Saturday, February 28, 2009

To Life and Lungs

I turn 45 today – woohoo! Happy day to me.

Mrs. V. threw a righteous party for me last night, with friends all attending, some I hadn't seen for months. Being the champ that she is, she gave the whole wing-ding a bicycle theme. How about that?! To start the the thing in motion, she downloaded a lovely old 1945 bike race poster from Spain and tastefully changed the lettering (in perfectly matching style) to make it an invitation to the party, which she emailed to everyone.

But the piece de resistance (that's French for "coolest part") was the party favors: Little wire bicycles! (Click on photo above to see them better.) With spinning pedals and bright red handlebars! If you peer into the background of the photo, you'll see she also baked birthday cupcakes, some of which were in the shape of a bike wheel!

Do I have the coolest wife a cyclist could have, or what?

If you're wondering what I got for my birthday – well, duh!

Actually, that was my present to myself. There are other lovely things from loved ones, all yet to be unwrapped, but later, later. Right now, my lungs feel somewhat clear for the first time in eight weeks, the sun's coming out, and it's promising to reach the high 30s today. The best gift I could hope for, after weeks and weeks away, would be a short ride on my new bike on a real live road!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Happy Camper

In less than three weeks, I leave for camp.

Not "camp" as in a bunch of kids sitting around singing folk songs. "Camp" as in "training camp."

Friend and local racer Rob has been extremely generous in setting this trip up. I originally proposed a few days away in some driveable location like Virginia, which might still be snowy at that time. Rob went into his wonderful "think-big" mode instead, and cobbled together a couple airline vouchers, some family connections and some favors from friends. We plan to fly into Salt Lake, shop for food, sleep over nearby, pick up a bunch of camping gear and couple (excellent) borrowed bikes, and drive south to Moab. Yeah, Moab. I know what you're thinking: Mountain bike heaven, right? Right, and we'll do some of that. But did you know that there's heavenly road biking there too? (Actually, "unearthly" might be a better adjective. Click on the accompanying pix for larger versions of the glory.) There's even a road-biking festival there.

Southern Utah is where I had perhaps the most significant turning point of my life. I spent the summer between high school and college blazing trail and doing conservation work in Zion National Park (just down the road from Moab). In a very real sense, it blew my mind. I was a changed man. I grew up in New York City, and I cried real tears when I had to come home. I was so mentally far away for days after returning that my parents were worried about me.

In the 27 years since, no matter where I've lived, I have considered the Four Corners area my real home on planet Earth, and have gone back as often as possible. It will be wonderful to be there, and so close to Zion.

I'm still recovering from pnuemonia, and I've spent the bulk of the last six weeks totally off of the bike. So there'll be some health questions in all that travel and sleeping in the cold -- blah, blah, blah. Let's face it: the biggest challenge might actually be holding back from riding all day, every day. However, if you are the praying type, a few prayers sent my way for full strength and recovery would be welcome!

But if the worst that happens is that I bake myself in the sun half the time or walk along the river and breathe the crystal-clear air while tripping out on the gorgeous scenery, well, how great would that be? I'm bummed I won't be able to ride long and hard, as we planned. But I'm really looking forward to the trip. In fact, it might well be just what I need for a full recovery.

Thanks, Rob. In the language of my tribe, you're a mensch.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Quotable L3VI

How happy does the man in the center look?

Hot off the presses at,some interesting takes from Levi Leipheimer on last week's AToC:
"I told Lance the other day that I don’t know how the hell he won seven Tours in a row. You can’t get second place because that’s losing.”

“I’ve dreamt many times when training in the winter about making a move like the one I made on Bonny Doon (in stage 2), when the conditions are horrendous and you go for it."

“I need to pay these guys back. I’ll be working for Alberto (Contador) in Paris-Nice, riding for Lance in the Giro, and we’ll have our best team in the Tour.”

Make of this last what you will with regard to the ostensible team leader for the Tour de France.

Finally, a pleasant blast from the Director Sportif himself:
His team manger Bruyneel praised Leipheimer and said the whole team enjoys riding for him. “It was a harder and more difficult victory than ever,” Bruyneel said. “But everybody knows Levi is going to be ready if he says he is going to be ready. He already had the fastest time-trial position but he went back to the wind tunnel two times this winter. Levi always delivers when he says he’s gonna be there.”

Nice! (We'll disregard the reference to Bruyneel as a baby's crib. I'm sure it was unintentional. "Team manger"?)

Sunday, February 22, 2009


And it’s Levi in first place at the end of the AToC, for an impressive three-peat.

