Saturday, September 25, 2010


Dear Reader,

You have arrived at Velophoria, a collection of essays, rants, ponderings, ride reports, history lessons, and attempts at humor, all woven together by the common theme of the finest machine man ever invented: the bicycle.

The blog is currently on hiatus, but there is much to be enjoyed here. Click around, you'll find what a potpourri of thoughts, facts, photos and oddities. Please do comment on things that interest you.

In the meantime, I claim all moral rights to the name "Velosopher," a handle that describes so much of who I am, I can't imagine anyone else using it as authentically as I.

Keep 'em turning,

- V

Monday, May 24, 2010

Low on Matches

I’m burning out.

Well, technically, it’s not burnout – that’s a step beyond this. I guess they call this “over-reaching.” My legs are heavy. My motivation is low. I think about riding and I get that “Ugh” reaction, instead of my usual charge of energy.

It’s only my third year in the sport, but I’ve already been through this a few times. (In fact, I had a terrible case of overtraining a year and a half ago, and wrote a post about how to avoid it.) I’ve learned that the problem is equal parts physical and mental. I’ve been training for months for a goal event coming one week from today, and I’ve tapped both sides pretty deeply.

Physically, I’ve increased my distance and altitude numbers very dramatically in the last three or four weeks. I mostly enjoyed it, but then I went for a shorter, taper-style ride this weekend, and I felt like dirt. I practically fell asleep on the bike during the second half of the route. I’ve also had a resurgence of chondromalacia in the last week, probably related to the spike in intensity and duration. Finally, let's not forget that Mrs. V. and I also bought and moved into our first house last month. All life stressors are training stressors at some level.

Mentally, a different story. This is the first year I’ve been healthy this far into the spring, that I’ve been able to ride whenever I saw fit. Part of that is due to my more thorough winter training, a lot of time on rollers, on elliptical machines and in the squat rack, stretching, watching diet like a hawk, etc. I was determined to build up steadily this year, and I did well at that.

What I didn’t expect was to feel so unexcited just as the weather started to turn warm and sunny. The idea was to hit the spring hard. But here I am, fuzzy-headed in the mornings, only slightly interested in the Giro d’Italia (which is my favorite grand tour), and so on. I’ve been training scrupulously for five months, and my body and mind say I’m done, and done now. I’m going to have to find a way to fire them up for Memorial Day. It isn’t a race, but it’s a harder ride than I’ve ever done, and I want to enjoy it.

Then I'll rest, take some time off the bike, detrain a little, let my systems re-set. I always, without fail, worry about the fitness I'll lose -- fitness I paid for with precious hours and energy. And, without fail, I come back stronger and more excited than ever. Maybe not right away, but sooner than I think I will.

When I do, I'll settle on my next goal, to fire me up for the middle of the season.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mass Bike Week

Have you ever been cut off or yelled at by a motorist? Have you ever wondered if that move you make at that certain intersection -- you know, the weird one that no one can figure out -- is legal? Have you ever wanted to tell a driver exactly where they can go -- I mean, where they're allowed to drive when you're on the road?

Massachusetts is celebrating Bay State Bike Week starting tomorrow. They've kicked it off with a catchy PR campaign to quickly and memorably educate drivers and cyclists on the basics of road laws and courtesy. Go check it out. It's a word-of-mouth campaign more than anything, so do your part. Spread the word.

Prolly a lot more needs to be done, but I'm proud of Mass bike advocates' level of activity and effectiveness. It's relatively high.

Besides, the SRSR logo is very cool. I hope they make bumper stickers from it real soon.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday's Velophoria Incident

Fifty miles today, with 3,800 feet of climbing overall. I'm slowly getting my climbing legs back; it's taking longer than I thought, but slowly the piernas are recalling that they really can scale a 15% wall, on two wheels, in the middle of a six-mile uphill stretch. Mostly they only give snarky commentary like, "Are you joking? We do hope you are joking."

It was CRAZY windy today down in the valley. I mean one of those days when the wind seems to come from every direction, all the time, to batter and bruise you relentlessly. Persistence, cruelty; the winds of the river valley know no limit in these qualities.

'S'why I climbed up into the sheltering hills as quickly as possible -- in fact, the hills of Wendell State Forest, a preserve I hadn't explored enough to this point. There was a long stretch, close to an hour, when I was way up high over the trees, on a dark, smooth ribbon of road, not a sign of civilization, good tunes fueling my climbing legs and the impossibly clean wind gassing up my lungs with each searing gasp. That is a good setting for climbing, with no head-shaking homeowners out weed-whipping their roadside lawn. I like to keep my true, deep, self-inflicted suffering between me and the vast sky. Sometimes it's the only thing big enough to absorb it all.

