Thursday, April 30, 2009

Phils Ride Across America - The Story Of My Amazing Race, uh, Ride With Phil Keoghan

Video of the ride is here, click on Day 33.

“Take it up to 22,” I overheard Amazing Race TV Show Host Phil Keoghan say to the driver of the BMW motorcycle.  While I’ve been in some really fast races, I had never been motorpaced before.  It was a rush.  We left the GNC on Polaris Pkwy. in Columbus OH with about a group of 20.  Some were local GNC employees and MS Foundation volunteers who had only enough legs to hang for the first 5 to 10 miles of the 108 mile leg to Dennison, OH.  Others hung on to the increasing pace a little longer or decided to turn around.  Since most didn’t have arrangements for a ride back, myself included, and Phil’s people don’t provide transportation back to the start city, most picked a place en-route to pull even and shake hands with Phil and turn around for a solo slog back to Columbus.  It was either that or do 216 miles in a day.  I don’t think so.

I had met Phil about a year ago, at my real job, on a radio station promotional tour for The Amazing Race.  I write and produce commercials for those dying to know my glamorous occupation.  His first reaction was, “you look a lot like Lance and you ride bikes?”  I do get that a lot.  Believe me the slight resemblance ends where the helmet straps hit the cheek bones.  I guess my eyes are a little beady like Lance’s.  He did remember me on Wednesday and kept calling me Lance on the ride.  I’m sure some of that will end up on his daily video blog, or maybe when the show about the ride airs on national TV.  Eek.

When I first saw Phil that morning in Columbus, I have to say, he looked thin and sort of wiped out.  My face has looked like that from time to time.  32 days of back to back centuries, glad handing, and promotional stops is bound to take its toll on the body and mind.  Just the day before, he wrecked on a set of rain slicked railroad checks leaving him with road rash on his knee and hip.  He took a little nick out of his cheek too.  You can see the bandage in the photo.  The video of the incident is here, see the day 32 video.  Soft spoken with the Aussie lilt, he was gracious enough for photos, book signings and autographs, but you could tell he really wanted to get on with the ride and more importantly a midday nap.  After check presentations from GNC and the local MS group, he announced to the crowd that he was going to put on and I quote, “Belgian Butt Butter,” and by 10-10:30am, we were on our way.  Phil’s riding across America to raise awareness for the National MS Foundation. 

The ride itself started out like most group rides do on the way out of town.  Phil chatted with riders who worked their way up to his side and the pace was easy for the first 5 miles or so down Polaris Pkwy.  The casual riders fell off the pace or decided to turn around.  As we turned onto OH-3, the pace ratcheted up again.  I didn’t have a computer on my bike, but I guess it went up to about 18-20mph.  A group of about 10 or so hung strong till we pulled over for Phil’s crew to check their route on GPS while the rest of us took the opportunity for a natural break.  At this point, some riders said they would be turning around in a few miles; there were one or two that still intended on doing the entire 108 mile leg to Dennison with Phil.  Since I didn’t even have a map or know the route, I told someone that I thought I’d go about 50, before I would turn around and head back to my truck in Columbus.  We mounted up and were on our way.

As the road became more rural, I heard Phil tell the motorpace driver, “Take it up to 22.” We had a slight cross wind, but luckily I had Phil’s wheel.  We were starting to haul.  The conversations among riders ceased.  I quickly understood that this is how you ride across America when you’re on a deadline.  This is also how you systematically and kindly keep riders from getting in over their head while trying to follow you across America.  Somewhere I Iooked back and realized that I was the only rider left on the train.  We hauled on.   I nearly popped at least once when the motorcycle didn't ease up on a riser.  I’m sure at points we were running 23-25 mph now.  I was just trying to keep track of the turns, so I could find my way back to my car whenever it was time to turn around.

Earlier, I had heard Phil say that he really needed a nap and that he had hoped to grab some winks around lunchtime.  That made me wonder.  Was Phil trying to drop me?  He put my stewing thoughts at ease when he asked me to pull along side and ribbed me on camera about how I kind of look like Lance.  It was just the two of us now.  I think I had gained his respect as a strong rider and truthfully I think he welcomed the company and conversation.

