Saturday, February 26, 2011

From Love To Rust and Back Again...

Bottom bracket shell got the worst of it
 "The city's a flood, and our love turns to rust...
We're beaten and blown by the wind, trampled in dust..."

- U2 Where The Streets Have No Name

Love turning to rust, I like that. I suppose it is also some sort of love that is necessary to try and remove a little rust from being so... well, beaten and blown by the wind, and rain, and the passing of time.

So I've started to remove the rust out of the most weathered and salty areas of my 1983 Specialized Allez. Fairly effective at removing rust thusfar, if a bit noxious has been the Never-Dull 'Magic Wading Polish'. Oh, it is "magic" all right, or, at least the fumes from the chemicals that empregnate the stuff help to (unintentionally, OF COURSE) transport me BACK TO 1983 with some old-school tunnage playing in the background. Probably best used outdoors, or at least in a well-ventilated area. But alas, it is February, and it is below freezing outside, so what is one to do?

Love is patient, love is kind
(Can you see the love glowing
off my fingers?)
It's an interesting process to remove rust off of a steel surface. A surface which, had probably not been exposed to the rest of the world, rust-free, for the better part of a couple of decades. I can't help but think of those images from Ballard's dives on the Titanic in that mini-submarine. Rusted ship's hull, barnacles, schools of fish swimming around (preferably, with Kathy Lee Gifford nowhere near the place). In fact, the last time that any of the frame's surface was exposed this bare, it was probably sitting in Kashiwa, outside of Tokyo, Japan waiting for Yoshi Konno or one of his shop staff to throw a coat of primer and then paint on it. It would then be shipped across the Pacific Ocean, bound for Specialized in Morgan Hill, California.

Chrome dropout/derailleur hanger
I've decided, perhaps for mostly sentimental reasons, to not have the frameset completely sandblasted and repainted but rather, to deal with the problem spots and touch it up, keeping the original paint and decals in place for a bit longer. I'm not a collector, or preservationist. I'd like to think that my reasons for the touch-up option rather than complete repaint are as much practical as sentimental I suppose. I love bikes for their utilitarian value as much as for the aethetics involved. The problem rusty spots are just that, finite spots. Most of the frame's paintjob is still amazingly good, considering it is approaching 30 years of age. Wow. Ok, don't linger on THAT thought too much. Yikes.

Anyway, I'm quickly discovering that removing this rust is a painstaking process, but quite satisfying as one goes along. There's an instant-gratification vibe about it, sort of like throwing clothes in the washing machine and then in the dryer. Only, here, the hard effort is on the front end, whereas with laundry, it is in the folding and putting clothes away. And like the freshly laundered clothes that will get re-worn and become in need of re-laundering, this frameset will get cleaned up and built-up, and ridden at speed once more, to again find epic riding adventures in the miles ahead, hoping to turn love to rust once again.

p.s. Special thanks once again, to Jeff Provisor at Main Street Bicycles in Carpentersville, IL for putting up and helping with my never-ending Velo-Maniac needs!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Icons In The Moment

1965: "Get up and fight, suckaa!!!"
In a divine cleanse of stars and flashbulbs...

I am not actively a "fan" of boxing. However, while getting a haircut at a local barbershop today, I noticed on the wall across from me, a poster version of the iconic image of Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay at the time) standing over Sonny Liston. A little further research revealed that it was May 25th, 1965, the WBC Heavyweight Championship. The first minute, of the first round... and Liston is laid out on the canvas, knocked out, while Ali hovers above him as if to say "Yeah punk, you want some MORE of THIS?!?!"

This week's announcement that Lance Armstrong is retiring from the sport of professional bicycle racing (*AGAIN*) brought to mind an image just as iconic in my own mind's eye. It was that of Armstrong winning the 1999 Tour de France's mountain stage at Sestriere.

Like Ali, Armstrong's successful sporting career, often inseparable from his cult of personality, has also had its detractors. And I must readily admit that I have often enough in the last few years uttered less-than-flattering words preceded by the Texan's name (words such as "tool," "jackass," "media-whore," and "doper").

1999: Reaching through the gloom for the light we all reach for...
(or "Yeah, punks, I got YEARS more of THIS!")

