Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Face of Jesus in Matt’s Saddle Bag

Look!  I think I see the face of Jesus.  Like the shroud of Turin, inside his saddle bag, the spare tube and Allen wrenches were wrapped in a tie-dye-esque aged rust stained cloth.  I unraveled the wrenches and held out the cloth.  Behold!  That might fetch a few bucks on eBay.  They’ve been in the seat bag a long time, not quite B.C. old, but maybe before Bieber.  25 miles from home, I was helping Matt from Smitty’s Cyclery in Cincinnati replace a broken shift cable.  Yes.  He carries a spare.

Wrapping your tube and tools are just one of the lessons I learned from Big Matt’s saddle bag.  A former racer on the track and on the road, I’m sure Matt’s no stranger to weight weenie tendencies.  Matt proved you can pack a lot and still pack light.  The bag was packed with the expertise of an Everest climber, the necessities of survival in a few cubic inches.  I’ve had a day to think about it, and there’s not a mechanical incident that would’ve had Matt calling for a ride home.  Inside Matt’s saddle bag: tube, mini-tool with chain breaker, select 4-5-6 Allen wrenches, patch kit, brake and shifter cable, a five spot, a zip tie, and a chain pin.  I wouldn’t doubt there were a spare cleat and/or bottle cage bolt in there somewhere.  He kept the mini pump in his jersey pocket.

The black thing is the free hub body.
Matt explained the zip tie was in case your free hub body dies.  The free hub body is the thing your cassette rides on.  Its ratcheting pawls allow you to coast and engage the gears.  When it dies, and they do occasionally, you’re left…coasting home.  To fix on the fly, you can zip-tie the cassette to the spokes and get yourself home in a fixed-gear sort of way.  A zip tie can also fix a broken bottle cage, keep a busted derailleur out of your spokes or can be traded to the locals for corn and beads.

Wrapping your spare tube and tools in cloth accomplishes two, three, maybe four things.  For one, it prevents you from being the annoying Mr. Jangly Bag on group rides.  Two, it keeps sharp edge tools from serrating your spare tube.  Three, I would hedge a bet that it keeps spare tubes from drying out and/or prevents the valve-tube junction from becoming oxidized.  Lastly, it never hurts to have a rag for sweaty hands or keeping gooey chain greased hands from messing up white bar tape.

The black thing is a zip tie.
While Matt worked to get the broken cable end out of his shifter, I reached over his bike and undid the fixing bolt on his Dura Ace rear derailleur.  Matt’s got many miles in his legs, no stranger to being 2 hours from home with a mechanical.  He’s a mechanic at Smitty’s Cyclery in Cincinnati.  Yet even he packs a spare derailleur cable and a spare brake cable in his seat bag.  I scratched my head.  His Land Shark bike was impeccably clean and well maintained.  Having worked at a shop myself, I take pride wrenching on my own bikes and used to have a relative comfort in thinking that my cables are new and all bolts are properly fixed.  I don’t need to bring a multi-tool or anything beyond a tube, cartridge, mini-pump and five-dollar bill.  There on a flat road, 2 hours from home, Matt snapped a cable, fixed it with a spare in the span of 5 minutes and left me questioning my minimalist logic.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ault Park, IA

Out on the crit circuit again today at the Melon City Crit in Muscatine, IA. The race is held in Weed Park on the banks of the Mississippi River about halfway between the Quad Cities and Burlington, IA, but somehow the course seemed very familiar to racing back home in Cincinnati.

Weed Park contains a loop of pavement very reminiscent of Ault Park in Cincinnati. For those not familiar, Ault Park is a kilometer oval inside the 275 loop of Cincinnati that has both an uphill and a downhill as well as a small stretch of flat ground that you almost never realize is actually flat. You reach speeds of 35-40 mph at times downhill, jump a couple of small pavement seams at the bottom, and try to keep your heart in your mouth up the hill. Rinse, repeat, do it 40 times and call it a night.

