Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Partly Cloudy with a Flurry... Of BIKES

A warm wet day followed by a warm sunny day destroyed most of the cross-country skiing on Monday and Tuesday. The weather hasn't really cooled much today, either.

On this sunny morning I arrived at work to find a mountain bike hanging in the work stand. A note on another repair ticket informed me that the owner of that bike had moved his deadline closer, so it was now urgent as well.

As I planned my morning, in walked a teenage lad inexplicably at large from any of the local educational institutions.

"Can you put a chain on my mountain bike?" he asked. When someone of that age asks that question they mean right away. And, as always, further questioning and a look at the bike revealed that it needed more than just a chain. He had, however, done a spectacular rattle-can paint job, with all kinds of swirlies and stuff. I complimented him on it. I sold him a chain and a chain tool, and put out the air hose so he could inflate his tires. He looked like the type who might develop some mechanical skills.

I don't like working on things out of season. It's not that I can't handle the change. It's just a bitch working around a bike stuffed into a forest of hanging skis. It's also tricky working on the clean bench with greasy bike substances. Then I have to test ride the bike in the sandy, icy, wind-swept parking lot. It's harder to concentrate on the little noises and subtle cues with a frosty breeze hissing in my ear hairs.

We keep fewer parts in stock this time of year, too. That may make sense from a bean-counting point of view, but your winter rider is someone who doesn't want to go without the bike. That's why they ride all year. They are more eager than the fair weather rider to get things running again.

This guy with the mountain bike wants to replace a dilapidated first-generation Judy with a rigid fork. You'd think that would be cheap and easy. Unfortunately, we have nothing left in our dusty fork pile. Far East, the parts supplier in Maine, only has something ridiculously upscale in rigid steel. This project will have to wait until I hunt down your basic chrome jumper special.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Brave and Willing Advocate

On Rantwick's blog today he posted about the adventures of a cyclist in Texas who writes under the name Chipseal. Chipseal has also commented here on Citizen Rider.

It seems Mr. Seal has been getting arrested for cycling in a legal fashion on Texas roadways. The law allows cyclist behavior, such as taking the lane, that many motorists find unusual and disturbing. Chipseal has reported his arrests and trips to jail as his odyssey through the Texas courts gets underway.

Controversial figures who call attention to the need for various social changes often suffer for it. They get nailed to crosses, lynched, beaten, attacked by police dogs, blasted with fire hoses, assassinated on Memphis hotel balconies and libeled in the foulest terms by opponents of their point of view. I only skimmed the comments, so I didn't see any of the really homicidal trash talk that can crop up in the comment thread about traffic cycling, but give it time.

Because cycling in the industrialized, motorized, civilized lands is always a political act, whether you intend it or not, every cyclist is at some risk representing their people. By going one step further, challenging the logic of the motorized social norm, Chipseal becomes both a beacon and a target. You can be talking all kinds of sense about something that seems entirely benign and you will find someone who stands firmly against you. In between, everyone else will sort out on the continuum from full support to full opposition.

It's risky enough riding in a bold, assertive fashion. While a cyclist doing so is safer from a visibility standpoint, it also excites the mad dog looking for something to bite. It forces people to consider the issue who might have just squeezed by with a feeling akin to sympathy. In raising consciousness you also raise debate. When feelings rise, propaganda has more effect. First you get 'em running. Then you get 'em running the way you want them to. Threaten "normal" people's complacency and you could face a backlash orchestrated by those who profit heavily from the norm.

Chipseal goes armed with a sunny attitude and an extensive knowledge of Texas vehicle law. He has put up with a couple of overnight jail stays so far. Aside from the actual arrests he seems to have gotten along pretty well with law enforcement authorities. We will have to wait to find out if this becomes a rallying point for the beginning of a Golden Age of Texas cycling, a small isolated incident in which Chipseal prevails quietly in court and goes back to riding in the style of his choice or takes a swerve into the weeds in some way.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Alternative Lifestye

My friend's interest in Telemark lessons has receded. Coincidentally, I've had opportunities to scrabble around on the Nordic trails, enjoying the most complete exercise ever devised.

As great as cycling is (and it is), Nordic skiing provides one-stop shopping for full-body conditioning. With the right trail network, it also provides some excitement. You have to control your effort on climbs and control speed and direction on descent. You have to hold your line in corners and be able to adapt instantly to changes in the surface or sudden obstacles. The speed range is different, but many of the mental qualities are similar to bicycling.

I would much rather go outside and do something appropriate to the season than simulate another season's activity indoors. I just can't get jacked up for spinning classes. I've lost my drive for weight training. When I can cross-country ski I don't have to worry about anything else.

After ski season I do bring some excess arm and shoulder mass into bike season. The extra muscle is good for the needs of daily life. It only seems like a bother when I'm pedaling up a hill and I can't use those poling muscles. So I do change shape a little from season to season.

We're in a snow drought right now. We've been farming the same meager few inches for a month. Now we're getting a thaw. So I may be back on the bike for a while, if we lose what little we have. It's hard, because I can't rely on the steady schedule of the commute. So I'll be back to weights and rollers, occasional outdoor rides, hiking, and whatever else I can put together.

We can't count on winter. I've seen several years with no usable snow. I've also seen winters in which buildings collapsed under the weight of it. I've seen winters shift from one type to the other. No one seems to be able to predict it. They know why it's happening when it's actually happening, but that's about all. You must adapt to what you cannot change.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Two days officially constitutes a trend. I've resumed exercise, with some ski-specific leg work and two sessions on the rollers.

