I am an OK mechanic when it comes to working on my bike. I know how to put in a new bottom bracket or headset and I can even build wheels. But, more importantly, I know what I don't know. That means that when I come across something that I haven't done before I either study the procedures very carefully until I understand what needs to be done or I realize I can't figure it out and take my bike to my local bike shop(LBS).
Knowing what you don't know is really the key. We can't know everything, but we can learn. Well, we can usually learn. But, those times when my head hurts, I take my bike to a professional mechanic. I am not trying to pat myself on the back. It just makes sense to do what you can do and leave the rest for somebody else.
OK. That's probably pretty obvious advice and it really isn't what I was writing about. But, what I really wanted to write about is totally-related so what the heck.
A couple of days ago, while descending Kings Mountain Road here in the Silicon Valley, I got a rear flat. I only discovered the flat while I was trying to make a sweeping right turn at speed. When my rear wheel started washing out I knew I was in for some major anxiety. The fact that I kept the bike upright is probably more a result of good luck than great bike handling skills, but whatever the reason, I kept the rubber side down.
The real problem came after I removed the tire and was running my fingers through the inside of the tire to try and find what caused the puncture. When the jagged piece of glass shard poking through the casing of the tire sliced through two of the fingertips on my right hand I knew I had most likely found the problem.
Of course, with my fingers bleeding like a stuck pig, my flat tire was no longer my biggest problem. Luckily for me, a couple of cyclists passing by had a couple of bandages. I made it home in one piece, but four days later my tips are still oozing.
So, after all this babbling, the point here is, don't run your fingers through the inside of a tire after you have flatted. Use a piece of cloth or do direct visual inspection. Just avoid any method that might allow direct contact between your body and the item which caused your flat tire. Take my word for it. Ouch!
My friend Buzz Yancich turned me onto something really cool to do on your bike. Most of us need a bit of motivation, from time to time, to get out and ride and Buzz's idea is one such motivator not to mention that it is just a whole heck of a lot of fun.
Buzz showed up on a ride one day with a mini-tripod and his digital camera. Both Buzz and I like to do a lot of climbing on the bike. With lots of climbing, there is usually lots of descending. So, when we got to the top of one particularly twisty and technical descent, Buzz used the tripod (Ultrapod Mini) to attach his camera securely to his handlebars.
He set his camera on video mode, pressed the start button and let the fun begin. What resulted was a pretty cool video of the two of us weaving and winding our way through the redwoods. OK. We are not 'Il Falco',(well, Buzz is pretty fast) but it was pretty cool to watch the video post-ride to see how we were doing.
Buzz is pretty darn good at this stuff. Check out his descent of Monte Baldo in Italy. It is a great video:
Just a couple of caveats. First off, please don't push past your limits on a descent just to make your video look good. The laws of physics can dish out some harsh penalties if violated. Secondly, if the road is bumpy, you might get a lot of jarring in your video. One solution is to try a helmet mount, but that is harder to keep focused on the road ahead.
Having said all that, just go out there and have at it. Be as creative as you like and have fun doing it.
I don't race anymore on a regular basis, in fact, I can't remember the last time I pinned on a number and tried to be first across the line. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy pushing myself or going fast, it just means that I don't race.
One reasonable question is how do I measure how I am performing? Of course, if you race, you can measure your performance on how well you did against your competitors. Obviously, that doesn't mean that you have to win to feel good about yourself. It just means that racing allows one to set some pretty specific goals like wanting to finish top-10. If you meet those goals, life's good.
If you don't race, what kinds of goals do you have? One of the goals I really don't like to see people set are those that are based on how they perform with respect to other riders with whom they ride. You know what I mean. Comments like 'as long as I beat Joe to the top of the climb, I feel good,' are pretty common. As I just said, I don't like those comments, especially if I am 'Joe.'
Frankly, I don't want anybody using me as a 'stalking horse' to judge their performance. This is one big reason that I have written here before about loathing the situation where I pass a rider and they decide to draft me without asking permission. I really don't know what is going through their mind. I think it is proper etiquette to ask permission to draft, but that another subject.
