Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Trying to buy bike parts on the cheap - A cautionary tale

Ya know, I'm generally a nice guy. I try to be patient with online orders. I realize sometimes stuff gets screwed up, and frankly, sometimes it's my fault for going with a retailer I don't have experience with trying to get a bargain. I really wanted to build a set of 29" Velocity Dually wheels around some Carver hubs I bought.These new wheels, to also be set up tubeless would hopefully save me a couple pounds over the horrendously heavy set of wheels I'm currently using.

Enter, name redacted. I've chosen not to "name and shame" this particular retailer. Ultimately, I had to throw down a proverbial glove to "get satisfaction" as it were. They ended up making things right, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Online retailer name redacted had Dually rims cheaper than anyone else. A whopping $83/rim and free shipping. The next closest competitor was a retailer I frequently use who had the rims available for $107 each. I was saving myself nearly $50 by going with name redacted. My regular retailer does price matching but in this case would not match the price from name redacted. I bit the bullet and purchased the rims. The initial order was delayed, and delayed some more. It was only calling in that alerted name redacted to the problem that my rims had gone to back order and they'd neglected to tell me. Fast forward something like another week and a half and eventually they show up. Wrong size. I checked everything and found out it was somehow my fault. In spite of specifically looking for 29er rims I had ordered and paid for 26ers.

(Note - not the actual box, but a box that rims came in nonetheless. Still, two very similar boxes sat here as a reminder of my bike part purchasing hubris for something like a week. Yeah, sat there and taunted me day after day.)
I now think sizing mistake must have had something to do with the piss-poor "web 1.0" design of their website and shopping cart. Still, it's ultimately my fault for not catching it in the subsequent receipt email. So, I paid out of my own pocket to send those back. But wait, it gets better! A day or so later, a SECOND SET of 26er rims arrive! WTF?! So, I call in and get things sorted out. Some b.s. on their end resulted in a double shipment. At least I wasn't double-charged. Still, it necessitated me making a trip to opposite ends of my neighborhood because I always ship FedEx, and of course the free return label from them was for UPS. Forty minutes of walking around the neighborhood later, and I finally dropped off the last set of rims at the UPS store and rewarded myself for an afternoon of frustration with a six pack of brewskis from the liquor store next to the UPS store.

(Not actually what I bought, but those bottles have long-since been recycled. Also, I don't leave empties laying around on the counter like this. It's supposed to be humorous, okay?!)
On top of mixed up sizes, double shipments and the like name redacted  wasn't able to speedily do a return for exchange, and suggested I buy the correct set outright in order to speed up me getting the right rims. I went ahead and paid out of pocket again for the correct size rims thinking I'd have my new rims inside of a week. However, it could never be that easy. At 17 DAYS AFTER I placed the order for the 29er rims there was absolutely NO INDICATION of whether I would receive them SOMETIME THIS YEAR!

So, I called in yesterday figuring since it was already past noon and I was told last Monday 4th that the rims would be in and shipped out, "that week," that it was time to get to the bottom of this once and for all. Mind you, the last time I spoke with them was over a week ago when I was told my rims were, "...supposed to be here and will ship out this week." So, frustration level at an all-time high at this point, I called in and demanded a refund. I was immediately asked, "Was it taking too long?"
"Yes. WAY too long," was my reply.

He then tells me they may have come in that day. I told him absolutely the ONLY way I was NOT going to persist with my request for a refund was going to be if they had indeed actually arrived, and they would agree ship them to me to arrive by next day air. He asked if he could investigate it and shoot me an email later that day. I agreed and resolved not to hold my breath. The tab with the rims from my regular bike part supplier sat open in my browser window, since I figured I'd be placing that order for the more expensive rims by the end of the day.

Coming in scant minutes under the draconian "one to two hour" time limit I gave them for contacting me, I had an email stating that the rims had in fact arrived and would ship that day via USPS Priority Express for arrival the following day. I still wasn't holding my breath. Seeing the rims arrive today would be the resolution I was looking for. Ninja postal workers inevitably snuck in and deposited the box o' rims and departed without so much as a peep from the buzzer. Only checking the tracking a second time since getting up alerted me to their presence. This nearly month and a half saga would not come to an end though until I opened the box, and checked the rims, examining them for signs of damage or them not being the correct item. Would they be 26ers again? Perhaps 28 hole, even though I'd specified 32 hole?

