Thursday, June 25, 2009

Recycled Content #2

Welcome to No One Line's Recycled Content Number Two!

A buddy of mine is a geek when it comes to bikes - and guitars, and (shamefully), cars too. He loves knowing about types of tubing, wall thickness, tube diameter, relative strengths and weaknesses of different tubesets, and he keeps on telling me to get a bicycle made out of Reynolds 531. So it's with him in mind that I sit down to read an article from several years ago in which the author is sent on assignment to test ride seven Mondonico road bikes, identical in almost every respect - except, they are made from different types of Columbus Tubing. Can he tell the difference?

For the math dorks in the house, Cozy Beehive offers a mathematical approach to impacts on a helmeted head.

Ever wonder why it's kind of easy to be a bit obnoxiously righteous as a cyclist in NYC? Streetsblog has a piece on a cyclist who tapped a car that was parked in a physically-protected bike path and, in return, was assaulted by the driver and then charged by the police. Assholes are everywhere, which in turn makes it a challenge not to be one on the road. Stay safe, y'all.

Congrats to Mellow Velo. That photograph makes you look like the bride of the bike (which I heartily approve of), but don't you think the bike should have worn a more traditional, tux-like black-and-white bartape and saddle?

And, finally, with the Tour de France coming up and a crisis in Astana, we can expect my fitness to take a questionable turn as I go right from work to Lakeside Lounge, to enjoy Versus recap and two-for-one happy hours.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Excitement: Results and Potential

The weather has been ridiculous lately, with rain all month long, and so even though the sun is shyly, tenatively shining from behind thinning clouds I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that track racing will not be rained out, like it's been for the past two weeks. Track racing is an hour of hard training, guaranteed. A good warm-up ride out to the track, a few races with regular hard efforts, sprints, and, if I'm lucky, a long race made up of constant suffering.

If you're lucky, or if you live in New York City, you can have all of your training take place in racing. It's a little bit more expensive, but a lot more fun. To that effect I've had a good week of training via racing: Saturday was a Prospect Park race in which I planned to spend the first half going off the front and the last half watching from the start/finish, saving my energy for Housatonic Hills on Sunday. That race tested the legs in the hills and found them sufficient for the task of staying with the front but not for whittling it down further - it came down to a sprint of about two dozen. A fast, technical end - a downhill false flat flying toward the start finish, a ninety degree corner, and a 300-meter sweeping uphill sprint. I took the corner third wheel but missed the wheel of the attack going up the inside, jumped into the wind with 200 meters to go, and watched, sprinting and cramping, as two more racers came around me, knocking me down to fourth. A fine finish nonetheless.

Thursday, I plan to ride up to Rockleigh, New Jersey, to give the crit there another whack. Last time I had a whopper of a sprint but poor position and only managed eighth. I've got an odd habit of either having the sprint or the positioning but never the two at the same time and I'm trying to rectify that - I wouldn't mind a win. On Sunday comes one of the races that I've been enjoying more and more throughout the season - the Cadence Cup Series at Prospect Park. My club has been showing out in full force for these, bouyed by some good results early on and the very compelling promise of increasingly adept teamwork. In the second race we put our teammate Yack into the Green Jersey for sprinter's points, and in the third and fourth we've kept him there. While I'm generally on the lookout for results I know it's time to lay it down to keep Yack wearing that jersey, and I'll be a part of our large, guns-to-a-knife-fight leadout train for him.

Now that, my select and loyal readers, is exciting.

Leading up to Housatonic Hills I was excited but nervous. Could I do well? I should improve on my results from my last major road race, and if I don't it's an opportunity wasted. Fourth is good and I'm pleased but I saw second place tantalizingly close (first place was taken with a commanding sprint from a BVF rider).

But with the prospect of laying it down directly for a teammate the nervousness of letting myself down dissipates, and it's not replaced by nervousness about letting somebody else down. Why exactly I can't say - maybe because it's all still pretty new to me.