Levi spent most of the stages tucked safe and warm in the cockles of his teammates' draft. You would be forgiven for thinking it was a bit too easy, that there were no personal heroics to back up his first place showing.

Ah, but wait! Do you remember way back in Stage two, when Levi abruptly soloed off the peloton and, strictly on his own steam, regained three-plus minutes on the break – all while climbing the challenging Bonny Doon? This was probably the decisive moment in his week, and it was all his doing. Do you remember him taking a healthy bite out of Dave Zabriskie’s impressive time and dominating the field in Solvang?

Levi dug deep for this win, and he got it.

Do you doubt that he is the strongest American stage racer right at this moment? Look at the field against which he raced, praised time and again for containing so many of the superstars of the day. Don’t doubt it friends. I always knew he had it in him.

I’ll give Armstrong credit: He promised to ride for Levi, and he really pulled his weight, and then some. On the final climb today, he spent a very long time setting a blistering pace that strung the peloton out in a long line behind. He wanted to make sure Levi’s lead was safe, and indeed it was. Thanks, Lance – I feel a bit more positively toward you.

Two worthy footnotes: 1) Today’s race featured the largest crowd ever to attend a stage in a race on U.S. soil. AToC, you deserve no end of credit for running a fine event. (And extra thanks for the free webcast every day, for those of us without cable TV.) 2) As if a stage win and first in the final GC weren’t enough, Leipheimer also finished fourth in the King of the Mountains competition.

I wonder how the Astana stars will sort out who gets to be the leader come the Giro and the Tour. I wonder if Armstrong will expect payback from Leipheimer. Perhaps that deal’s already been struck. I would be quite disappointed if Levi didn’t get an equal chance at first place in the Tour, where he’s oft been a groomsman, but never a groom. He’s 35 this year, already a tad beyond peak years for such a feat.

But tonight? Tonight we celebrate! Spray the champagne! Hold the big cardboard check up high! Levi, you da man!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Listening Deeper to My Body

The larger opportunity in having pneumonia, which is so tenacious and long-lasting, is to learn to be at ease with and in touch with my whole body, in all of its states: healthy and strong, weak and tired. This is true acceptance, without which true change is not possible. My body might heal, but I would miss the larger lesson, which is that I stand in opposition to my body when I try to force it to heal. “Listening to your body” means to truly be in concert with it at all times.

~ From my journal, under today’s date
Pneumonia will get an endurance athlete thinking pretty hard. Pnuemonia is like taking a wrecking ball to the edifice on which endurance athletes labor so lovingly and painstakingly: Our ability to convert oxygen to performance. If VO2 max is your sine qua non, you’ll really start to ponder the eternal verities when it’s been weeks since you’ve taken a clear, deep breath.

So this week, instead of training, I'm thinking about living in concert with my body. As an endurance athlete, I spend a lot of time challenging my body’s limits. I stretch its ability to convert oxygen to energy. To store and use energy from food more efficiently. To convert that energy to power more efficiently, and to use that power to create higher speeds. It’s a wonderful adventure, benefiting us in too many spheres to number.

Watching all this, our friends who don’t cycle think we take absurdly good care of our bodies.

But there is a knife-thin edge we walk in relationship with this one body we are headquartered in. Speaking for myself, I tend to my body a quite lot – but I ask of it even more. I push myself harder than I should. I ignore the fairly sizable stressors in my life. And then I don’t wait for full healing before returning to too much volume or intensity.

Through all of this, I am beginning to learn about my own embarrassing obstinacy. This week, I noticed myself still behaving and thinking like I am ready to ride. I check Accuweather upon awakening; if the weather is sunny and in the 30s, I try to rationalize a quick outdoor ride later in the day. With pneumonia. Right. Thankfully, it quickly became patent how absurd such a move would be. So, I turn to the jolly task of thinking about my friends who are able to go out that day. I envision how much fun they’re having, diving down winding country lanes. I think about how I won’t be able to keep up with them when the group rides start up again in a few weeks. And then, perhaps dumbest of all, I think about where I would have been today if I’d been able to keep up my training through all these weeks of being off: Build phase, instead of looking at starting up Base 1 all over again in early March. I think these thoughts even though I know that, bottom line, the reason I can’t go out today, the pneumonia, is due to this very kind of thinking, which led me to push too hard in the first place.

The illness, thank heavens, has been mild, as these things go, but it also has lasted 4.5 weeks so far. And the honest truth is that all of the aforementioned pining and self-abuse is really just misplaced anger at my body for not being as strong and resilient as I wish it were. Even off the bike, it’s me against it.