I think people who don't race should figure out a way to base their performance on something that doesn't involve how other riders are performing. So, you caught and passed a rider. Big deal. You don't know what that rider's agenda is. Maybe the rider is just finishing six hours in the mountains. Or the rider is getting over being horribly sick or injured. Or best yet, what if the rider doesn't care if you are catching him/her. Let's face it. It's only a race when you have a number on your back and somebody says 'Go!'.
A corollary of this whole situation are riders who show up at group rides and turn them into unofficial races because they need somebody chasing them to be able to push themselves on the bike. My friends who are pros train by themselves when it is time to go hard. They have internal motivation to push themselves as hard as they need to go. That's probably why they are pros and most of us are not.
I think power meters are a great solution to this problem. These tools don't lie. You are either going hard or you are not. I would suggest that non-racing cyclist who are looking to set goals for themselves to get a power meter and some knowledge, like a coach or a good book, on how to use the power meter to measure your performance. This really is the only way to truly measure your performance.
OK. So this topic isn't about bike racing, but we have put up with enough drama surrounding the drug testing in cycling that there is a close parallel to what is happening in track and field.
As a quick refresher... the gender of Castor Semenya, a South African 800-meter runner, was called into question after she easily defeated the entire field at the recent Track and Field World Championships. After the Worlds, the IAAF, the governing body of the sport of athletics(AKA track and field) ordered that Semenya undergo tests to determine if she really is a female.
Unfortunately, this isn't as simple as disrobing; there are a number of hormones that should and shouldn't be present (and a certain levels) for each gender. Also, some gender-specific physical characteristics may not be visible without the use of diagnostic equipment which looks inside a person's body.
The track and field community was awaiting the results of Semenya's gender tests to decide the fate of her World Championship gold medal and her career for that matter. Unfortunately, the IAAF announced that it had made a deal with the South African government and Semenya's lawyers to not only allow Semenya to keep her gold medal, but to also keep the results of Semenya's gender tests secret.
First off, I don't know who the IAAF is kidding. The results of the tests will not be secret for long once the 2010 track and field season begins. Either Semenya will or won't be competing as a female.
Secondly, it is pretty clear that the IAAF was caught completely off-guard by the Semenya case. As I stated before, a gender test is not as simple as just dropping 'trow'. It appears that the IAAF had no plan in place to handle situations where gender determination was difficult.
Thirdly, we can argue that we are all god's creatures and if Semenya got some sort of genetic boost then so be it, but the IAAF is a sanctioning body for sport and they need to have rules to govern their sanctioned events. It seems that one of the rules they need to enact, in short order, concerns gender determination.
It is pointless to place blame in the Semenya situation. What has been exposed is a need for a better clarification (read 'rules') to allow sport to be as fair as possible to all athletes. Rather than drag this out, I hope that the IAAF and all other governing bodies of sports are working to make a set of rules which prevent this situation from happening again. I am not taking sides. I just want it to be clear what's right and what's not.
About six months ago, I wrote about Colorado passing a "cyclist's Bill of Rights." This bill was an attempt to clearly define cyclist's rights on the roadway. The major items included specifying a three-foot buffer zone for cars passing riders, allowing cyclists to use the full lane if the shoulder of the road was deemed unsafe and allowing car drivers to cross a double yellow line to pass cyclists.
You would have thought that this would have gone a long way in easing the tensions between car drivers and cyclists. Unfortunately, the new law has had the opposite effect and the fallout has been big enough that the Boulder County transportation department decided to form a working group to study solutions to the problem.
The working group, The Boulder County Mountain Canyon Cyclist Motorist Working Group, includes both cyclists and car drivers, especially those who live in the canyons around the city of Boulder where the problems seem to be the most prevalent.
At the first meeting both the car drivers and cyclists expressed their concerns.Car drivers were concerned that cyclists were not staying on the shoulder of the road while descending. Cyclists responded that sometimes the shoulder has lots of debris and they deemed it to be unsafe. Drivers also expressed concerns that they were afraid to follow a cyclist down a hill for fear of not being able to stop fast enough if the rider crashed.
One of the most interesting comments was made by one canyon resident who didn't want to see safer conditions as it would only encourage more cyclists to ride in the canyons.
