Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tete a Chrono - FNF

Head to time…race against the clock….the race of truth….the pain cave

I’ve been time trialing a lot lately. The Good Folks at Speed Merchant Aerodynamics Research and Testing (SMART) set me up on a cheap knock-off of a carbon Pinarello TT bike. I used it ‘in anger’ for the first time at the Rye-By-The-Sea duathlon this past june. It was pathetic. Partially due to my inherent lack of TT skills, and partially due to the weather - a cold windy rain coming off the ocean for almost ½ the course made my legs tight. My toes actually got cold, and I found myself going into the small chainring for the rather inconsequential hill at the end of the bike leg.

I then participated in a TT that was part of the Maine TT series. A 13ish mile very flat course. I maintained a 24.4 mph average speed, which I didn’t consider to be too terrible considering I didn’t even predrive the course.

But then I did the old standard – the Concord-Carlise TT – aka the Charlie Baker Time Trial. This TT has been around in several iterations for about 40 years. It’s the same basic course, but the start and finish points have changed over time. I set my previous PR about 20 years ago. Back then the start and finish were at the same point for a loop distance of 10.8 miles. It wasn’t a particularly fast time, but it was good for me. I finished in 24:55, at an average speed of a hair over 26 mph.

Last week, 20 years later, they have the finish about a mile sooner than the start. I ripped it up in 23:09, for an average of 25.4 mph.

True, that isn’t going to win me any medals, but there are two points:

A) It’s the fastest I’ve ridden the course since they changed the start finish point (maybe 5 years ago?)
2) I rode it .6 mph slower than I did 20 years ago.

I’ll take it.

And you can take this, your F.N.F….

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Someone I Don't Know

The Tour is here. As Bob Roll used to say during the old Outdoor Life promos,

"It's the TOUR, Baby!"

When the tour is on, I tend to be distracted. I surf the web too much, watch TV too much, and generally let things go that shouldn't be let go.

Today, while I was supposed to be working, the distraction led me to Velonews, where I saw a link called "Ernie Gagnon - The Bike"

I thought "Ernie Gagnon, that's the local dude who shows up at all the cyclocross races, and weighs like 400 pounds".

Seriously, I'm not exaggerating at all. He's tall, and he's big. He rides a custom Seven with tandem wheels.

The Velonews article is here.

Of course, I followed the link. Turns out the guy was living in a self-imposed exile because he weighed 570 pounds. His doctor gave him the choice of surgery or death. He chose a bike instead.

Talk about thinking outside the box.

It's a good article. Inspiring. Poignant. It embarrassed me.

Not because of Ernie, but because of how I perceived and judged him. I haven't really met him, we passed casually at races. I remember he gave me a head nod. I remember because it isn't common to see a person that size at a bike race. I gave one back because it's the polite thing to do. What I didn't do was have an open mind. What I didn't do was consider the demons he was up against, and how he's taken them head on, and beating them. I didn't consider the emotional risk he was taking, essentially in surrounding himself with a bunch of skinny arrogant little bastards, like me. The irony here is that he was a target for bullies growing up because of his size, as was I (albeit the other end of the spectrum). Cycling helped me build self-confidence, due in no small part to the strength of the community. Cycling respected me for my efforts, my willingness to learn, and my contributions. Cycling didn’t dismiss me because I didn’t win races. Cycling rewarded me for becoming part of cycling. Now, cycling is doing the same for Ernie.

I'm proud that I'm a member of a community that accepts him, supports him, and gives him the most precious thing a person can have - friends that look beyond these carcasses we're all wrapped in. I'm embarrassed that I was so wrapped up in my own selfish little world, deluded that my problems are/were so grandiose, that I wasn't ready or willing to consider the bravery and strength of character Ernie is exemplifying. I'm embarrassed that I didn't remember those lessons I learned over 25 years ago.

I don't know what goals in particular Ernie has, but I hope he's willing to keep setting them higher as he meets them. I hope, instead of simply beating down the demons, he completely vanquishes them.