I point all this morbid stuff out as a way of saying that I am actually changing all of this. I’m learning that listening to my body, much like a spiritual path, is a never-ending process. And that, while external goals are useful and praise-worthy, right now, my bigger job – obviously, or I wouldn’t have tried to ride my way through pneumonia, which I unknowingly did for the first half of this thing -- my bigger cycling goal right now is to learn to balance exciting objectives with day-to-day body awareness. To say, “I will have this much fitness or do this ride by that date,” but also to take the time and patience to tune in to the signals from my body each day. Can’t get my heart-rate up? Red flag. Brutal week at work? Red flag. Rode a couple hours more than I planned to last week, and I’m planning to just go ahead and build on that this week? Big red flag, waving like mad.

It's easy to say "I'll listen more to my body." I'm aiming for the kind of deep, intuitive relationship older cyclists I know have with all aspects of their bodies -- heart rate, immune system, sleep patterns, moods, little wisps of differences in performance on the bike. These are guys who've been doing this for decades through blistering sun and icy winds. Whip-thin guys with white beards and legs like beef jerky, all gristle and lean muscle; guys who can ride me into the ground without breathing hard.

Jon Krakauer, with typical savage accuracy, said: “It is easy, when you are young… to assume that if you want something badly enough it is your God-given right to have it.” Next week I turn 45, closer (in years, at least) to those Zen-master vets than to my impetuous youth. I think it’s time to set both feet firmly on the path that Paul Fournel (one of those Zen masters) so deftly sketched:
By remaining attentive to the messages your body sends, through exercise and in pleasure, you can take an elegant inner voyage on the bike. A lasting voyage, a permanent school, continuous retraining. The dialog you establish with your thighs is a rich one that helps you set your limits, improve your endurance, tolerate pain, and recognize the intolerable.

I find it useful every day.

~ Paul Fournel, The Need for the Bike

Down To the Bone

New info on loss of bone density in cyclists -- this time, including young male cyclists.

Get out there and walk, run or jump rope, guys! We're vulnerable to osteoporosis, too!

(Gals, too, but you get a lot more messages about bone density than we do.)

Props to Ready to Ride for pointing this article out in his Twitter feed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Brave New World of American Stage Racing

Watching the excitement of a drag-race finish for Stage Four of the Tour of California, I'm filled with happiness that the U.S. has succeeded in creating yet another, and perhaps more evolved, major stage race that riders and fans from around the world are jazzed about.

Now, many American cycling fans cherish their memories of the Coors Classic, the literal grand-pappy of the AToC. Heady days, indeed, with saucy, fresh-faced Americans like Lemond and Phinney facing off against the jaded, egotistical Eurodog superstars, making history in the hills of the young American West.

But I first got into cycling in the late 1970s (ouch!), and those were the days of the pappy of the the Coors Classic: The Red Zinger Classic. I remember the pictures in the newspaper of cyclists strung out against staggering Rockies backdrops. I remember buying and proudly drinking the new Celestial Seasonings brand of tea, as much for its connection with the race as for its flavor. I was a teen, and everything about this wild sport was all so fresh and new to me.

Well, I have to say, the organizers of the AToC have been doing a stellar job, and marquee American stage racing feels fresh and new once again to me, and obviously to millions of others. Every year, more fans line the streets and mountain passes of California, injecting the state with energy and commerce. It's really, really nice to see during economic times like these.

Go here for a brief, fun interview with the former director of the Coors Classic, who explains in very affirmative terms the direct link between the two races, via other iterations such as the Tour de Trump.

* * *

America has had bicycles just as long as Europe has. A century or so ago, baseball park attendance suffered terribly anytime a local velodrome was hosting a race (and there were dozens of velodromes in the U.S.). We didn't continue to cultivate this over the decades as well as the Euros did, and that's a shame. But our history is rich and valuable. It's terrific to see that story being boosted to the next level.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Well, THAT explains a lot.

Just came from the doctor's.

I have pneumonia!

After four and a half weeks of better-to-worse-to-better-etc., it took him about three minutes to figure it out. When he pronounced it, I almost broke down in tears of gratitude. Here I'd thought I was going crazy. I was a pretty healthy guy, I thought I'd rectified all the overtraining mistakes I'd made in August and September (you'll have to search for that related post -- no time to link right now...), thought I was being reasonable in my goals, following Friel's training plans to the letter, making progress, then... bang. Everything came to a screeching halt 4.5 weeks ago when I came down with a small cold -- that wouldn't go away -- and then moved to my lungs -- and then I started coughing up this flourescent green stuff in the mornings... so on.
It was so insidious! Symptoms waxing and waning... I took every natural remedy known to mankind, and a few unnatural ones. They must've helped, because I never felt really terrible. (In fact, I'm proud to say that the doctor and nurse were very impressed with my lung capacity test today; I couldn't help but kvell a little when she told me I had good results -- for someone without pneumonia. I may not ride like a hard man, but I can puff like one!)