As a result of that first meeting, the Boulder County transportation department came up with several possible solutions. They suggested doing more regular maintenance on the shoulder of the roads to keep them clean, posting more signage to alert both cyclists and car divers to behave more responsibly and paving more pullouts to allow cyclists to congregate off the roadway when the stop to regroup.
A second meeting of the working group was convened and the public was invited as well to discuss the proposals. Unlike the first meeting, car drivers were more strident in their anti-cyclist sentiment. Here is a summary of several of the comments made by the canyon residents:
"Canyon residents don't want their tax dollars spent to do anything to make things safer for the "biker fringe element. It would just encourage us to ride more."
"More than one canyon resident said, 'If we hit a cyclist, they are headed for the ER or worse, but we drivers are just as traumatized as they are.'"
"We use the canyons to go to work, while cyclists are just rich folks at play who don't really need to be there."
The working group is still trying to figure possible solutions to the problem. One thing that we cyclists can do at all times is to ride responsibly. There is no need to cause an escalation in the tension which exists.
The La Ruta de Los Conquistadores was held this past week in Costa Rica and it was a banner race for Americans. In the past several years this event has been dominated by the local Costa Ricans and some foreigners from across the pond (that being the Atlantic Ocean). But, this year, US riders took the top spots in the biggest three categories of the four-day, four-stage race.
Manuel Prado of Southern California took the overall win which looked in serious doubt after a major epic on Stage 3. Luckily for Manuel, his teammate Ben Bostrom was there to lend some support and get him to the line to narrowly preserve his overall lead. Speaking of Bostrom, he won the Men's A Master division in fine style. Bostrom is a former AMA Superbike world champion who still competes on the circuit during the late spring, summer and early fall.
The last time I saw Bostrom, he was setting the fastest lap at the 24 Hours of Moab, being the only rider to crack the one-hour barrier on the very technical Moab course. When Ben is twisting his wrist and watching his world go by at 190+mph he is a great representative for the sport of mountain biking.
One of the most impressive performances was turned in by Los Gatos, California resident Louise (Lou) Kobin who won the women's division, erasing a five-minute deficit going into the final stage to win by over 20 minutes. Not only did Kobin beat all the women, she finished an amazing 25th overall meaning she beat over 300 men as well.
The La Ruta de Los Conquistadores is generally regarded as one of the most, if not the most difficult mountain bike races in the world. The route roughly traces the path used centuries ago by the Spanish Conquistadors to cross from the Pacific to Atlantic Ocean. In four days, the race covers 232 miles and climbs an amazing 46,000 feet. Ouch!
I have been thinking a lot about the trial of the Los Angeles doctor found guilty of road rage. When the doctor yelled at the cyclists to 'ride single file' one of the cyclists responded by flipping the doctor off. It appears that the action by the cyclist may have contributed to the doctor pulling in front of the cyclists and slamming on his brakes.
This all got me thinking of what is the proper response when a car interacts with cyclists in a negative way. The answer probably lies with just exactly does a cyclist want to accomplish with his/her response. Clearly, in the case of the LA doctor there was some sort of intent with his actions. But, what do you do if a car passes you really closely, putting the cyclist in danger, and it really is just ignorance of the car driver?
In the incidents that really are an accident or ignorance I would hope that my actions could somehow educate the driver about their actions and that the driver would learn how to behave in a safer manner the next time they encounter a cyclists. If possible, I try to catch up to the driver and in a very calm manner tell them what my perception of what happened is and how they could behave better next time around.
The problem with this is that in every situation I can remember, excluding one in Dublin, Ireland, the car driver was simply not prepared to have any sort of discussion with a cyclist. I don't think it is a question of having a confrontation. It is more a case of the side of the road, in rush hour traffic, not being the most conducive place to have a discussion. So, in these types of incidents, I seem to fail badly in trying nicely to educate the motorist.
In those incidents where the car driver is clearly trying to make a statement, let's face it, there is simply nothing you can do to change the driver's viewpoint of how cyclists and car drivers should interact on the roadway. The car driver has entered the confrontation with an agenda and they are not in the mood for a constructive discussion. So, any reaction by a cyclist can only lead to an escalation of the incident.
But, there is a big dilemma here. If cyclists just shut up and take it when confronted by car drivers does this send a signal to car drivers that their actions are OK? Do cyclists need to display some sort of response just to let the car drivers know their actions were not appreciated and may be inappropriate?
