Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thank You, World Readers

On a whim I decided to check out my blog stats and to my delight I see that I have developed an international audience. Other than the USA, I'd like to extend a warm welcome to my cycling brothers and sisters in Turkey, The Netherlands, Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, and all the other places I never expected anyone to be reading Flashblog. I would be delighted if some of you would leave a comment, who you are and where you are from. The power of the Internet is an awesome thing and to think I might be inspiring someone on the other side of the world is heady indeed. It really is.

Ride On, All Over The World


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The 2011 State Of The Ride Speech

Flashblog HQ

My topic today, on this ominously gray and pre-stormy day is my State of the Ride Address, a dose of Flash Filosophy as it were. Most of us just do our rides, fewer of us write ride reports about them, most of us do not even comment, and this goes on seemingly ad infinitum, rinse and repeat. We have our interests, our goals, but we don't really say why or talk about them. People just do their things. This being Flashblog, I will endeavor to philosophize a bit as to where The Ride is for me. Simply because people don't talk about it much... not Bicycle Magazine, not Bike Snob NYC. I emphasize the me part, I don't presume to know other people's intents.

I see The Ride, so far, as being three distinct phases. Phase 1 is the beginner phase, which for most people lasts a year of so. Phase 1 is learning the ropes, improving rapidly, excitement over what you can do. Phase 2 is the “Proving It” phase, which can go on indefinitely. Phase two is all about exploring your power, pushing the limits, setting benchmarks, personal bests and the like. Phase 3 is after the goals are met, this is where I find myself now, and the phase I will attempt to describe.

(These Phases are not to be confused with my personal Incarnations, which are timelines in my cycling history. My First Cycling Incarnation was as a child and teen, the Second was in 1985-'91, the Third was 2003-April 2010, the Fourth was after April 2010, when I found myself pretty much starting over from square one. Not unlike when Jerry Garcia had a stroke, and when he came out of it, had to teach himself to play guitar again)

The Ride evolves, always. This is the thing that intrigues me. The Ride is like life in that we hopefully grow more experienced with each passing day; but sometimes we regress, and if we remain static, hopefully we see the same things in a slightly different shade of light of understanding. Perhaps even a molecule of wisdom shall reveal itself along the way. Gather those molecules together, and eventually you will form a Zeitgeist that seems to oversee your cycling life. You no longer need to try, it just happens.

My life is much changed from what it was five years ago; career, money, kids, health, security have all changed. I was forced to evolve or die. Evolution is hard, I am here to tell you, but the alternative is worse. There are numerous good things as well, such as my sitting here in Cafe Trieste on a Tuesday morning, watching a cafe full of people, anticipating the storm rolling in, gathering my thoughts over a cappucino and writing this blog. That was unheard of five years ago. Oh, believe me, I wished for it back then, but never thought it would ever transpire. I can say that about a lot of things.

I am a better rider than I was five years ago. Of course at that time I was only two years into my third cycling incarnation, and just beginning to gingerly explore group riding with Team Alameda. So that comparison is not even valid. Like apples vs. avocados. Both are fruit, but quite different.

Let me try this: I am a better cyclist now than I was in 2009, when I rode 5,500 miles, completed the Death Ride with some style, rode up Mt. Diablo 2.5 times one day with a raging headache, did Mt. Hamilton in record time (for me) and rode 200K in the rain at the Wine Country Century. That is a much stronger statement, and one that begs an explanation seeing as how I rode probably half that total distance last year with no event rides logged at all, all the while recovering from a heart condition. What I am talking about is the classic quality vs. quantity argument.

The explanation is that having gone through that Phase 2 crucible of fire and emerging upon the other side, I have a new appreciation and respect for my body; of what I had built it into as a cycling motor, of what high expectations I had of it, of how certain myths and heresays imbedded into the sport worked against me, of a new awareness of the inherent dangers involved, but most importantly, a new respect and admiration for my parts, which includes a lot of internal organs that can't speak for themselves until something goes drastically wrong.

Many people my age push themselves hard, as if the harder they push the more time will slow down. I am all for being the best you can be, within constraints. I wish to preserve my abilities as long as possible, to be riding when I am 85. So my new philosophy is restraint, withhold the last 20% of effort as a buffer for my body. I do not want to push my body or my heart to its limit any more than I want to drive my car's motor at red line. It's easy to say “That's not my issue, I ride hard so I am in great shape”. Yeah, I used to think the same thing. Its only when something breaks, and you start studying fat and alcohol and genetics and lifestyle choices that you realize that sure, you might have strong muscles, but the parts you can't see are going to hell in a handbasket due to a half century of ill-informed habits.

