Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Look Back And The Shadow Game

It's a good day to blog.  Rainy and cold out today.  I was expecting to take a ride, had my Miyata in launch mode, then it started raining.  However, I did get in a good ride yesterday, so not all is lost this weekend.  This is a ride story about an aspect of cycling that doesn't get much discussion, and that is, how we, I, in this case, interact with other cyclists out on the road.  There are infinite flavors of the ride, some are spicier than others, this is one of those.

I awoke yesterday feeling groggy, having slept in an hour.  I had planned to take a morning ride, but was not in any hurry about it, I already missed the "Go" window for the Team Alameda group ride, so I had a leisurely morning.  As I sipped my blend of French and Mocha Java drip, I looked out the front window at the swirling wind.  It was drying out nicely, but now it was blustery.  Not easy to get up for that, but eventually I did get out of the house and on the bike at around 11am.  It felt like an accomplishment just doing that.  I had no goal other than to get in some miles.

On autopilot, I found myself on route to Montclair, via 14th and Park Blvd.  As I climbed the 16th Ave overpass, which is short and steep, there was a gusty headwind further slowing my progress.  I felt like my leg muscles had turned to sandbags, heavy and non-responsive.  Some days are like that, and when it happens I just press on because it usually gets better for the second half of the ride.  So I made Montclair Peet's my goal, to reward myself with a hot java.  Sure, this is a modest goal, it's only 6.5 miles away, but this is winter, it was windy, short daylight hours increase one's melatonin, (the sleep hormone), and besides, just getting out was the point.  I reminded myself that when I first took up cycling again in 2003, it was a big deal for me to get to Montclair.

I had a good ride up Park Blvd, it actually seemed easy, and when I got to Peet's I had the thought that I didn't need to stop, that I should just go on, but, nah, I was here so why not?  I got my cup of joe and sat out front looking at the Miyata.  I had made some changes on it since I last rode it.  When I got the new wheels for the Lemond, the old Rolfs went on the Miyata.  They are  nice wheels, fairly light, roll smoothly, and absorb road buzz nicely.  Road feedback is sweet with a Zaffiro Pro on the back and a Pro Race 3 on the front.  I had also put a second wrap of bar tape over the first for extra thick padding.  I was liking this extra cush.  I reflected that these trickle down mods had made the bike kind of resonate, that it had not resonated before.  Nice!

Making my way to Tunnel Road, I realized that standing up on this bike feels very natural but mostly I was staying seated for climbing.  After Lake Temescal, I was pedaling up Upper Broadway, wishing for one lower gear, and I caught a woman on a purple Bianchi, and so I made a remark about how purple bikes ROCK!!  (the Miyata is purple)  and she got a good laugh.  I try to be friendly to other cyclists, especially the ones I pass, I say hello or comment on the bike or their bike.  About this time I looked in my mirror and noticed someone coming up the hill behind me.

I analyse people coming up behind me, I try to estimate when they will pass me, and when they do, I do a quick check of what they are wearing, then what they are riding, and I draw a conclusion.  Sometimes if it is a small group, I will drop in to catch the pace for a while.  Sometimes it is just obvious there is no way I am going to hang with a guy, some of them are obvious racers.  If they say hello I am generally fine with that and hey, have a nice ride!  Then again, sometimes I get passed and my conclusion was that the pass was dismissive.  That I was summed up and found lacking, so get out of my way.  Maybe it's the mirror, or the vintage bike, or my thrown together kit, or my gray hair, whatever.  The dismissive pass feels insulting and I don't really like it when that happens.  I should just let it go, and sometimes I do, like who gives a fuck? but sometimes I don't.  That's when I play The Shadow Game.  It's a chess match I play with my body as well as my brain.  And, like chess, I often lose.  But when I win, ahh, it's a moment to savor.

The rider behind me didn't catch me as soon as I expected, it was after climbing the short pitch after the Monument to Disaster at the foot of Tunnel that he passed me, without so much as a glance or utterance.  He looked like he was around 30 of age.  I looked at his kit, he looked kind of Rapha-like, a hard to describe generic upper tier kit look that seems a bit pretentious.  His bike was something silvery, maybe titanium, I didn't see it clearly.  He had short hair a short beard that looked obsessively trimmed.  As he rode ahead of me about 20 feet, he was constantly tweaking is head to the left, as if he had a small rock in his left ear and was trying to shake it out.  Strange.  I mean he must have jerked his head left 20 times in a half mile.   He looked a bit like a stuffed sausage in his too tightly fitting kit.   All this put together really grated on my basal ganglia.

I decided to shadow him.  Shadowing is quite different than dropping in on his wheel.  That would be gauche, too aggressive, I used to do that in my less wise days.  When I shadow I stay back about 50', close enough to observe my opponent, but far enough back to give them a sense of staying away.  Shadowing someone changes their game from offensive to defensive as they become all too aware of being followed and not being able to drop the follower, and a cascading sequence of mind games ensues.  Unless they just smirk, speed up and drop me and it becomes a very short game.

I was riding along comfortably as we approached the left hand turn after the house with the palm trees.  As he rounded the corner he looked back to see where I was.  He Looked Back....Game On!  The Look Back in my book is Game On for the simple reason that a guy will not look back if he doesn't care a whit about you, but if he does then he is In The Game.  I use a mirror, so I never have to twist my head to look back, another advantage of this small very useful tool.  I look back All The Time.  But in a passive way you see.