We rocketed through some sweet country.  The rural farm roads we were on, sandwiched between OH-3 and OH-62 were freshly paved.  Smooth, twisty and rolling, this is what I came for.  We stopped twice along the way for them to check the GPS and confirm lunch plans with the people towing the Airstream which stuck to the bigger roads.  I tried to recall the way back.  Right at the cement factory, left on Johnstown, right at the new yellow house on the farm road, a slight chicane and back to Route 3.  The sky was starting to look a little grey.  My legs were starting to feel the pace. I had two swigs of Gatorade left in my bottles. I told Phil that I’d turn around at the next convenient store.

“Join us for lunch,” he said, “we just have another 12 miles.”  Sure I could do that, I thought. I can’t pass up lunch with the host of the Amazing Race.  At this pace it’d be just another half hour or so.  I could tell Phil was getting tired.  He lost the motorcycle's wheel up a gradual climb.  Not to be a chest thumper, I could tell Phil was running out of gas.  Then, somewhere within the next 5 miles, it started misting, then lightly raining.  It wasn’t so bad, but the spray from the motorcycle was hitting my feet.  My jacket was feeling damp on my arms.  I didn’t want to be stuck in the rain with wet feet and a 50 mile solo ride back home.  About 45 miles in, probably 15-20 minutes from lunch and just a few miles east of Martinsburg, OH, I pulled even with Phil and told him that I was going to turn around.

Sitting backwards on the passenger seat of the motorcycle, the camera guy lifted the camera to his shoulder.  Phil and I said our goodbyes and shook hands.  I signaled a turn around with my finger in the air and we parted ways.  Hopefully that’ll be up on the website’s video blog.

With renewed energy from the adventure, through patches of rain and sun I absolutely killed the 45 miles back to Columbus.  What a great day on the bike.  But, man climbing the stairs at work hurt the next morning.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Trek Makes Credit Card In My Name

A credit card in my name?  Aww.  You shouldn't have!  Thank you Trek!  While I have yet to use this card, I have my eye on those carbon cyclocross bikes they had at a recent trade show.  I can't wait.  The three grand limit and no payments for six months will go a long way, at least long enough to race cross and have the bike repo'ed at the end of the season.

Some friends who race for the Trek Store in Cincinnati forwarded this to me.  Trek has a credit program for customers.  I'm just pickled they like this blog so much they made the first card in my nom de plume.  

Joe Biker

Monday, April 27, 2009

Chicken Soup For The Cyclist's Soul

Even If there’s a bike race, she attends Sunday mass or at least the Saturday matinee.  God before bikes.  Not preachy, fun, and always good humored, the only thing that might tip you off that she’s somewhat religious is when she blurts out “Jesus help me,” on a particularly tough climb.  She’s not using the Lord’s name in vain, but sincerely asking Jesus for help. 

While I haven’t been to a church since a 5k festival run last year or been to service since I spent a Christmas at my mother’s house, I grew up in a Catholic family.  I believe in God, just maybe not how my mother wished.  Regardless, between kneeling, sitting and standing, I can imagine the sermon she heard on Saturday about how God can help one overcome life’s difficulties.  

Priest: And, now a reading from the book of Peter.  "So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you."  Amen.

“You just have to ask God for help,” he preached.  “Too many times, people get themselves into a difficult situation and they don’t ask for help.  All you have to do is ask,” he added.  She had communion, gave thanks and made a beeline for her car to meet the caravan to the bike race.

Not a day for the deep dish wheels, the wind forced riders to lean into the crosswind.  In the headwind the mph’s dropped into the lower teens.  With the temperature hovering at 85 degrees, on the third lap the salty crust formed on her upper lip and helmet  straps.  She struggled to suck wheel, doing her best to hang on to the pace of the lead breakaway group of five.   The next attack went, and she popped off.  She tried to regain contact, but the lead group of four were gone.  She reached for her bottle, half empty.  “Jesus help me,” she muttered in her head.

Trying to salvage a 5th place finish, she hunkered down flat backed hoping to stick out a no-womans-land finish between the breakaway and the chasing peloton.  However, behind her, the pack had splintered in the crosswind.  She powered on for an entire lap solo, but fading.   As she crossed through the start/finish she looked back and could see another girl within 100 meters of her wheel. 