Sunday - I can't wait. And speaking of excitement for things to come, good things are in the works.

photo above by Marcia Van Wagner.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tour of New York

We had numbers in this race, and I knew who to mark in the event that a leadout train failed. I stayed sheltered, and felt strong. I've been sprinting well. I can do this. I was in position. Brooklyn Velo Force had a strong train going up; our train was running strong at the front. Westwood Velo moved up and things got chaotic, dense, elbows bumping and everybody struggling to hold position and suddenly it wasn't fast enough. Our train fell apart. The front got jammed up and was very tight.

Suddenly BVF's two sprinters were on the front with 500 meters to go, and I had some daylight to the right. So I jumped, went across the road, hard, and tried to hold it. Opened a gap. Peeked under my armpit. Watched it start to close. Saw a guy come up on my right hip. The line was right there. Then more guys.

I was swallowed twenty meters from the line.

Maybe I salvaged a top ten. I came close to winning. Sigh. There's always next time.

I think it was a good move. Our train had started to disintegrate in the ragged, aggressive front. BVF's sprinter wasn't going to jump from that far out. I felt strong; the pace had slowed. It was worth a shot. The opportunity was there and I took it. What should I do next time?

I think I should be a little more patient; another hundred feet down the road, if that kept up, and I could have jumped clear to hold it. Maybe. If somebody else hadn't taken initiative by then. Maybe they started sprinting, saw me dangling out there, and laughed.

I'm glad I tried it. Sitting in and waiting for a possible sprint victory is tough - it's tough with ringers like Lombardi and Aracena in the field, it's tough on the psyche, the notion that I spent twentyfive bucks to risk my bike and my neck cruising around Prospect Park for over an hour so I can race for a minute and a half.

I'd rather upgrade on points than on top ten finishes, and to do that I'm going to have to take risks. So I should try it. Attack. More often. Go ahead. I think about a guy who races out at the velodrome, Tadeusz Marszalek. He's a great racer to watch because he attacks constantly. I'd rather race like him, not try to sit pretty and then hope that by some accident of registration I'm the best sprinter in the field. Because I'm not.

The right attack might get me that podium. Not this time, though.

Two teammates went down in the madness of the final moments before the sprint uncorked in earnest. Shoulder injuries. Kerry and Todd, best wishes for your rapid recovery.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Old Timers

Doing some circles outside the velodrome to keep my legs moving between races during a recent installment of the Twilight Series, an old-timer approached me and asked, "Hey, do they have any of these kind of races out in Jersey?"

"No," I said, "This is the only track around. The nearest one is out in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania."
"So, not out in Jersey?" he repeated.
"They used to have these races out in Jersey, I can't believe they don't have them anymore."
"Well, this is the only track around, these days."
"Do you win any money at these races? Any money in them?"
"No - I guess we just do it for bragging rights or something," I replied.
"You know, I used to race. Not anymore. I'm ninety-three years old! And back then if there was any mention of money they'd take away our racing card!"

We chatted for a while longer and he told me that he used to race at the old New York Velodrome (that would be the old one in Inwood, not the hopeful/future New York Velodrome), they Coney Island Velodrome , and the Newark Velodrome, out in Vailsburg Park. He even raced at the old Madison Square Garden, home of legendary six-day races. "Before the six-day races," he said, "there would always be amateur races, and I'd enter those! I'd come in third place, fourth place. Madison Square Garden was the only place you could earn money as an amateur, and I'd win fifteen or twenty bucks, which wasn't bad back then..."

I introduced myself and he gave me his name, Gimelli, as I shook his arthritic hand. He reminded me of my grandfather, who passed away a year and a half ago - not because of similar looks, but it was his baseball cap, his skin of wax paper and wrinkles, and the creaky enthusiasm in his voice that congealed into a sort of familiarity. He was racing this sport in the 1920s, and it just seems fascinating and somehow supernatural for me to converse with somebody who, as a kid, could very well have been in my shoes, talking with somebody who lived through the Civil War. I had a million questions for Gimelli that I didn't get to ask - how'd you start riding? What was the bike like? Why did you stop? What were the crowds at Madison Square Garden like? Did you train? Did you smoke? What was the building like? What were the people there like? What did you feel, think, see? What was the city like? Who did you talk do?

