24 November 2006

Wow!

My boy’s asked Santa Claus (well really it’s the Three Wise Kings here) for this little beast:

Me thinks I gotta SMART boy!

21 November 2006

Toys


Excess. Need. What is excessive? Too much? Needed?

I’m obsessed, it seems, for now. But I’ve been hanging in there, stopping myself from jumping head-first through the exhibit glass of the my LBS and hopping onto that road bike.

But I’m too much of a coward. I can’t make up my mind or deal with my guilt. Do I really need a road bike? How foolish. None of that is needed. None of this…yet I never imagined one Saturday morning ride with my kids last year would change my life the way it did. I like riding my bike. I really do but this winter will be a long one.

Will my obsession last longer?

13 November 2006

Wretches

I’ve no idea why tools should scare anyone. Around here, though, a mere Allen wrench -- in my hand -- is cause for mutiny.

"Mom, Dad’s got your bike discombobulated!"

Now isn’t that what we called squealing squealers back somewhere then?

So I’ve taken the wheel off -- off my wife’s bike (god forbid I did that to my little Piglet) -- and there seems to be cause for alarm.

"Mom, you won’t be riding this weekend."

That was my daughter (little “$%&%$!!!). But my son comes to the rescue. "You’re not riding for sure, Mom!"

Little &"·!;%$&%”!!! Why bring them to the world? Why love them? You can say goodbye to that ivy league community college edu on my account, little squealing b...bikers!

Ok. I can’t couldn’t true the wheel…and now it’s like some sort of round snake, sinuous thing, biting its own tale. It’s still round, though, for God’s sake!

Wrenches.

28 October 2006

Fishin'


Sort off. Been out for work to Durban, South Africa, and then to Mauritius; trips for work which have kept me out most of the month. Try as I might during these forays to our commercial fishing vessels I find no energy for the internet, blogging or much else. Miss my cycling, though. In Durban, which is supposed to be a very dangerous city – crime wise – they have what seems like a nice bike club. The East Coast Pedal Power Association does nice routes on Saturdays and Sundays, very early in the morning: out by 5:30 a.m. or so I heard. Sprightly group. Should I return for another week’s work or so I might try some sort of cycling exchange thing. [Do they pedal backwards in the southern hemisphere?] Maybe I can rent a bike or borrow one. (Shihhhh…don’t tell my Piglet.)

23 September 2006

Bonkers

Exhaustion does not kill a paradigm, it merely signals it has lost the ascendancy.

I don’t much believe in witches though I’ve sought their council – involuntarily – as early as the age of one. It was an alleged issue of life and death, my Mom explained once, though I don’t recall the actual witchcraft that was performed on me. And indeed there is a saying in my land that pronounces: “I don’t believe in witches, but witches there are aplenty.”

Not too long ago I was talking to Bill on the list about bonking: that physical low experienced during hard physical activity. A weak definition, really, by any account, since the real feeling is that type of awful that dictionaries can’t handle in definitions, not without pictures and groaning sound effects. And so I was telling Bill, who apparently recently bonked and found himself helpless alongside some mountain road until a kind motorist came to his assistance (because some drivers are nice in spite of bicycles), that one ought to avoid those bonking things by resting right, eating properly, hydrating, you know all those little things that make us wise bike riders. Mind you, I said all of that with a certain degree of authority because I bonked once and that made me, well, a bonking authority.

This is where the witchcraft comes in: no more than a couple of days after Bill raises the bonking issue that I bonk after a mere three hour ride. And once again – as happened the first time – I didn’t think I’d done anything unusual; after all I had done this particular 64 kilometer loop before at a 19.7 km/hr. pace. Nothing unusual, I thought.

I should’ve gotten a hint that things weren’t right as I climbed my first hill – the Bicycle Eater, as my son calls it – and I was nearly out of breath at the top of it. That was only 4 kilometers into the ride. I felt very tired. (A little voice told me to turn around but I failed to hear it.) So I pushed on and apparently convinced myself that things ought to get better.

I HAVE THE DAY OFF, THE KIDS ARE IN SCHOOL, AND THE SUN IS SHINING SO I MUST RIDE MY BIKE!!! DO YOU MIND?!

I’m not so sure whether things went better or worse…they just went. Somehow I maintained my normal pace and drank my two liters of energy drink, though I had this strange desire to make it home quick.

I bonked as soon as I got through the garage door; sat down without one wink of energy and no desire to do a thing. I ate and drank like a desperate man soon as I could and then slept for two hours – killing most of the afternoon, ‘cause the morning had killed me – until I began to feel slightly normal again. I thought I had a fever or a cold. My legs were cramping. I was dead tired.

Then I thought about it. What happened? It was the bonkers spell again. The night before I had had no dinner, which is very unusual for me; instead I had two beers. And then again, for some strange reason I had a light breakfast. Only one toast and a cup of coffee: European cup of coffee-thingy, small, tiny. Again, fairly unusual for me. (Nowhere in European etiquette – not even in the most hermetic French baguette circles – does it say that you cannot have 3 tiny thingies to make up for one normal real thingy.)

