Saturday, January 2, 2016

A New Year, a New View, and Pie

Well it has certainly been a while, hasn't it? It is the second day of 2016 and I thought I'd pause to check-in here and see if I can make some sort of habit of writing again.

So much has changed since I was here last in earnest. Let's see... First and foremost, I am happily married and I'm the proud father of an amazing 10-week old baby girl. She was born in Milwaukee, so let's call her "M."

1990 Miyata 600GT 
I'm still more or less on a hiatus from the bike racing world, but I *hope* to get back to it this year. My last ride of late was a commute to work on my trusty old Miyata. Prior to the birth of our daughter, I found myself longing nostalgically for the early to mid 1990s and that carefree Rivendell Bicycles lifestyle I might have otherwise had going forward. This alternate life sounds best when set to Electronic's eponymous first album. Talent from New Order and The Smiths, what's not to like?.. Well, put the brakes on that for a time. For now, it is a life of sleep deprivation, late night feedings, and diaper changes. But a joyful life it is.

 I am still trying to run as a surrogate activity of sorts. In fact, I'm registered for a half-marathon in Madison, WI in May. So far, I've exhibited the one-and-done behavior as far as the full marathon goes. I am hoping to take a stab at a fall marathon in Milwaukee.

Still working at the Hoth Ice Planet in winter, Dagobah in summer university, and I still miss California.

They are more red than pink... really.
Still sort of obsessed with Mizuno running shoes with the Wave Inspire model being my favorite. In fact, I ran this morning in 20-degree weather. I did the old "Hey, I'll drop the car off for an oil change and then run home!.." Indeed. I'm hoping to do the whole running-with-a-stroller thing come spring. Part of me momentarily wishes to eschew the whole stroller-as-lifestyle status symbol thing and thinks I should just use a modified shopping cart from Target or something. Anyway, here's a photo of my Mizuno Wave Creation 13s, all post-run triumphant-like. Wave Creations make for a good winter trainer. A bit more over-built than the Wave Inspires, they are a "neutral" shoe that lends itself well to the sort of watch-where-you step gingerly pacing I tend to opt for in winter (yeah, because I'm really tearin' it up the rest of the year). Remember Rocky training in the snow all old-school vs. that Russian guy? Yeah, that.

This is probably as good a time as any to confess that when I got home, I placed a hearty dollop of this apple pie from Mukwonago, Wisconsin into my oatmeal breakfast. This is no ordinary apple pie, but only the most amazingly delicious creation to be baked in a paper bag. Seriously, they bake it in a paper bag!.. Not sure what the back story here is, but the results are worthwhile, and so is the pie, if you are ever in the area. Well worth the calories.

Oh, I am also on like day 3 of a 99-day retreat from facebook. Yay.

Ok then. So here's to a new year and new adventures, on the bike, off the bike, running, walking, or crawling.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

It's Been A While...

No, I didn't just drive around in the car!
Bless me, father, for I have sinned... It's been a year and a month since my last blog post! Among other life changes, if I've been out of the saddle for a while, I've made up for it by (**wait for it**...) becoming somewhat of a RUNNER.

I partially blame the cycling discipline of cyclocross for this mutation... and that endorophins-induced state known as "runner's high"... In fact, I was so "high" at one point, that I decided that I had it in me to train for and run a marathon, which, I did.

Myyy Mizunos!
(my version of Run DMC)
In the wake of my 26.2 mile death-march, I also switched my shoes of choice from New Balance to Mizuno. In my past life, I obsessed about New Balances because the models I tended to buy were 'Made in USA' and came in various widths to dial-in the fit, etc. Well, I came to find that after a thorough fitting and gait-analysis, Mizunos simply fit my feet and running style better. I seem to have been also running with too much 'stability' and 'motion-control' in the stiffer New Balance models I ran in, and decided to scale back to a slightly more 'natural' running approach, striking more on the mid-foot than on the heel. Amazingly, the knee pain that had been threatening, went away! Nice.

As if this madness wasn't enough, I've gone ahead and signed up for two full marathons this year and a couple of halves.. and I'm sure a 10K or two for good measure.

Okay, let's not forget that I'm still, first and foremost, a velo-maniac (crazy about the bike?)... So, I'll leave this first comeback-blog posting with an image of one of my very few moments on the bike in recent memory. In fact, this might be the ONLY time I've trained on two wheels in many, many, many months... Here's to hoofing it, and rolling on down the roads of 2013!

Sunday, January 22, 2012


So the 2012 Chicago Winter Bike Swap came and went. While not in the market for anything in particular this year, I went mainly to help my shop-owner friend unload his trailer and to once again experience this prime example of bicycle geekdom. Think: Giant indoor garage sale on a big college basketball court.

