Thursday, December 22, 2005

Roller Boogie

I need new rollers. The ones I have give a ride like a washboard road and spit the drive belt off every five or ten minutes. They don't owe me a thing, since I got them free about 20 years ago.

Can't afford the sexy Kreitlers. Don't need or want a resistance device. I can get plenty of resistance from real life. The rollers are for smoothness and saddle time.

Once you master the basic balance and round pedal stroke needed to stay up unsupported on rollers you can begin to play games. See how fast you can spin before you self-destruct. Try some ultra-spin intervals.

One website says "your bike can list and veer just like it does on the road." That's pretty funny. It's much more abrupt and deadly than on the road. You can twitch the bike right out from under yourself in an instant. But after a while you will be able to sit up, ride no hands, maybe even scratch where it itches without slicing sideways into the nerarest piece of furniture. Then you will be tempted to try slow riding.

This really works best with a fixed gear, because you can change speed in mid pedal stroke without your brakes. The wheels respond instantly, and it's the wheels that keep you up. So slow down. Slow down more. See if you can actually come to a complete stop. Then go! You can't do a track stand on rollers.

One friend told me he knew someone who could ride backwards on the rollers. I don't know if he meant pedaling a fixed gear backwards, or putting the bike on the rollers with the rear wheel where the front goes and vice-versa, or actually sitting on the handlebars, facing the rear of the machine. Any of these would be impressive. All seem fairly pointless, so I've never been inclined to try.

Bobby Phillips, a racer out of Baltimore, could supposedly ride up to the rollers, bunny-hop onto them, ride for a while, bunny hop off and ride away. Bobby was wonderfully smooth out on the real road (and still is, as far as I know), so I don't doubt it. That's more flash than most of us need, but feel free to take any of this as far as you like.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Unfortunate Side Effect

The health care crisis in this country has claimed an interesting extra victim. Because I pay so much in premiums on a high-deductible policy that will still leave me with several thousand dollars to pay if I actually do get sick, or my wife does, I have had to give up every other extra expense. That includes my memberships in Adventure Cycling and the League of American Bicyclists, as well as donations I would have made above the membership amount.

Health insurance premiums have also driven me off the rolls of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the Appalachian Mountain Teen Project (dealing with youth at risk with a variety of programs for both youth and parents) and most other casual acts of giving.

The premiums come due quarterly, with one squatting squarely on mid-December, so they also help blow a hole in my holiday generosity. No point rejoining the millions enslaved to their credit cards just to give everyone on my gift list a pair of socks.

Bicycling is a great health plan, both physical and mental. Watching my parents disappear in their body fat as I was growing up, I resolved that, come what may, I would be physically fit. So far that is all I've been, but one always has hope.

I would ditch the so-called health coverage in an instant, but for some reason doctors' offices seem to look more kindly on someone who has a policy that pays nothing than on a person who pays their bills in full, on time, out of pocket every time. That person does not have the stamp of a giant corporation standing behind him. They were right that if I really did get sick I might have to scrape up a pile to pay for it, but I was seriously considering just dying like a good sport in return for a quality life while I lived.

This isn't political as such. It's a looming humanitarian problem with repurcussions for cycling. We need to support the social and political machine that gives us a presence at the state and national level. That, unfortunately, takes more than bicycles, parts and accessories. It takes more than well-honed technique. It takes money. And in subtle ways that money is being siphoned into gas tanks and insurance company coffers as much as or more than into expensive coffee drinks or a cheesy dial-up internet connection.

Just as in a bicycle, everything in society is connected, wheels in wheels and linkages to linkages. The blossoming expenses we let billow out of control are like a rusty chain or a growing slow leak in a tire. They'll really mess up what could be a great ride.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Wash off the road salt

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Now it can Snow

When the promised snowstorm did not arrive yesterday, I got out for 15 miles to bring the year's total to 4,000.

I may slip out for more rides, if the roads stay clear. The last few rides definitely had me dancing on the edge of the ice a few times. Now I can be more fussy about conditions.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Damn it

Flip a few more pages in Bicycle Retailer and discover that Clay Mankin, of City Cycle in San Francisco, died of natural causes on a road ride November 13.

Toss Clay's name into Google and you'll get a ton of information about his life, so I won't add a link to any single item here.

Oddly enough, I became acquainted with Clay and City Cycle in 2001 when I was searching the web for a source of slotted cleats. He responded to my email, sold me his last half-dozen sets of Sidi slotted cleats for $20 (shipping included) and threw in a coffee mug I still use on mornings I need inspiration to ride.

In that brief exchange I definitely got the impression Clay and his shop represented good things about cycling. The tributes in print would seem to bear this out.

Sad News

Tom Cuthbertson, author of Anybody's Bike Book, Bike Tripping and many other works, died of pancreatic cancer on October 9, at his home in Santa Cruz, CA.