It was her teammate.  On the next climb the two made contact.  “Let’s work together to stay away,” her teammate said.  “I don’t know if I can make it,” she sputtered between breaths.  “Get on my wheel,” her teammate replied.  Through the headwind section on the wheel of her teammate she gained her composure.  When it was time for her to pull-through, she pulled even with her teammate and jokingly said, “You know.  I was asking Jesus for help about a lap ago and now you’re here.  You’re my Jesus!”   

They laughed.  She pulled to the front and got back to the business of keeping the gap to the women chasing behind.  When they hit the 200 meter mark she said, “you can take the sprint.”  “No let’s cross together,” her teammate said with a smile.  At the line, the two locked hands and took 5th together.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I Called The Cops: Preventing Bike Theft

A bucket of emotions, I feel guilty, mad, scared, angry and sorry.  I’m pissed I feel that way.  As I was packing my bike into my truck this morning, a dude walked by the house.  We live in a neighborhood that’s a pedestrian thoroughfare from adjacent neighborhoods to the nearest stores.  Dudes and dudettes, young and old, are a daily, sometimes hourly occurrence.  By now, I recognize most of the people that frequent our street.  Some say hi, some don’t.  I don’t recall seeing this particular dude before.  Like a scruffy George Costanza, he was stocky, maybe in his late 30’s to mid 40’s wearing a yellow shirt and baseball cap with a shirt tied around his waist.  Just a week earlier I had read a neighborhood newsletter asking residents to be aware of petty theft, primarily from vehicles.  The paranoia wick was lit.

As I fidgeted getting the main part of my bike into the truck, I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw that he was watching me.  He turned away.  As I put the wheel in the truck, he looked again, looked away and looked back again.  “What the?  Is this guy casing my bike or what,” I thought.  By this time he was past my house, and looked again.  “Oh-my-God.  What is with this guy,” I thought as the warning light when off in my head.  In my mind he was taking a mental inventory of the contents of my garage.  In his mind, I can only imagine.

Just as I got concerned, he stepped up the curb and walked into the sliver of a park across the street and disappeared through the brush on a short trail that leads to the railroad tracks.  “Huh, just passing through,” I thought.  I finished up, double checked the house alarm, nervously put locks on the remaining bikes in my garage, backed out, and made sure the garage door closed. 

As I drove away, I could see him in the rear view mirror walking back down the street toward my house again, in the direction he had come from only a minute or two ago.  “Dammit,” I thought.  Not to look like I was worried, in a disguised paranoia I went on my way.  I decided to get some gas a few blocks away and loop back toward my house.  Five minutes later, I saw him again.  By this time, he was well away from my house and walking down the main street toward the stores.  Maybe it was nothing, I thought.  Two people awkwardly crossing paths in their daily routine.

On my way to work, about 3 miles from home the situation stewed and worked its way under my skin.  I called the police non-emergency number and told them there was a suspicious guy in the neighborhood.  They took a description and other details and said they’d check it out.  I hung up and the guilt set in.  What if he was just another person walking through the neighborhood?  Maybe he thought I was giving him the evil eye and watching him.  Or, maybe he was casing my garage.  This emotional stew sucks, but I guess it tastes better than having my bike stolen. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pulling Weeds & Hamstrings

You know why cyclists, and other pro athletes, seem to retire around age 38 or so? It’s not because they are past their prime, achieved all their goals or ended up with their name on an El Puerto list.  It’s because they got to the age where they own houses and grass and gardens and planter boxes and all the muscle ripping ligament tweaking upkeep that comes with it. 

By nature, cyclists appreciate beauty and therefore cannot turn their back on garden weeds or burnt out patches of grass.  They seek perfection in form and movement.  The flow of sweet single track and echelons that mimic migratory flight, engrain the theory of natural order in a cyclists noggin.  Tell me you don’t want your yard to look like a Graham Watson photo of a flowing flowered French countryside or Colorado Aspens framing a meadow. 

The grass in my yard must be even height.  Weeds cannot distract my eyes from the roses.  Planter boxes perched above a cobbled patio must elicit the feeling of an Italian café.  However, the fitness developed from riding bikes drains out the second you stoop over and pull weeds from the garden, leaving you a quivering worthless heap.

