Illness and training

April 11, 2012  |  Comments Off

So, in typical springtime style, I’m currently laid out with a nasty fever and chills. Like most type-A racer geeks, all I can think about is how I’m missing my workouts. The temptation before I had a coach (and coaching is something that not everyone can afford, including myself were it not that my team provides it at a price a student can afford) was to try and “make up” for lost time as soon as I was capable of throwing a leg over the top tube. I’m here to tell everyone who is currently getting the nasty flu that’s out there right now to STOP RIGHT NOW.

DO NOT TRY AND MAKE UP YOUR MISSED WORKOUTS. This is like the best way to throw yourself deeper into the hole, get yourself sick again, or worse yet end your season early. Even if you aren’t racing and just trying to ‘stay in shape’ like most of us are (and admittedly I don’t race that much these days) you really have to get back on the horse S-L-O-W-L-Y.

Although you may feel better, you probably aren’t fully recovered. Also, your workout schedule, especially in the case of coaching, is carefully planned not to overload your system. You go and overdo it on one day and you’ll be forced to take a longer time to recover. The optimal ‘fitness increases’ in cycling are seen with consistant riding, with very carefully planned periods of effort and recovery, and even taking a week easy after a “training block” where you slowly increase the stress seen by your body.

Sure, you can get faster just going out and hammering every time you ride. This is especially useful if you can’t ride very often, since your recovery days are taken up with the other things in life, like laundry, diaper changing, and your job. The best situation, though, is to be able to get in a little bit of work every day, and slowly build your fitness over a long period. An often used phrase is “you have to go slow sometimes to go fast.”

 

So if you’re feeling under the weather, resist the temptation and take it easy when you jump back in the saddle. The better you treat yourself in the long run, the more enjoyment you’ll get. I see too many guys get burnt out on riding and racing when they take it too seriously. I was even at that point before I decided to back off a bit and just enjoy the ride.

See you out there!

-Mil

The Custom Frame

April 10, 2012  |  Comments Off

The idea of owning a custom steel frame in this day and age of high-tech carbon mold bikes seems like something of a step backwards. After all, aren’t these new materials better? There was a time only a few years ago where it was still common to have members of the pro peloton astride custom steeds rebranded as their sponsor’s work in order to meet requirements. In fact, in the book “Come and Gone” author and ex pro racer talks about even re-stickering his suspension fork in order to avoid using the notoriously flexy first generation ROCK SHOX SID fork in favor of his previous year’s gear. Although the practice may be dead in the age of the 10+ megapixel camera, which can quickly expose any quick “decal swappery” to even the most casual armchair “telai-istas” (frame builders/designers), the practice of owning a custom bike is far from dead.

You only need to look at your local forum or club to see that plenty of guys still ride custom steel rigs in favor of carbon. The weights achieved on most well equipped steel bikes ring in quite close to the “UCI Minimum” of 6.8kg or 14.9 lbs. A set of record or even SRAM RED would bring most frames in the 56cm and under category quite close. Owning a UCI mandated minimum weight bike is, in itself, an exercise in excess.

If you still feel that steel bikes are too heavy for your cat6 racing lifestyle, consider the following:

Will you really notice an extra pound or two on your weekend club ride?

Could you, in fact, stand to lose those one or two pounds around your midsection rather than on your bike?

When poaching your local Strava segment, do you ever find yourself shedding excess weight by throwing your full water bottles into oncoming traffic in a fit of aggressive macho-competitive rage? (consider lightening up on the steroids/EPO cocktail in this case…)

Have you weighed your smartphone lately? Mine, complete with waterproof case, came in at a KOM-polkadot-robbing 172 grams! That’s .38 lbs! That’s like the difference between a top of the line frame and a bottom of the line frame from a well known Italian carbon frame builder. If you’re a true weight weenie, you’d be riding without your smartphone to make up the difference!

The point stands that obsession over weight can be something of a mental disease. Having ridden some of the ultralight components and then shed a carbon fiber tear as they broke to pieces during normal use, I can safely say that I’m over it.

Now, why would you choose to ride a steel bike? People sing the praises of their ride quality. I wasn’t much of a believer and put about 20 thousand miles into a full carbon name brand race frame. I grabbed a steel cross bike because I thought carbon was a bit excessive for a sport that prides itself on destroyed derailleurs and components, and somehow I ended up putting the neglected carbon bike in the closet for everything but a few really nice days where I mistakenly thought a couple extra pounds shed would help me keep up with the fast guys (protip: they didn’t. I still got dropped like a hot potato). There is something great about the way the bike connects you to the feeling of the road, while at the same time taking the sting out of it. Just a few minutes on the new lightweight carbon bikes and you realize that you truly can feel every single piece of pavement like it were some sort of braille butt-torture device. I like my cross bike a lot better now.