Two great sightings: Leaning against someone's barn just south of Miller's Falls on Route 63 was a lovely old upright steel tandem. I could tell it's still being used, because it sported a dandy oilcloth handlebar bag, the old-fashioned kind that are so much back in vogue these days with randonneurs. Then, at the end of the ride, as I turned off the main road near our house, I caught something coming the other way out of the corner of my eye. Before I even looked straight at it, I knew it was out of the ordinary. It just felt weird, the speed of its movement and the weird shape and color of the object. It turned out to be one of those recumbents covered with a hard shell; sort of like this one...

... except a) I'm pretty sure it featured only two wheels, and b) it was electric blue. I gave the rider (driver?) a friendly wave, and he waved back. So much for a UFO sighting -- piloted by a human.

All in all, a satisfying Sunday's work.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Fixed Position vs. the Eternal Flux

As a Navy cadet, I failed a course in celestial navigation, partly because of my innumeracy and partly because I thought the navigator’s perpetual quest to fix his position created a bad precedent for piloting through one’s life where the course must follow the eternal flux, a grand flowing that turns celestial fixes to flumdiddle …. A fixed position lasts only a moment, but the times when I remembered a particular run of river and what it was like… moments like those can reappear and last for hours, even until the end. The more miles I put under me, the more those recollections become the very vessels carrying me to the finish.

~ William Least Heat-Moon, River-horse
Velophoriacs know that I am constantly trying to reconcile my goal-oriented, driven side and my reflective, outdoors-loving, John Muir side.

I don’t know if it’s just that I’m tired out and distracted by our current, all-consuming adventure of buying and moving into a house, or if I’m really beginning to figure out which side of that equation I really fall on, but lately, I’ve been finding myself more and more just going out for a ride. I still have some large-scale goals, and I still do specific workouts and gym exercises, but less than I used to.

When I got my shiny new cherry-red Cannondale CAAD 8 last year, I couldn’t bring myself to mar the esthetics with a cyclocomputer. Eventually, I found that I rode with more zest and awareness without it. I left my heart-rate monitor at home a lot, and learned to feel the difference between a three-hour pace and a two-hour pace. I noticed my surroundings more. I varied my routes more.

With all of that feeling and perceiving going on, I found it really intriguing that I got faster and stronger than I'd ever been. Numbers didn't tell me that; rather, when I rode with friends, their breathing would be more ragged, or I would take more and longer pulls than they would.

That kind of large-scale, real world measurement was much more rewarding than, “I finished that route one minute faster than last month” or “I added 5% to my max elevation.” Those numbers, in fact, mean nothing beyond their own constricted frame of reference, because the variables that the “eternal flux” throws at me from one ride to the next – even on the same route – are infinite. The next time I rode with friends, it might rain. Or I might have ridden hard the day before, or be working on a demanding project at work. It boils down to this: I would either be stronger than them, or I wouldn’t. If I wasn’t, they would tow me. Next time, I might be able to return the favor (and take the credit). That’s the flux I want to be a part of, be at peace with. That’s the world-view I’ve been seeking since I was old enough to start thinking for myself, and realized that I was the only one making myself crazy with comparisons, measurements and expectations.

It’s almost May, and I still don’t have a computer on my bike. It’s been weeks since I wore a heart-rate monitor. But I’ve already made some sweet velo-memories for 2010 – and, at the same time, managed to be the one doing the towing on a couple of rides. I’d call that the beginning of a reconciliation of opposing desires. And of a great season.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fingernails + Chalkboard

How on earth does Sean Kelly manage to talk so much, say so little and sound so annoyingly monotonous?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pleasure Riding: Oh, Right!

I cannot recommend highly enough the practice of making a recovery ride also serve as a ride with your sweetheart. (Unless your sweetheart is more of a hammerhead than you are, in which case, maybe you should ask her/him to do a recovery ride with you.)

Mrs. V. is a fine cyclist, but her talent is not hammering (at least, not yet). She is a champ at riding for the enjoyment of it -- a precious gift, which I have lost to a rather embarrassing extent. However, without external motivation, she doesn't really get out much.

So, for the last few weekends in a row, I've asked her to accompany me on a quiet Sunday ride, and the results have been very fun and convivial. Pretty country lanes, burbling brooks, quiet, shady cemeteries, frequent stops, lots of good conversation, and an emphasis on pleasure.

For someone who often takes his riding more seriously than his talent merits, it's a terrific change of pace, a reconnection to why I started riding a bike all those decades ago. It's a re-direct from all the obsession over mileage, goal events, and invidious comparisons.

It's also a nice opportunity for Mrs. V. to feel a bit of excitement about this "hobby" on which I lavish so much attention, time and, occasionally, money.

You've probably heard of the Slow Food movement, a response to the inundation of fast food. It looks like I'm starting my own personal Slow Ride movement. Won't you join?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hills and More Hills

Three hours and forty minutes of solid effort today, up and around Montague, Leverett, Shutesbury, and back south into town. Lots of long, steady climbing, at one point seven or eight miles of mostly up -- anywhere from five to 14 percent.