After a landscaping project last fall, wheel barrows and burly men in steel toed boots carrying plants, soil and sod up the hill and into our backyard put the hurt on our already hurting side yard.  In hindsight, a neurotic side-effect of cycling, maybe I should’ve anticipated the traffic on the path and had them sod the side yard too.  Second guessing aside, my nagging sense of natural order told me that I had to patch the grass, pronto! 

Cyclists learn from their mistakes.  The last time I worked in the garden, pulling weeds, I also pulled some hamstrings.  You would think that being fit and flexible, having the ability to ride for hours, bunny hop and cyclocross would keep us immune from the aches and pains of the typical fatso doing yard work, but that’s not so.  I would hedge a guess that even the great Eddie Merckx, whose toughness on the bike gave him the nickname “The Badger,” fell victim to his own bull-headed cycling stubbornness, and was eventually demoralized working solo in his Belgian garden.  For cyclists, gardens are kryptonite.

To keep the Kryptonite from exacting its toll, this time I decided that it wasn’t wise to bend over at the waist to patch the grass.  To avoid unnecessary hunching, crouching and stooping, I would kneel on one knee, a brilliant tactic I thought.  My strategy was to patch the hillside going left to right in rows starting at the bottom, to minimize travel up and down the hillside.  Like systematically putting food in my outside jersey pockets and spare tube in the middle, I laid the buckets, hose, trowel, claw and bag of seed mix in a systematic order in front of me to avoid overreaching and contorting my body in unnatural positions.  I stayed hydrated.  I even took two breaks and a natural. 

For three and a half hours I patched.  Standing on the sidewalk, looking up the hillside I admired my work.  In two weeks I’d have grass-babies.  In a few months cyclists from all around would come to my yard, tuck their sunglasses in their helmets, and ponder the plush even looking grass.  By the end of summer it’d be worth the attention of Graham Watson’s lens.

For three days I’ve been sore.  While not as crippling as last time, the garden got me again.  It put the whammy on my right glute and hamstring.  I haven’t ridden a bike since.  Thankfully it’s a rest-week.  Aside from training to become more fit as a gardener, or crawling through the garden like a snake pulling weeds with my mouth, I’ve realized the best way a cyclist can achieve natural nirvana and avoid getting hurt in the garden, is to hire a team. 

A typical landscaping crew is remarkably like a bike team.  There’s the team leader that doesn’t do any work unless it’s of the highest order and there’s the strong domestiques that slog the wheel barrows and plants from the truck to the yard.  It’s no surprise the landscaping cyclists that I know are usually the owners of the company, immune from the hard labor.  Attacking my garden on my own is like being in a race without the support of a team, doomed to take on every weedy attack on my own.  

Monday, April 20, 2009

What’s This Schwinn Stingray Worth?

“So....what's this re-built bike worth?”

Well that’s nearly an offensive question. What’s a still-in-the-box 1975 Deluxe Curl Barbie or a perfect condition KISS Alive album worth? That’s not a bike. That’s not even a Schwinn Stingray. That’s a childhood gem.

To a 2nd grader who could draw all the KISS faces with extreme precision, my lime green sparkly banana saddled Stingray was my best friend as Barbie was to the girl next door. It had a ball-busting stick shifter on the top tube. I can vividly remember riding through the cracked concrete alley behind our house down to the dry cleaning store solely because they always had free popcorn on the counter. Good times.

As you are where you work, I’m the office bike geek. We also have horse riding geeks and Ford Crown Victoria Police car geeks. Everyone has a passion for something. So of course, when a coworker was offered this bike as a raffle item for her charity auction, she posed the question to me. With a few clicks on EBay and a Schwinn Restoration forum, I did my best to answer her.

A year ago or so, I came across a Schwinn Continental II that I’m still working on refurbishing. In the process, I learned about the Schwinn Restoration forum which has a ton of great links for determining the year your Schwinn was built based on its serial number, what it might be worth and what it could look like if fully restored or turned into a work of art.

I didn’t have the serial number, but judging from the red/brown color and based upon some old catalogs I’ve seen, I’d hedge a guess that this Schwinn Stingray is from the mid 70’s. Judging from photos of similar looking bikes, I’m also guessing that this bike is missing its chrome fenders. It also seems like there’s something special about ’62 and ’63 Schwinn Stingray’s. The lime green color and the one with the big “S” on the banana seat seem to sell for more too. Two similar bikes to the one pictured above caught my eye on EBay, both with bids between $150 and $200. Some chopper style Stingrays on EBay go for over $500. I’m sure there’s tricked out Stingrays that sell for much higher.