Yet, back on that mountain in '99, he was just off his recent bout of cancer, and was stamping his authority on the Tour de France for cycling's best "heads of state" and all the world to see. For me, it was a glorious moment, a mystical moment,... an iconic moment. His *most* iconic.

He had not only apparently beaten cancer and cheated death, but was now through sheer force of will (*hopefully* unaided by pharmaceuticals) now reaffirming what was possible in his life. In all of our lives... And, like the media machine train wreck that would follow, we could not look away.

Who are these men, really? ... These flawed giants of sport that at times transcend the adverse circumstances and bonds of human limits? If we could only ignore the personal life stuff and focus on the athletic stuff ...

I'm reminded of the quote by Robert Louis Stevenson:

"To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life..."

I had to write that like 800 times as punishment in 6th grade, by the way, so may as well put it to good use! The only "end" of life ... Not in the sense of life's "end," or ceasing to exist, but an end as in life's goals and ultimate purpose. Do your best, ... be the best we can be, etc. etc.

Either way, these greats, like most great athletes, know about being in the moment at the highest level. We know it too, don't we? When we're "in the moment"? Think about it.

Whether hookin' and jabbin' or pedaling in anger, they seem to have raged with such demon-fueled fury  in clutch moments (the seeds of that raging planted out of the ring and off the bike) that I would like to think that through their example our aspirations are sanctified and offered up, and we become that much more of who we strive to be (hopefully, in clean athletic competition).

Thus, even when we might have convinced ourselves that we hate them, we love them still. Even when they let us down... as they almost always will.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Steel My Heart

It seems appropriate to write something bike-love / lust related on this Valentine's Day. For it just so happens that today, a large, suspicious, bike-box package was delivered to the house. I fortunately knew that the treasure that awaited within that box was no less than a red, 1983 Specialized Allez steel frame and fork.

What makes this bike frame particularly special is not just that it is a "Specialized" (ha ha), or that it was one of the rarest of steeds hand built by master Japanese framebuilder Yoshi Konno of San Rensho fame (Think Mr. Miyagi + Yoda with a brazing torch instead of lightsaber) for a period of a couple of years before the company went to mass-production. No, wrapped up in this frameset's pedigree is also that primal goo of human emotion that dances between the contour lines of nostalgia and straight-up pitter-patter-heart love at first sight.

In my case, the first time cupid's arrow scored a direct hit for this beauty I was in 8th grade. I remember something a local kid who was a year or two older than me and also "into bikes" in that geeky non-BMX way first telling me about these bikes. I think I had complained about how the nobly humble but sub-par Royce Union 10 speed I had been rollin' around on was somewhat of a transit bus. His response was simply "Buy Specialized..." Really? Just like that, with all that 8th grader expendable income of mine... So it was to be a mongrel Schwinn, humble Centurion, and aspiring Peugeot for a few years. I swear the Frenchman who put my Peugeot together must have been drunk or still hungover, torch in hand, the day it was liberated from his brazing jig!

Vintage tasty! It must be
looking for components
Then, one hazy afternoon about 8 years later, while an undergraduate at the University of California at Santa Cruz, I was loitering around one of the local bike shops and noticed her... an absolutely stunning metallic red steel Specialized Allez hanging from the lower rafters in the shop. Sadly, even in my stunned daze of hopelessly smitten crush, I could tell that the frame was a bit too large for me from the length of the headtube. But I also noticed her clean, elegant lines and unique (compared to the mass-produced version), chromed dropouts (the little slots that the wheel hubs/axles fits into). Sensing that I was a mediocre-at-best racer, the shop wrench was quick to admonish me, "Duude, a frame that's too big IS DEATH in a corner at high speed!!!.." Death! And so I left her there in that shop, never looking back, for fear I might turn into a pillar of salt or something ... and now that I think about it, I never did step foot in that shop again, as though to do so would only bring heartache and longing for something that I knew was not to be.