Herein lies the rub. If cyclists respond, there is a great risk of escalating the incident. If cyclists don't respond, there is a risk of letting car drivers think it is OK to harass cyclists. This is a classic no-win situation and I, frankly, I don't know what the proper response should be.
My ultimate goal in any incident is first, to educate so the incident has a lower probability of happening again and secondly, don't do anything to increase the conflict between cyclists and car drivers. My ultimate goal is for all of us to get along. The problem is, I don't know how to accomplish that, especially in situations where car drivers enter into an incident with an agenda.
OK. Call me naive, but I really didn't want to hear the news that US Master's racer Kenny Williams tested positive for DHEA at the Masters Track Nationals this past August. Williams is a former US Criterium and track pursuit champion and had won both the kilometer and 3000-meter pursuit (setting a world record) in the Men's 40-44 age division at the recent championships.
Argh! Argh! And triple Argh! C'mon, this just sucks. It is one thing for riders to dope when a Tour de France yellow jersey and big bucks are on the line, but this is a Master's Championship and about all that comes with that is bragging rights to your friends and family which is about a party of five.
It is really saddening that someone would take such drastic measures to win a Master's National Championship, but the worst part of this whole tragic affair is that this is probably not an isolated incident. Some of my master's racer friends have long maintained that there is doping to some scale at the master's level.
Forget doping, how about the case of Phil Guarnaccia(the fact that I remember his name off the top of my head is, well, frightening) who lied about his age for years. He just looked so old that nobody bothered to check his age. He won numerous national titles competing against guys who were 15 years older than him.
Back to the case of Kenny Williams, it just goes to show that there is cheating at all levels of the sport and that just deepens my sadness. I love to ride my bike and had a great ride this afternoon and I am trying darn hard not to let these cheaters cheapen my sport.
I think it is time that USA Cycling increase its dues proportionally to fund doping control for all levels of racing in the United States. You race, you get tested. It's that simple. I am not sure that USA Cycling needs to start an out-of-competition testing program for all it's licensees, but testing the winners of races, regardless of the category is a good first step.
The cyclocross season is well underway, but that doesn't mean I can't write about it. Sometimes I think my motto for life is "minutes behind when seconds count", maybe that is why I am discussing cyclocross(CX) now. When you add in the fact that I have been announcing the Bay Area Super Prestige Series since it's first race on October 4th....well, you get the picture.
The sport of cyclocross is growing in popularity in a big way. It's not the fixie craze (you know, one of those conforming non-conforming fads). This is a real sport and you don't have to change your rear tire every 10 minutes because you have to skid to stop. CX probably requires the most technical skill of any of the skinny-tired cycling disciplines. Forget the perils of mounting and dismounting, it's the sand pit, common to many CX courses, where dreams come to die.
If you are leading a road bike race you can bonk or get tired and not win, but what makes CX racing so interesting is that there are so many ways to lose a race that the victory isn't sealed until you cross the line. Crashes are commonplace. If you aren't crashing you aren't trying hard enough. Flats are also very common even with wider tires. And equipment breakage, especially chains, happen at least several times during an event.
With all the negativity why is CX so popular? I think the core reason is that the races are relatively short (30 minutes to one hour depending on category) so there is very little strategy. When the gun goes off it is full gas until the race is over or you just can't pedal the bike anymore. On race day, you either have it or you don't.
If you have it and finish well, you can retire back to your team's pit and enjoy a brat and a beer. If you didn't have it and finished poorly, you can retire back to your team's pit and enjoy a brat and a beer. Get it? Everyone has fun at a 'cross race regardless of how they do.
There are a few phrases out there which belie their actually meaning. I've been watching a lot of bad movies lately and it seems like when someone starts out a conversation with "Hey friend..." that means that the smack is about to go down. Their is no warmth in the greeting. Clearly, there is an agenda about to be enforced.
A couple of weeks ago, I was out on a five-hour ride and decided to stop in one of my favorite local stores out on the California coast a few miles south of San Francisco. This store has wood floors and they have a sign posted outside asking that cyclists please remove their cleats. This makes sense since some road cleats can damage wood floors.