So lovely...
I had decided at the last-minute to bring my 1983 Specialized Allez 'restoration' along to see if I could sell it, and also ended up scoring a few bargains along the way. As far as selling my bike was concerned, it seemed that while there were plenty of admiring eyes and inquiring minds about the build and technical specs of the machine, people were a little hesitant to put their admiration in the form of cash money. No worries... this bike is among the few (bike) items I own that I would be "ok" with selling someday, but am always only too happy to see return to its comfortable spot in the laundry room. This was, after all, one of my "dream bikes" while I was in high school many many years ago. One guy went as far as taking my phone number and email on a business card. We'll see if he follows up.

Yes, I lifted this photo
from Mavic's website!
The other nice find (along with a few discounted Clif Bars) was the really clean Mavic 'Helium' wheelset I acquired for $100, to include the like-new, already mounted high-end Continental Grand Prix Force/Attack tires! The tires alone usually go for an easy Benjamin, while the Helium wheelset pretty much started (for better or worse) the trend toward 'boutique' high-end wheels at the tail-end of the 20th century that has continued well into the 21st. I have some fuzzy recollections of Jonathan Vaughters winning some uphill time trial on Mont Ventoux at some point with these wheels, and how they seemed ridiculously expensive even a few years later.

Truth be told, these wheels have always had a particular aesthetic appeal that can't be denied. However, from a pure performance/pragmatic standpoint, the wheelset does have its limitations. Without getting into all sorts of technical specs and jargon here, let's just say that while the Heliums have a decent strength-to-weight ratio and excel as a "climbing wheel," they are perhaps SO light, that they tend not to hold their spinning inertia/momentum as well as a more portly or deep-section rimmed wheel might. The bling-inspired red anodized surfaces sure do look cool though.

Before becoming too emotionally attached to my new lighter-than-air acquisition, it suddenly dawned on me that I could actually try and make a few dollars by running my wheelset over to our shop's sales tent and "flipping" it for around $250. Genius! Surely, some casual cyclist would be only too enthusiastic about dropping some cash on a wheelset that appeared on the scene more than a decade and a half ago..

As it turned out, if such a casual cyclist shopper was out and about this weekend, he/she was not present at this swap meet. So, I am subsequently the proud owner of yet another piece of slightly antiquated bicycle technology. While I have yet to see any reference to the Mavic Heliums as "vintage" anywhere on the interwebs, they are certainly approaching the age whereby overly-sentimental bike blokes like myself start to experience such artifacts as reminiscence catalysts toward what was perhaps, a more glorious, if slightly-more-"epic" era (when WE of course, very much at the height of our powers!).

In the meantime, if anyone's interested, I *might* consider $225 for the wheels... Or not.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Twas the Ride Before Christmas...

Festive color on Christmas Eve!
It's been an unusually mild Chicagoland December thus far as it is the end of the month, and the lack of snow has made it so that I can only look longingly at my cc skis. So, I've taken it upon myself to try and squeeze the season for every last drop of outdoor riding before the first real winter storms hit, or the mercury plunges too deeply below the freezing point.

After bailing on an otherwise lackluster cyclocross racing season, I set the bike aside for a few weeks (sorry, no Montrose Harbor for me this year!), did a little running, and otherwise partook in my strategic end-of-season "active recovery" (read: a slothful malaise punctuated by trips off the couch to reheat a slice of pizza or refill my tumbler-o-ginger ale).

My 'forest of Arenberg'

It was a bit of an odd / eerie experience being out on the bike path today. It was well into the afternoon as I headed north for an out-and-back toward Crystal Lake. I was maybe one of 3 cyclists on the path the whole entire time, and the walkers weren't many more (no, not Imperial AT-AT Walkers... those come out with the Hoth Wampa, once the snows hit). It was, in a word, desolate. The pending holiday hush made it seem even more desolate than a ride I had been on just a few weeks earlier.

It was just a much quieter, colder version of the usual late afternoon ride. I could begin to smell what people were cooking up for holiday fare.. (yes, even chestnuts!).. Aah, fabric softener!.. Someone's doing laundry!.. Steak, potatoes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch?.. Mmm, wishful thinking.. I must be bonking! But alas... wouldn't you know it?.. on the tail-end of the return trip, I stopped into the friendly confines of Main Street Bicycles where my friend and brother-o-bikes Jeff P. had quite the stash of leftover Hanukkah BBQ feast!!! As this is a family blog, I will not mention the certain frosty adult libation that also somehow magically appeared!