Judging from that brief research, I’d say this well restored fenderless plain Jane Schwinn Stingray is probably in the $150-$200 neighborhood. Ultimately, it’s what the market will bear. I’d certainly write a $175 check for it. $300? I don’t think so, not unless its lime green with a stick shift and comes with a bag of popcorn.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Deer Creek Ohio Cycling Road Race Video

Deer Creek Road Race from ohio cycling on Vimeo.This is the best locally produced video I've ever seen for a Cincinnati area race.  The bar has been set.  Features great commentary, main footage from the Cat 1/2/3 race, finishes from all fields and a good wrap up.  Nice job.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Finest Balls Available And Another Thing About Zipp Carbon Wheels

“If you upgrade…know that you'll be getting Grade 2 balls, the finest available…,” well okay, and that’s according to Zipp Wheel’s website.  Apparently I do not have the finest balls available on the Zipp 404 Clydesdale Tubulars I won at the OVCX raffle last year.  We’re talking bearings here.  According to Zipp, Grade 2 ceramic balls are the finest available, but we all know it’s not about the balls.  Or, was that the bike?  The thing is most people buy carbon wheels because they are lighter, more aerodynamic and if they have grade 2 balls, carbon wheels roll faster than other wheels.  I have never heard anyone say they bought Zipps because they make you faster going downhill.  They should. 

You know how many cyclists I’ve run into that are afraid to let it loose on a descent and carve it up?  I know one woman, a very seasoned triathlete who used to come to nearly a dead stop at the top of hills afraid of the descent.  Zipp’s missing out on a great advertising angle here.  Going downhill is arguably the most fun aspect of cycling.  You don’t have to pedal.  You can go over 50mph on a good descent.  Imagine if instead of getting scared going around a downhill corner at say 45mph, you wouldn’t get concerned till you were going over 50 or more.  Aside from the cost and durability issues, I’m really surprised that I haven’t seen downhill mountain bikers run a deep carbon wheel.  The experience I’ve had so far is more than a subtle difference.  On a mountain bike, deep carbon hoops would definitely keep you from overcooking a corner and taking a trip through the trees.

On my first test ride, I bombed down Shawnee Run in Cincinnati’s hoidy toidy Indian Hill neighborhood, where Proctor and Gamble descendents live in horse-fence harmony with Cincinnati’s native celebrities like Peter Framton.  With Kyserium SSC SL’s, I usually end up scrubbing a little speed off on the last two turns to avoid getting too close to the thick painted shoulder line which can get slippery on this usually shaded and damp hill.  On the Zipp 404 Clydesdale tubulars, I never hit the brakes and continued pedaling till I spun out my 53x12 on the run in to the stop sign at the bottom.  Like a figure skater carving a turn on one skate, a really manly figure skater, it was like the wheels wanted to hold their space in the universe.  The control was amazing.  I was laughing at how ridiculously fast I was going and that I didn’t get scared at eye watering speed.

I’m sure most of the incredible stability at speed is due to the shape and height of the carbon faring and the wider hub.  I went to Zipp’s website for further explanation.  Zipp says, “Because the real world includes rough pavement, potholes and corners, we've designed our exclusive VCLC technology to reduce fatigue and maximize bike handling control for every rider and every road surface.”  Then it got a little more gobbley gookish, “The key is a visco-elastic material sandwiched between layers of rigid carbon laminate in the rim.”  Okay, whatever you say.  It went on, “When the wheel receives an impact from the road, much of the shock is absorbed by the VCLC system, delivering a 10% reduction in vibration.  That means that your wheel stays glued to the pavement when cornering and transmits less vibration into your body, reducing fatigue and keeping you fresh to carry your top speed all the way to the finish.”  Certainly someone was getting paid to fill up the large space around the pretty wheel picture.

They could’ve just said something like, “Zipp.  You Wont Crap Your Chamois On Wicked Fast Bumpy Downhill Corners… now with the finest balls available.”

And, just in case you're wondering, I have found the cyclist with the finest balls.  Yikes!