I felt like I was in a Utah Phillips story, knowing that the past didn't go anywhere, that it's with us if we find it. It reminded me of sitting with my grandmother at her kitchen table, clutching cups of tea when we weren't holding each other's hand, me writing down recipes that she was reciting off the top of her head.

But it's a tenuous process, ties to the past, which I learned the next time I lined up on the rail. He walked over from the bleachers and leaned on the rail next to me, across the fence. Maybe he came up to me because I was familiar to him from our last conversation, but maybe there was only a faint recognition picking in his mind, because when he leaned on the rail he asked me, "Hey, do they have any of these kind of races in New Jersey?"

"No," I replied after a moment. "This is the only track in the area."
"Do you win any money at these?"
"No. I guess we just do it for ourselves... or for bragging rights..."
"I used to race. I'm ninety-three years old, and back then, if we mentioned money, they'd take our racing card away!"

The race began and I threw myself into a 15 lap Devil's Scratch, properly exhausting enough to make me nearly vomit at the end, so it was a while before I was able to give this man the proper amount of thought. I enjoyed talking to him, and missing the old people who were in my life that I loved to much. And I gave thanks that my grandfather and grandmother lived out their days with continued mental acuity, though the discomfort of progressively diminishing health.

The past doesn't go anywhere.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Smack-talk? No! Pack-talk!

A blog post about intentional contact while racing led to comments about other ways to effectively communicate in a pack, and Aki mentioned something that I've realized for a little while: bikers can be vulnerable. He wrote:

I stopped yelling for a while, but I do it if it's a critical point and no one's moving. Usually someone does because the cry is enough to put them over the "should I go or should I stay" cusp.

A field can be so large and the dynamics of the pack can confuse a racer; people trying to make sense of a race situation through the haze of speed, fatigue, efforts, and recovery can be manipulated. Many people just feel better about doing something when they're told to - when a command to do something resonates with their inkling that something must be done, it overrides their deer-in-the-headlights instinct toward inaction. People are susceptible to suggestion. "Close that gap!" "Go go go go!" Oh, I'm supposed to go now! That guy said it, so everybody must know it, so it must be true!

A track racing buddy of mine pushes a large gear and fairly regularly makes strong, late accelerations, going off the front with around two laps to go. They are exciting moves that don't usually stick, but do shake things up a lot. Knowing his tendency for this, I've been able to use him to my advantage a few times. "Wind it up!" I'll say at the right point, calling his name and hopping on his wheel. I get a generous draft from his tall frame as he runs the field ragged once he gets his 49/14 turning.

Beyond manipulating my fellow racers, I find vocalization to be helpful communication. At one of the first track meets I went to, one of the older racers was talky on the banking and I found it to be a good way to ground myself in a tight pack - I know where Luke is, because he is telling me where he is. So I do it, too: "Hup hup hup" if I'm moving up and want somebody to know that I'm on their hip; or, "inside, inside, inside." It doesn't really matter what I'm saying, just having some volume so that people don't assume it's safe to move off their line to follow another wheel forward.

Maybe this would be obsolete in a more advanced field than Category 4, but I approach packs full of strangers as dangerous until proven otherwise, and will take all precautions to make my location known. I've heard people express the sentiment that talkers are bothersome. I don't care. I'm a talker. Chatting with a teammate on the way back from a Watermelon Crit, he told me that another member of the club had identified me as "that small guy who couldn't stop talking" while racing.

I laughed. Right on the money.

Dissonance in Harmony

I am halfway to an upgrade to Category 3 on both the road and the track, and I took the subway to work, again. Take the A Train was echoing in my head as I swiped my MetroCard and daydreamed about a bike with full fenders and a June that wasn't 58 degrees and rainy.