It's about damn time!
The box was there, the rims undamaged, and yes, even the correct size and hole count. A sigh of relief escaped my lips and a grudging email was sent acknowledging, "The rims arrived in good condition. Thanks for sorting this out. By the way, tracking shows you received the other rims. Just need to make sure you're processing that refund for the original purchase. Thanks." Thus ends our cautionary tale. Would $50 extra have been worth it to get the rims within the same week they were purchased, thus avoiding a lot of aggravation and phone calls to a less-than-responsive retailer? Maybe. However the siren call of the bargain is often hard to resist. Next time I hope I can convince my crew wife to tie me to the mast and just put wax in her ears so she won't hear my cries of, "But it's $50 cheaper!"

Friday, April 8, 2016

When the POTUS comes to town

My commute to and from work is usually pretty uneventful. However, living in the home town of the POTUS sometimes can make things interesting. One more than one occasion, riding home on a path that parallels the shoreline of Lake Michigan, I was turned back by Chicago Police, stationed along the path to turn back civilians attempting to enter an area cordoned off for presidential security reasons. I live in Hyde Park, which just happens to be the neighborhood where President Obama lives, and where he received his law degree from the University of Chicago.

President Barack Obama speaks to students at the University of Chicago Law School on April 7, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama addressed his U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland as he hopes members of the Republican party will give Garland a hearing and a vote in Washington. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

It turned out that this evening was one of those days where the POTUS was in town and in fact had a speaking engagement at the university which is just a few blocks from my apartment. As I passed by The Field Museum of Natural History and the John G. Shedd Aquarium, I sighted a MV-22B Osprey attached to HMX-1, or Marine Helicopter Squadron 1 as it's known. Starting in 1976, the Marine Corps took over responsibility for maintaining and flying the helicopter fleet that carries the president, cabinet member, support staff, and members of the press. The Bell-Boeing MV-22B Osprey tilt rotor aircraft was adopted for a support role back in 2013. So far, due to a high instance of Osprey crashes, the president himself does not fly in any of the Ospreys but continues to be ferried about in a modified Blackhawk helicopter called a VH-60N Whitehawk, which adopts the call sign of "Marine 1" when the president is onboard.

A VH-60N Whitehawk, flies over the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. - from Wikipedia

The unusual and loud Ospreys have become a fixture of President Obama's many recent trips to Chicago over the last few years, often attracting many a gobsmacked stare as they thunder across the sky, louder than any helicopter you could imagine. Imagine my surprise when I rounded a corner and found one of the MV-22B Ospreys had landed in a large parking lot next to McCormick Place. No police security was present, however numerous city buses lined the edges of the capacious parking lot as barriers to keep out hostile vehicles. The Osprey had touched down, and sat with it's engines at idle for a few minutes before throttling back up, taking to the air and fly back northwards the direction it came from. For a guy who still remembers being a kid fascinated by all manner of military aircraft and who built every imaginable fighter jet or WWII airplane model kit, it was quite the sight to see this amazing aircraft in action.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Fool and His Money...

This just in from Bike Rumor! Yes, more gushing about over-priced boutique components. In this case Paul Components. Like any dutiful bike nerd I read a lot of bike blog stuff and reviews come up, a LOT. Occasionally I'm looking to buy something new and so I do my research and that means reading reviews. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that a handful of the biggest review and content outfits out there on the interwebz simply spew "reviews" out with very little in the way of critical consideration. One regular offender I've found is Bike Rumor. Maybe they're just reporting the "bike news" and not actually reviewing the product. If it's not a review, then apparently it's at least "news" when a company makes something that a bunch of other companies already make cheaper, but for some reason make it the same but more expensive. So you can buy, for example a Paul I.S. disc adapter for $20.

Paul Components I.S. disc brake adapter

Or, you could get the same thing from Shimano for $8.99, Avid for $10.00, or Magura for $11.00. So, yeah. Maybe "Made in America" is worth $11.01 extra?