So I should’ve listened to my advice to Bill: you’ve got to fuel properly and rest properly. That’s what I told him just a couple of days ago, lest you want the bonk to get you. Almost sounds like a spell, doesn’t it?

12 September 2006

This Order


I used to have an uncanny ability to handle disorder. This was so because it wasn’t disorder at all. It was more like a deep-seated desire to piss my Mom off as a teenager; why of course I could find anything in my room, despite what she might think. “You want me to prove it,” I’d say, “well just ask me to find something?” Guess she never did and I’d have to “clean up” my room anyway, her way. Uhhhg!

But I always kept to my orderly way, in a way. Take my books for instance. I could find any book I wanted from any pile whenever I wanted. There was order in my apparently disordered piles. I mean it. I could go from shelve to shelve, from horizontal to vertical stacks, and find the title I wanted as though I knew the exact locations with photographic memory. I’d get this sudden urge to read, whatever, say, Notes from the Underground -- yes, I was a strange kid, an angry kid -- and I’d find it on the fourth pile on the left. Just like that.

That ability has gone. I still have piles: in my office, on my desk, on my night table, but I no longer know where that particular title is to be found. (And you know that you always need that book, the one, the one you can’t find.)

This is somehow connected to bicycles. No, let’s not exaggerate. I do know where I park my bike at work and it is difficult to misplace my Piglet it in my garage – almost. But it happens most often with my bike tools and gear and I have but very few of those, mind you. But damn I had the screwdriver right by the rear wheel! Where did I put the light? My vest? The pump? What’s the pump doing in my wife’s bike when I needed it just on this ride?! (Not to mention the spare tube with the wrong valve to fit my pump; or was it the right pump to fit the wrong tube?)

I guess I’m just not what I used to be; my type of order has finally grown up. I know, Mom, I know. “I told you so.”

07 September 2006

After The Fall


One of the most obvious facts about grown-ups, to a child, is that they have forgotten what it is like to be a child. [Jarrell]

I forget often enough. Others do too and it is apparently normal enough, which ought to make us wonder.

My boy Alberte has made a steady come back after his fall. I was greatly to be blamed for it for not thinking enough as a child or forgetting what it was like for me to take those first rides and those spills. But he has come back and has been riding stronger than ever, accomplishing hard climbs and hills that took me longer to accomplish than it is taking him -- honestly. I gather and hope that he is beginning to enjoy himself more -- for himself -- rather than for me: to please me. I push him rather tenderly now, letting him decide when he wants to ride, where he wants to ride and how. My child psychology is so simple and predictable that my boy knows better, I think.

This does not mean that riding has become a free for all. Occasionally he still wanders off into the middle of the road -- as any eight-year-old might on peaceful country roads -- thinking child things and forgetting that cars aren’t thinking or caring about what he’s thinking. This is where I reprimand him most and also why I choose, whenever possible, to ride behind him so I can see what he’s doing; something I failed to do the day he fell. I have come to learn that riding close behind children is a significant safety feature. I can normally hear cars coming from behind first and warn him accordingly. I also ask him to warn me -- sort of like a game -- when cars approach from the opposite direction. We sort of share responsibilities that way.

But he has come back well and strong. Seeing his thin, little legs pedal away, his bottom up from the seat to conquer that hill, just makes me smile. Makes me remember what it was like to be a kid again.

01 September 2006

Love that to which you return…


Some of you must have had this feeling:

…you are riding along with the buddies, you think you’re strong, you hit that hill and a sudden realization hits you square in the gut:

…you’re not nearly as strong as you thought…you will never be, actually…you realize your limits, for there are limits to who you are…to what you can do....

Depressive sensation or realistic acceptance?

My reading buddy, Marcus Aurelius – I sometimes turn to him in times of distress, old-stoic, meditating know-it-all, he tells me:

Be not unhappy, or discouraged, or dissatisfied, if you do not succeed in acting always by the right principles; but when you have failed, try again, and be content if most of your acts are consistent with man’s nature. Love that to which you return…. [Meditations, V, 9]

But then again he never rode a bicycle up that hill….

27 August 2006

Bike Camp

One of the risks of sharing a plot of ground with humans is that you have to live with those hominids, ever so slightly as it might be. Camping in public / private campgrounds offers the security of organization (Site 34, Site 35) and some degree of comfort, especially when bike touring with children. There are a number of camps near our home and one even offers an Olympic-sized swimming pool, horses, horrendous quads and, yes, even mountain bikes for those who do not bike to camp.

But then there’s the people. Some people. They are rowdy, loud, drink a little too much as though nature and star-filled skies bring the best of alcohol-induced male bonding. Rudeness is a key ingredient in male bonding, it would seem. But who am I -- ??? -- to say.

At 04:00 a.m. while the toughest males of our species where playing hide-and-go-seek with equally well-behaved females of the species around our tents, my lovely wife calmly said TO ME: “Oh, shosh, you old grouch. Remember that time in South Jersey when you and Santi lit a torch in camp and prayed to the fire gods – quite loudly till dawn?”