"Your Surly Pugsley
does not  impress me!"
So I lumbered out of the shop with wrench Peter S. (okay, he's more of a ninja / wizard among bike mechanics, and his word is law when it comes to bike setup and maintenance). We rode together for a bit. Peter, happy to be done with the day's work and headed home for Christmas Eve / Hanukkah with his crew... I, post-ride, post-feast stuffed and feeling defiant like an ice-age mastodon, and re-energized to sprint away from one of these, should one suddenly appear:      

Merry Christmas!!... and think of all those lucky kids (of ALL ages) who will be waking up to new bikes and bike gear on Christmas morning! And of course, those of us only too happy to go out and ride our old, tried-but-true stuff! Wahoo!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halfway Point Round-Up

Some KING bling!
Well, half the schedule in the 2011 Chicago Cyclocross Cup season's been raced, and I'm still struggling along near the bottom of the standings, including a couple of ignominious last-place finishes (quickly tells self that "at least you finished, and did not quit.." Whatever it takes to lessen the bruises on the ego...) Not making excuses, just pointing out the facts.

Sloppy, but getting it done...
I had a bit of an epiphany earlier this week on my way to work. I don't recall if it was someone calling in to a show on NPR, or some talk radio show of a more conservative bent, but the call had to do with fair compensation in the marketplace, return on investment, etc., etc. I suddenly realized that if I'm not performing as I should be on the bike, then it is because I have not WORKED HARD ENOUGH in training, and frankly, I don't even deserve to be placing even in the 50th percentile given my slackerdom in training. Fair enough. Makes sense.

A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless... Let's call him "Iron Chef") has indicated that he actually *likes* the pain and suffering that training and racing necessarily entail. Ok, beyond Iron Chef's relationship to that drama, and whatever it means to him, his outlook makes perfect sense. In a nutshell, it goes like this: Whoever has the highest pain threshold wins. Assuming of course, that that pain threshold on the bike is accompanied by speed and skill and endurance, etc. I guess that I simply have not "embraced" suffering on the bike enough to outdistance my peers in any particular cycling discipline. And of all those two-wheeled permutations, cyclocross certainly seems to require racing-specific training the most.

Slog, slog, slog...
Well, I'm most certainly looking forward to the rest of the CX season, and all of the suffering and crazy moments that will accompany such folly. On that note, I'll leave you with an excerpt from an old article by coach Scott Saifer. I believe the original title of the piece was "Are You Crazy Enough?" It was published in ROAD magazine a few years ago:

BIKE RACERS ARE CRAZY! The voluntarily withdraw from a normal social life. The get up ridiculously early; fail to seek promotion at work; risk serious injury, paralysis and death; take fragile expensive equipment into situations where it is bound to be damaged; and drive long distances, all for the chance to win a handful of inner-tubes, or maybe a small amount of cash. Even when there is cash on the line, it is generally less than the cost of the equipment, and far less than a rider could earn doing something more productive in the time spent training and racing. The chance of winning for most riders is about equal to the chance of crashing. It is quite a bit smaller than the chance of going home uninjured or empty-handed. Bike racers go into situations knowing that they are going to experience intense pain and often are looking forward to it. They enjoy the thought that they are going to be surrounded by people in pain and that they will be increasing the pain. They believe that the outcomes of races are important enough to justify tremendous risks and the investment of all those resources of time and money. The only consistent benefit of bike racing is that riders have things to talk about with other racers, things that make non-racers roll their eyes and yawn after a few minutes. Are racers as a group sane, healthy, well-balanced people? I think not. Most often racers are at least a bit masochistic, sadistic, delusional, misfit, anti-social or socially desperate, and often all six. Perhaps craziest of all, most bike racers believe, against extensive experience to the contrary, that sooner or later they are going to win a race. Like people who play the lottery, racers believe that the tremendous value of the payout makes up for the improbability of it ever happening to them. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Beautiful Fly-overs and Flying Ears of Corn

Flying corn.
Brought to you by: Genetic engineering 
Aah, lovely DeKalb, Illinois!.. Birthplace of barbed wire and Cindy Crawford... and the 2nd stop on the Chicago Cyclocross Cup series (also home to that "Harvard of the Midwest," Northern Illinois University. GO HUSKIES! Disclaimer: While it just so happens that I enjoy fruitful employment at NIU, I was not paid one penny for my enthusiastic shout-out). No doubt, Cindy and barbed wire are perfect bookends to the sublime beauty and pain that is cyclocross racing at Hopkins Park. Add to that, the one or two "mooooo" cattle sounds I made as the herd of fellow racers moved into the first series of corners on the course. Hey, I heard a couple of people laugh, and it was all in good fun to lighten the mood a bit on the first lap.  