SRAM Avid I.S. disc brake adapter

My objection I guess isn't so much against Paul Components, because honestly, I have no idea if it really costs $11 more to make a US-made part versus something made in China. I actually have Paul Thumbies on two bikes, and in the past I made use of their short-travel/long-travel drop bar brake interrupter levers. So, I've spent money on their stuff. At least what I bought was functional and innovative rather than just copying an existing design and charging more money for it. Also, judging by a lot of comments of folks following these "reviews" of Paul Component parts, many feel the same way. A lot of this stuff just isn't especially innovative. So, if it's not innovative, all you're paying for is the name and cachet of what is essentially a boutique part. It's like all of that purple anodized mountain bike crap from the early to mid 90s. Purple anodizing didn't make your bike any faster or lighter, but lots of folks were willing to pay more for it.

And finally, don't get me started on their "Klamper" disc brake which Bike Rumor also gushed over back in July. Again, they were just "reporting" on it's introduction and not really offering up any kind of critical review. However, the e-zine Cyclocross Magazine did in fact review the Klamper, and apparently liked it, even though it's neither innovative nor a weight-saving piece of kit. The Paul Klamper uses the same antiquated and tired design of the Avid BB7. Specifically, the Klamper has one moving pad and one stationary pad, effectively bending the rotor inwards to contact the non-moving pad. The only advantage it purports to have is larger ball bearings and some needle bearings. So what does a marginal engineering improvement over an already less-than-stellar design cost you? You can have a single Klamper caliper for $179!!! 

The Paul Components Klamper

If you didn't just spit coffee out all over your computer screen, it's probably because you don't know that you could buy a complete set of Avid BB7 disc brakes - that's caliper AND rotor for $79! That's $100 cheaper than the Paul version. Or, you could buy the even lighter BB7 S which now features stainless steel components and is marginally lighter than a standard BB7, and is still lighter than a Klamper. The BB7 S will set you back $120. That's still $59 cheaper per wheel, or to round up and consider a full set, that's $120 cheaper.

Avid BB7 (the cheaper version - the "S" looks the same, only black instead of grey)

Of course, the elephant in the room we're not talking about, is the TRP Spyre/Spyke family of mechanical disc brakes. The Spyre (road), and Spyke (mountain), are dual piston disc brakes that work in the same manner as their bigger cousins that stop our car and motorcycle wheels from moving. Reviews (if you care to search them out), consistently place TRP mechanical discs at the top of the pyramid in terms of best design, and modulation second only to hydraulic discs. You can buy a caliper and disc TRP Spyke set for $84.99. That's $94.01 cheaper than a Klamper for what is widely considered to be the most advanced, best-performing mechanical disc brake on the market.

TRP Spyke. Far more technically advanced than the Klamper. Lighter and $94 cheaper per wheel!

If you wanted to buy Paul Components so you could proudly proclaim "Made in America" I'm betting you'd have a lot of difficulty managing that for your entire bicycle build. I've always been of the mindset of building my bikes with a mix of affordability and durability in terms of components and frames. The country of origin of my parts has never been much of a concern. Pretty much most of the components you'll buy today come out of factories in China with lots of frames coming from Taiwan. Good quality stuff comes out of Chinese factories just like poor quality stuff. I've have bike frames made in China that were really nice with decent quality welds and good paint, and I've had atrocious frames that looked like they were welded by a child using a Fisher-Price "My First Welder" toy, and painted using spray cans. Those oh-so-affordable Avid BB7s are all "Made in China," and while they're often derided as being little better than rim brakes they're still the standard spec on most bikes using disc brakes.

My take-away on all of this? Paul Components make some good stuff - Thumbies for example are an excellent product well worth the coin. Paul disc adapters or their own expensive take on Avid BB7s, the Klamper? In my opinion, there's nothing especially innovative there at all. Well, a fool and their money...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What happened to the wreck of the Silver Spray?

My daily commute to work along the Lake Michigan shoreline takes me right past an interesting submerged geological feature and the site of the only Lake Michigan shipwreck visible from the shore. For years, I saw this angular black shape poking out just a little above the surface of the water. I'd see it as I drove by in my car, and later as I started commuting to work by bicycle I got a better look at it but was still mystified as to what I was seeing. I know now that angular shape I was seeing was the boiler of the Silver Spray, a steam-powered ferry that ran aground in 1914 on the limestone shoal that juts into the lake at 49th street.