Ride well, Ernie.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Never let it be said we here at Zencycle are so aloof and self-absorbed that we don’t recognize tales of inspiration from those out of the hard-core competitive arena. I’ve been fortunate in recent months to become well acquainted with an individual who gives me reason to reflect on my own goals and the inspirations behind them. Mind you, this isn’t a stirring tale of overcoming life/livelihood challenges that prove the absolute resolve of the human spirit. Rather, this is a simple reminder, that average every day people set average every day goals, and sometimes we’re successful, while other times we aren’t. To be fair, this story is a merely part of a much greater, and quite impressive accomplishment, and something the author is justifiably proud of. Also, to be fair, I consider this person to be _far_ from ordinary in the greater context of life, but in the small scope of this story I think it’s a relevant reminder of how some of us in the bike racing scene take the short term accomplishments......

just a little......



As I noted in my entry from December 30, 2011; these endeavors we undertake at our level of the sport are little things. I seriously hope my legacy won’t be my inconsequential sporting accomplishments. If that’s all I have to show for when I’m dead, my life will have been a serious waste of energy. In actuality, it’s all relative. What seems like a simple matter of a minor benchmark for some may be a significant, life-affirming achievement for others. As I noted, this short story isn’t the making of a Lifetime network movie (perhaps the greater achievement, of which this is a small part, could be), but it does illustrate how the spark of accomplishment and a little tenacity can go a long way.


The Dairy Queen Story, by Xena

Once upon a time, there was a 30-something chickadee, mother of 2, freshly divorced, who was taking karate and training to get her black belt. Girl, she looked *hot*! True, she wasn't svelte or back down to less than 150, but she was a strong mofo and kicked ass in sparring. Plus she could do real pushups!

Anyhoo, this lovely, confident chickadee was in her Black Belt Phase, which lasted 14 weeks, no more, no less. In this time, she had to attend extra Black Belt Phase classes and write essays and do community service and other character-building type stuff. These things were no problem for Ms. Xena, who happened to be especially good at attending extra classes and writing essays and doing community service. However, and this wouldn't be a very exciting Story if there wasn't a "However", she also had to run 3 miles in 30 minutes, no more but less was even better. Ms. Xena was not very good at the running of the miles in 10-minute increments, and her shin splints certainly did not enjoy this either.

Fortunately, our heroine had the choice to bike 15 miles in 64 minutes (also no more but less was even better). You may say "pshaw, that's nuttin'!". Perhaps not for you, triathlete goddess that you are. For me, I mean for Xena, this was a challenge. The course had a massive hill and several not-so-massive-but-almost-as-challenging hills, and it went by the river, which had a secret wish to slow cyclists down by constantly sending wind off its banks no matter which direction you were going. Not to mention crazy northeast drivers.

Xena was not going to let this stop her, though, nosirreebob! She bought a magnetic trainer to train indoors since it was January, and she actually got on the device a couple times a week. Her ischial tuberosities even got used to being crushed on the hard bicycle seat. She enjoyed listening to the Police (editors note: Next To You is a great interval training song!!!) and sweating and making progress.

Before she knew it, it was March and time for the first Ride. If she made her time on this first Ride, she would be set for the next 14 weeks. Of course, she would still have to do the ride anyway, but at least the pressure would be off.

I wish I could say this was part of the storytelling, to make it tense and interesting and have the reader on the edge of their seat to tell them that Ms. Xena did not in fact make her time on the first ride. I wish I could say that I'm making it up when I tell you that Ms. Xena did not in fact check her tires for proper pressure after taking the bike off the trainer. It would also not be fabrication or embellishment to tell you that Ms. Xena could not in fact go very fast at ALL with such low pressure in her bicycle tires, and that Ms. Xena was in tears less than 2 miles into the Ride as she saw all her friends pulling far far far ahead of her because they in fact *did* check on the pressure in their tires before attempting to ride 15 miles and she was NEVER going to make her time or get her black belt, and how she must be fat and out of shape if she couldn't do such a simple thing as ride her bicycle up a hill. *sniff* Are you crying yet, dear reader? If not, then you are truly heartless and should watch Scrooged or Cars before continuing on with my story.