Dances with wolves, no.
Dances on pedals, yes.
Yet, her memory lingered. She haunted me from time to time when that B-movie with Kevin Costner (American Flyers) came up in conversation (ok, maybe I'd bring it up only to invoke her name!!!). She had an important role in that film, and certainly SHOULD HAVE been nominated for "best supporting actress!" She haunted me when years later, I had the privilege of owning a mass-produced version which I had inherited from a friend, but unlike the beauty hanging from that shop ceiling, was a bit too SMALL for me. And she entered my daydreams, now a couple of decades on, settled into the Midwest, when I'd think back to my adolescent years in California, and how I used to envision how my life might be after high school. It included living somewhere in the East Bay area of Northern California (Walnut Creek perhaps?) and of course, owning one of these wonderful bicycles, all decked out in full Shimano Dura-Ace or Suntour Superbe Pro componentry. Commuting to San Francisco via BART train... Epic, year-round outdoor rides. You get the idea.

Rita H. up on some cloud
With every year that passed, the memory of her red metallic paint and elegant, shiny chromed drop-outs stayed with me. From time to time, I would check ebay or Craigslist just to see what was out there, but never quite found what I was looking for. But one day approaching mid-February 2011, I did the usual curious routine search, and suddenly I saw her once again, ... in all of that Rita Hayworth-like metallic red and chrome accented glory! I set my highest bid on a whim and more or less put it out of my mind. When I checked that email account a few days later, I saw the magic words, "You won this item on eBay: Specialized Allez 58cm frame and fork" OMG! OMG! OMG! Pay now... PAY NOW!!!      

For the few days while I waited for her to arrive, I tried to do some research and find out everything I could about this particular model year. That, in itself was very entertaining, as I've come to realize that I am not alone with bike love for this memory machine.

And now she's here, and I'm going to do my best to restore her slowly, bit by bit, new paint, new decals, and part by part. I'm going to enjoy every step in the process, just like those first long-paused eyes and kisses of loves past. Those first sips of coffee and endless conversations. While it might be true that I'm a bit older and (one would hope) wiser now, her arrival's brought a new blush of youthful spring into my cycling life's hiatus (and the harsh Midwestern winter we've had this year!).

While I do not live in the Walnut Creek I imagined, or anywhere near California for that matter (only in my dreams), life is good, and the bike life's about to get even better. I hope to periodically post updates on this new relationship, err, ahem... restoration process. For now though, I am intoxicated in starry-eyed 8th grade bikelust in the throes of this scarlet beauty's spell. Domo arigato Konno-san, ... Domo arigato.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

If The Shoe Fits...

Many years ago, while still in elementary school, I once made the mistake of wearing my soccer cleats while riding my BMX bike to practice. Long story short, I had somehow managed to press the cleats into the pedals in such a way (such was the force of my pedal stroke!) that when I arrived at the nearby fields and needed to remove my foot from the pedals, neither foot would dislodge, and I more or less fell over onto the grass, much to the amusement of my teammates.

Do NOT wear ON bike
Earlier this fall, possibly while still ensorcelled by and suffering from withdrawals post-FIFA World Cup, I took part in a faculty/staff vs. students soccer match at the university campus where I work. In the process of our victorious route of the upstart student team, I noticed a friend of mine who had these old, wonderful leather cleats she used in her glorious undergraduate days on the pitch. They were a pair of Adidas ‘Copa Mundial’ shoes (which, in Spanish, means World Cup. Hmm, coincidence?)

Anyway, what caught my eye about them was that in an age of synthetic wonder-materials and radical designs for sporting equipment, these shoes still retained a very classic, traditional look about their craftsmanship and something very timeless about their simplicity. I literally took a shoe out of her hand while getting ready in the parking lot adjacent to the field and examined the shoe closely (as she, of course, looked at me as though I were crazy). I looked at the shoe’s upper, the heel, the tongue, the top-sole, and the cleated bottom. The shoe seemed amazing in its singular purpose, namely, to make contact with, strike, and control soccer balls, all the while providing traction for the fortunate player who happened to be wearing them.

My subsequent investigation into whether these shoes were still manufactured and sold only added to my obsession,.. err, infatuation.. uhmm, I mean, interest in these shoes. They seemed so wonderful in a way that made me want to play soccer more often, if only to possibly justify my purchasing a pair and running around a grassy field with them on my feet. “Heeey, looook at meee and my cooool shooooes!!!”