The boiler of the Silver Spray - photo by Dan Peterman

Mysteriously though, as I began commuting to work earlier this year in late March, early April I couldn't see the dark, angular shape of the Silver Spray's boiler peeking above the waves. With a stormy beginning to the year, I assumed that the waves were always a bit too choppy to allow me to see the boiler as I rode past. Occasionally, when the waters were more calm, I'd look for the familiar sign post of the wreck but I still couldn't see it. More on the Silver Spray's vanishing act in a minute though. First a little bit of history.

The Silver Spray was a 109 foot long, wooden steamship ferry that conveyed passengers up and down the coast of Lake Michigan back at the turn of the century. On July 18, 1914 she was set to pick up about 200 students from the University of Chicago in Hyde Park and ferry them down to tour the steel mills in Gary, Indiana when she ran aground on Morgan Shoal and subsequently broke up during salvage operations. Her wood hull broke up and as chunks of it washed ashore, curious onlookers burned it in bonfires that lit their parties as they spectated the shipwreck and failed salvage operation.

The Silver Spray - photo Great Lakes Maritime Database

All that remains of the Silver Spray are her boiler and firebox, only a small portion of that massive structure being what is visible from the shoreline. Swimming out to the wreck, something I have yet to do, will allow you to also see a massive anchor chain, 50 foot long propeller drive shaft, and propeller that is as tall as a man. Hyde Park resident Dan Peterman became fascinated by the wreck several years ago and has become a kind of local custodian and tour guide promoting the wreck and championing it to the city in hopes that eventually the wreck and the limestone structure of 300 million-year-old Morgan Shoal will become a marine sanctuary.

During summer months, Peterman regularly leads guided tours of the wreck on Sundays, for curious swimmers. Peterman lead groups out to the boiler and around the sunken remains of the wreck and the unique structure of Morgan Shoal, itself a unique feature along the Lake Michigan coastline left over from the Great Lakes glacial creation. Due to the shallow nature of the shoal, on the calmest days the pale yellowish-brown color of the rock can make it visible even from the shoreline, and it's unique structure provides habitat for numerous species of fish and aquatic plants.

Aerial view of Morgan Shoal - photo courtesy of WTTW Chicago Tonight

For years I've seen this reminder of the wreck, the angular boiler peeking above the waves. Only a couple years ago did I finally come up with the right combination of internet search terms to figure out just what it was that I was seeing all these years. For the longest time I thought it was simply a large angular rock since much of the shoreline of Lake Michigan along the Chicago "coast" was stabilized by large blocks of stone and concrete rip-rap. As the water seemed more shallow in that area, I had always assumed it was simply one of those giant pieces of rip-rap that got dumped a bit too far from shore. Imagine my thrill as minor history buff, when I finally learned that it was no rock but was instead the visible portion of a boiler from a shipwreck!

Fast forward to this Spring and my commutes to work and the puzzling absence of the boiler standing proud of the surface of the lake. Recently, as there have been some days of glassy calm on the lake, I expected to be able to see the wreck again, all to no avail. There had been several very strong storms to hit the Chicago area earlier in the spring and I wondered if somehow the extreme battering waves had dislodged part of the wreck and caused it sink below the waves. Just today though, I happened to be perusing an article featuring interesting facts about The Great Lakes, when a news article caught my eye. Apparently, the water levels of Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron are at the highest they've been in 17 years!

Due to extensive ice cover the last two winters, evaporation was kept to a minimum and that coupled with higher than normal rainfall this year has led to the rising waters. Read the full text of the news article here: http://www.mlive.com/weather/index.ssf/2015/07/lakes_michigan_huron_water_lev.html#incart_related_stories

So, it would appear that the boiler of the Silver Spray, which at the best of times barely projects above the surface of the water has been submerged beneath rising lake levels for the time being. Water levels typically peak on the lakes during the summer and will subside later in the year. Maybe by Fall and early Winter, the familiar sight of the wreck of the Silver Spray will once again become visible to me as I gaze out at The Big Lake as I ride to work.