So, the gratitude was for the fact that there was a good explanation why I couldn't kick this thing. It wasn't some stupid inexplicable immune system failure. It's my first year working in public schools and I caught pneumonia; welcome to the club.

I'd never met this doc before -- my first PCP on my new health plan in my new living location. But I literally almost kissed the guy when he told me he thought it would be fine for me to ride lightly, mostly indoors, as long as I don't get worn out. "Heating the body up is great for this kind of thing," sez he. Doc! Will you be my adoptive kindly uncle? Wait, I think you already are!

But wait. It gets better yet.

I mention my cycling training, and he tells me that he does some local triathlons. I get a sudden thrill, that "Oh, this is too good to be true" moment. I'd been hoping to find a PCP who understands the endurance athlete mentality, and wouldn't lecture me about it. I grip the armrests to keep from jumping up and hugging him, and manage to ask quietly, "What kind of bike do you have?" Needless to say, a wonderful discussion flows from there, including an invitation from him to go riding. Soon. As in, he gives me his home phone number.



He prescribes some antibiotics and assures me I should be feeling all better within two weeks, maximum. You mean after four and a half weeks, there is an actual end to this? I'm not mysteriously, endlessly ill?

I'm the happiest person ever to hear that he has pneumonia.

Levi Rides Again

If you saw Levi Leipheimer's dramatic, uphill breakaway toward the end of stage 2 of the Tour of California yesterday, you saw bike racing at its finest.

It was a happy day for me, of course.

Levi decided to take control of "his" race and grab the yellow jersey back from Rock Racing's Mancebo. Leipheimer broke away and motored up the final climb of the day, bridging a considerable three-plus minute gap on a steep grade, and then passing the leaders like they were fence posts. "“It was like a motorcycle passing you,” Jacques-Maynes said of Leipheimer in VeloNews. “A small motorcycle.”

Other notable quotes from Levi, in the same VeloNews story, regarding the proceedings:

“Turn your shower on, as cold as it gets, and stand there for four hours,” is how Leipheimer described the feeling on the bike Monday.

“When we hit the bottom of Bonny Doon there were a couple of attacks, and I felt great. I looked around, and I could see people were at their limit,” Leipheimer said. “I had Popovych next to me. I said, ‘Light it up, Popo.’”

Go here for a good video recap. On that page, you'll also find a couple of good interview with Levi, Lance and others.

He the man!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"The Guys I Know Are Racing Like It's May."

Did you read Armstrong officially handing team support for the ToC to Levi?

I'm not putting any money on him holding back if Levi shows the slightest weakness. And it's pretty obvious that by handing Leipheimer the ToC, Armstrong's leaving the door wide open to take the lead for one of the grander tours. He can rely on the media to point out how generous he was in February if he finds he's fit enough to try to ride Levi into the ground in May or July. Will he do the same with Contador, handing him the Giro or the Vuelta, and then forget all about both of them on Alpe d'Huez?

But... okay. Okay!!! I will admit that he's being something like gracious here, and even kind of fun to talk to. He really does love this stuff. He's got a good side.

There I said it.

And while I don't take back any of my reservations about him, I will also confess he's acting like a grown-up this time around. So far. It's only February.

(Just for the record: I'm all in favor of honest competition, and wish Armstrong the best. What would anger me would be him using his star power to push aside Levi and Contador, who between them were already one champion too many for one team. If he's going to do that, he should have joined -- or started -- another team. That's all. )

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bad Head Day

Okay. Enough.

I've been sick off and on with sort of the same cold/bronchial infection for four weeks. It's been one-step-forward-one-step-back, over and over again. Put this on top of my four weeks of overtrained/overstressed exhaustion in October, and you get someone who is extremely ready to stronger and healthier. Who doesn't have to think three times before he does anything, like get on a bike, eat a certain food, go outside.

So, I'm asking for your help. How can you help, you ask? Simple. You can inspire me. I know four weeks (plus however many more) is not the most people can be sidelined, not by a longshot. I need to put this in perspective, and I need to be inspired.

Post up your favorite stories of long lay-ups due to illness, injury, or other unavoidable annoyance. Times when, even though you knew better, it felt like you might never ride again like you used to. How did you get through it psychologically, fitness-wise, etc.?