The length of Weed Park is long, but the loop is eerily familiar. The first half is downhill, reaching the edge of your speed nerves, then a bump at the bottom, and a longer climb back to the top to the finish. The biggest difference between the two is that everything is larger here and the tight chicane corner is before the finish instead of being after the finish.

Did I mention the bump? It isn't as much a bump as it is a speed hump - you know the ones you have to cross head to Ault Park that you can't see and nearly eject you while you are warming up when you forget they are there? Now you have the picture. Every lap you are hitting these things at 35 mph, many folks are catching air, some folks are pumping over it, but no matter how you look at it, you are hitting this thing hoping your friend next to you is better at landing a jump than Evil Kneivel at the Grand Canyon.

No matter how much I describe it, you won't really get it without a picture or two. I have inserted a few and will let you decide which you think are the best attempts. To keep it in perspective there were no crashes on the bump today. The bump may distract you, but this really is a fun course.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Racing Snake Alley

Looking at all the pictures and listening to all the lore, Snake Alley's focus is on the fabled climb of the crookedest street. The climb certainly doesn't disappoint and watching racers through the day it certainly is a difference maker.

We saw more than one instance of racers getting cut off in corners, falling over and being forced to walk the uphill cobbles in road cleats. There were several instances of racers being weighted too far onto their front wheel, slipping the rear tire, losing all momentum and pretending to have Turrets Syndrome for a few moments. All caught by someone on camera to live in infamy on the internets over the next few days. If you kept track of riders you could also track guys that nailed the start, were first up the hill, and then got lapped about 4 laps later.

One of the unseen parts of the race, everyone is up on the hill to watch, is the cyclocross start. The first time through Snake Alley is less than 1/10th of a mile from the start with a 90 degree corner along the way. In crits you always want to be toward the front, but in this crit you HAVE to be up front immediately.

Having just completed Ault Park this past week you get a false sensation of what starts are like - no one seems to ever be in a hurry to get moving right away. At Snake Alley guys are sprinting off the line to get to the hill in the front ten as if they were OJ Simpson trying to get through an airport.

The climb is the evident focus of the crit, but as they say what goes up must come down. If you step back and think through the logic and do some calculations you realize half the course is about having the kajones to descend through four corners of a crit at break neck speed.

After climbing up a 21% grade, bringing your heart to near explosion, you have to take a right turn, stare down an 8%-10% grade, turn right, descend more, turn left, descend more, turn right, carry all your speed and turn right again. Doing this alone might be fun and interesting. You could Strava your downhill speed and brag to your neighbor. But here you have to do it with all your freshly minted racing friends, whom you have never raced with, surrounding you.

The climb at Snake Alley gets all the attention, but the descent is underrated.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What is a "Snake Alley"

Snake Alley is one way going down
 except for the race.
Before we left Cincinnati we mentioned we were heading to Snake Alley to several cyclist and the response was a pretty unanimous "oh, really?" The kind of response that says "I heard of it, but I ain't never been there." Which, before this weekend, is exactly what I knew of it - there is an alley and it snakes - and of course OVCX regular Drew Dillman has won the hotly contested Juniors 15-18 race two years consecutive.

Today our mission was to find out exactly what this Snake Alley really entails. A preview ride the day before the real race should at least tell us what some of the hub-bub is about, but the real race will be a new experience to all in the car.

Some research on Wikipedia revealed some information about the Alley - or at least I am hoping this specific Wikipedia page wasn't hi-jacked.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_Alley

Spencer and Kenzie headed up the bricks
According to the Wikipedia page the alley was constructed in 1894 to connect downtown Burlington, IA to the close by neighborhoods. Due to the steepness of the hill, the alley winds in a serpentine fashion about 275 feet, rising about 58 feet vertically over that span. The resulting grade is approximated at 21% - though that appears to vary if you take the outside line on all the curves. The pictures on the internet give it a Lombard Street from San Francisco feel to it. Wikipedia says, again hoping it is accurate, the crooked section of Lombard is about 1300 feet long, making Snake Alley about 1/10th the size.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lombard_Street_(San_Francisco)

To prepare for this race we had to find something local to Cincinnati to practice. Through discussion and research we found that Adams Road is relatively close to Snake Alley in dimension. If you haven't been up it, head up the Little Miami bike trail to Loveland and head up the hill just north of the downtown Loveland section. Many of you have done this and groan audibly when someone suggest starting a ride up Adams. Now go race up it a few times with about 2 minutes between attempts and your heart rate already spiked.