I don’t remember, I must say.

22 August 2006

Frankfurt


I almost forgot. In Frankfurt Airport many of the staff ride bikes too and fro. They are little bikes – like Bike Fridays – with their racks and baskets to carry stuff around. Pretty cool. They are obviously silent and seem quite effective. I never noticed them in other airports before, but then again now I see bikes everywhere.

18 August 2006

Addiction

I ’ m
u n d e r
p r e s
s u r e
.

It seems like my LBS guy has me correctly measured. I’ve been roaming his shop like a drunk outside a licor store. I look for excuses to go in; I want to see more bikes. Am I beginning to like road bikes and spandex?

Turns out that Mr. LBS has a second-hand Specialized Allez from a kid we know. (The kid’s sicker than I am and wants an all carbon roadie though his Specialized in practically brand new.)

“It’s a nice bike,” he says, “in great condition,” and he grins his evil grin. “Nice price, too.”

Stop. (I wash my face in cold, stream water.) What the hell am I gonna do with a road bike?

Will I break Piglet's heart???

15 August 2006

Stacey'sWalden

Good stuff from Mr. Grahm: I don't want to live a big life I just want to live a small life doing whatever I please.

And:

Stop thinking the world is happy and altruistic, it will squash you like a bug if there is a dollar in it. Turn the television off, stop going to the mall, go for a walk with no cellphone and no money just walk for the sake of walking. Watch the sunset instead of some stupid fucking Nascar race. Think about something anything instead of just letting the advertisers push their shit into your mouth. Do something. Get off your ass.

13 August 2006

Burning

I was away on another trip.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch half my country has been burning to hell. Apparently some bunch of psychos have been setting our forests ablaze. We have experienced nothing like this in our known history. Fires burn everywhere you look around the horizon – all is smoky haze.

All the mountains I normally ride through, enjoying that Irish-like, Celtic-green scenery, are now smouldering heaps of ash. Wild horses and cattle have made their way down to some towns to find minimal food and water. I hate to think what has happened to the rest of the wildlife.

Three folks have died so far from smoke inhalation.

We need a cold front to stop the northeast winds on their tracks. We need winter rains.

That these catastrophes are intentional is beyond reason. That these people aren’t caught – yet – is right down shameful.

30 July 2006

Not 100


Had I known I wouldn’t have gone. Not on this local metric century. This became obvious when I showed up to register and I just stood there with my Piglet staring at all the roadies in disbelief. These aren’t normal men; they cannot only stand up to kryptonite, I think they have it for breakfast.

My Piglet was the only piglet there. All others had names ending in vowels and if bikes could speak surely they snarled at Piglet. We didn’t belong there. I think that one of the ultra-leek, carbon-titanium-scandium beasts literally barked at Piglet.

Piglet wanted to go home. He knew better.

Let’s face it: I felt like an idiot. This, I suddenly realized, was not a walk in the park. You guys know that feeling: earth swallow me now. How can I get out of this?

I didn’t. I was dumb enough to take the start. After four kilometres – FOUR – I could not keep the pace on the controlled speed section of the tour. Let me explain.

This tour was made up of four sections. 1) The first 30 kilometers were to keep the speed of the Race Director’s car. Meaning all cyclists are to keep together riding on the main road through all the towns. There is a State Trooper on the front stopping traffic and a State Trooper on the back to let traffic pass when all cyclists go through. There is also an ambulance and a sweeper car to take care of any “problem” cyclists that can’t keep up, are injured or just give up. 2) There is a 15 kilometer “free zone” that climbs Mount Iroite. This is a free-for-all. No pace car. Nothing. The fastest wins and wins after climbing a gruelling 12 kilometer ascent (12% rise). 3) A second controlled section of about 45 kilometers where the Director’s car again maintains the pace. 4) A free-for-all final ascent of 10 kilometers up Mount Curota (15% rise).

I kept up as fast as I could in the first section but always lagging behind the group. I had never maintained an average 30 kilometer speed. It was destroying for me, but I somehow kept up. On the second section – the huge 12 kilometer ascent – I kept up for about half the course and then all passed me as though I was a vegetable on the road. I couldn’t believe it! The roadies just climbed and climbed. The sweeper car stuck with me on the entire climb at 6 kilmeters per hour – walking speed, I kid you not. I was a puddle of sweat and drank my only two bottles of Gatorade on the climb. There was a 20 minute rest at the top of the climb which included fluids and food for all the riders. When I got there the group was beginning to take off on the 3rd section so I only had time to eat a banana, take more water and ride the descent.

I could not keep up on the descent either. My 58 kilometer top speed was nothing for these monsters. Again I stayed behind. After riding on the main road for another 20 kilometers – crawling – it became obvious that I had become a nuisance. The sweeper car had to stick with me yet the State Troopers and the roadies were already 40 minutes ahead of me. The sweeper car politely rode next to me and said “I think we’re falling way behind. Maybe you should consider coming onboard so we can catch up.”