The other great thing is if you’re not blessed to be in the middle of the curve for proportions (much like myself: try a 35 inch inseam on a dude who just barely breaks 5 foot 9 inches) you’ll always be trying to make the bike fit you rather than the other way around. Seven and Serotta, specifically, have designed entire business models around making bikes fit the user perfectly. Sometimes, I can report, that the end result is a bike that handles like a truck but fits like a glove. If you happen to live in one of those flat boring states in the middle of the country (which comprises about 99% of everyone) you’d never notice, but to those of us for whom 50+mph descents are part of our daily afternoon ride, a bike that responds well to inputs is important too. The great thing about custom is that you can request this too. Yes, a Seven/Serotta MAY not handle as well as a Specialized Tarmac, but chances are that the Big S bike will be fitted with a huge stack of spacers and a short stem facing straight up which will end up having the same end result: a bike that fits and feels comfortable for going long distances in a straight line. If you’re willing to suffer the yuppie filled yoga classes you too can achieve the pro-fit saddle to bar drop of a good handling custom bike too, but don’t expect a fit specialist to lie to you and say you’re going to be comfortable doing it until you achieve spinal nirvana first.

 

If you’re still not convinced to trade in the high tech plastic for low tech metal, then there’s only one thing left to do: go ride both for yourself and see what you think. In the end the best part about cycling is how one of the simplest machines out there can be so finely tuned and customized to the individual and represent a little piece of your own tastes and style. A brand new S-Works says as much about what kind of guy the owner is as a custom Rivendell touring rig complete with panini filled paniers.

Just go out and ride.

 

-Mil

February 28, 2012  |  Comments Off

By Bill Watterson (of Calvin and Hobbes)

Today is one of those days where I sit back and think of all the opportunities I threw away by doing the “should be” instead of following the dream. Today I think about all the days I let academics come in the way of an important life experience. I’m remembering how I skipped the very last concert of “the impossibles” in Austin, TX in order to study and pass a biology test (that I only marginally passed). I also remember the times I threw caution to the wind: The day I cut an entire day of classes to go ride my bike on deserted roads and eat a sandwich on a bench overlooking the entire San Francisco Bay.

Sometimes the right thing is exactly the opposite of what we “should be doing.”

Cut class. Call in sick. Take your kids to the park for a hike. Go sit alone on the top of your favorite local climb and revel for a moment in how big the sky is, and how all of human endeavor ultimately amounts to a tiny pinprick on an even tinier pale blue dot in a forgotten corner of our galaxy.

adieu

-Mil

Saying “Goodbye” to an Old Friend

February 24, 2012  |  Comments Off

Selling a bike: It’s something some of us do with a great amount of trepidation. For others of us it’s just like any other material good. In talking with a friend, we decided that the attachment must have had something to do with the act of literally pouring your own sweat and blood onto the top tube, and often the places that you go together which are otherwise inaccessible. There is something special about your bike, and there is something sad in selling one from your stable.

Today I bid farewell to my Colnago ‘cross bike. The bike itself had a story. Really, any bike is just an assembly of tubing, and their stories are really the stories of the rider, but there is a human need to anthropomorphize the objects around us. Some of us understand this, and others don’t. I always found personifying inanimate objects to help connect and understand. As a science grad student, I met one particular professor who took offense and took the piss out of me on more than one occasion for trying to understand protein mechanics by asking what the proteins “wanted” to do. I suppose from some views you could reduce the whole of human consciousness to this: a series of chemical reactions and probabilities, as this particular PHD believed. Still, it removes the wondrous element of the human experience. I say this as both a nonbeliever in religion and yet an avid fan of fantasy and literature. My bike was alive, and I’m here to tell our story.

I arrived in San Diego in the Summer of 2010, leaving behind pretty much everything I had in Houston, including a wonderful relationship that was to be maintained over the distance. I packed everything I could into my hatchback, threw my 29er and a track bike on the roof, and drove off to start a “research internship” which I knew close to nothing about and had managed to become involved with during a vacation on the west coast. Looking back, it was an extremely dumb idea, as most things we do tend to look in hindsight. I knew absolutely nothing about San Diego, nothing about NIH research, and wasn’t even sure if that was something that would be worth it. I just knew I needed a bit of new scenery. My hometown was the site of a lot of bad memories, and a lot of good ones too, and a lot of baggage in terms of who I was and what I was capable of.