The cellist was more consistent with exercise than I was during the December doldrums. Today she put in an hour and a half on the trainer. It's all good. I prefer to mix up the muscle groups a bit in the off season, but the trainer is convenient for her. She started sitting up to do some arm work with light weights during today's workout.

A friend of mine is interested in learning Telemark turns to enhance his exploratory skiing. We plan to go to a small lift-served area for some practice in the next few weeks, so I started doing some of the exercises I devised years ago when I spent a lot of time practicing at lift-served areas. Telemark turns have a unique way of ripping hamstrings. Better to rip those in advance, in the comfort of your home, than out on a windswept hill.

Rather than perform the pedal stroke under load all year, on a trainer and on the road, I build or maintain muscle in the off season with Nordic skiing, hiking and squats (or Telemark dips). As part of the same session, I ride the rollers to make sure I stay smooth. It also helps loosen up my legs after the grunt work, before stretching. In a good ski season I will quite likely drop the rollers until March. In a bad ski season I might not only keep up the rollers, but also start to ride outdoors. I hate to start that too early when the weather could close in. Then the bike conditioning fades again as my activities shift to match weather conditions.

If I hit a bad spell for outdoor fun I still try to manage jail cell workouts, running the stairs in my house (steep, two sets), duck-walking in Telemark stance, door-frame pullups, stretching and light weights. It's often hard to stay interested. I have to remind myself how much better it feels to get it done. A little is better than nothing.

Right now I look forward to helping my friend learn the Tele turn more quickly, with fewer injuries, than I did. I haven't been on the lifts in ten years or more. I hope I remember what to do with a wide, groomed slope. My gear is hopelessly out of date, but I like it. I have no desire for monster boots and skis the size of surfboards. I really enjoyed the art of maneuvering a skinny ski.

I've got about a week to torture my thighs back into that kind of shape. Then there's the rest of the winter.

Monday, January 04, 2010

26 Days Without Exercise

I don't make resolutions for the new year. If something is a good idea, I want to implement it right away. But December somehow manages to throw a big, dark ravine in front of me. The far side lies, coincidentally, near the first of the new year.

The end of a year brings a lot of items into the schedule on the days with the least and lowest sun. The sun doesn't stay up appreciably longer in early January, but the schedule seems to ease up. In the ski business and retail, the holidays are just a hurdle. January is a relief. If the snow is good, we can establish a rhythm again. If the snow isn't good, I could have a lot of free time. As the patrol captain at Jackson used to say when the warm breeze of a nasty winter thaw brought the smell of thawing mud and manure across the center of the village, "it smells like unemployment out there today."

Someone being interviewed on public radio the other night (I'm pretty sure it was Gretchen Rubin) suggested that someone who is out of work should be sure to get enough sleep and exercise to help maintain happiness. That fits my Working Class Athlete Theory. The First Law is "When Unemployed, Train."

What Rubin said could be distilled to this: Exercise will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no exercise.

A rider I know who has grappled with substance abuse issues told me that riding becomes his drug.

"I'm like an addict. When I get back into riding [after a lapse for various reasons] at first I start to feel great, but then I worry constantly that I'll get a flat or break a chain. It's like an addict worrying that he'll run out of whatever he uses."

I've known a number of riders who got themselves off of chemical substances by substituting a cycling addiction. They are certainly healthier and happier on bikes than on the brain candy. But my friend's anxiety simply underscores my Second Law of the Working Class Athlete: Become Your Own Mechanic. Learn to take care of the basics: fix a flat, adjust gears and brakes, adjust hubs, overhaul bearings. With threadless headsets you can overhaul that assembly with just one or two hex keys, a rag and some grease. Hubs still require specialized cone wrenches, but other maintenance can be done with standard metric tools, a smallish screwdriver and some pliers. It's a lot easier than growing your own dope or operating your own meth lab.

More tools let you work on more things with more precision. Always keep basic spare parts on hand.

I chose cycling in the 1970s because it had practical benefits. I was a commuter before I was a racer. Racing was an interesting and educational diversion, but a diversion nonetheless. Training was an excuse to ride, because adults need an excuse to ride. "I'm training for a race" sounds more virtuous and plausible than "I just like to ride my bike for hours because it makes me feel good." I'm competing. I'm pushing myself to achieve victory. It's a competitive sport. I could end up in the Olympics.

Ha ha. The only way I would end up in an Olympic cycling race would be if I stumbled onto the course and the field ran over me. I'm well above average athletically, but there's a monstrous steep slope between "better than most" and "one of the best." The average person could be much better than average with a little consistent effort. Meanwhile, the excuse of training let me justify my hedonistic enjoyment of all aspects of cycling, first on road, then off road when mountain biking came along.

Other excuses to ride include weight loss and "living longer."

My doctor told me that a regular exercise program can increase the average person's life span by about six years, but the exercise time necessary to achieve that benefit averages out to about six years. Don't exercise to live longer. Do it to live better. Do it to be strong longer in whatever life span you get.

Having said that, my father is a high functioning man of 82 who doesn't really exercise at all. He does not look fit. With a little (or a lot) less poundage on him he could be more flexible and functional. On the basis of genetics alone, however, he's doing better than some people in their 50s and 60s. It's kind of annoying, really. Love ya, Dad!

Before 26 days turns into 27 I should step away from the computer and move around a little.