A more extensive news article about the wreck of the Silver Spray can be read on the WTTW Chicago Tonight website, here:
All photos in this blog post have been attributed to their original source and were taken from the Chicago Tonight article.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Slow Roll versus Critical Mass

Last night I attempted my first ever Slow Roll ride. As part of Chicago's Bike to Work Week events, there was a sparsely attended (approximately 40 riders), Slow Roll ride leaving from Daley Center, right smack downtown in Chicago's Loop. The Daley Center is also the traditional starting point for Critical Mass rides. Slow Roll has been going on in other communities around the country, and is supposed to be all-inclusive and more about outreach like getting more timid cyclists onto the road to build confidence riding with other people, cars, etc. I guess I easily forget that I was kinda of timid when I first started cycling in Chicago, but now I usually fearlessly take lanes and bull my way through traffic snarls with confidence and a high level of alertness about my surroundings. So, I guess Slow Roll may not necessarily be my thing. I was intrigued though about the possibility of a more low key group riding experience different from the raucous "Woo!!! Par-tay!!" atmosphere of Critical Mass rides.

There were some introductions to Slow Roll organizer folks, rules about not falling behind the SAG rider, or getting in front of the ride leader. Also there was some stuff about not going out past the riders on the sides of the group - I forgot what they were called. It seemed like the Slow Roll folks create this insulating cocoon around the less experienced riders and thus shepherd them through the dangerous streets of the city, all at a glacially slow pace. I mean, these folks were riding so slowly at one point that I think it was actually more dangerous than just riding faster. Try riding cheek-to-jowl with about 40 other people tottering along at 2.3 miles per hour where bikes are wiggling back and forth and weaving all over and tell me if your sphincter doesn't start to pucker when someone acts like they're about to careen right into you.

I've never yet ridden a Critical Mass where the same thing pretty much happens as the whole ride hits a bottleneck. So, Slow Roll seems to fail about as miserably as Critical Mass does in that when you pack a lot of bikes together and make everybody ride super-sloooooowwwwww, then the likelihood of accidents goes up exponentially. Every 'Mass ride I've ever been on suffers most of it's bike crashes during these bottleneck slow-downs. Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore. And by, "I couldn't take it anymore," I mean that I was less than about one mile into the ride which took about twenty minutes to cover, when I decided to bail. I saw a familiar cross-street, looked back and saw the street was clear of car traffic, and just broke out from the group and went east while they continued south.

I get the concept, and the need to have an all-inclusive ride that is less intimidating and somewhat less "douchey" than Critical Mass. However, I'd like to add that even Slow Roll must elect to blow some red lights and cork some intersections which apparently drew the ire of some pedestrians who ranted about cyclists not obeying the law by not stopping for red lights. Note, these pedestrians were not trying to cross but were walking parallel to the direction the ride was going. Still, it's a valid point. How does one introduce neophyte riders to being on the mean streets and at the same time hypocritically break some of the rules that they decry Critical Mass for doing? Anyway, I suppose someone needs to be the helping hand for more timid riders. I don't know how to do that and frankly I don't know that I have the patience.

Clearly, I'm not the target audience for Slow Roll, and even as a group ride I found it too "shepherded" and a bit too "directed" if you take my meaning. I've heard of a concept called "Bike Party" which sounds like it falls somewhere in-between Critical Mass and Slow Roll. Bike Party is a huge ride en masse like Critical Mass, but whereas Critical Mass almost seems to arrogantly snub it's nose at car drivers with it's happily sarcastic "Happy Friday!" shouts, Bike Party apparently doesn't clog all lanes of travel, or ruthlessly block intersections while riders stream through against the light. It's perhaps faster than Slow Roll, but not quite as confrontational as 'Mass. Chicago doesn't currently have a "Bike Party" ride that I know of so for the time being those who want the "riding in a crowd" experience will need to choose between the chaos, potential intimidation, and potential danger of a 'Mass ride, or select the kinder, gentler, coddled experience of Slow Roll.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How Lance Armstrong ruined pro-cycling for me

Photo by ELIZABETH KREUTZ for The Telegraph
Lance Armstrong, disgraced and banned, self-confessed doper and seven time "winner" of The Tour de France, is in the news yet again. In an interview with _The Telegraph_ he wishes he'd stop being relentlessly persecuted for his crimes and worries that the US government whistleblower case could ruin him financially forever. You can read the full text of the article here:


For years, I watched professional cycling when I had the chance, bought team jerseys and proudly wore them when I rode my road bike on the hot rural roads of Georgia. I even flirted briefly in the mid 90s with mountain bike racing and later, when I went back to college to work on a second degree, I idly considered joining the collegiate cycling team, even going so far as to regularly accompany them on training rides. Throughout the late 80s and early 90s and on into the early 2000s, I saw professional cycling as the only major sport that I could follow. You see, I was raised in an environment where my father derided professional sports and where intellectual and creative pursuits were rewarded. This isn't to say my brother and I were denied the opportunity to participate in sports though. My brother played several seasons of soccer in his early teens, and I played exactly one season myself. That one season was enough to know that I'd never be an athlete, especially participating in a team "ball" sport.