And that was the end of it. About 70 kilometers into the deal and I was done. Not because I couldn’t make it but because I couldn’t make their speed. I had expected to see some beginners like me on the tour so we could make a little “inexperienced group”, but there were none. It was just me and my Piglet.

Still I had a great time seeing how the roadies go about their thing. They are great riders on their slick bikes. And for road work there is nothing like a true road bike. Lots of lessons learned, which I’ll come back too. And most important of all: rather than feeling defeated I feel stronger and with more will than ever to continue to ride and to improve all my skills on the bike. For serious road work, no Piglet.

29 July 2006

100



In a couple of hours I’m off to see the wizard, I guess. I’m gonna try to do my first 100 K. A couple of friends -- untrustworthy roadies -- asked me to participate in the annual metric century ride here. It’s actually 108 ks and it climbs two ports of 700 meters -- the first one is 12 ks long. I’m fairly sure I won’t make it because the last port is about right at the end of the ride and I know the mountain well. The first ramp nearly defeats me in normal conditions; that is, riding a mere 30 ks for me (and the most I've ever ridden in one sitting has been 66 ks.) It’s a 12%-15% rise and it's the only time I have to hit my granny gear. The roadies chew it up. I’ve seen them pass me on occasion as they wave by, saying “C’mon champ, we’re almost at the top!”

I just love that. It’s when I think of semi-automatic weapons and their much needed use in cycling. But the roadies have encouraged me looking down at my Piglet: “Nice little, fat wheels on that, eh?”

Nice, little fat rider, I am. See you at the summit, buddy.

18 July 2006

The Fall…and it ain’t the house of Usher


Falling from a bike is a right of passage. We’ve all fallen, from that tricycle, deluded as always from the false safety of extra wheels, then later just from riding that normal afternoon ride over that pot-hole we didn’t see; that gravel on the curve. The more advanced riders fall, too, as seen in this year’s Tour de France.

In fact, there is NO NOT FALLING from our two-wheeled horses.

Getting back up is part of that passage from no fear, to panic, to respect for speed and road.

There is NO NOT FALLING.

When my 8-year-old son fell HARD a few days ago going down a rocky slope for the first time, twisting his bike out of shape, tearing the breaks out of his handlebar and holding his right elbow in tears as though he had broken it made me reflect on these “dangers” for awhile.

It was difficult to get my son back on his bike; nothing happened to his elbow (or his head, thanks to the helmet). Only lovely black and blues added to his beginner’s scar collection. Still he isn’t riding the same as before. He’s afraid. He’s tasted fear and pain – for the first time on a bike. How to make him overcome?

When I was zooming down at 58.3 km down-hill yesterday, my bike swerving in a cross-wind, – that taste of speed-fear on my lips – I thought of my boy: his fear in me.

25 June 2006

Caesura


Every once in a while my job demands that I travel abroad; sometimes down to the southern hemisphere, to this island on the Indian Ocean. It is often one week or two weeks, depends, but regardless it always messes up with my inner compass rose. When I return I am never the same exact person, whomever that is, at least for a little while – like something you lose or gain along the way of unnatural miles travelled. It is not like the cycling way or the walking way where you tick off the miles tenderly. It is not like that at all. It’s a huge flash – most unnatural – where you stop doing what you do in a routine way and start anew on something else. I dislike it very much. It makes me abandon things –this all encompassing way of using my time for nothing else but work.

So it’s a pleasure to return from the beginning of winter to the beginning of summer – to return and pick up the bike and curse my way up the hills. That zero summer. So lovely.

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?

T.S. Eliot

31 May 2006

Kent Petersen & Family


Damn it, I don’t want Kent Petersen to be a hero. I don’t want his family to be heroic. I wish they wouldn’t call so much attention – that there be more of them, somehow, that wished to do what they do, that carried it out and that liked doing it. I think it touches a deep chord, somewhere, for a lot of us. Surely, Kent Peterson would’ve been nobody to someone like my father growing up poor after a civil war. “So they have no car. They walk or ride a bike to work. What the hell’s so strange about that?”

The fact that something as natural as walking to work or riding a bike to a store has become so unusual tells a lot about where most of us are headed today. How did we get here? Or worse, we actually allowed things to become this complicated? To Kent & Family: My Deepest Respect.

29 May 2006

Bike Day











It was Bike Day yesterday in our little corner of the world. About 200+ turned out. Beautiful weather for a Sunday morning. A nice day with the kids. We were escorted by the Local Police so it was nice to own the road for one day, watching all the cars just stop and move out of our way.

OUTTA MY WAY, BOYS!!!

Shouldn’t it be Bike Day everyday?!

26 May 2006

Bitten

I didn’t go bike riding yesterday – at all – and I was bitten by a horse.

I could’ve been bitten by a number of animals, normal biting animals, like a dog or even a flock of killer geese. Hell I could’ve even been bitten by a snake. But no, I had to be bitten by a horse.

