Monday, April 22, 2013

Today I Met The Grey Bearded Biker

Cold steel, the bike doesn’t have bar tape.  I’ve lived in Cincinnati’s Columbia Tusculum neighborhood for four years and for four years on my commute in to downtown I’ve seen Grey Beard at least weekly riding in the opposite direction.  All year round, his outfit never seems to change: thick dark hoodie, weathered overalls, leather gloves, no helmet.  Some days I’m in my truck, other days I’m on a bike too.  Unbeknownst to him, occasionally we pass at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse, other days St. Rose Church always on Riverside Drive.  He rolls his drive side pants leg up, exposing a light tan leather boot top.  On colder days his messy crop of grey hair occasionally peeks from under a knit hat.  His unmistakable grey beard always catches the wind.  I met him today, it figures, at Starbucks.

Who is this guy who rides away from downtown on a beater at 8:15am?

Cincinnati’s East End and Columbia Tusculum neighborhoods along the riverfront are mixed.  3- 700 thousand dollar houses share the road with modest apartments and dilapidated structures eligible for the “We Buy Ugly Houses” people.  A barge/rail terminal sits adjacent to this month’s latest fire victim and next month’s new condo.  In this mix of wealth and poverty, industry and small business, luxury and staples, on any given Saturday morning a guy carrying a 12-pack under his arm while one-handing a beater mountain bike gets passed by a jogger with $150 shoes and an iPhone strapped to her upper arm.  I’d be stereotyping if both the guy with the 12-pack and the jogger weren’t my neighbors.  To each their own.  Question is where does Grey Beard fit in?

From the fleeting seconds I’ve seen Grey Beard from my truck at 35mph, the 25 year old relic of a bike looks like it was picked from the recycling pile behind the bike shop.  It’s a dirty purple, maybe maroon, with down tube shifters and platform pedals, sort of like the one pictured without the racks.  The seat post is low, but fits his legs.  The bars are turned down and he’s stretched out.  His hands engulf the small hoods, brake lever and all.  All-that aside, he rides with remarkable speed, confidence and form: knees in, back low, beard in the breeze.  What intrigues me the most about this oddity is the lock and chain knotted around the bars and quill stem.  He obviously cares about the bike. 

It's no surprise.  He said he got the bike from a friend’s shed for nothing.  I met him today for the first time at Starbucks, of all places.  I held the door for him as he walked in behind me and struck up a conversation.  “Hey.  I see you nearly every week on my way to work.”  Well spoken, he says he’s almost home.  He works overnights downtown.  He’s on his way home when I’m on my way to work.  He is a neighbor and the bike is an old Miyata.  He invested $250 into it to keep it alive.  Up close, aside from being weathered, the bike sports newer tires.  The cables, saddle, and wheels seem to be in decent shape.  It’s solid vintage steel.  He says he knows his bike isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done, 12 miles a day. 

He asked if I ride and what kind of bike I have.  “I ride a Kuota" clarifying, "an Italian bike.”  I kick myself thinking I was too pretentious with the Italian comment, but he asks if it’s one of those “really light ones.”  "Yep.  It’s carbon fiber.”  Half expecting a roll of the eyes, he says something like, “Man, I just love the brakes on those newer bikes.”  I mention how well they modulate speed.  He understands.  He’s genuinely interested talking bikes.  We're clicking, but the barista was too quick.  My coffee is ready.  Sadly, I didn't have time for a picture.  “Have a good day,” I say.

As I pull my big dumb SUV out of the lot on Earth Day, the Starbucks door swings open.   With coffee in hand, he walks toward his Miyata, now appearing much cooler than the first time I had seen it.  My roof rack catches his eye and he waves.  Affirming, I wave back.  We’re two bike guys, one punching in, the other punching out.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Your #Strava Ride Titles Need Serious Attention

Just A Bit Disappointed
Some of you need a Strava kick in the pants.  I follow 96 of you on Strava, and I have to say in a high pitched and tiny John Stewart voice, “I’m a little disappointed.”  No.  No.  No.  Don’t get me wrong.  You’re riding long and strong.  I occasionally show my mom your PR’s and KOM because I’m so proud of you.  I use your ride maps as wallpaper on my PC.  However, if your Strava was a report card, you’d be getting an NA.  I’m talking to you Mr. April 7th 2013 and 11 other friends with the same lame-o sad trombone date as your activity title.  Your ride titles lack artistic value. 

April 7th Is Jackie's Birthday
If this were figure skating I’d give you a 2.3 out of a possible 10.  A dozen rides (out of 47) in my feed yesterday were titled with the intriguing prose of, “04/07/2013.”  Maybe April 7th was a date of monumental importance.  It was Jackie Chan’s Birthday!  Regardless of how much you like Kung Fu, we need to do something about this bout of lameness you’re passing off as a social media experience.  No kudos for you.  Either that or I need to understand why so many people titled their workout activity from Sunday as, “04/07/2013.”  Certainly you all didn’t do the same ride.  Certainly something of note had to happen.  Certainly you saw, heard, felt or smelled something interesting.