Closeup of the pavers used
Many of you will agree that sounds hard, but what brings the lore that Snake Alley has earned is the fact that the climb is also cobbled. Yes, it is laid brick from bottom to top creating the opportunity to lose your traction, fall over, slip and have to run up a 21% grade in road cleats. 

I bet this Alley could tell quite a few tales and I hope to capture some to share tomorrow.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Loaf of Toast on Bowling Night

It’s bowling night, a typical Wednesday for my Dad, 1980 in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.  He’s 38, bowling age 38.  The name etched into his brown swirl designed custom ball reads “NICK.”  The Arial font inscription used to be white.  It’s nicotine stained a sweaty-grey/yellow.  With a soft right handed curve, the ball leaves his hand and his custom fit tan Velcro wrist guard.  Chunk.  Roll.  Crash.  He left 1 pin.  His score on the overhead projector at Petroff’s Lanes reads 168 in the 9th frame.  The “one eyed whop” as his buddies affectionately call my half Italian dad, picks up the spare and pours Miller High Life from the pitcher into his glass before he sits back down with his Custom Products teammates.  If you don't know, the derogatory term "whop" is an acronym for "without papers."

It’s surreal sometimes, especially filling out the racing age on the waiver at Cincinnati’s Wednesday night Ault Park Crit race series.  I’m now older than my dad on bowling night.  With a zipper instead of buttons and spandex for cotton, I’ve got my sponsor’s jersey on.  Custom Products, a metal fabrication company was owned by a buddy of my dad.  BioWheels bike shop is owned by my buddy Mitch.  The rest is the same.  Pro bike.  Pro shoes.  Name sticker on my bike.  Some having raced earlier, wives of friends racing are sitting in the grass with their kids or chatting with friends.  No doubt there’s a hidden bottle of Sierra Nevada in someone’s cooler.  We’ve got nicknames too, only a little more politically correct.  There’s OB and Pistol Pete.  My friend I-Pro James has a shaggy snarled greying beard.  It’s bowling night, a typical Wednesday for me, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I reluctantly scribble “45” on the form.

Sometimes I get suckered into thinking I’m just like Dad, which is worrisome.  He died in his early 60’s of all the things related to not eating healthy or exercising.  I'm sure the blatant racism among his friends didn't help either.  I breathe a sigh of relief as I roll up to the start behind a 23 year old.  The similarities end with the sponsor jersey, my age and that I’m competing in a sport on a Wednesday night.  While most guys around me have a 20oz bottle of GU Brew electrolyte drink, pretty sure every guy on my dad’s team had their own pitcher of Miller High Life or PBR, likely 2 or 3.  I’m sure a few guys after the bike race headed for a vegetarian burrito at Chipotle, but still got to bed at a reasonable hour.  My dad and his buddies in 1980 could turn 3 games of bowling into an all night affair capped off with an after midnight breakfast at Milwaukee’s famous diner George Webbs.  Think Frisch’s Big Boy’s little brother.  There they’d pull out the smokes and “shoot the shit.”  My dad’s treat to his drunken teammates, a full 20-odd slice butter-slathered loaf of toast.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bikefucious: A Flat Is Good Team Training

Bad Bikefucius Rendering
PSSssss!  I heard it, looked back from my drops and saw it was my teammate Mark.  “Flat!”  I shouted over the buzz of 30 hubs on Binning, a one-lane beat-up twisting flat farm road famous for chewing up tubes.  It was a pinch flat for sure.  I held up a hand, moved left and eased up to help.  A third teammate, Kris stopped too.  As I look back on the flat, it’d be a great team drill, perfect for a budding team of juniors or a group of mismatched hammer headed masters alike. 