I needed a zero day yesterday ‘cause my legs went from feeling like concrete to slush in two days. I needed to recoup so I ended up visiting my friend Fran, who I hadn’t seen in a long time. I should mention that Fran’s father is a wine-maker-virtuoso of sorts and so makes his own wine – many, many barrels of wine. And so when you go over his farm house you cannot leave without drinking…say …at least one of those barrels. Quite bucolic, these parts are.

If I had ridden my bike like the good boy I should’ve been yesterday I wouldn’t have ended up at Fran’s.

Oh, yeah, Fran has three horses. No bike talk with him. His youngest horse is a bastard…and I assure you he has this most incredibly powerful jaw…literally took my hand and wrist in his mouth and playfully played VICE with my bones.

So there. Ride your bike. Be good. Never know when that horse’s gonna bite you.

24 May 2006

Numbers

Like the song about Mondays I just don’t like Numbers. Never been good with them – despite the grades – and let’s face it: I just don’t like them. In cycling there’s lots to learn about numbers: number of spokes, chain links, cassettes or, worse, number of miles per trip, average, maximum, cadence, heart-beats per minute…WAIT…luckily there’s just

two pedals

two wheels

one seat

I want to count no further than that; I don’t want to count my kilocalories per Big Mac (cause I don’t eat either kilocalories or Big Macs) and I don’t want to know how many hills I gotta climb to get rid of those two cool beers I had after I finished climbing those same hills that made the beer taste so good in the first place.

Can I not count?! Can I just enjoy the ride and not be faster than yesterday? Can I stop improving for the sake of improving? What happens when we really, really stop improving? Isn’t that sort of like riding a bike downhill….FUN!!!

Can I just ride my bike or must I ride by numbers?

23 May 2006

The Poodle Challenge

I did not want to ride yesterday. I was cold all morning curled up at my desk. Figured I’ve been over-doing it on the bike and though I did not ride on Sunday, the zero day did nothing for my legs. But I had to worry about the Poodle Challenge knowing that Ruby can easily ride his 20 kilometers to work everyday and be done with me easy. And so I am dumb enough to try and stick with him by making my commute at least 20 ks when it is only about 7.0. So I rode 21.74. Being that much smarter than me, on 22 May Ruby only rode 7.0. That’s it. In other words I rode his normal commuting mileage and he rode mine. There must be some strategy here – somewhere. (Thank god this is over at the end of the month.)

21 May 2006

Challenges

My legs feel like concrete columns. And I don’t mean in strength. Only in weight. My thighs hurt. They hurt when I touch them; when I walk; I suppose they hurt even while I sleep. My mileage for the month is a mere 167 kilometers (103,77 miles) and still


mean people from all over the world challenge me. Little me! I’m having a glass of milk and I’m going to bed.

18 May 2006

Et tu, Brutus?












Never trust your biking friends and surely never trust them when they’re wearing serious amounts of spandex and fast looking bike glasses – those that cost more than my little bike. My so-called friends are nice guys – presumably. They know I’m a beginner; they know I have a modest road bike for commuting purposes (and to defeat my children on half-hour outings). (I can out-ride my children in case you didn’t know.) My friends knew the most I’ve ever ridden uphill without stopping and gasping for life was a mere 12 kilometers (7.5 miles), with one or two rolling hills in between. I’m a beginner for god’s sake!

So why, then, did they try to kill me?

They promised care, kindness and lots of easy learning. This included 26.4 kilometers of huge hills, boulder-ridden roads, tree branches in my face, in my spokes and countless near-falls and gasps for life. I wanted to go out for a ride not to cross the Amazonian rain forest on a commuter bike. (Not to mention the geese strategically placed on the apex of that last hill waiting to attack the last and slowest rider: that was me.)

So I did it. “See? You did it,” my ex-friends said, smiling. It was best I had no breath to respond. (Which reminds me: semi-automatic weapons will now be included on my list of required biking equipment.)

16 May 2006

The Fun of Pain











I must be improving my commuting skills but it’s happening slowly. I’ve purposely been increasing my return-home commute ‘cause I like this stuff DESPITE THE PAIN!!! Okay, I’m sick. Yesterday I conquered about 3 kilometers – out of 12.4 - of steep hill country, non-stop, though I was basically doing walking speeds for most of the climb. Except: when you walk you can talk. Am I to worry when lungs feel and squeal like bag-pipes? Is it normal to use very, very nasty language while talking to oneself on a bike? Like: What the f&%k am I doing here climbing this hill on an opposite direction from my house where food and warmth await me?

Yeah, sure, this is FUN.

11 May 2006

Sheep-Jam

Traffic


"It never troubles the wolf how many the sheep may be."

- Virgil

Now that’s a crock of shit. Obviously, Virgil had no bike.

I’m tired of reading of urban commuting battles like the rest of us poor, rural bikers face no dangers at all. There we are riding along: “Oh, so fresh and aromatic these tulips, are they not, dear?” No. Well, yes. Tulips are cool; they don’t move either willfully or negligently; they do not jump; they make no animal noises; they don’t cross the road when you do. I like tulips that way. I really do, dear.