Still with me? Yes, it wasn't a pretty sight. Some nice already-got-their-Black-Belts, just-there-for-encouragement dudes helped Ms. Xena realize that her problem was not her big badonkadonk, but her lack of air pressure, and that she would make the time next weekend, when we get to do the same thing all over again at seven a.m. on a Sunday morning. Ms. Xena was very skeptical but didn't have much of a choice, if she truly wanted her black belt more than anything else in the world, except maybe dinner with John Cusack (before she found out that he hated Better Off Dead. WTF?!).

So, our wise heroine filled her tires with the proper pressure and bought one of those air compressor do-hickeys that plugs into one's car cigarette lighter, when one isn't lighting up cigarettes, that is, so that she could always have proper tire pressure no matter what. The next Sunday morning at seven a.m., our fearless warrior set off once again to conquer man and nature, and several potholes, because this *was* post-winter in New England, after all. Can you guess what happened on that Sunday? If you guessed that Ms. Xena made her time, you would be horribly wrong and much too optimistic.

In fact, Ms. Xena did not make her time that Sunday, nor the next one. It's been several years now, so the author may not *exactly* remember just how many sundays this went on for, but it was a lot. At this point, many other Black Belt Phase candidates had made their time and therefore joined in the fun of helping their comrades do the same. Oh, joy.

One sunny spring Sunday seven a.m. Ride, Ms. Xena was joined by one of the Black Belt Phase candidates parents. I would just like to say up front that this man was trying very hard to be very supportive and doing a very fine job at it, and Ms. Xena certainly appreciated this man's support and encouragement. She made the halfway point in record time (at least it was a record for her!), and was very positive about this being The Sunday that she made her time.

Along this route, there is a Dairy Queen, which we in New England call DQ for short, 'cause we are all that. This DQ is less than a mile from the end of the route, and after the DQ there is a little hill up to a set of lights, and then a bunch of parked cars to avoid for the final stretch. Mr. BB parent was with me, we're pushing hard. He looks at his watch as we have the DQ in our sights....uh oh, only 4 minutes to make it. Ms. Xena, huffin' and puffin' and feeling a little nauseous: "I don't think I can make it". Mr. BBP: "I'm not sure if you're going to make it either." Well, that's all our little heroine needed to hear to give up. She immediately slowed way the hell down as she passed the DQ, and certainly did not make her time that day.

I am sad to report that if Ms. Xena had *not* given up, had pushed it just a tinge more that last less-than-a-mile stretch, she surely would have made her time that day, because she still rang in a hair under 2 minutes. BIG SIGH. She was very unhappy with herself. She surely realized that she should not have given up, and maybe she should go back and watch Rudy one more time. Or When Harry Met Sally. After sufficiently beating herself up and crying a few pitiful tears, she went home to wait for the next Sunday seven a.m. Ride.

And now it would be appropriate to share with you, mostly because our story has dragged on long enough and has fulfilled the angst quota, that our weary Ms. Xena did in fact make her time that spring, and went on to achieve her Black Belt, which continues to be one of the greatest accomplishments in her life. She was proud to receive her Black Belt along with her daughter, who had made her own running time (1.5 miles in 15 minutes) much earlier that spring; this elevates the story to the Proud Momma level, y'know.

(Zen - just an FYI, Xena's daughter was like 8 years old at the time)

That fall, when she had to do it all over again (oh, did I not mention that the spring phase was for Conditional Black Belt???), she in fact made her time the very first Ride of the year, and in fact made it in less than sixty, count them, six-tee whole minutes!!! She still believes the river winds were sleeping that warm fall morning.

Ever since then, she has used the Dairy Queen Story as a moral in her life, for the times when it seems like nothing is going to succeed and it's practically too late anyway so why don't you throw in the towel and call it a day already? Those truly are the times to push harder, as cliché as that may sound. I guess clichés are still around for a reason, eh?