Also feel free to post links to others' blog posts, videos, books, etc. Heck, I'll even take songs.

I had a really bad day. It's time to turn this attitude around.


Armstrong’s drug-testing program scrapped. (AP)


Roll On

I find it interesting how hard it is for me to ride the new Cannondale on my rollers. I'd gotten so used to riding the rollers on my Giant by this, my second winter on rollers, that I was able to watch a few movies, change settings on my iPod, grab a tissue and blow my nose, take drinks of water, and even completely zone out for a while. (I know: Not the point of rollers.)

Yesterday was my first extended roller session with the 'Dale, and I had to keep alert nearly every minute. I think the effects of the tighter, more responsive frame geometry are amplified by the rollers, which themselves make any bike respond to every muscle twitch.

I'm wondering if mastering the R1000 on the rollers will lead to greater (or faster) mastery of it on the road. Probably contributes at least a little.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Demons, Part II

[Part I of Our Demons Taunt and Beckon Us is here.]

Krakauer did eventually get to the top of Devil's Thumb. It was a quest he decided would cure his ticked-off, idealistic 23-year-old ire. He literally walked off of his hated day-job in Colorado without advance notice, drove all the way to Alaska non-stop, and set up camp. Alone. Miles from civilization. With no radio. And at least a couple of times, it was only dumb luck that brought him back alive.

He had the rather fixed idea that soloing the unconquered north face of a mountain that had haunted him since youth would magically right all the overturned, broken crockery of his life. Needless to say he was wrong. But it's Krakauer's gift (when he's really on) to drag us, and himself, through each painful step of an inevitable disaster in a way that manages to be highly entertaining, personally enlightening, and frighteningly well-written.

The unspoken sub-text of the essay is, "Things Get Both Better and Worse When the Fragility Youthful Ideals is Revealed." It's a theme that always appeals to me, because I, myself, was an obstinate dreamer as a young man, and usually came to grief because of it. I moved to distant locales with no plans, hiked mountains instead of working, pursued the unattainable dream of being a decently-paid musician, and generally undertook lots of ill-advised hijinx too various to enumerate here. Through it all, I thought that if I could but achieve my current unreachable but painfully tempting goal, every piece of my achingly out-of-place life would simply and gracefully fall into place.

It's always nice to hear exactly how people I admire have failed just as spectacularly as I did at the windmill-tilting business. Also, how they've managed, as I more or less have, to pick up the pieces and surprise themselves by making something else, something pretty good, out of them.

Krakauer's heroic assaults on the north face of the Thumb sputter out in the most unspectacular and feeble ways. He hits bottom emotionally. Just when he's about to get wise and go home, he decides to make a last-ditch attempt at a more well-established route. (The self-endangering obstinacy here is painfully familiar to me.) He comes within a hair's breadth of failing to complete the route, and even dying. But he doesn't; he summits. It's anti-climactic.

Upon return to civilization, instead of being greeted as a hero by the locals for soloing a notoriously hard peak, folks either shrug it off, or just flat-out don't believe he did it.

With the accumulated wisdom of the ensuing years, Krakauer gazes thoughtfully back at this complex episode, and sums it up:
It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough it is your God-given right to have it. Less than a month after sitting on the summit of the Thumb I was back in Boulder, nailing up siding on the Spruce Street Townhouses, the same condos I'd been framing when I left for Alaska. I got a raise, to four dollars an hour, and at the end of the summer moved out of the job-site trailer to a studio apartment on West Pearl, but little else in my life seemed to change. Somehow, it didn't add up to the glorious transformation I'd imagined in April.

Climbing the Devils Thumb, however, had nudged me a little further away from the obdurate innocence of childhood. It taught me something about what mountains can and can't do, about the limits of dreams. I didn't recognize that at the time, of course, but I'm grateful for it now.
These days, I still dream big... but I'm learning, slowly and painfully, to keep the dreams more flexible and in perspective.

Levi Speaks Up

Velophoriacs already know I'm a big fan of Levi Leipheimer and what I only half-jokingly refer to as "his race," the Tour of California (about to start this Sunday! You can view it online for free here with pretty good Tour Tracker software). There was nice interview with him and Alberto Contador about being teammates with Lance Armstrong, and about LA's chances in the ToC. Leipheimer does a good job of saying "I think I can take this race" without actually offending anyone. Contador takes a similarly tactful approach.

It becomes increasingly apparent to me that Armstrong was wedged into the Astana team with a crowbar -- one jointly forged by him and director sportif Johan Bruyneel.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

All Together Now

Spent a good half the day yesterday assembling the new steed, which was great. Even learned some new wrenching skills!

