Monday, June 27, 2005

Schmoozing with Rush Hour

The gearing I have on the Cross-Check right now stinks for hammering in traffic. I had to put my exploring fatty rear wheel on, because my daily commuter wheel started popping spokes. That's what I get for riding a wheel I didn't build.

I didn't put the tighter gearing on because I was just going to respoke the commuting wheel and slap it back in. Then this trip south came up.

In spite of this handicap, I went out to rub shoulders with rush hour. I needed a ride. I hadn't had one in 57 hours and it felt more like a week. Sitting in a car is a great way to induce a sort of slow quadriplegia.

How many million more people live here than were here when I left? Traffic density is sick. And yet everyone was polite and nice. It's eerie, considering some of the harassment cyclists endured in the early 1980s. The danger now is not malice, it's carelessness. The cyclist has to plan how to make left turns from busy roads, and how to wait for long red lights, but still make a quick getaway on the green.

Any ride I come home from is a good ride. Today's was better than that. The country roads delivered the goods one more time. There were a few more cars than in the old days, and a few gated developments along the way, but a lot looked like the same old farm land. How do these places survive?

The main roads were bumper to bumper, of course. But General's Highway has a decent shoulder. Most of the traffic was headed out of town, opposite to the direction I chose. The timing worked out perfectly to lay into a screaming left turn through a gap in traffic to get off General's Highway into Dunton Road, where I'm staying. Snap that left turn signal. Set up the line. Drop in. See what this fat touring tire will do.

Now supper will taste better.

Boppin' down to Megalopolis

I'm back in the old stomping grounds for a day or two, but I haven't had a chance to stomp on them yet. I do know that some of the old routes are surprisingly intact, while others have mutated alarmingly.

One of my old racing buddies told me a year ago that no one rides into Annapolis anymore. That seems like such a shame for so many reasons. Annapolis streets weren't big enough for the cars of the late 1970s and early '80s, let alone the barges of today. We cyclists used to slip neatly through the tangle. I haven't seen it for myself, but I hear the traffic is a meat grinder now. But maybe Dave just lost his combat edge.

He had no qualms about totally blocking traffic on a ride out onto what used to be country roads. I will claim the space I need, but I try to get along. Not everyone in a car is The Enemy. You have to work with them a little. And why is it worth the confrontation to ride more assertively than necessary on a pleasure ride, but not worth it to use the bike for practical purposes in a place that badly needs to promote that transportation alternative?

I should have brought the fixed gear for the urban assault, but I only had room for one bike and Laurie wanted to bring her Surly. Might as well promote the brand. I brought mine, too.

The bicycle started out as a way for the common citizen to go faster, to cover more ground. It was replaced by the automobile, so now it has come to represent a desire to go slower, to move more deliberately. The speeders would just as soon mow you down in their headlong rush to get to their next important destination.

Cars can go pretty fast in a confined space if they know nothing slower will get in their way, or if they don't care what they do to pedestrians, animals and children that bumble into their path. The ability to go fast confers the right to go fast. Stand aside.

The roadsides were littered with dead deer on the way through New Jersey. The suburban deer has become just a pest and a menace to navigation throughout Sprawlopolis, from Connecticut south. But it's no reason to slow down. Anything slower and softer than an automobile has no business out there trying to mix it up with the Master Race.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Ha! I found it!

I found the reference to ibuprofen as a banned substance. On page 227 of Bike Cult, author David Perry refers to the irony of the makers of Nuprin sponsoring the 1992 US Olympic Cycling Team when their product contained "the banned substance ibuprofen." And that was after ibbies became an over the counter drug.

By the way, no one really calls them ibbies. But it's a damn sight shorter to say than ibuprofen. So feel free to start.

I guess this voids all my world records.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Doper, doper

When you race me, you're racing drugs. I've had a bad ibuprofen habit since I was in my 30s. And my typical coffee consumption might put me over the12 micrograms per milliliter limit in UCI competition.

The ibuprofen is no big deal. I could have sworn I saw it on the list of prohibited substances a few years ago, but I probably had a moment of dyslexia when I saw buprenorphine on there. So many other over the counter drugs contain banned ingredients that I was expecting to see something as helpful as ibuprofen forbidden along with them.

Known on the street as I-Bombs or Ibbies, these little pills, white or brown, are highly prized by aging athletes looking for a little of their youthful resilience.

In 1980-81, the Cat. 2 in the house I shared had developed a symbiosis with a doctor training for the Iron Man. My roomie had a limitless prescription for this stuff called "Motrin," which had miraculous curative powers. Maybe back then, when you needed a prescription, it was on the list.

Give me 400 milligrams of the good stuff and 12 ounces of Kenyan coffee and you wouldn't know I wasn't 25.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Test Riding Tip

When shopping for a new bike, test ride expensive models of the type you want to buy, road, mountain or whatever. The differences are more dramatic among higher performance bikes, as opposed to path-riding comfort bikes, but even there you might find some nice refinements up the price range.

Ride the good ones first and then ride the ones that cost what you were planning to spend. You may find you only have to move up a model or two to get a bike that feels much more like the top-end model. Or you may decide the one at your original price point is sufficient. But test riding is free, so check out the good stuff.

Little to Cling To

It seems trivial, being a bike mechanic. But the inner workings of so simple a machine still baffle many people who use them.

Some changes represent improvement. Some changes just seem to spring from the inner circle of cycling's need to make things confusing enough to keep the outer circle from figuring it out. I stand between the circles, as I always have, observing the inner and reaching to the outer. I try to figure out what of the secret knowledge is really worth learning and what is best left to the obsessed.

My decisions save lives. I could have died or suffered permanent injury when I was eight, because my handlebars came loose after my bike had been manhandled by a moving-truck driver. I remember that as I go over the details of bent, dirty, disregarded children's bikes, mere toys on which a child's life depends. Sure, they can still crash or get crushed by a careless adult, but at least the machine was in the best shape it could be.

Who cares that I know so many ways a bike tire could get a flat? It's not great statesmanship or an intricate point of law. It does not fight terrorism or cure disease. But it will matter to you if I found the source of your chronic flat tires, so you don't have to stop four times in a 60-mile ride or have the front tire suddenly go soft as you're bombing down a mountain grade at 45.

It's nothing, what I do. I'm nothing. I'm the air in your tires.

Do without me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Veils of Resistance

The term "warming up" sounds benign and comfortable, but when you do it you force your way through veils of resistance, some of them thick. It may actually hurt a bit.

It takes me at least 15 minutes of riding just to become functional, and longer than that to become fully operational. During that time, my legs feel stiff and heavy and my cardiovascular system chugs and misses like any cold engine.

The resistance does not begin at the first pedal stroke. It tapers up fairly quickly as I ride the short nuisance hills on the first part of my commute. It persists for at least ten minutes and tapers off quickly after 15. Depending on the day of the week and the warmth of the day, I may face further discomfort on the larger climbs further along the road.

You have to give it time. I can't warm up faster by going harder. Maybe you can. Experiment and see. But no matter what, you have to give yourself time to get going. This is true in any self-propelled activity, cycling, hiking, paddling or cross-country skiing. Get moving. Get yourself into it. Then increase the intensity to whatever level you have planned for the day.