I'm a better cyclist because I pick and choose my efforts. If I don't feel like riding, I don't force myself to go out and train because I “should”. If I am tired and it seems more like a chore, I don't do it. I want cycling to be a thing I am up for, that I look forward to, not something that I have to do in order to meet arbitrary goals. It's working out well, I am able to ride with the form and strength that I feel is at the level of what I want to be doing right now. In terms of a ride, its something in the range of 2-3 hours of pedal time, 2-3 thousand feet of hills, somewhere in the 25-50mile range. I don't want to say its diminishing returns after that, but certainly the neck, ass, and other parts start complaining, as they have every right to. And it depends on what happens when I am out there, I may cut the ride short if I'm not feeling it, or make it longer if I'm really having a good session. I'm done with self criticisms, I remind myself that just being out on the bike is much more than the vast majority of people my age do, regardless of how short or easy the ride.

So people, having no idea where I am at, ask me what rides I am doing this year. Of course they are talking about event rides, centuries, benefits, fondos or what have you. The truth is, currently I have no inclination to do those sorts of rides and I can honestly say “ been there, done that”. For me it seems kind of pointless to repeat the Death Ride or do a century, just to do it. Having said that, I absolutely encourage you to do these things if they are on your list. For instance, my '08 and '09 Death Rides fulfilled my bucket list wish, a wish I had made back in the '90s when camping around Grover Hot Springs and accidentally finding myself amongst thousands of cyclists. Back then I thought it was an impossible dream, that I was too old, that I could never prepare for something like that. But I did, and many years later, accomplished that goal, and it will remain the Crown Jewel of my cycling career.

Having done those big rides, I find they are always with me. I often recall the good and the bad, and memory being what it is, the bad, in time, also starts seeming like the good. The event rides of the past inform and strengthen the ride of today. They give you confidence, but they also act as seasoning as it were, they flavor the ride with subliminal suggestions, encourage exploration and new approaches.

These days I am much more about form than ultimate fitness. I strive to be an example of a serious, studied cyclist, quiet upper body, smooth pedaling form, an expert in traffic, yet friendly to other cyclists in their own stages of incarnation. It is a great thing to feel your own form. Its a feeling of perfect synchronization with the bicycle, a feeling of bottomless energy, a feeling of power, a feeling of being your personal best and serving as a rolling ambassador of our sport.

Bottom line is that I am grateful. Grateful that I have been given a second chance. Grateful that all my parts still work and I can continue riding into the indefinite future.

But most of all I am grateful that every time I go out on my bike, I get this feeling...a feeling that I am truly alive, in the fullest sense of the word. Its a wonderous thing this rare, ephemeral feeling. Its the antidote to the drudgery and mundanity of life, it's what keeps me going and gives me something short term to live for. Its hard to describe to people, what it means, or why it happens, but you know what it is my friend. This feeling becomes who we are.

Ride On,



Thursday, February 3, 2011

Evolution of My Fast Commuter/ Rain Bike

1991 Miyata 1400A aluminum bonded frame road bike, a rare bird

(Google analytics tells me that this post is my all-time most popular.  Hmmm.  So I've added some additional thoughts which will appear in red.  Flash 9/5/11)

You've probably noticed my Miyata coyly appearing in recent Oakland bike shop photos, and usually these have been gray or wet days. As my Number 2 ride, I've set this bike up for wet conditions, but also for long, faster commutes and or/errands. Its not a hit or miss thing, it's an evolution that has taken a few years to come to fruition. I'd like to share some insights with you.

I feel it is almost imperative for a serious cyclist to own a rain bike. Wet roads throw up huge amounts of grit and debris that cover your chain, make glass stick to your tires causing numerous flats, cause your brakes to create black grime on your wheels and rims, seize your headset bearings, throw dirty muddy water up your back and into your expensive shoes, and sometimes you find your frame tubes actually fill with water. Do you really want to sandpaper your nice expensive road bike with all this dirt--- the true enemy of all machinery?

A good rain bike should be a bike that is nice enough to want to ride, but also one you don't care all that much about getting dirty. If it's a crap bike to start with, then you won't want to ride it, rain or shine. The bike is a personal choice, some folks want upright steeds they can wear their street clothes on, others, like myself want to retain a road racing bike- like feel and performance. I have a Dutch bike ( see last Autumn's Flashblogs) and have ridden it over 20 mile rides and it is just not fun over more than 10 miles. It is stout, slow, with one very dignified upright position. It basically has one appropriate flat gear and even that is not right, it is a tooth or two too high, and the low gear is just too low. The high gear? Only useful on downhills. The slow ride, the ride position, the lack of proper cadence rules the Dutch bike out as a long commuter. Around town it is a nice bike indeed, but for distance work I choose a road bike as the handling, gearing and speed satisfy my needs.

This Miyata has the nice feature of being aluminum, so I don't have to worry about frame rust, but even if you get a steel ride, it would take many years for the frame to rust out so don't worry about it too much. Just make sure you like the way the bike fits and rides.