Of course, once it was done, I took it out for a ride. Generally speaking, it felt terrific (and looked even better). However, my impressions are watered down by a number of factors: 1) I've had a respiratory cold/infection for three and a half weeks, which I'm just now fighting down. I lost quite a bit of training time and fitness during this stretch, and I felt weak yesterday (though delighted to be riding outside). 2) Between the lengthy low temps, the snow and the illness, I haven't ridden outside in weeks. All riding's been on the rollers. 3) There was a major winter headwind/crosswind most of the way and a lot of ice and sand and general shmutz all over the roads. Add to this all the tiny questions buzzing around in my head like mosquitoes -- what's that noise? Did I adjust the derailleur correctly? -- and all the sundry new elements like geometry, saddle, major differences in drivetrain feel... well, there were too many things to parse out when forming an opinion about the bike.

It would have been nice if the first ride had blown me away, but this is a lesson I have learned from life: The best improvements usually reveal themselves layer by layer, over time. I really, really like this bike, but in order to appreciate its many benefits, to clearly hear its whisperings, to roll the improvement around on my tongue and savor its true bouquet, I simply am going to have to regain my fitness and clock a lot of miles in the saddle. One crisp day in April or so, I'm going to sit up in the saddle after a long climb up a familiar hill, or a screaming descent down a local mountain, and go, "Woah! Now I get it."

So, I just forgot it all and enjoyed the ride with whatever fitness and bike-fit was there for me. Things got much better after that!

For the record, the final assembled product is pictured below. (I'll take better pix later -- I wanted to get out and ride, not play photographer.) I'm already assembling a list of tweaks it needs, such as a more appropriate stem (also allowing a better seat-to-bar drop), pedals that aren't 100 years old, tires, and more. But for now -- don't it look sharp?

Later: Just got back from ride #2, and it's already sinking in on a deeper level. Felt a tad more peppy today, so stomped it over some rises, did a wee bit of time trialing, and a brief sprint. I know it's all been said before, but when I stand up and sprint, it genuinely feels like the beast is leaping ahead of me, dragging me along. How great is that?! And at time-trial speed, it was like the road was ribboning behind me, the machine hugged each tiny swell and dip -- I guess the best way I can say it is, it felt like speed.

I hope every ride continues to peel away the veil to reveal little moments like that!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Newest Stallion in the Stable

There was a knock on the door at 3:55 yesterday afternoon:

Be still my beating heart...

Oooohhhh, baby.

The words I've been longing to hear.

My favorite design detail.

From an artsy angle. Observe the finely-tuned wishbone suspension.

Bling. The first gruppo I've owned at this level.

Bling bling. Wipe that drool from your mouth, boy.

Bling bling bling. Undoubtedly the finest brakes I've ever owned.

All of this prodigious velophoria for only $1035. (Did I mention that it's from a dealer, and it literally was never test ridden even once? Brand spanking new -- as of 2006.)

I'd like to thank eBay and the failing U.S. economy.

I was right about the red: In the eBay photos, I really didn't like it. When I saw it in person, I fell in love. The red of a ripe tomato bursting with life. The red of my blood jumping in my veins when I opened that box. The red of a harlot's fingernails. The red of a distressingly fast Italian sports car.

No... just the red of a light, fast, human-powered road machine.

Excuse me while I go put this baby together. Pics of the assembled beauty to follow.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sic Transit

Tucked in a corner of a warehouse in Chicopee, MA -- just 10 miles or so from where I sit -- is a long, narrow cardboard box, barely containing the bristling energy radiated by 17 and a half pounds of finely tuned American alloy and Japanese gearing. The glossy red paint job softly glows within the darkness of the container.

It spent last night at the airport in Toledo. (Kinda feel bad for it.)

I wonder how bad it would be to cancel my clients for the day, floor it over to Chicopee, and "liberate" the box from its own private Guantánamo?

I'd call that extraordinary rendition.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Our Demons Taunt and Beckon Us

From the first time I saw it, the picture--a portrait of the Thumb's north wall--held an almost pornographic fascination for me. On hundreds--no, make that thousands--of occasions over the decade and a half that followed I took my copy of Mountaineering down from the shelf, opened it to page 147, and quietly stared. How would it feel, I wondered over and over, to be on that thumbnail-thin summit ridge, worrying over the storm clouds building on the horizon, hunched against the wind and dunning cold, contemplating the horrible drop on either side? How could anyone keep it together? Would I, if I found myself high on the north wall, clinging to that frozen rock, even attempt to keep it together? Or would I simply decide to surrender to the inevitable straight away, and jump?