But there’s real danger out there, people; bike commuting is brutal. If you guys think otherwise or consider yourselves so well prepared, then tell me how the hell do you experts get a bunch of sheep to continue crossing the road without having them stop in the middle of it to stare at you? C’mon smarties? Have you ever had a hundred sheep stare at you, sheepishly so to speak? Scary shit. Do not trust Virgil.

No. Calling them ugly four-letter words doesn’t work. You can’t bang on their window; can’t slap their hood. They just stare at you. (If they could speak they would say they just didn’t see you.) What then is it they find so interesting and what is it that keeps them from finishing their crossing maneuver just when you arrive? What the hell does the traffic code have to say about that? A bike is a vehicle, a bike is a vehicle, a bike is a vehicle. Bahhhhhhh! No respect. These are real right-of-way issues, people. They’re supposed to stick to the green part of the highway. Why don’t they “shew” away when you shout “SHEW!, SHEW!?”

Hell, you guys don’t know one thing about difficult and dangerous commuting. (They did outnumber me they did, those puffy white things.)

They outnumber us all.

07 May 2006

Revelation










Handle- Bars

While riding with my seven-year-old the other day on our way back from bike-camping he came upon a startling revelation. After my customary “CAR COMING FROM BEHIND!” warning we simply cruised side by side down this lovely hill, pine and eucalyptus surrounding us. Suddenly, he said:

- Dad, if there were no cars at all, wouldn’t that be great?

- Why do say that?

- Cause then there would be no accidents and everyone could ride bikes on any road, even really little kids.

- Yeah, that would be nice.

- And no pollution, too.

- I think you’re on to something, son.

And he rode on for the next half-hour without saying another word.

05 May 2006

The First One, The Baby, The Big One





















Hey, I started commuting this week and I just didn’t want to make a big deal about it, alright. I mean riding 2.49 miles one way in 15 minutes, a howling wind pushing on my backside – and getting tired doing it – isn’t something we need to discuss much further. I was a sport, okay. The first day was like this:

I did what I was told; I followed instructions. I folded my shirt nice inside my right pannier, same for the slacks. Shoes, fresh socks and a T-Shirt on the left. But, hey, you’re not supposed to sweat on a fifteen-minute, 2.49 mile ride, mostly downhill. (Don’t ever listen to that rubbish and don’t come back to me about my being over-weight or under-trained. I’m just under-height and quick as lightning on the granny gear. So what if I look like a helmeted-hamster! At least I can reach my pedals.)

On your first commute you sweat. Believe me, others lie. It must be a right of passage or something equally medieval. You’d expect someone to give you some recognition – knight errant on a bike honor thing - but reality is harsh. My lovely family waved and laughed as I closed the garage door. “Now what might be so funny about dad riding his old, ugly bike to work?” “C’mon, dad, dads don’t do that sort of thing…they race and do cool stuff like that.” “Hey, I can race, buddy!” (I could if I really wanted to...just not my thing.)

Minutes later not one stranger even waved at me, though I saw a couple of guys smirking as I zoooomed past. (“That’s the guy who grew up in America,” they said, or something to that effect, shaking their heads.) Now what was that supposed to mean? Were they talking about me? “You talking to me?!” “Hey, bud,” I wanted to yell, but shit, I’m already downhill and can’t go back up to see if my Latin-macho image was being questioned. I must grant it to commuters, but bikes are safer that way.

I change gears the way I change tenses, okay. I can do that; I’m a bike commuter now. So picture this: I’m near the office so I wanna look extra cool making that last turn, but children on fixed gears rumble by. “Hey guys…”. They’re too fast and far ahead to hear me. Man, I wanna look like a commuter. I am a commuter. I need to yell at a car, to win my road space, something. Hah, there. A slick Ford Fiesta comes from behind and gets right next to me. I see the right blinker on. Now what does she think she’s about to do…cut me off…I’m a commuter, lady…but she smiles and waves me on in front of her.

That’s it?! My first commute in? Is that all? No Star-Spangled Banner?

I refuse to discuss my commute back home. Do you know how sheep – yes, sheep – react to the sound of a miss-shifting Shimano?

02 May 2006

You know what they say about dogs…


















Dion-Bouton

Maybe it’s applicable to bikes as well. Do bikes “look” like their owners? I came upon this reflection when Shawn Kielty, blogger-biker, noted that perhaps one ought to find “his inner bike”. Now that’s stretching karma concepts far and wide and deep inside, I suppose.

I’m much more superficial, I guess. I’m content for now to look a bit like my bike or to have it look somewhat like me. Considering my Purple Pig, god rest its karma wheels in the Heavenly Kingdom of Painless Hills, I’d better take a closer look at my looks. Unless ugly, aging bikes look…well, interestingly mature?

I thought not.

28 April 2006

Bike Commuting: Once a Commuter Always a Commuter










Why should I be afraid to commute now when I used to be a thoroughly experienced bike commuter 30 years ago? Fear may be a strong word. Uncertainty, doubt, inconvenience, excuses. As a child I commuted on a bike to school for two straight years. Grade seventh and eighth. A child really. I rode on the road oblivious to hazards. Never thought of cars as bastards and never called a driver stupid.