Friday, April 6, 2012

F.N.F. - To Whom It May Concern

Damn....It's been a long time. Issue specific post here.....

OK, Maybe the driver of the car _was_ driving like an idiot, or maybe this was in fact a legitimate accident. The footage isn't clear on that regard, but what _is_ clear is the the driver tried to flee the scene. Kudos to a heads-up bus driver and the dirver of the car that blocked the dumbass in.

However, there is one point I would like to make:
I started commuting by bicyle in 1986, from Chelmsford to Lexington, through the traffic mess in Bedford center. I commuted for a short time to MEEI/MGH in the early 90's, and I've commuted through Haverhill, Lawrence, and Nashua. I currently take a route though downtown Nashua at rush hour both mornings and evenings. In 25 years of commuting, I've been hit exactly one time, by a car cutting across traffic.

I made that point because I see something horribly wrong with how the cyclist was riding. Before the cyclist gets hit, he's pretty much riding in the _middle_ of the lane. In one shot he's even drifted to the the left side of the lane. There are very few occasions when - in my experience - it's reasonable to take the lane. Those are pretty much excluded to: when your speed closely matches the speed of the traffic, and when you're preparing to make a turn across traffic. I take the lane frequently, but I wouldn't have done it in the conditions I see there. Even giving the benefit of the doubt that he was taking the lane to prepare for a left turn, in the subsequent shot you can see he's barely half-way across the bridge. Looking at his speed, it doesn't seem to me that he was riding anywhere near the flow of traffic, which would also justify taking the lane imo.

I'm not saying that he deserved to get hit, of course he didn't. What I _am_ saying is that he wasn't riding safely or with consideration of the traffic around him. Yes, he was legally in the right, but that shouldn't be a reason to ride like that. I'm not sure what the laws are in bethlehem PA, but if it wasn't illegal for him to ride on the sidewalk, he should have. He wasn't going fast enough to justify riding in the traffic lane on a road with no shoulder, and there wasn't enough foot traffic on the sidewalk to cause a safety issue.Even if riding in the pedestrian way _is_ illegal, I wouldn't have been riding in the middle of the lane. I'm saying, if he had been more respectful of the traffic and stayed as far to the right as was possible and safe, the accident might not have happened.

Let me reiterate: Clearly, the driver of the car is at fault, but I have to question the judgment of the cyclist here as well. I used to help out with safety clinics when I was with NEBC. One point I always made - especially to the younger riders - was that even though they legally had the right-of-way, that didn't give them license to ride without consideration of the traffic. I called it "dead right". Sure, If you get hit you're probably legally right, but you may also end up dead.

Now, anyone who has ever read my blog or facebook postings knows I do stupid shit on bicycles. I weave through stopped traffic and I won't hesitate to hop in a truck draft at 40 mph though city streets. That said, I know what risks I'm taking there, and those actions aren't an inconvenience or disrespectful of other drivers. However, taking the lane while traveling 20-30 mph slower than traffic is, imo, both disrespectful and dangerous.

I don't want anyone reading this to think I'm siding with the driver, or making some justification for cyclist getting hit. If you take that away from this post, you're clearly an idiot, and the public would be better off if you stayed home playing World Of Warcraft and collected some social safety net stipend. I don't mind my tax dollars being spent to keep you off the streets.

UPDATE: Apparently, the city of Bethlehem had passed a by-law that stipulated the full-lane access for cyclists on that bridge. It seems the signage had not been put into place yet. That doesn't change my position on this. Simply that a cyclist is _allowed_ to use the full lane, imo, doesn't mean they should. It means that a cyclist can't be cited for obstructing traffic in case they do, and motorists _must_ yield the right-of-way. What the driver did would have been illegal regardless of the by law or not. That said, I still think it fool-hardy to take the lane as the rider in the video did.

The message here is; Ride smart, ride safe, and most of all, ride.

Here it is, your F.N.F