~ Jon Krakauer, The Devil's Thumb, essay from Eiger Dreams

The man can flat-out write.

It shouldn't surprise you (especially if you've read him, or any mountaineer-author, for that matter) that he goes on to climb it. Thereby hangs the essay--and another post.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A New Whip

A couple weeks ago, faithful reader No One Line dropped a comment on one of my posts asking me to to post about my bike – usually a pleasant ritual for cycling bloggers. I demurred at the time, and the honest reason is that I was a bit embarrassed by the low level of my bike in that silly hierarchy we create in the Western world for all things material.

I’m not embarrassed by my bike today.

Because today, I own a brand new bike.

And it rocks.

When I got back into cycling two Augusts ago, I was about to get married and complete my last year of grad school. Translation: I had very little money. I also knew next to nothing about bikes anymore; I knew what was cool 25 years before, when I last owned a bicycle, but that, of course, was woefully out of date. So, I did the best I could, knowing that I’d probably be buying another bike sooner than I wanted to. I bought a Giant OCR 3, which is actually a lot of bike for the money (and I got it way below retail, on closeout). The only one the LBS had in my size was a triple chainring model, so I went for it.

The OCR got me through roughly my first 4,000 miles (not counting endless roller hours). The granny gears did me good when I first moved to hilly Western Massachusetts. And the double-butted aluminum frame, done up in a spiffy black and silver paint job, might be a bit heavy, but it’s stiff in the right places and compliant in the right places. Not bad. It's not going anywhere now that I have a new one; I hope to start commuting once a week in the spring, and the Giant’s the rig for that. And if the new bike is too stiff for long-haul stuff over three or four hours, I always have my trusty OCR in the stable. Likewise if I decide to tour: Great bike for that, braze-ons and all. Finally, it will continue to be my winter bike, taking the brunt of the endless sand and slush on the roads out here.

A couple months ago, I decided that – even though we still have very little money, due to two new jobs at lower salaries than expected, it is time for me to own a bike that reflects my ever-deepening commitment and skills, not to mention my broadening quads. 21.5 pounds and a relaxed geometry are fine when I’m slow-pedaling myself into shape, but when the season hits, I want to be on something that will respond to me like I'll respond to it.

Since I had to buy used, and therefore smart as can be, I dove headfirst into research. My poor wife! My head was buried behind the laptop screen for too many Saturday mornings in a row. There was so much to learn – not just brands and models of bikes, but the various wheelsets that came with each, and all the other fine points. This was the education I didn't get before I bought the OCR.

After many weeks of reading and pestering my friends for opinions and information, I decided that the very best bang-for-the-buck in my very low price range would be a slightly used Cannondale CAAD frame hung with good components and a decent entry-level racing wheelset.

Though I’d originally had my eye on the Cervelo Soloist Team, a truly drool-inducing aluminum bike, I don’t actually mind riding a less sexy (and less-expensive) design, because this bike has a storied history and quite a lot of palmares. It's a highly-evolved descendant of the first aluminum frames the company built, back in the early ‘80s, when C'dale was an aluminum pioneer. When steel was still king, they revolutionized the industry with oversized alloy tubes featuring thinner walls, the combo of which increased stiffness and minimized weight. Over time, instead of doing the typical corporate-waste ritual, the company remained faithful to the CAAD design, continually advancing it through many iterations, making it ligher, stiffer, more comfortable. In that process, they incorporated feedback from top-drawer Euro-pro riders from C’dale-sponsored teams like Saeco; these guys rode the frame to victories in three editions of the Giro d’Italia (Signores Gotti, Simoni and Cunego consecutively) and four consecutive stages of the ’99 Tour de France (Il Gran Signor Cipollini).

Even better, I couldn’t find one substantial bad review of a CAAD bike in the many, many places I looked online. CAAD owners are sort of fanatical. The icing on the cake is that this internationally successful frame (at least until recently) was 100% Made in the USA, as the lovely lettering down the seat-stay proudly proclaims.

The CAAD might not be sexy – but it’s as proven and respectable as a bike can possibly be. I pictured myself feeling not the least scintilla of shame riding next to someone on the latest $6,000 carbon-fiber private jet.

Next came the really agonizing part: The waiting. I scoured eBay and Craigslist daily, passing up near-misses with gritted teeth, determined to wait for the one that met my specs. A few days ago it showed up, and I set my inner timer for ten o’clock last night, when the auction was to close. At the appointed hour, my wife and I curled up on the couch and watched as the minutes counted down: Just one other bid! How is that possible? And it was at the starting bid level. As the clock wound down to the final seconds, I slapped my cash on the barrelhead, and the other guy blinked. It was mine. Mine!