I still have no idea as to how I could possibly have convinced my overprotective parents to let me do that, but I apparently did. After we had moved to another section of town I was supposed to change schools. I would have none of that; all my friends were at my old school; I liked the teachers; I was doing well with grades. Why mess it up?

So I commuted on my bright-yellow Columbia ten speed, drop-bar handles, blue lunch box strapped to god knows what. In the rain, in the snow. Never a problem. I still remember that one big hill and that old lady I ran into on the corner of Heald Street. (I was riding the side-walk.) I actually knocked her down and felt terrible about it, but she got to her feet quickly and was strong enough to yell at me. My apologies. I hope she didn’t remember me for years as that bastard biker kid.

What happens to that child in us? Maybe he never really grows up.

Lovely to commute by bike, is it?













Frankly, I have to say that bike commuters don’t make a good case for commuting on a bike. Do bike commuters really enjoy their rides to work or are they on some Quixotic quest to prove the world wrong? What I’m finding all over the internet – in blogs mostly – is this bitter, angry rhetoric about how terrible cars are. I suppose that applies also to drivers. There is this mean – us vs. them attitude – very evangelical in fact. These people on cars pollute, they destroy our lungs, they tailgate, they insult us, they drive us off the road. Hey, these people even kill us! People die on the road, on bicycles and in cars. Some drivers are negligent, others are criminal. So how do commuters enjoy their trip to work?

It seems to me that what is wrong – deadly wrong – is the society in which most commute to work and live in. People self-righteously talk about choices: about bikes vs. cars. What a joke! That is not making choices. There cannot possibly be so many angry people living in one place at the same time. It is not cars; it is not bikes. It is people. What the hell’s wrong with this picture?

27 April 2006

Done











Well it wasn’t exactly on my birthday, but close enough. Looks like my new, beginner’s commuter / touring bike’s gonna be the Specialized Crossroads. Went and bought it today. I think I was driving my LBS guy crazy. Funny it was the first bike I liked when I first saw it a couple of months ago and at the end, after seeing others, just went back to it and got it. (Took the last frame the LBS will have this year and he won’t be able to upgrade it for himself, as he planned to do.)

I was simply disappointed with the Lapierre Sub 550 – it seemed weaker to me and I really disliked the suspension, so once I got through all the bells and whistles it has as compared to the Crossroads – it just didn’t tickle my fancy. (I never got to see the Orbea so that’s something I’ll keep to myself. Might that have been the bike for me?) Frankly, I was tired of looking and waiting and thinking, though I managed to keep my patience for a few months. Not bad for me. “It’s only a beginner’s bike, for God’s sake”, I finally said yesterday. Done.

A beginner’s bike ought to be just that. Something to get pedalling on, reasonably comfortable and not overly expensive. It should provide first experiences on the road – a bit of commuting perhaps – and some easy riding with the children. Might also be able to do a little touring, if one were so inclined. Based on my research I think that the Specialized Crossroads can do just that - perhaps even more as Amahia showed riding it through China -, with the additional bonus that I won’t be afraid to tinker with it – as I did with my Purple Pig; so I can learn to change a flat, to tighten a bolt or two, to center the breaks or to even take the crank right out to see what the hell those things really look like in a horizontal position. Yes, my poor Purple Pig did all of that and had it not been for the broken crank I’d still be riding it today.

In the end, riding is what matters, isn’t it?

26 April 2006

Another Miss-Start (A.K.A. “Another Excuse”)










Another foibled attempt today at commuting on my bike. I’m only 4 kilometers away from work, mostly downhill on the way in and uphill on the way back. This will theoretically keep the sweat down on the way in and up on the way back home, after which I would presumably take a longer ride just to enjoy and train a little. (As a beginning biker my endurance is, well, none.) But once again I could not get started.

First because I had to dress a bit nice today for professional matters. That took care of the morning – cause in Spain we have to commute four times a day. We take a two hour lunch every day to eat with the family. It is our big meal and then return to work in the afternoon. Normal work hours being from 0900 to 1300 and from 1500 to 1900. (In summer we become European and try to work only from 0800 to 1500.) But for the rest of the year it becomes increasingly hard to comply with tradition and, as you can see, with commuting rituals. Luckily, unlike most Americans, we live very close to work. We could not afford it otherwise as we are heavily taxed on gas prices (3 times more than in the states), instead on being killed with property taxes a la Americana. I prefer the way here as I do with socialized medicine. (Perhaps we can get to retirement without having to sell our homes to move to Florida on account of unreasonable / untenable property taxes.)

But that was the first foible of my first commute. The second takes place because I have to meet with my kids’ teachers at 1800 and without a car – due to work commitments – I just couldn’t make it to the teachers on time. So once again I carpooled into work for those horrendous 2.49 miles of no traffic whatsoever. Life.

17 April 2006

Touring With Children: Our First Tour















Carme & Alberte taking a breather...