Where "House of Style" meets "House of Pain"
Even though I was happy with my performance on the bike today (was not dead-last and did not crash), there's much room for improvement. Indeed, my team-mate Jeff actually was lined up behind me at the start, then managed to pass me, and after pausing to lose his breakfast (allowing me to bridge the gap up to him), he then managed to pull away from me again! It seemed that even the ears of corn *without* wings were moving faster than me today. Meh, no worries. I know what I need to do.

Site of ritual sacrifice for a good harvest
One of the highlights of the DeKalb-Hopkins Park Course is the fly-over. Basically, stairs up one side, a flat section for re-mounting at the top, and a steep ramp to roll down the other side. A bit sketchy in mixed company, but lots of fun nonetheless. This year, the edge of the roll-down ramp was much smoother at the point where it met the ground (unlike last year, where the 'thunk!' actually caused my handlebars to twist in the stem-clamp!). And who of course, can forget MY meeting mother Earth after an unplanned collision with a brave video camera lady? But, I digress...

From a technical standpoint, I was really impressed with how low a tire pressure can be run on my Vittoria tubulars. At a couple of spots, where grass turned to pavement, I could feel the rim bottom out on the rear tire, and still, no puncture! This would be simply unthinkable with a clincher setup. I also noted that my humble FSA headset became slightly loose again (after a recent tightening). Hmm, might be time to shell out for some Chris King bike bling! And finally, technology aside, I was much impressed with the speed and ferocity with which my much fitter fellow racers left me in their wake... especially the top guys in the 40+ category. They actually lapped me with about 2 laps to go and well, you know that expression about being passed as though one were "standing still"... Yeah.

Post-race grimace
The uphill barriers, followed by slick, off-camber downhill hairpins are also always fun. Adding to the enjoyment was the race marshal with the bullhorn who managed to offer up the perfect balance of heckling and encouragement to dull the pain just enough. At one point, she even had the gumption to give me grief for spitting on the course! Awesome. Thanks to North Central Cyclery, Half Acre Cycling, and Robots Powered by Love for putting on a great race!  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Only in Chicago, or Endor

Today marked my return to consistent racing for the 2011 season. My road season was pretty much a wash with poor training, undisciplined nutrition, and lackluster sleep. Meh, there's always next year!.. but for THIS year, there's still plenty of cyclocross left.

Such naive optimism.
And so it was, at the 2011 Chicago Cyclocross Cup opener at Jackson Park (if you're familiar with the city, it's sort of on the South Side off Lake Shore Drive near the big golden lady statue adjacent to the Museum of Science & Industry).

After the usual ritual of picking up my racing number from the registration tent, I slathered on a little "embrocation" (goop that makes the skin feel warm and warmed up and probably not even FDA-approved!) and finished putting on the rest of my team kit.

This was my first race in an honest-to-goodness "Masters 40+" field, but don't let the "mature" sound of that age category hint even for a moment that these guys aren't anything but super fast and strong. Many of these forever-young types merely use the 40+ event as a warm-up before their more elite Category 1/2/3 races.

I managed to secure a decent starting spot by warming up (loitering?) just off the entry-point to the course's final straightaway near the start/finish line. After a bit of a bumpy start, I was able to pretty much hold my position throughout the first lap, and settle into somewhat of a nice rhythm. By about the 3rd lap, me and some guy named Jim had just made the cutoff before they started pulling people behind us. So, in the interest of having a spirited finish, it basically comes down to a race between my new friend Jim and me. We're pedaling along, suffering, trading off the lead, but staying close.

And there he goes, eager to secure the hole shot!

At one point, I was so spent and in need of oxygen to the brain, that if I had seen a ewok zip me on an Imperial Speeder Bike, I would have just assumed it was one of the shorter racers in a fun costume and kept right on pedaling. Jackson Park is lovely, with plenty of mature foliage, so it did feel in a couple of sections as though I was trying to evade Imperial Scout Troopers, as well as avoid getting lapped!

Bruni post-race. Isn't she lovely?
I did manage to pass my friendly rival in the final corner and beat him at the line for a double-digit placing after which, I came off the course and did the whole dramatic dry-heave thing (note to self: race-day breakfast of peanut butter and jelly on toast stays down pretty well, must do again).

P.S. Special shout-out to Jeff Provisor and Peter Shapero at Main Street Bicycles in Carpentersville, IL for helping me with my recent pre-CX-season overhaul. Thanks for the wise counsel and genius wrenching, guys!