First thing to do is to get some fenders. Fenders are simple devices that do one thing: keep gritty, grimy water off of you and your drivetrain. The difference in the rain is a godsend. Your butt and back stay clean, your chain stays clean, your shoes stay clean, your riding buddy behind you stays clean. Your wheels get the brunt of it and they get really dirty. Notice that I took my black Planet Bike fenders and painted them yellow. I personally like the purple and yellow color mix, but more importantly, I did it for safety, so on a rainy day the bike will be seen by motorists. I also put white reflective tape on the fenders, even on the rear. Why white? Because it is much brighter than red---I want them to see me.  I remove the fenders after the rainy season for aesthetics, I like the racing bike look without them.  It takes me all of 15 minutes to remount them in the autumn, so its not a big deal at all.

Second, get some kevlar tires. You can pay a lot for these, such as Specialized Armadillos at $50 per, or you can go cheap like I did and pay $10 for Performance City K tires. They have two minuses and one plus. They are a bitch to put on, and they are harsh rollers. The good thing is they never flat. Ok, in several thousand miles, one time I had a wire penetrate and make a slow leak. These things are bombproof and that is just what you want in the rain, because you don't want to be fixing a flat on the side of the road in the rain, you just don't.  I'd like to again emphasis that the ride is rougher with these tires.  Partly due to my old design frame which lacks vertical compliancy, but more due to the stiff rubber.  I don't even notice it on the flats, but on faster downhills the harshness is amplified.

Third, get some lights, front and rear. In rain conditions lights will make you more obvious, and at night they are mandatory. Lights these days are small and bright, put them into flashing mode for more obviousness. Is that a word----obviousness?  The more lights the better.

U-lock detail. This is a good mounting position that keeps the lock free of pedaling rotations. I tried mounting it on the top tube but my thighs rubbed the mount which was quite uncomfortable. A piece of velcro tape keeps the lock from swinging out.

Once your bike is setup for rain, then you are just a few steps away from automatically having an all around commuter. Sure, almost any bike can become a commuter, but do you want to ride your Dutch bike to Berkeley and back everyday? My Kaptein Dutch bike weighs in at 42lbs without a lock or water bottle, it only has 3 speeds, none of which ever seems like the right speed, and goes like a tugboat. The Miyata, as outfitted with full water bottle, weighs in at an even 30 lbs. A lot of that weight is water and U-lock, loaded tool bag, and fenders.  The difference between 20lbs and 30lbs is not felt nearly as much as the difference between 30lbs and 50lbs!  Keep this in mind when choosing your rain bike.

I tried hauling the U-lock in a backpack. along with other stuff. It didn't feel good on my neck at all, especially after 20 miles or so. Much better to let the bike carry it.  On that note, you could easily install a rear rack to carry the lock and that day's load.  Put a box or pannier on the rack and you are set.  I use a backpack on this bike for aesthetics I suppose.  My Dutchie has full rack and panniers on the rear and they are very useful.

My concept of a fast commuter or errand getter is that you must be willing to park it outside in full public view. Just a fact of life, if you are going to have an all around bike there are times you cannot park it in your office or protected space. So thus you need a U-lock. A cable will not cut it. Or should I say, they will cut your cable, count on it. The other day I pedaled an errand over to Best Buy in Emeryville, where there is a bike rack out front of the store. I selected an end position, took off the front wheel and moved it to center position, put helmet strap there too, locked the whole thing together, and felt good about it. I did not remove the computer, pump, or lights, so those could have been ripped, but they weren't this day. They could have taken my quick release skewers, and I would have been screwed, or more precisely, skewered, so I need to focus on that security issue as well, but the main thing is not to lose the bike.

The cockpit view, light, bell, computer, map clip. The bell comes is very useful on bike paths.

The Miyata as outfitted for spring and summer without all this stuff, and with good tires, handles like a dream, is super fun to ride, and is a good climber when my legs are in condition for its bigger gears. With all the extra equipment it does ride heavier, but the nice handling still comes through and the fun is still there.

This is what the tool bag carries: 2 tubes, patch kit, tire levers, 2 kinds of boots, Arnica tablets for injuries, a paper clip, and the Park MB3 Rescue Tool

I know what you are thinking..."Hey Flash, if your tires are so bulletproof, then why are you carrying 2 extra tubes, boots and a patch kit?" They are for you, when you ride beside me, my friends.

The Park Rescue tool features 3 detachable sections including a chain tool! Everything a Wheelman needs to fix his machine...Allen wrenches, box end wrenches, slot and Phillips drivers, knife, tire tool, spoke tool, Torx driver, chopsticks, and brass knuckles

So there you have it...only 8 additional pounds of accessories and fluids can make all the difference in how you plan your daily commute or errand running. You can jump in the car and fight traffic to go get that wireless router, or you can swing your leg over your bike and get some healthy benefit from an otherwise tedious errand. My 15 mile round trip to Best Buy only took an hour and fifteen minutes of pedal time, only 25 minutes more than a car trip, and I felt a good sense of accomplishment having covered all my bases, whatever comes my way.  I recently rode this bike on a 25 mile tour of San Francisco, many hills including Twin Peaks, fully outfitted as described except for the fenders, and had a great day.  Proof of concept.

Ride On,