Yes, this IS STILL a mostly cycling-related blog. But, if cross-country skiing has somehow weaseled its Nordic ways onto these pages, then why not a word or two about beautiful soccer cleats? But ENOUGH already about the soccer cleats! ¡Basta ya! Let us switch the fine footwear talk to something more appropriate to this venue: cycling shoes.

A wise bike racer once told me that a major difference between the old pedal, clip, and strap cycling setup and the newer, “clipless” shoe + pedal systems that emerged in the mid-1980s was all about abuse. That in one instance, the shoe used to take most of the abuse from the rider’s foot and the pedaling motion, and twisting and being strapped into the pedal, etc. And that in the more contemporary setup, it was the pedal that took all of the abuse, now serving as a platform surface onto which the rider’s foot was locked as if in a ski-binding. In fact, it was the French ski-binding company, ‘LOOK’ which had pioneered this new setup. I can still see LeMond and Hinault battling it out on the Alpe, and around those same years, old stubborn Sean Kelly of Ireland still holding out with the old ways.

Needless to say, I’ve owned a few pairs of cycling shoes over the years. Most of my road shoes have been a variation on the basic spring-loaded pedal + cleat ‘LOOK’ or Shimano-model. For my mountain bike and cyclocross adventures, I’ve almost exclusively rolled with Shimano ‘SPD’-type cleats.

My humble but steadfast SiDi 'Genius' shoes
Most worthy of mention here are my SiDi shoes ("Genius" and "Dominator". Gotta love those names, so appealing to my fragile male ego!) One road pair, one mtn. (“off-road”) pair. And of course, my “race day only” semi-custom moldable carbon-soled Shimano R220 road shoes.

SiDi 'Dominators' dominating my office!
Both pairs of SiDi shoes are absolute workhorses that, like many things which come from Italy, do not sacrifice style in the name of function, even though they function extremely well. Not few have been the times that I’ve paused for a moment before or after a ride to just look at the shoes and admire their sublime earnestness just prior to putting them on, or after removing them. It’s probably just as well I contemplate their beauty and craftsmanship then, as I most often literally forget I have them on my feet while riding the bike. To me, THAT has to be the mark of a great shoe. So comfortable and maintenance-free, that one need not worry about that most constant interface with the machine.

Ready to blast-off!
What can I say about my Shimano R220s? These wonder-shoes have a carbon + thermoplastic molded, custom-tweakable sole that can be shaped and re-shaped with the application of heat (assuming your local bike shop carries them). Anyway, these shoes are the modern bike-geek equivalent of those Shrinky Dink-type things one would put in the oven in the 1980s (toxic fumes, anyone?). Straps, ratcheting buckles, sleek mesh, ridiculous stiffness for power transfer onto the pedaling surface… Wearing these on my feet is probably the closest I’ll ever get to wearing one of those NASA space suits that astronauts get to wear. All that technology… What’s not to like?

Sadly, mine are decomposing in the
Milpitas, CA landfill, I'm sure...
I finally turn to my first pair of cycling shoes. They were a pair of (gasp!) lace-up Detto Pietros. Smooth, all black leather, with a bunch of little holes for ventilation. The sole was a hard molded plastic that had a cleat that one had to literally secure into the shoe with nails and a hammer! Retro indeed. Someone ought to take the top-soles of those Dettos and attach them to a bottom one can casually wear around the house or around town, and they’d probably make a killing with the early-onset midlife crisis/urban hipster crowd!

Italian champ Felice Gimondi, 1968
or '72, it's hard to tell...
Shoes, they support our weight, and carry most of us through our lives’ journeys. Cycling shoes in particular are a bit odd, for they are not at all designed for walking much, and are most NOT in their element when not attached somehow to a bicycle pedal. Sort of like wearing those fly-fishing waders when not actually standing in a river? Perhaps. But just as fly fishermen have waders and a whole bunch of other specialized, task-oriented objects that might seem weird or secretive to the uninitiated, so too do cyclists have in their shoes a seemingly mundane object that even at its most utilitarian, can rise to the level of fine aesthetic craftsmanship and secret sauciness. Just don’t try to play soccer in them.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Watt Watt ! ! !