Try this team drill on for size.  Put a cable cutter in your jersey pocket.  At a rest stop with an hour back to civilization, split the team ride into two evenly matched groups.  Tell the 1st bunch they’ll get a 30 second lead and send them out.  Then immediately turn to the 2nd group, snip the valve stem off the fastest person’s front wheel and shout, “Go!” 

Actual Flat Tire Fix
We laid the bikes at the edge of the farm field and tag teamed the flat.  Mark stripped the old tube out.  Kris unraveled the fresh rubber.  Like a 14 year old junior, I man-stared across the field.  Just like Belgium, for every one mile of road, two miles of ditches.  In a few months we won’t be able to see above the corn.  Mark woke me out of my day dream, tossed me the old tube to roll up and began dressing the new one.  Diagnosing it as a pinch flat and not debris saved us time.  Kris aired it up as I stuffed the old tube in Mark’s saddle bag.  We were off in a respectable 3-4 minutes. 

Cincinnati's Binning Road Rendering
Changing a flat quickly is half the battle.  Now you need to try and close a 3-4 minute gap in an hour.  Not that blazing group rides aren’t fun, but I love me some good team paceline and the challenge of the chase.  The strongest rider pulls longer not harder.  Hands on the drops, backs flat, we traded even pulls the whole way back.  Elbows flicked and the momentum flowed forward.  No one got gapped off crossing the railroad tracks.  Instead of fighting for air in pursuit of a KOM, we gauged each other’s efforts and kept the group together up the last climb.  As we crested, we could make out a rider turning left ¾ of a mile down the road, almost there, but not quite.

Ten minutes later, we turned the corner into the shop lot.  The other guys still hadn’t taken off their helmets.  They must have just stopped, and were sitting on their top tubes chatting.  While we didn’t close it down completely, we probably weren’t more than 1-2 minutes off the pace.  When you look at it upside down, if the flat cost us 4 minutes, we still took 2 minutes back from the fastest guys in town. 

Bikefucious say: only when you fall back can you move forward.  Teach a team to close a gap and you’ll give a team confidence to bust a breakaway.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

OVCX 2012 Schedule: Ohio Valley to Worlds

Series Art by James Billiter
With the UCI Elite and Masters World Championships coming to Louisville Jan/Feb 2013, organizers of the 9th Annual Zipp OVCX Series are proud to announce an exciting, expanded schedule for 2012.  (See schedule below or at OVCX.com.)

This year's OVCX encompasses 13 events that tour through the cyclocross scenes of Indianapolis, Bloomington, Dayton, Lexington, Cincinnati and Louisville.  Kicking off September 16th, this year’s OVCX series begins with Huber's Apple Cross in Starlight, IN - just north of Louisville. The series winds up 3 months later in mid-December with the series finale at the Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis.

The schedule offers pockets for area USGP events and a great springboard for those with aspirations for the Chicago CX Cup, Nationals, Kings Invitational and Worlds in January.  Those dates also listed below.

The Cincy3 Cyclocross Festival makes its return to the OVCX series with Devou Park, Harbin Park, and the new Saturday night Elite/Pro races under the lights at Kings CX.  8 other venues link the cities of Dayton and Cincinnati in Ohio, Indianapolis and Bloomington in Indiana, and Louisville and Lexington in Kentucky.  The geographic layout of the series puts most venues within an easy two hour drive for most participants. 

Racers Battle the Mud at Kings CX Cincinnati
The 2012 series aims to be more work, family and travel friendly.  (See video at right or click here.)  Aside from the Cincy3 weekend, participants will see only one race per weekend on the schedule.  As in previous years, your best seven races count toward the series overall title making it easy to compete and have fun.  The OVCX series is committed to being a vehicle in developing young talent and will again offer numerous categories for juniors aged 10 to 18 and an under 19 category in elite races.  Chip timing will be again at each event to provide quick results and submission to USA Cycling for national ranking points.  Full series rules and categories will be posted to OVCX.com by mid-June.