So, growing up with an inherent disdain for all sports and an awkwardness that led me to continually be "the last one picked" for sports teams in gym class all through primary school, cycling was something different. I could hop on a bike and pedal fast. I could don the kit and look the part of a professional cyclist even if I wasn't. Even in those brief months where I rode a few times with the collegiate team, I was encouraged to join because they felt I was a strong rider and could contribute something to the team as a whole. I really felt as if I had a connection to the top riders in the sport. They were true competitors, I was but a pretender. However, I could ride up a steep grade, hammering on the pedals, dripping with sweat in the 90 degree heat, and thus I could feel the same sensations as those vaunted competitors.

Cruising down steep inclines, top gear maxed out, we would tuck into our "Superman poses" ala Lance Armstrong. We'd have sprints for the mile markers, and the rider who crossed the imaginary line first would sit up in the saddle, arms outstretched in the same victory pose that the pros would have when they gloriously finished a stage of Le Tour. Cycling gave us a connection to the pros in a way that no-one playing baseball or football in their backyard could have. Let's face it, most other sports fans simply participate by watching, while most cycling fans participate by watching and doing. For years, I watched races when I had the chance, read about them when I didn't have access to a television, and otherwise tried to follow the pro cycling scene.

Then the doping scandals began. Richard Virenque, of the Festina team and multiple winner of Le Tour's KOM (King Of the Mountain), jersey was one of the first to fall. Both my brother and I saw Virenque as an inspiration. Stolidly climbing mountains took amazing amounts of endurance, and in hilly roads of northwestern Georgia, it's something we could sympathize with and emulate ourselves. Later, it seemed like every time I began to appreciate a cyclist for their prowess, they'd eventually fall to doping allegations. There was Marco Pantani, aka  Il Pirata as he was known because of his flamboyant gold earring and his "dew rag" head coverings. Pantani, an amazing climber was caught doping, and later was in and out of the sport. Finally, battling depression he died from a cocaine overdose. Then there was Telekom phenom Jan Ulrich. Ulrich, the gigantic young German seemed to be one of those cyclists would could excel at almost all aspects of the sport. During "the Lance years" Ulrich was one of the few cyclists who seemed able to challenge Armstrong. And yet Ulrich's time would come and he too was caught doping. All the while in those later years Lance Armstrong climbed to prominence.

As his wins were racked up, the criticism mounted. He continued to deny doping allegations, saying all the while, "I've never tested positive." In retrospect, it was as if he was taunting everyone. Refusing to come right out and say that he'd doped, but instead subtly saying he'd repeatedly beaten the doping tests. When it finally all came to a head a few years ago. I almost refused to believe it was true. How could some of the most amazing and inspirational Tour wins I'd ever seen have come fueled by doping? It became more and more obvious that Armstrong's seven year winning stretch was built on lies, intimidation, and doping. Supporters claimed that in a field full of doping what difference did it make? If the second and third place finishers were doping as well, what did it matter? Armstrong had simply been the strongest doping athlete amongst the top tier riders who were all doping as well.

For me, the subsequent scandals, Armstrong's final public admission of guilt, complete with crocodile tears, it all came to a head. For me the sport was forever ruined. Professional cycling had become tainted. Even following the blow up around the years of deceit and treachery, Armstrong's criminal empire of doping and intimidation, teams continued to test positive and bans continued to come down for riders caught doping. Today, the sport is still as broken as it ever was, with even the top leadership of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), being implicated in looking the other way when it knew that doping was occurring. Even vaunted champions from cycling's earlier years like Eddy Merckx we were reminded had tested positive at one time or another for doping of some form.