I ride on the road with mountain bike shoes and cleats. One nice thing about Sidi Dominator MTB shoes is that they are built with the same upper as their Genius road shoes. The only difference is the sole and the sole on the Dominators has a recessed cleat. Not only does that make it the Dominators easy for walking, but the cleat does not damage wood floors.
Because of this, I don't remove my cycling shoes when I enter this particular store. As I was about to enter the aforementioned store, one of the locals called out to me "Hey Brother, the sign there says to remove your cycling shoes." Obviously, I was not this person's brother; this is another one of those phrases.
I guess I could have gotten upset at some local, who doesn't even work at the store, trying to enforce some policy. Even though I wasn't on my bike, this seemed like it was heading for yet another "car driver versus bicyclist" confrontation. The recently concluded road rage trial of the LA Doctor started because the doctor yelled at cyclists to 'ride single file' and the cyclists flipped the driver off. I thought it was the duty of the police to enforce the laws.
Confrontations never seem to resolve anything so, instead of starting something, I just pulled off my shoe and showed the local that I had recessed cleats and that the request therefore didn't apply. It was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do and my ride was just as enjoyable as before I made my stop.
The verdict is in regarding the road rage trial of the Los Angeles emergency room doctor who was accused on six felony counts after he passed two cyclists and then slammed on his brakes. The two cyclists suffered severe injuries. Those injuries coupled with the statements made by the doctor at the incident scene and a history of previous harassment of cyclists led the Los Angeles District Attorney to decide to file criminal charges.
I have written about this incident a few times in the past several weeks:
This past Monday, a jury in Los Angeles deliberated less than a day before finding the doctor guilty on all charges. He was ordered to be held without bail and is facing up to five years in prison if the maximum sentences are imposed.
The news of the guilty verdict should give other District Attorneys the hope that they can also prosecute and win road rage trials where cyclists are the victims. In the past these cases were considered un-winnable because of the difficulty in proving that the car driver acted with intent to harm when a suspected road rage altercation between a car and driver occurred.
While this is undoubtedly a landmark trial with respect to road rage against cyclists it must be remembered that cyclists bear some responsibility. It is vitally important that when bike riders are harassed, either physically or verbally, by car drivers that they try to maintain calm and avoid any unnecessary altercations.
Just when you thought the pro rider transfer season couldn't get any weirder, it appears that Cadel Evans has left his Belgian Silence-Lotto team to head over to the USA/Swiss Team BMC. Evans had one year left on his contract with Silence-Lotto, but he was somehow able to get released from the service of his now-former team.
Given Evans' forgettable performance at the Tour de France, this might not seem to be all that newsworthy, but you might remember that just under two months ago, he won the World Road Championships in Mendrisio Switzerland. So, BMC is not only getting the plucky Australian, they are also getting the rainbow jersey. It is most likely a bit of coincidence that the rider who wore the rainbow jersey before Cadel, Allesandro Ballan, will be riding alongside Evans at Team BMC.
Of course, we will never know why Evans changed teams. Rumour has it that Team BMC, which is owned my multi-millionaire Andy Riis, basically had no budget when it came to signing riders for 2010 so there was a lot of money being offered to the top pros to come to BMC. This might seem a bit sleazy, but that's how it is done in the pro ranks, especially if you are a team like BMC and are looking to move up to the next level in the pro ranks.
Probably the biggest affect of bringing Cadel to Team BMC is that the Tour de France is now a real possibility. Team BMC is a Pro Continental, rather than Pro Tour, team which means they are eligible for a wild card birth to participate in the Tour. Last year, they showed well at the Dauphine Libere. With the likes of Evans, who has twice finished second at the Tour, Team BMC should be a strong candidate for a wild card spot.
If Team BMC does get into the Tour does the squad have enough talent to be able to support Evans, especially in the high mountains? All of their best climbers have never ridden the Tour which probably means that BMC team management might need to get out the checkbook and go shopping for a few more uphill specialists with some Tour experience. George Hincapie, who comes to Team BMC from Columbia-HTC can clearly be the road captain, but the mountains are another story.
Of course, at this point it is only speculation, but until the pros turn a pedal in anger in 2010, that's about all we can do.