So as a creative person this leaves me no option to make assumptions about Lou’s 1.7 mile run titled “April 7th, 2013.”  Since the map is cut off near Hyde Park Square and the minutes per mile are on the slow side, I wonder if he really ran his Strava app on a walk to get Graeter’s Ice Cream and tried to pass it off as a run.  Who runs 1.7 miles?  Someone hungry for Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip, that’s who!  As a journalist it makes me inquire a bit further to get the real dirt. 

Who Does That?
So I clicked on the map of Mike’s 33.7 mile ride also titled “April 7th, 2013” and saw that he went up two dead end roads.  Wha huh?!  The gig is up Mikey!  Maybe I’ll have to check out Bluecut and Deeprun Lanes off of Pipewell Lane which is a turn off of Given Road in Cincinnati’s hoidy toidy Indian Hill neighborhood.  What are you trying to hide?  Do you have a secret segment you’re saving for yourself?  Do you deliver produce to the wealthy on your bike?  Are you a Russian spy?

My buddy Scott rode 21.4 miles on his ride, also titled “April 7th, 2013.”  He’s in Jacksonville, Florida.  Upon further inspection he rode on Race Track Road which is just east of what appears to be a pretty little water inlet.  I wonder if he saw a crocodile, got scared and rode home accounting for the short ride, and a third best time on the Flora Branch segment.

You’re not getting any Kudos from me until you step up your name game.  You wouldn’t post the date as your Facebook status.  I know cyclists are non-chest-thumping anti-social introverts by nature, but you need to do better.  Chris got Kudos from me for piquing my interest.  He named his ride “Clockwork Orange (x4)."  Was he comparing the ride to a disturbing tale of England in the totalitarian future?  Turns out it’s a clever way to say he rode the Orange loop at Harbin Park four times clockwise.  Bravo!

Courtesy of Chris on Ride to Bagdad, PA
“Sunday’s Are For Bailing,” was a favorite title from April 7th, 2013.  Looks like Jamie got to the top of the Marshall climb and called it a day.  I can relate.  It’s a long lonely hour ride back home from there if you’re spent.  “Zanesfield RR-Rode Like Schleck,” said all I needed to know from Jason.  “Bagdad!”  That title came from my cross coach Chris.  After seeing a photo of one of the washed out roads he encountered somewhere around Pittsburg I thought I knew what he was talking about.  It looked like a war zone.  Turns out he discovered the town of Bagdad, PA.  “Walking For A Cupcake,” made me smile.  That came from my wife.  Someone gave me vegan cupcakes at work and she knew I’d be bringing them home.

I’m not looking for a ride description as a follower of yours on Strava.  I can see you rode 50 miles.  I know it was windy.  I’m looking for you to share a slice of your life.  Take your eyes off your Garmin.  Check if that Kentucky farm dog has all four legs.  Was that really a pair of panties on the side of the road?  Open up those ears to the songs of the birds.  Take a big whiff of that Kentucky tobacco farm.  Tell me about it.  Take a few tips from me.  Here are my last few ride titles: “70. Solo. Shaboberle. Spent.  Stinky.,” My Stuffed Pockets Were Swinging Like Double D’s in a Tank Top So I Stopped At BioWheels To Buy A Saddlebag,” and, “Ludlow KY Smells Like Fried Chicken.”  If you need help, click here and follow The Best Bike Blog Ever on Strava.

We’re riding bikes people.   It’s fun and exciting.  There’s always something worth noting beyond the obvious.  Show it.  Share it.  I’ll give you Kudos.  Promise.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Easter Miracle: Nearly Killed by Frank Costanza

He should feel lucky.  Lucky that it wasn’t someone who didn’t grow up with the high score on Frogger, someone new to cycling out for their first sunny sixty degree ride after months of dreadful Cincinnati weather, someone without years of experience deftly picking their way through packs of drunken Chicagoans at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, someone who hasn’t been racing and riding long enough to count a Breezer Thunder among the bikes in the man cave, someone who didn’t just get back from a week of mountain descending in Georgia, someone who doesn’t burn a Sven Nys Prayer Candle.  It would’ve been different then, bloody limbless Walking Dead different I’m sure. 

There would’ve been Easter leftovers all over the car and shrieks and screams and a ceremonial reading of the RoadID and sirens and backboards and stuffed animals knocked off the rear window shelf and endless calls to the geniuses in medical billing departments and physical therapy and lawsuits and insurance premiums that would make a wee-wee pig choke on a gecko.  Instead, up in the air was the back of my Italian hand and a shout, “What are you trying to F-ing kill me!?” 