So get your gear and cowbells warmed up and ready - we're in for a season to remember!

2012 OVCX Calendar:
Date:       Venue                                         Location                     
Sept 16    Huber's Apple Cross (NEW!)       Louisville       
Sept 30    St. Mary’s Cyclocross                  Indianapolis
Oct 7       Midwest Outdoor Exp. (Gearfest) Dayton                       
Oct 14     Gun Club Cross                            Cincinnati                   
Oct 21     Bloomingcross                              Bloomington  
Oct 28     Storm the Greens                          Louisville                   
Nov 2      Cincy3 (Devou, Kings, Harbin)     Cincinnati                   
Nov 18    Promotion Cross                           Lexington                   
Nov 25    Brookside Cup                              Indianapolis               
Dec 9      Buckingham Financial John Bryan   Dayton           
Dec 16    Major Taylor Velodrome (NEW)   Indianapolis    

NON OVCX Dates To Note:
Sept 8    Lionhearts CX                                Cincinnati
Sept 15  Hubers Apple CX Day 1                Louisville
Sept 22  USGP Madison Day 1                   Madison, WI
Sept 23  USGP Madison Day 2                   Madison, WI
Nov 10  USGP Louisville Day 1                   Louisville
Nov 11  USGP Louisville Day 2                   Louisville
Jan 5      Chicago CX Cup Day 1                 Chicago, IL
Jan 6      Chicago CX Cup Day 2                 Chicago, IL
1/10-13 National Championships                 Madison, WI
Jan 26    Kings CX Invitational UCI             Cincinnati
1/30-2/3 World Championships                   Louisville

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Myth, The Legend, Mister Sudsy Butt

Seen on ride: a wicked case of sudsy chamois.  Ala comedian Daniel Tosh, let’s see how many jokes we can get in 30 seconds.  (Tick Tick Tick)  Where do you put the bleach?  It looks like your load is off balance.  Wash and wear?  No.  Wear and wash.  That’s obviously not the delicate cycle.  Thank God I’m only seeing the rear.  I'd hate to see what extra starch looks like?  If the suds turn brown I am so leaving a gap.  That’s one way to keep your white saddle white.  Stop by after the ride and sit on my car.  Wonder what’ll happen if he farts.  Looks like someone ran out of quarters.  I hope that’s Tide and not Pantene.  (BUZZ)  And, that’s time!

Sudsy Butt Can Be A Good Thing
Laughing, I almost got dropped, twice.  LOL indeed.  We misjudged the weather Saturday morning, already a half hour from home, we were committed for 3 ½ hours in the rain.  Luckily the temperature setting was switched to warm.  It started with one bubble, but as my teammate's legs churned through the downpour and road spray his but started to froth.  Somebody either has a bad rinse cycle on an aging washing machine or can’t read the measuring lines in the detergent cap.  Detergent left in his shorts was reactivated with the rain.  An hour and a half into the ride he had a rabid dog foaming at the mouth in his shorts.  I lost two wheel lengths laughing when the suds balls caught the wind floating them in the air like a seeding Cottonwood.

Photo proof: Courtesy F2BBlog.com
I’m upset I didn’t get video, or at least a photo.  This (left) is the only photo I could find online.  Riding a paceline on the Saturday Morning Beatdown in a downpour was hard enough, let alone trying to pull my phone out of my pocket to snap a photo while trying to hold a wheel at 21mph with spray in my face.  This is precisely the reason photos of sudsy chamois are so hard to come by.  Catching a photo of Mister Sudsy Butt is like Bigfoot.  You’re so terrified at the moment, concrete proof remains elusive.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bicyclist or Cyclist: Who Shot Motorist?

“Police: Bicyclist fires shot in fit of road rage.” The headline from WISH-TV in Whitestown, Indiana sort of stuck out on my facebook news feed, not because it was alarming, but because I was offended at the use of bicyclist and cyclist and the complete omission of the term “a bike rider.”  While on any given day, I can be any one of the three, I am pretty certain it was not a bicyclist or cyclist that put the cap in the motorist, but likely someone riding a bike.  Oh there’s a difference.