With my household currently reporting from the front lines of the latest public health crisis and my tolerance for the omnipresent noise and fuss of New York City reaching another nadir I was stuck taking the pulse of my season again: if I get sick, it would put a damper on my development. If I don't ride it will put a damper on my fitness. If I ride it will put a damper on my speed.

The irony is that despite fretting about causes and effects, I love being in the full-blown onslaught of the season. I love racing three or four times a week, when I can. I loved last Thursday's 85 mile day - riding up to a crit, racing, placing, and riding from northern New Jersey all the way back to Brooklyn. As much as my constant insatiable hunger is somewhat perplexing and occasionally frustrating, it's kind of enjoyable. I like stepping on the bathroom scale and seeing surprisingly low numbers. I like looking at the last week on my riding spreadsheet and seeing surprisingly high numbers.

But most of all, I like riding. Even when I'm not racing. I like getting out of the city, clad in my team kit, light and carefree, and turning my tire toward open roads. Refilling at shops. I like the pause for coffee and a muffin when I'm not checking my watch and wondering if I'll be back in Brooklyn in time to fulfill my other obligations.

For many years, music was my restart button. When my brain began to feel tied in knots, spending an hour completely immersed in an album would leave me feeling stunningly refreshed; that, or picking up my guitar, playing along with the radio, singing a series of my own songs - the ones that were good, that were honest and accurate, that I kept feeling. Now, it's a five-hour bike ride, the rhythm is my cadence, the melody is the ambient drone of tires on pavement and the harmony of my friend shifting gears beside me as we approach a hill or sprint for a light.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Ripple Effect?

I love when rest days coincide with rainy days - I can take the subway, read a few chapters of a book (currently: Acts of Faith by Phillip Caputo. Crushing), and not feel completely lazy or like I'm missing a day. Last night's efforts - twentyfive miles up to a crit in New Jersey, placing 8th in the race, and riding back to Brooklyn - got my egg well and cooked.

I think I've made at least one and possibly two stupid moves in recent races. I consider myself a decent rider. I feel relaxed and in control of the bike. I'm aware of riders around me and I'll let an attack or acceleration go if I think it's unsafe for me to get up and jump after it. But: recently, in a sprint, I was passing a lot of people because I was in poor position, too far back, but still had a lot of sprint to wind up and thought I could still place. I tore up the right side with a huge head of steam with the leaders still in front of me, but I needed to get left to have room to sprint more. I checked my left side and slid left, moving over several "lanes." Not holding my line. Not swerving, not in a tight pack - I had very definitively passed people - but still. Tenuous at best, right?

I think it was careful, but I also think it was stupid because it could very easily have not been careful. Confessional and defense all rolled together. I tend to roll my eyes at people sprinting from behind, but in this case, I placed in the top ten, I hit the line with a big head of steam, and if the line was ten meters down the road I could have podiumed. Should I have done it? Maybe not. Was it bad? Maybe not. Should I do it again? Probably not.

Here's the thing - different activity looks different from different perspectives. One person can go right up to the edge having assessed the safety of doing so, but an observer doesn't necessarily know what that person has and hasn't considered. The observer hasn't reckoned the what-ifs, so there's a lot of unsettled potential for risk. That leads to conflict in the pack.

A teammate's recent race report described coming up in a cat 2 sprint as another rider swerved toward him. Rather than swerve to avoid him, he leaned against the rider, trying to stabilize the situation. Obviously, words were exchanged after the race, and my teammate's point was that he felt it was the safest thing to do in the situation.

Things appear different to different people; if you want to avoid setting off a chain reaction of people taking precautionary measures because they don't know whether or not you have evaluated the risk of the move you're making, then it might be best not to toe that line of apparent-but-evaluated/controlled risk.

Bottom line? I felt what I did was safe but the ends don't justify the means.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Itching to Race

Track racing was canceled last night, due to rain. I had been hoping that the rain would hold off, or be over early enough, but Alan sent the email in the afternoon and I had to make other plans.