His pace then quickened a bit but not enough to alarm me, and I sorted out a strategy.  My opponent was easily 20 lbs heavier than me, so I assumed when the road pitched up at the 2 mile mark, he would slow down.  This is a strategy that has worked for me time and again, so why not this time?   Around the bends we went, and we got to the steeper part.  He stood up and attacked the hill and got a bit away, but I wanted to keep my heart rate at around 140-150 so I sat down for the most part, and when I rounded the steep left hand corner after the tractor, there he was not that far ahead.  The plan was working.  I could tell he was feeling dogged and that pleased me.  My world had narrowed to my vision of the rider ahead of me, my legs pulling me up the grade, all cylinders were firing in harmony now, my world was heavy breathing and feet spinning in circles.

On we rode, and I was slowly reeling him in.  I was aware I was gulping lungfuls of air, getting a max workout for sure, but I could dig deeper if I needed to, but hoped I wouldn't have to.  I try not to push it that last 15% if I can avoid it.  By this point we were nearing the Baker Millennium House and I was but 10 feet behind and contemplating a pass further up ahead near the top, when the unexpected happened.

He pulled off the road and feigned a bike adjustment!  He "tapped out" rather than be passed.  I was just beginning to accept that strange turn,  when, in my mirror, I saw him mount up and start going again.  This was a first in my book, and in my mind it totally justified my opinion of the guy, that he was a good rider, but also a poser that could not take getting passed by a silver haired guy on an vintage bike wearing leg warmers on the outside of his shorts and a red Fred jacket.  As I summitted the hill I felt good, the other guy was no where in sight.   I had started off the day feeling dead but got to the top of the hill feeling stoked and very much alive.  It had all just unfolded by chance.  I knew this was prime blog fodder.

I  believe we men are genetically hard wired to be hunters and warriors, to be competitive for food and mates, the instinct to do battle is within each of us, no matter how cultured or civilized we appear to be or think of ourselves.  This instinct usually lies dormant but can be unleashed surprisingly easy.  Should I be old enough to know better?  Yes, I should, but on the other hand, I prefer to live fully when I can, and tapping into my reptilian brain is a great way to get there.

Get On Your Bikes And Ride!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Drillium and Other Non-Weighty Matters

Continuing my series of informative parts talks, I now steer you towards the arcane art of lightening your bike parts by reducing their weight.  Essentially replacing mass with air.  The art became known as Drillium---a derivation of drill, as in electric drill, and the added suffix of an element, "ium".  Think Unobtanium, that rarest of denizens of the Periodic Table.  The difference is that Drillium is quite attainable, all one needs is a tool, a design, careful measurement, a steady hand, and a willingness to risk one's health by weakening key bike parts that are originally robust for a good reason.

Back in the day, metallurgy was for the most part fixed in steel frames and aluminum parts.  Titanium was very rare indeed, and carbon fiber, if even invented, was the stuff of military secrets and certainly not available to the world of velomen and women.  A typical good road bike of the time weighed about 25 lbs, and very expensive bikes were down around 21lbs.  An modern entry level bike these days is under that weight.  To get a very light bike back then the weight weenies had to turn to their drills.  Every time a drill bit bites into metal, metal is lost in shavings.  Remove enough shavings and grams, then ounces disappear, then even pounds.  But what is added, in my mind, is art.  A certain delicacy, a jewel-like quality is added that didn't exist before the drilling.  I just love the way it looks.  I'm fascinated by the obsession the craftsman pours into his holy parts.  Books have been written about it.

Book cover " As Light As Air" by John Derven

And check out this photo of Drillium in progress

I wouldn't want this to break off between my legs!

As technology has improved and new materials (alu alloys, titanium, and carbon fiber) utilized for both bikes and parts, things have gotten very light without the need for drilling.  So the art of Drillium becomes a thing of the past.  Or has it?

I sometimes find myself walking the back alleys of Ebay bike shops, and I found something there I just HAD to have.  Drillium headset spacers!  Produced by KCNC of Taiwan, here is a page to some of their other lightweight/blingy/ ultra cool items.
Ok, maybe not drilled out, but machined out, but still, hollow spaces filled with air describes Drillium to me.  So I ordered a set of these as a homage to the lost art.  They will make not a whit of difference in my bike's performance or weight, but rather they represent for me a bygone era, and they are just so cool!  I could have gotten carbon fiber spacers in red, but in my opinion they can't hold a candle to these 6061 alloy masterpieces.  Drillium exists as a commodity to us ordinary consumers.  How could I NOT get these?

Actual  scan of my new spacers.  Can't tell from this angle, but they are various heights: 15/10/5/2 mm sections.  They are wider overall than the OEM spacers, they have to be when you think about it, but this extra width imparts a very cool feature:  once installed, the hollow channels can be seen above and below the stem.  
 Kind of reminds me of this, don't you think?

This view shows the visually exposed channels

It all stacks up in the end

So my new hollowed out spacers are installed and I feel like I am taking a part of the Old World Velo out with me on every ride.  And as with all Drillium parts, I just hope to God they don't break.

Get On Your Bike and Ride!