The first clues are the .45 caliber bullets found at the scene.  A quick search of the internet reveals a .45 caliber hand cannon weighs between 27 and 37 ounces.  That’s a two pound gun, without bullets.  Clearly a cyclist would not carry a .45 caliber gun or anything weighing more than their bike frame.  A .45 caliber bullet alone weighs roughly 200 grams, as much as a Ritchey WCS stem.  There’s no way.  Cyclists don’t carry anything outside that which is absolutely necessary.  Instead of a wallet, cyclists opt for a zip lock bag with a cell phone, ID and the worst smelling sweat drenched $5 bill you’ll ever turn your nose up at.  If a weapon were necessary on a ride, say to drop the dead weight from a breakaway, it’d likely be a shiv carved from carbon fiber. 

Clue #2 is the fanny pack, leading me to the bicyclist.  Bicyclists are known for over packing.  Judging from the three tail lights and seat bag big enough for a hoagie sandwich and a floor pump, a fanny pack with a .45 isn’t too much of a stretch.  However, the bicyclist is no honey badger.  The bright orange vest, helmet mirror and dual headlights blinking in the middle of the day are enough to tell any motorists to give them a wide berth.  Add a black tie and the good book, and I’m certain the bicyclist is not your man. 

A Bike Rider
The .45 caliber gun in the fanny pack clearly points to A Bike Rider.  Don’t be fooled by the photo of Beyonce.  While she falls into the category of bike rider, this category covers everyone from the person noodling down the bike path and cruising to yoga to those who lost their driving license to a DUI and the drug dealer.  The only thing that makes a bike rider a bike rider is the bike.  A bike rider is going about their normal everyday business on a bicycle.  Now if that business happens to involve a loaded three pound concealed .45 caliber pistol, I think you know who you’re looking for.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Soigneur For Hire

Excerpt From CyclingNews.com
Ka-rack!  Lightning struck the high rise condo building which looms over our backyard along the Ohio River.  While I was sort of disappointed my wish didn’t come true and Thor once again missed the ugly dead tree in our neighbor’s overgrown yard, I was happy to be taking care of domestics.  I’m my own soigneur. 

Domestics is a term coined by a former teammate, a civil way of saying, “I’ve named the dust bunnies in my living room.”  He used it as a reason he couldn’t ride, but think he had it sort of backwards.  I save the domestics for when I can’t ride, like last night.  That’s what cyclists do when it rains.  In a sport that more or less depends on fair weather to enjoy, there’s a reason to smile when it rains.  While it may be close to crawling away on its own, the VW Beetle sized pile of dirty clothes at the foot of your bed isn’t going to wash itself.

I wrangled the recyclables and cleaned the cat boxes.  It was 5:45pm.  With black clouds creeping closer, raindrops tapped on the windows.  Normally on a Tuesday, I’d be filling water bottles and searching for the ever elusive taillight.  Like a bad friend cancelling a date, the rain waits to fall 30 minutes before the group ride starts.  At least I saw it coming on radar.  I had an hour or more to kill before there’d even be a chance to clip in.

Click Here to see more sweet Trail Runners from Pearl Izumi
As the Channel 9 meteorologists advised people in the northern suburbs to take their “tornado safe place” over footage of flood water pouring down Eden Park’s public steps, I man-sorted jeans & t-shirts, whites and delicates into three relatively separate piles.  I found my long lost Smithwick socks under the bed.  Back upstairs, I emptied the dishwasher.  Looking back at the TV and using my superior storm tracking cycling senses, I saw a break between storms and deduced I had about a 40 minute window.  Not long enough for a ride, so I stuffed a load in the washer and tied the laces on my Pearl Izumi Peak II’s.  By the time I'd come back from back from my run, it'd be perfect timing to get the load in the dryer.  On the way out for a flat 5k, I wheeled the recycling to the curb.  While I’ll never go pro, I’d have a solid career as a pro cycling team soigneur.