Even before I had an apartment sorted out, staying in whichever hotel I could legally keep my cat cooped up during the days I worked, I sought out my local bike shop. For me, the landing pad was Adams Ave Bikes. Another rider I passed by asking for directions referred to them as “the bike racing team that also likes to drink beer.” Great. My kind of folks. I walked in and there was an espresso machine and wooden bar to take a seat at in the back. Even better. I think everyone who goes by there has about the same reaction. You can’t help but want to be a part of it. The shop owner, Andrew, and I chatted about how I wanted to try some cyclocross. I had originally intended to move to Portland and become good at this cyclocross thing, and I knew there was a new series in town: SoCalCyclocross. After looking at the options from Specialized and Surly, Andrew got a sense of what I liked. I didn’t have a filet mignon budget, though. He found me the Colnago World Cup. It was aluminum, priced right at what you could get a Specialized or Giant for, and looked dead on like the same bike I saw Sven Nys riding.

A couple weeks later it came in, and I was inducted into the cross world. I commuted on the bike, taking every stop light and sign as an opportunity to practice dismounting. I took long detours on the way to work to hit dirt trails and practice shredding through the turns. Once fall rolled in, I spent every single weekend driving, eating and sometimes sleeping in my car going to Los Angeles to hit the CX races. I had never raced anything other than a couple fun practice crits, and I was living the Cat 4 pro life: Which is to say I raced right when the sun came up, after waking up well before it, nobody saw me suffer, and if I was lucky I had some cash to go grab a taco before I got to watch the real pros do their stuff. I met Adam Craig, Molly Cameron, Ryan Trebon. I saw Chris Horner take insane pulls on the paved section into the finish line. I saw Scott Chapin catch insane air off the tiniest undulations in the course all while shredding his way into the front pack. I witnessed Sue Butler and Devon Haskell (now Haskell-Gory) kicking ass at the front of the womens pack in Merckx style breakaways. I felt like I was a part of something huge, even though my pitiful results amounted to nothing.

But still, as the season wore on, I got better. I found a coach. Crank Cycling’s Shawn Burke brought my threshold up, and I started to have the energy to sit in with the front pack. I still knew nothing about racing, and showed up to races late, staging at the rear, which today makes me all the more impressed that I managed to claw my way to the front, often collapsing in a low speed corner having given everything I had all too early and exploding in a grimace of pain, dust, and defeat. I was a terrible cross racer (I still am). It seems that I was an even more terrible researcher. Work was stressful. I was often verbally assaulted. I had received none of the training on the systems I should have been learning and had to figure things out on my own, knowing that a mistake could mean legal trouble. I was a mess. I fell sick again. What started out as fun weekends in the dirt became my only escape from a hellish world that involved hoping a car would hit me on the way to my cubicle. My illness that hadn’t resurfaced since high school began to rear it’s head and I started to lose weight, be unable to eat, but still through it I trained every day, sometimes heading out for a 4 hour ride without any breakfast and the taste of vomit and blood still lingering in my mouth.

I was entirely alone in a strange and hostile world. In this world, I had many allies, and made a few good friends. All along, my little Colnago sat underneath me, taking me further and further away.

Today I said goodbye. I met the new owner, and we went for a ride together. It is how I have chosen to sell the last few of my bikes. I take the owner for a test ride. We ride together, chat, and I tell a few bad stories about some times I spent on the bike. I check the fit, check the brakes, seat height, and make sure the new owner is smiling. He was. I was, too. I’m sure that bike will live on and create even more positive energy in a world so bereft of good will.

 

Godspeed you! Italian steed.

 

-Mil

Hark! Hark! The SpeedVagens are coming!

February 24, 2012  |  Comments Off

Every year around this time a group of bike threads fall silent as a new crop of SpeedVagen devotees await their frame from Portland, Oregon based builder Sacha White.

SpeedVagen is a collaboration between Vanilla Bicycles’ Sacha White and a few other choice builders to put together a rapid run of “production” frames (if you’ve seen one they are hardly an off the shelf affair) for a devoted group of cyclists who have filled out a silly application, part of which, at one point, involved duct taping some object of your choosing to a piece of A4 paper, and then penciling in what the words “radness” brought to mind.
There is something breathtaking about each run, as they are offered in “SM” or “surprise me” paint schemes which vary wildly from fluorescent hues, to early 1990′s Klein splatterpaint throwbacks.

There is a veil of secrecy around the surprise me scheme each year until all of the frames have met their new owners, and this year we are starting to see the results of both the cross and the road frames trickling into the flickrspace.

Keep your eyes peeled, as they are always worth drooling over.