This obituary gives the details of his life.

In the article in the December issue of Bicycle Retailer, announcing his death, a bike industry figure named Jim Langley said, "To a generation of cyclists, [Anybody's Bike Book] unlocked the mysteries of the ten-speed..." That was certainly true for me. It made the inner workings of the bike accessible and understandable.

Cuthbertson was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, serving in a hospital rather than going overseas to fight. This gentle, moral expresssion of what was good about what came to be known as the Counterculture came through in his writing about cycling. To me it added a great deal to cycling's merit. It made cycling a much more positive force than a mere fitness activity or avenue to competitive glory.

On a quick search I could not find a picture of the original cover of the book, but here's a link to the revised edition, still available.

Cuthbertson rode because he loved to ride. According to articles about him, when he went for a bike ride it could be two hours or ten, and he thoroughly explored the back roads around his area. He also advocated bike commuting. But the tone of his writing was not excessively technical. He was a great voice for the "ten speed boom" before the avalanche of technophilia buried simple cycling under posh materials and scientific training schedules. When he said "Anybody" he meant anybody.

Go ride.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Wind Trainer Winter

Looks like a wind trainer winter this year.

Actually, I don’t have a wind trainer. I have a Nordic Track and a rusty old set of rollers. But Wind Trainer Winter describes the season most cyclists and cross-country skiers endure for at least part of the early winter, when dry land training doesn’t work, because the land is no longer dry, and the snow isn’t deep enough to allow real skiing.

In one of life’s little twists, even though I work in the cross-country ski business and have been able to enjoy quite a bit of groomed-trail skiing over the past few years, I don’t expect to do any this winter. Come to find out that neck and shoulder pain I’ve been experiencing is the result of being stabbed repeatedly in the back by people I work with at my winter job. I’ll be devoting my time to other people’s winter fun and falling back on a bit of tactical Buddhism to manage the loss of an activity I deeply enjoy. Sometimes you just have to suck it up. Didn’t Buddha say that?

The Nordic Track provides good all-around conditioning, though it does nothing for fine-tuned classical form. It will at least keep me from turning into a complete doughboy before spring allows me to venture out on the bike regularly. I will also be ready to trudge through the puckerbrush on my wide exploring skis, if snow conditions allow.

The rusty old rollers are great for loosening up sore muscles, tuning up the cardiovascular system and making sure the bike saddle doesn’t become a complete stranger. In an active Nordic ski season, it’s too easy to neglect saddle time until the painful reacquaintance some time in March.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Not Eliminated Yet

As of December 2, I have 75 miles to 4,000. In actual training terms, mileage alone means nothing. But when a round number hangs within reach it gives me a goal when I have no other reason to choose to ride the bike rather than train in some other way.

Monday and Tuesday I rode 30 miles each day on the fixed gear in the rain. Monday it was just above freezing. Tuesday it was just below 40, except when I rode up high enough to go into the inversion, where it was a steamy 50-something, and raining much harder.

Monday I got a flat tire at 15 miles. There was a paved driveway close by, so I didn't have to hunker in the slush to change the tube out of the way of what cars might pass.

Both rides were good. I got a muscle spasm in my back while I was changing Monday's flat, but Tuesday's ride loosened it up. In certain cases, if you just throw yourself at the pain it will give way before you do. The trick is knowing when. Experiment on yourself. Either you'll discover self-healing or cripple yourself.

Early winter days have no middle. The sun crawls reluctantly above the eastern horizon and immediately ducks toward the side door over to the west. It's far too busy in the other hemisphere to have time to climb anywhere near a decent noon height in this one. You have to run right out and grab whatever you can, in whatever weather you get.

Thursday I was able to take a dawn patrol. Wednesday's heavy rain had ended with a freeze, but the black ice didn't seem too bad. I felt my way onto it with the fixed gear again.

The fixed gear provides the closest thing to security on mildly slippery surfaces, because you control your speed directly through the driving wheel. If the surface is good, you just slow down. If it's slippery, the rear wheel locks up, but you can immediately relax your legs and let it roll again, or control the fishtail by dropping the pedal into the skid. Try not to let the bike cross up too much or you might flip over the high side if you hit grippy pavement while still sliding.

Obviously you don't want to let the bike go too fast when you suspect ice. The fixed gear is your friend there, because you can't coast down hills at foolish speeds. Nothing makes it idiot proof of course. You have to have bad enough judgement to be out there, but good enough judgement to be able to handle it.

The frost seemed to thicken after sunrise. Sections that had not been slippery on the ride out were a little dicey on the return. Only a little dicey, though.

From now on I will have to dodge storms to nab the final 75. I hope for a dawn patrol tomorrow and another 30 on Monday. After that a storm threatens for Tuesday.

I've been stopped as close as 3,945. It isn't in the bag until it's in the bag.