I almost got hit by a car yesterday.  Of course he wasn’t trying to kill me.  Of course I couldn’t think of anything more clever to say like, “didn’t they teach you to love thy neighbor in church this morning?”  However, he should feel lucky it wasn’t someone else.  It would’ve been much more than a close call and a blog full of theatrical language and long sentences strung together with the word “and.”

Please don’t take this as being cocky.  If you know me, I’m not one to brag and I don’t make wiener jokes.  I still have a lot to learn on a bike, like being able to farmer blow my nose.  I simply had control.  My hands, fingers wrapped around the bars, gripped the drops.  Hips slightly back, my thighs held the saddle.  Sorry if that sounded too 50 Shades of Grey for you.  Erie Avenue in Cincinnati is a very popular thoroughfare for cyclists, a main road taking riders east from the city to the rolling hills and scenic Little Miami River Valley.  The bike-lane header photo on the main page of this blog is from Erie Avenue.  It’s about a 1.5 mile hill.  I was headed down.  The light was green.    

There was a woman with light reddish-brown curly hair in the passenger seat.  With thinning unkempt hair, he was driving a green older model boxy Dodge sedan.  So yeah, a slightly younger version of Mr. and Mrs. Costanza were about to run me down sit-com style in a car very similar to one on Seinfeld.  Or, at least that’s what it appeared to me in the span of less than 3 seconds and an ish-timated speed of 28-ish mph. 

Across from the bar and bistro, I was about to pass the dry cleaner on the right.  It could’ve been the sunshine or my sunglasses, but the Costanza car windows seemed tinted yellow.   I’m guessing he didn’t see me or misjudged my speed.  Either way, his speed never changed as he turned left in front of me.  Recalling pretty much everything aside from whether or not there was a hula girl on the dash, I don’t remember seeing a blinker.

Very Similar to Kramer's Ford LTD
It’s amazing how fast the brain and body work together, like they’re connected with nerves or something.  Immediately, at the speed Mr. Costanza started his turn, I knew I wasn’t going to eek past on my current line.  I like to read the foll-oh-ing in a slow-mo-shun-voice and use robot hand gestures.  I threw my weight back and squeezed the brake levers, slowing as fast as possible.  I remember focusing quickly, then looking away from, his shiny green chrome trimmed wheel well and passenger side quarter panel, the point of impact I later judged.  Still too fast to cut a quick hard right turn, I eased to the right, aiming roughly for the far corner of the intersection, a wheel chair curb ramp, between him and a car on the cross street stopped at the light. 

It still didn’t look good, like Elaine dancing.  I threw the bike harder right and grabbed more brake.  The rear end kicked left toward his car, slightly skidding.  Looking back, the change of direction maybe bought me a fraction of a second and/or caught his attention.  Mr. Costanza slammed on the brakes.   I corrected and, with a few feet to spare on either side, skated through the gap untouched and on the main road.  I didn’t need to exit via the wheel chair ramp.  It was real and spectacular.

I was calm and collected until I was safe.  That’s when I looked back, the hand came up and the colorful Easter language came out.  With his window down, I know he saw and heard it, (so did the people in the black car stopped at the light) then they were gone out of sight up the side street.  I continued down the hill. 

I remember thinking I should be freaked out, but not a single goosebumb popped up.  The Garmin confirmed my heart rate wasn’t jacked.  In recollection, the incident seemed oddly calculated and clinical, like when soldiers train through a mock urban ambush on TV.  Shoot the pop-up bad guys, don’t shoot the kid.  With squirrels, trees, rocks, holes, other bikes, dogs, deer, and cars, I’ve been in situations like this dozens, if not a hundred times before.  I’ve been riding bikes long enough to have the confidence that I’ll save it, or at least do everything I can to save it, until I don’t.  For me, it wasn’t luck at all.

He’s lucky it wasn’t a less experienced rider, someone who freaks out in crowded elevator, a rider that may have panicked and slammed on the brakes and straight skidded into the car or tried to turn too abruptly and comically top-sided with too much speed.   He’s lucky I maintain my bike and brush it’s hair.  It has new cables and tires.  It’s routinely cleaned and lubed, including checking the brakes, tire pressure and scrubbing the rims of grit.  He’s lucky I treat parked cars and intersections with more respect than a skier slicing up gates on a Super-G downhill and had the sense to keep my speed in check on a busy descent where a rider could easily top 35mph.  He’s lucky I ride with my eyes up, take descents in the drops, always keep my fingers wrapped about the bars and saw his car long enough to describe his passenger’s uncanny resemblance to Mrs. Costanza before he saw me.  Oh Georgie!  As I write, I hope Frank’s sharing my thoughts, it’s a miracle he didn’t hit someone with his car on Easter Sunday.