Al and I decided to hit Prospect Park on our track bikes for a handful of laps and some hard efforts thrown in. A few hours before we were scheduled to ride I called him and said, "I'm bored! Let's ride right now." He laughed and said, "I'll meet you at the park in forty five minutes." But wouldn't you know it, when I was ready to leave the house it was pouring rain, and after the two of us and three others rode a few laps with some hill sprints, it eased up.

Among the reason that riding in the rain is good: it reminded me that, since it's not freezing February rain, riding in the wet won't ruin my day.

Now, I'm at work, waiting for the day to finish so we can go race in Rockleigh. Gui and I did this once last year, and I enjoyed the course.

I am just itching to race as often as I can. My moderate success and feeling of strength on the track is giving me confidence that I can turn around some of my marginally disappointing results in road races this year. My season has been consistently developing and I'm eager for that to continue. In that vein, along with weekly track racing on Wednesdays, I have the option of circuit races on Tuesday, crits on Thursday, and weekend races. There is a crit this weekend, a circuit race next weekend, a very hilly road race the following weekend... it goes on and on, and somewhere in there, I'm going to squeeze a Saturday trip to the velodrome in Trexlertown.

Amid this all, I have to stay aware of my level of exhaustion. With a busy month of racing, I don't want to hit a wall and have either my performance or my attitude go downhill. If I'm starting to feel like I need a break, I'll take a break. Last year, a combination fo racing and a very demanding work schedule conspired to make me very sick - sick enough to burn out my fitness and effectively end my season. Was it partly because it was my first season subjecting my body to the demands of racing? Perhaps. Fortunately, this year, my work schedule is much less demanding. I should be able to manage a busier racing schedule and, knowing the effects of overstressing my body, be able to more carefully back off of the intensity level when it's necessary. If I have to take a week or two off in early July so that I'm still racing in August, I will do so.

I've got a lot to look forward to - I want to keep learning and improving all the way through the season. I'm halfway to my upgrade to Cat 3 on the track, and I'm starting to feel strong enough to earn more points toward my upgrade to 3 on the road. I'd like to make the most of the season by avoiding burnout, overtraining, overexhaustion, over-stress, or any of a myriad names for it... that I can kick off cyclocross season with a bang.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What to do after a collision?

This morning, on my way to work, I happened upon a collision scene. A schoolbus with a very mangled bicycle underneath it, and a scraped and bloody rider. The driver had, apparently, failed to check his mirrors before turning, and the rider got hooked. Fortunately she fell off before the bike got sucked under the bus's wheels. She was scraped up but wasn't majorly injured. I called 911 anyway, to get the police to come so that she could file an accident report. Well, because of either standard protocol or not hearing "no major injuries," they dispatched an FDNY fire truck and ambulance, out of which tumbled six or eight people who proceeded to immobilize her spine.

Her bike is locked up on the SW corner of Bedford and S.10th street in Brooklyn, and if you see it, take it as a reminder to stay safe and smart out on the streets.

If you get hit, even if it's minor, call the police and file a police report. It serves as an official documentation of the collision (I avoid using the word "accident"), which you absolutely need if you want to follow up with the driver's insurance company. That is, if you want them to pay your medical bills or replace your bike. You never know what will hurt after the adrenaline wears off, and you never know what's broken that you won't see on the first pass over the bike. Maybe your frame is cracked. Maybe you've got a minor concussion. In New York, the car driver's insurance company has the responsibility for covering those things. File a police report and then submit a No Fault Claim with the insurance company.

There's lots more information floating around. I'd start by checking out the Know Your Rights manual, which is aimed at messengers. Also, Transportation Alternatives provides a list of cyclist-friendly lawyers, should you need one.

If you're going to be on the street a lot, you entertain the possibility that you'll get hit by a car. Know what to do so that you're not left in the cold, with a broken body and a broken bike. Knowledge is power.