Power sim on-the-cheap!
One of the training possibilities I’ve been dabbling with over the last couple of months has been the use of a power meter device (rather than relying solely on heart rate) to gauge, monitor, tweak, and keep within proper training intensity. As power meters like PowerTap, SRM, and Quark are quite pricey, I decided to start playing around with a more economical alternative that is made to work with my Kurt Kinetic trainer… With a help and tutelage of a friend of mine who has wholeheartedly started using a REAL power meter, I started to establish and follow my numbers.

Data Overload! (Ok, not certain who these data actually belong to)

AND … Just as I suspected I would, I quickly found myself overwhelmed with a vast array of data, and just as quickly found myself not-so-interested in it. This, if anything, is a reality-check for me. I am, simply, NOT a “numbers” guy. While I can FULLY appreciate, and do not doubt the value of power as a metric and training tool, I know myself well enough to know that I would not end up using this amazing piece of training technology to really get the most out of it or make the expense worthwhile. I also believe that approaching such an upgrade with a “I spent all that money, and that should motivate me to use it…” attitude is probably the WRONG way to go about it.

 No… I’ll just tell myself that I’m just more of an “old-school” sort of guy when it comes to training. There’s an old legend about the great Eddy Merckx once having responded with “ride lots” to the question of what his training secret was. And, while I’d like to say that it works particularly well for me, who AM I kidding, right? The mileage I put in from season to season might vary, but beyond the quality miles, there are simply too many other training variables (nutrition, sleep, focused training, etc.) that I can still vastly improve upon before I go throwing a couple thousand (more) dollars at my lackluster motivation and fitness.

Merckx rode "lots"... and won lots too
It’s not so much an economic decision, really, as it is a moral, be-true-to-thyself sort of reckoning. It’s just not who I am, in the same way that purchasing a couple pairs of Assos FI 13 S5 bib shorts (the alpha-numeric bit is secret code for OUTRAGEOUSLY EXPENSIVE) is just not me. Swiss-made Assos cycling clothes are, by the way, supposed to be worth every penny. And, the way I see it is that they’d sure better be, for as much as they cost. I think I’ll start with a pair of Assos socks and maybe go from there? I have used the Assos chamois cream, and I can most certainly attest to its virtues. BTW, this is a fine product as well:  But, I digress...

Again, it is worth pointing out that using a power meter really IS the most effective, accurate training tool to use when following a “scientific,” training program. And therein, lies the rub… It takes a greater deal of structure and intrepid dedication to stay on the task of following such a prescribed program in order for it to be most effective. I either enjoy the mystery of the guesswork, or I’m simply too much of a lazy schlub to bother with downloading all the data and they try to make sense of it.

When Bear Claws Attack!
No, I’d rather think of different metrics for training purposes… like how many miles and how fast I have to ride to burn off that last Panera bear claw I ate, or am about to eat after whatever ride I am on (especially a weekend ride). Okay, even that much rational thought seems to take the fun out of the experience. I did, however just read that those bear claws are about 440 calories EACH!!! Talk about a bear claw attack! I have first-hand experience with these, and let me tell you, they put up a good fight, but worth every bite. And, unlike the Assos shorts or wattage-measuring wonder tool, deliver results every time!

If you choose to train with a power meter, then more power to you (no pun ORIGINALLY intended, but now that I see it, let’s go with it). I just know it is not for ME … at least, not at this glorious juncture of my amateur bicycle racing career. Either way, you should not take my advice (nor did I claim to be dispensing any) … And besides, why should you believe anyone who’s given this much thought to the virtues of certain pugilistic pastries over sounder training-related nutritional choices?

Speaking of which, I literally have a bike racing colleague who once referred to my choice of what I had assumed a healthy snack (a Honeycrisp apple) as a “sugar bomb.” An APPLE!!! Damn, I should have known that any fruit with the word "honey" as part of its name was just too good to be true! Needless to say, this racing icon of the local scene is a sight to behold whenever he’s turning his pedals in anger. He does of course, use his power meter to its full potential. And he no doubt watches what he eats, gets enough sleep, and puts in the sacrifice and dedication that it takes to excel in our grueling sport. But where’s the fun in that?