I began to view pro cycling as rotten to the core. I couldn't even bring myself to watch any races post-Armstrong, not wanting to root for someone only to find them being banned later on for testing positive for some form of performance-enhancing drug. Professional cycling had been ruined for me. This thing that I had loved and followed for years was spoiled. The many hours of sitting in front of the television watching the Tour, the Spring Classics, all spoiled. In a way I felt dirty for having watched and supported the riders. For cheering on Armstrong all of those years, when others like three-time Tour De France winner Greg LeMond cried out that he was cheating, I feel guilty. I championed him. I believed that what he did was purely because he was a supreme athlete, and I genuinely believed that he was riding clean.

These days, I don't follow any professional cycling of any sort. I've grown so disdainful of the sport, that even the local amateur cycling teams have earned my ire, simply because they choose to participate in and emulate the trappings of a broken, tainted sport. I see them pass me on my commutes to or from work, riding in a pace line, usually at a high rate of speed in an area where they can't do so safely (a topic for another posting perhaps), and I shake my head ruefully. They may not be doping, because who the hell would dope to win a local race where the winner takes home a few hundred bucks? What they embody though, as they carelessly whip around slower cyclists and pedestrians, is the same arrogance as Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong arrogantly thought he could build an empire on lies and deceit, and for years he did. Competition in and of itself requires a certain level of confident arrogance. It's that arrogance that I can no longer countenance. It took me years to see it, and this is what professional cycling has become. Winning at all costs. Whether it's pros doping and willing to risk their lives for a marginal edge against the competition, or amateurs out on their training rides, tooling along with blatant disregard for other trail users, it's all left a bad taste in my mouth that I don't know will ever wash away.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A weird metaphor

The idea for this entry came to me while making my usual 11.5 mile ride in to work one morning a few weeks back. I crossed a street that subdivides part of the multi-user path that comprises approximately 98 percent of my ride. It had been a great morning. I started out a little late, leaving the house a few minutes after when I usually would. The threat of being late for work had me hammering on the pedals, even into a light headwind if I remember correctly. The Yuba Mundo is not a light bike by any stretch, but still I managed to keep it going at a fast clip. I'd hunker down a little, grab the forward portion of my Jones Loop bars to get a little more aero and I'd crank it up a notch. I'd settle down a little, sit up with my hands on the grips and dial it back a little. I get very few commuters riding bikes in the same direction (north), that I'm riding every morning. I pass a few runners and joggers, and very occasionally a slower cyclist. 

No. That morning it was just me and the clock. I made it to my usual halfway point and rolled past it with plenty of time to spare. I wasn't going to be late at all that morning. I had plenty of time to spare. I rolled across that bisecting street and looked down, seeing this little 8-bit robot-man ground into the pavement. I'd seen him days (weeks?), before crossing that strip of pavement but didn't pay him much mind. Was he some child's toy, or a sticker, or what? I have no idea, but he's now permanently merged with the pavement, forever gazing upwards with a little wry, half-grin on his face. For whatever reason that morning, I thought about him for a few pedals strokes, then turned around to go back and take a picture. Somehow, he seemed like a metaphor for what the commute is some mornings. Some days the wind is in my face and I have to pedal just to keep from being blown backwards. Some days my legs just don't have the steam and it's a struggle to turn the cranks. I realized that on those days I'm like that little 8-bit robot-man, ground into the pavement. 

I know, it's a weird metaphor and I'm not sure it makes sense. But that particular morning, it seemed to make sense in light of the hell that was most of April, with headwinds and winter-like temperatures more mornings than not. That was me, ground into the pavement by the elements, just a wry little grin as I tried to keep the cranks turning over. Then, there were mornings like that one that I stopped to go back and take that pic of the little 8-bit robot-man. I had the headwind, but the legs were like pistons. I powered through and my tires soaked up bumps, and I sailed along, veritably hammering out the miles. It's mornings like that when I feel like I'm channeling Eddy Merckx. My thighs are like massive pistons, turning the cranks. I eat the miles up. Ahead, I see another rider and I dig deep, closing the distance, then I pass them. I keep pushing harder. I relax for an instant, then I dig deeper still and I open up a lead. I open a lead on who? What? Maybe it's just a lead on the clock. I'm only challenging myself. I hammer the miles out on those mornings. I'm Eddy, not a little 8-bit robot-man ground into the pavement.