Okay, you’ve been very patient. Here are the pics and the specs. I promise to post some better photos once the bike arrives. (And don't worry, the dork disc and reflectors will be gone.)

From the eBay page:
Fork Cdale Slice Premium carbon/carbon steerer, Headset is integrated, Stem Cdale Fire 31.8., Shifters Shimano Ultegra10, Brake levers Shimano Ultegra10, Saddle Cdale road saddle, Seatpost Cdale carbon wrapped, Crank Shimano Ultegra10 39/53, Pedals (NONE), Chain Shimano Ultegra10, Cogset Shimano Ultegra10 12/25 10spd, Wheels Mavic Ksyrium Equipe, QR's Mavic, Tires Hutch Top Speed folders700x23, Fr Der Shimano Ultegra10, Rear Der Shimano Ultegra10, Brake Calipers Shimano Ultegra10. The color is red. MSRP on this bike was $1999.99.
Okay, here’s the best part: Total price? $1035. For full Ultegra and Mavic Ksyrium wheels. And a bike with under 50 miles on it. (Yes, you read right. And only $50 shipping.) A steal!

* * *
One final word: I owe buckets of thanks to three guys who were patient and extremely helpful as I endlessly plied them for their expertise. First, Suitcase of Courage, who has owned virtually the same bike for a few years and has nothing but good things to say about it, in response to my many questions. Next, my friend Rob, a talented local racer on- and off-road, who patiently fielded email after email containing multiple eBay links. Finally, a prince of a guy named Sean Brennan at Belmont Wheelworks in the Boston area, where I used to live. Sean gave me outstanding service back when I had fit problems with the OCR, and when I contacted him again out of the blue a couple weeks ago, was generous with insider info about Canndondale fit and general tips for my particular needs. If you need a bike fit, you can’t do better than this guy; other folks I know have confirmed this independently.

And now I’m off to sit like a pining dog at the front window, waiting for the FedEx guy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Flyin' My Levi Flag

I've held forth from this bully pulpit before on the merits of high-achieving athletes who also exemplify personal qualities I admire, and Levi Leipheimer is tops on my list of such cyclists. Yesterday, I read on some interesting comments about the hyper-exposure of Lance Armstrong's return and the general under-selling of Levi. I was inspired to second the motion on both counts, and fired off a quick email. Lo and behold, I open the letters section today, and there is my note, second from the top (edited by the publisher, but not too much the worse for wear).

BTW, in the spirit of full confession, I have to follow up on my piece about my mixed feelings for Armstrong. I watched the final stage of the Tour Down Under on, and I will admit that I got pretty excited when Armstrong came out of the pack to bridge the gap to the tete de la course. It was great fun -- the "old guy" (eight years my junior, but you know what I mean) still has some fuel in the boosters. I loved seeing the young bucks doing double-takes over their shoulder; it was so clear what they were thinking. "Holy ----, I'm in a break with Lance Friggin' Armstrong!!!" And also, "Oh, crap-- He really does still have the legs!!"

Alright, alright -- I said right along that he was arguably the most talented (re-)active cyclist out there, but because I returned to cycling after decades away, I missed the chance to see him ride during his peak. So I failed to mention one other very important thing about him: He's electrifying to watch. I've often compared him (in many ways) to Michael Jordan, and, after watching him do his stuff, I have to say, I'm sticking with that comparison. You couldn't take your eyes off Jordan, and you'd better not take 'em off Armstrong.

But I'll still be rooting for Levi.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

If You Ride With Floyd, Bring Your 'Cross Bike

I was paging through this morning, and was glad to see that Floyd Landis and his new team are having a training camp in SoCal, and seem to be enjoying themselves pretty well. (After all this time, I still don't know if Floyd was guilty. However, he's an amazing rider, passionate about the sport, and, from everything I've heard from people who've met him, a decent guy. I wish him well -- as long as he doesn't take the ToC from Levi, who I'd love to see get a trifecta.)

The part of the story I loved the most was that Floyd led the team on a ride up one of his beloved mountain bike climbs in the area. On their $6,000, featherweight, 23-mm-tired road bikes. Here they are starting the climb:

And, funniest of all, here's the team car, trying to follow them:

Can't you just hear Floyd at the front, yelling, "Hey, guys, isn't this fun?" while the team car bottoms out, spins its wheels, and gets dropped at the bottom of the mountain?