention. I haven't finished working on the Storck and its crash-related damage. I only finished tacking together my crit bike yesterday. The new titanium frame should be in this week. The race bike has some new parts ready for installation. The parts pile itself needs attention, as I can't remember what I have on-hand and what I don't. More than once I've ordered a chainring or derailleur, only to find I already had a brand-new one sitting in plain sight.
Besides, I leave for Biloxi next week. Anything I don't take care of before I leave will sit for three months or more while I'm sweating in America's armpit. More stuff cluttering up the floor of the garage. More stuff to get kicked aside, forgotten, and duplicated.
Sometimes I get lucky and don't make things worse. I don't need more stuff. I may want more stuff, but I don't need more stuff.
Chances are, I'm going to get more stuff.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The More Things Change.

It's probably the same for everyone in the civilized world.

Periodically Facebook dredges up old pictures from my timeline and asks me if I want to share them again, as if anyone really cares about what I did four years ago. I barely care about what I did yesterday, and I'm one self-centered bastard. Usually the pictures are of my kids that my wife shared on my timeline, and I reflect on how cute they were when they were that age (or whatever parents do when they get old and forget how much work the kids were back then).

The picture that popped up today was of a project cyclocross bike. A cheap Nashbar disc 'cross frame and fork just out of the box. Nothing but potential. I think I sold it within a year and moved onto another 'cross bike, which I built up and then sold within a year when I realized running into trees and falling down was killing me.

I very rarely make money on project bikes, but that's not the point. To be honest, I'm not really sure what the point is. I like building things. I like riding different bikes. Building bikes is like playing with Legos for me. I get to make something partial or neglected whole and functional again. Sometimes I tear them down just to build them up again in another configuration. Sometimes I build them up and immediately sell them, with no intention of ever riding the project. I generally lose money, and have neglected how much I've poured into bike builds that was subsequently flushed away when I sold them.

In addition to the new titanium bike that is underway, I'm also possibly getting another project. This is one of those ones I doubt I will ride. It's a neglected bike that has perfectly respectable bones, and hopefully will go to a new roadie who has been otherwise discouraged by the high price of admittance. I'm probably going to lose money or barely break even, but I look at it three ways. First, I get to play and satisfy that part of my nature. Second, I keep a good bike out of the trash before its time. Third, I get another person into the sport.

That, my friends, is worth the investment.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Have A Great Ride.

This morning as I was driving to work, I couldn't help but envy all of the people I saw on bikes. Road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids... pretty much every type of bike was being ridden, with one notable exception- my bikes. I was jealous.

I go in to see the orthopedic surgeon today. he'll likely poke and prod and generally make me hurt. Like most people these days who fall down and get a booboo, I've read a bunch of articles on the internet that list widely varying timelines for how long this will take to fix itself. Not being the most patient person, I think the most optimistic estimates are still too long. I want to ride. Not on the trainer. Real riding.

We'll see what the doctor says, then ignore it.

I'm tapering myself off the drugs. Last night I substituted a couple Blue Moons for a Percocet, and was pleased with the results, although more research is required to confirm initial observations. I really don't like the way the Percocet makes me feel, but some days rolling home it was the one thing that would allow my shoulder to relax. If I can replace it with beer, I'll be extremely happy. It could be the difference between becoming a functional alcoholic and a heroin addict.

With my extended trip to the flooded Gulf Coast looming, I will not accept the possibility of not riding. That region has historically crushed my soul every time I've visited it, and riding a bike for hours every day has the dual benefit of keeping me sane and improving my overall fitness. The area holds no other attraction for me. Many people who feel that it's heaven, but I'm not one of them. The longest days, months, and years I have lived were on the Gulf Coast. Flat, hot, humid, insect/redneck infested swamps. Casinos that provide a cesspool of legal/unhealthy activities for flocks of overweight senior citizen bus tourists to wallow around in. Giant targets for myriad seasonal natural disasters. I'm a mountain person. I don't really enjoy the beach. Fishing isn't my thing. To kill the hours of idle time I'm facing without wasting an excessive amount of money on things I will never use again or activities I don't really enjoy, I need to ride.

Maybe on a long weekend I'll drive up to the family farm in Virginia. Drag my cousin up Grandfather Mountain or some other iconic North Carolina route. That will kill some time, but that's only a drop in the bucket. I need to ride.

So, I envied those guys out there this morning, chugging along, covered in sweat, not aware that they were being admired. They probably don't realize how lucky they are, and how easily it can be taken from them. As I slowly come to terms with my own fragility and mortality, I treasure the act of turning the pedals over on the open road more and more. Riding is a gift, and it's one I want to get back soon.

This realization probably won't keep me from pushing it and taking chances. I'll probably fall down again, and I may hurt myself worse. The way I see it, a gift that isn't used is wasted. Use the hell out of that gift. Sometimes things go wrong. Shit happens, despite reasonable precautions taken. That's life, and sometimes it sucks. You take a fall, you get back up, dust yourself off, and do your best to carry on until you can't anymore. Then you do something else.

Keep riding, you random strangers on the road. I'll be out to join you as soon as I can.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Thank You For Being Awesome.

Today I'm going to switch things up a bit and be positive.

It would have been all too easy lately to go into a deep, blue funk after the way my season has gone. From the series of child-borne illnesses I suffered this winter to the GC-killing wreck at the Tour of Fairbanks to the fractured clavicle, this year has been a rolling train wreck, complete with exploding HAZMAT boxcars dumping toxic chemicals into the main aquifer.

And yet, I feel fortunate. I feel happy. I feel relaxed from all of the opioids coursing through my body, but that's another blog post.

When I step back and think about it, I'm plugged into a whole lot of awesome. The cycling and alpine skiing communities in Alaska have a whole lot of people that work very hard to make life better for the rest of us self-centered bastards. They organize events, lobby for infrastructure, volunteer countless hours for projects, and generally try to leave things better than they found them.

I appreciate it. Even though I don't always agree with how they go about it and occasionally (often) butt heads with them, their efforts are not in vain. While it seems most of the world is spiraling down the toilet, they are creating opportunities for people to get out and have fun. Fun is not something to be taken for granted, and I likes me some fun. That I can have fun doing my quirky, euro-centric sporting activities is largely thanks to a relatively small group of dedicated people.

You're awesome. That doesn't mean I don't want to punch you in the face sometimes, but on the whole the community is better because you're out there giving a shit. When I climb on my bike or click into my ski bindings, you contributed to keeping me motivated and helped provide the outlets to pursue whatever the hell it is I'm chasing.

Next time you're out and about, have a beer to celebrate a job well done. I won't be paying for it, but at least the thought is there.

Who said it was a thankless job?