There’s always a first and after a couple of months of light – very light training – I finally set off with the kids on our first, major, grandiose touring adventure where we covered about 20 miles…in three days. Big stuff, no doubt, and dangerous too. Ask my seven year old whose left hand could not hold the break handle much longer going down that little mountainside!

Our plan – my wife agreed to back us up with the car if necessary during our three-day trip to nearby camping grounds – was to take a familiar route where we climb one quarter-way-up Mt. Curota and then descend towards the camp grounds on the other side. I actually didn’t think that our touring plan would take place as soon as it did as the Easter holidays sort of surprised me with four unexpected days off. On top of that I jammed the toes of my left foot (then they say walking isn’t dangerous) and wasn’t sure whether I could pedal and stop and pedal…as this is what happens with children in the seven and eight-year-old age range. But my children wouldn’t forgive me if I stayed and so we decided to set off Thursday morning. Never mind my foot.

The kids carried three changes of clothes in their panniers. These 9 liter panniers from Decathlon worked well for the kids and in fact seemed full size on their 20”-wheel bikes. For some reason my daughter’s heels hit her panniers a couple of times, but I discovered that I had fastened them too close to the front of the rear rack. She did well nevertheless. They also carried light things such as socks and gloves in their handle-bar bags. It was the first time they rode with the front bags and it took them awhile to understand the different handling of the bike. I carried our tent, tools, etc. but had to have Mom bring us the sleeping bags as I could not strap three of them safely to my bike because of their bulk. (I carry no panniers but a back-up on top of the rear rack. The arrangement which seemed doable in theory was a disaster in practice for loaded touring as the height of the carried weight and bulk destabilized the bike dangerously. I will use panniers next time.)

I was quite anxious not only because this was our first loaded tour but also because I could see that on occasion the children would swerve on the road, probably due to the weight on their handlebars. I stopped them for a few minutes and went over the need to concentrate on maintaining the bike straight and under control at all times. My daughter, who is the oldest at eight, had more difficulty until she gained her confidence and started climbing up the first hills. We made numerable stops on the three-mile climb, but it was okay to set up goals from hill to hill and curve to curve. We even named one hill “The Bike Eater” as it made us all push way too hard to get to the top. All this riding was on paved, country roads but my anxiety always rose with the few cars that came up from behind. (I rode last to warn the children and later simply because my daughter was faster than us boys.)

I had also been fearing the descent, no doubt the steepest the children have faced. I don’t know how to grade descents but this one is about a half-mile long with three curves on its bottom part. It is a challenge for children and steep for adults. Normally, my son Alberte has some trouble pressing the breaks for long periods of time because his small hands can’t totally cover and press the handles comfortably. (Bike makers ought to think small in those instances.) We had to stop for him in the first curve of the descent as his hands hurt from holding the breaks down. My daughter with the same break handles and same size hands had no problems. Go figure.

Thereafter we just had this great bike ride in the sun on our way through kinder hills towards the campgrounds. Still we stopped a number of times because “my neck itches”, or “look at that stream” or “I thought you said it was all flat now”. Well, what’s the harm in a little white lie?

We really had a great time. Three wonderful days, including some very nice unloaded riding for a few miles around the campground and, yes, there were more hills. There was also only one chocolate bar left for breakfast on the morning of our third day because someone ate our emergency energy bars and cookies. I’ll not mention names now. It remains under investigation. It was also fun sleeping in the rain Friday night (as the Quechua Forclaz Pro tent did not leak at all), though not as much fun riding in it on Saturday. Alberte complained of cold hands and wet gloves. Carme complained about pushing her bike up that last hill on the way home despite offers from passers-by who offered a ride. And yes, dad was the one that left the entrance to the tent open in the heaviest downpour – luckily on our last morning at camp. Funny how well sleeping bags soak up water. I was only testing the absorbability of the things! No happy campers agreed with me.

My daughter will be in charge of making the touring checklist for next time, she says. It seems that I forgot too many things – including camera batteries and cookies, more cookies -- and no it didn’t matter that Mom was just a few miles away ready to jump in the car to rescue us. Or perhaps it does matter: Mom says that there’s no way she’s staying home next time while we’re having all this fun.

30 March 2006

Candidates: The Orbea Bilbao














This is a nostalgic choice. My first kiddie bike was an Orbea. Strong as an Ox, but those were the days. My LBS says it’s okay, but no Lapierre in this bike range. Made in Spain. About $450 (€ 375).

Frame:

Alu 7005

Fork:

28" Hi Ten Tig

Headset:

Steel 1 1/8 Black

Brakes:

Aluminium "V"

Shifters:

Shimano Stef 50 7S

Pi├▒on:

Shimano TZ 07

Crankset:

Alu 170x28/38/48

Wheels:

700 x 35 City

Tires:

700 Vision D.W

Stem:

Adjustable 1" Black

Handlebars:

Trekking Alu Black

R. Deralieur:

Shimano C-051

F. Deraeliur:

Shimano Acera X

Saddle:

Orbea Trekking

Seat Post:

SP 242 Black

Pedals

MTB Wo/BALLS