I hesitate to think what such a ride, on a cloudy, mid-40s, windy-sprinkly afternoon, would have been like without the stalwart companionship of my trusty iPod, playing everything from Chick Webb swing to Bruce Cockburn folk-rock to early, edgy Dire Straits. A good friend, in lieu of someone who would actually do the ride with me. At my pace, that is -- fast on the flats and sloooow on the hills. (I need more hill training.)

About 60% of the way through, I developed wicked ITBS in my left leg, an old acquaintance re-met. Here's hoping I can un-inflame and stretch out that puppy to keep training on track. I'm thinking I can.

The incomparable Mrs. V had a turkey dinner on the stove when I got home, and listened interestedly (or faked it convincingly) to the tales of this semi-brave Ulysses. ('Dja catch that, Wrecking Ball?) I really am blessed beyond measure in my marriage to her. As the Rev. Sidney
Smith (my pop's favorite philosopher) said a few years ago, "Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today."

Onward to a movie and dessert. Life is sooo good.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Baiku #1

Spring day after work
Short climb over local hill
Wife waits patiently


Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I have a somewhat obsessive personality. For the last few years, that obsessive lens has been focused on cycling.

If it’s a beautiful day out, I note to myself how much more beautiful it would be if I were out riding in it, wind streaming over my skin, sun soaking me warm. If I’m driving a particularly attractive stretch of road on the way to work, my body starts to feel the sensations it might feel if I were riding that road – the hills, the turns, the rough or smooth surface.

When I don’t have a client at work, and I can’t make myself do any more of the lovely paperwork I’m supposed to be churning out, I’m on-line reading someone’s blog post about Roger de Vlaemink’s tendency to shift with his ring fingers rather than index fingers, and tracing the lineage of mythical lore which that gave birth to over the years.

Mrs. V and I got married almost three years ago, and haven’t yet had our honeymoon, due to other life events getting in the way. We’ve been talking lately about where we’ll go, because we hope to make it happen in 2011. My number one choice is Italy. Yes, I do want to go there for the food, the culture, the beautiful countryside, and the unique people. Probably enough so that it would be on the short list anyway. But the fact that it is the birth place of Coppi, Bartali, Colnago, Campagnolo, and, especially, the Giro… well, that’s enough to edge it up to number one. My wife understands, bless her (and, thankfully, is also interested in Italy).

The obsession before this one had nothing to do with bicycles. For nearly thirty years, off and on, I could think about nothing but music, and especially guitars, and especially [[[my guitar. I listened to and bought and played music compulsively. I could talk about it for hours. I came home from work, had a bite to eat, then disappeared into a room and practiced one lick until midnight. These days, I disappear into my laptop to research whether I should buy 23 or 26 mm tires. But I’m married now, so I do it in the dining room, where, when my sweet wife walks by, I’m reminded that I could be spending time with her, and I generally tend to shut the computer off a little sooner than I would have in the past.

It kind of scares me, this obsession thing. It’s so “all or nothing.” I mean, when it gets to the point where I feel lost if I can’t stick to my training schedule because of a short cold, well, doesn’t that seem like the line where a passion turns into a life-limiting, short-sighted stranglehold? Am I afraid of something? What would happen if I were to back away from this thing a little? Probably what has happened at other times in my life when I’ve been just doing the day-to-day without any particular focus to my passion: A kind of flaccid hollowness to my days that looks eerily like depression.

I know more men who are like me in this regard than women. Women (as I’ve observed them, on a very abstract whole – save the hate-mail, please) seem to derive their life force, their true north, from a variety of places. Work, friends, family, house. If they have a hobby, they often have more than one. Maybe cycling and blogging and cooking and gardening. Take one away, and they lean on the others. That’s called “healthy.”

I’m working on something that hovers comfortably in-between the two poles of obsession and pointless diffusion. I’ve been consciously tinkering with it for a few years now. Like most changes, especially the important ones, it’s acutely uncomfortable, and I mostly learn the hard way.

Any helpful thoughts, or perhaps just empathy, would be appreciated.

When Domestiques Raided Restaurants

This is just one more reason the Giro will always be the grand tour in my eyes. It's very possible riders did all this in France and Belgium at the time, but there's an Italian flavor here that is undeniable.

Pay special attention to :53, when the waterboys go nuts looting a local store, and a beautiful moment at 2:07 when a rider uses an old-school technique to open a mineral water bottle. Try that on a carbon stem today... Ah, the good old days.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ode to a Headwind

I wrote this a couple years ago around this time, so forgive the reference to the wrong month. After three hours today in the wind, I couldn't resist posting it here:

Ode to a Headwind

When the trees are all blown halfway over
And grit fills your mouth 'til it's cracked and it's parched
When your handlebars fight you like cobras
You're cycling New England in March

When the roads are all pot-holed and mangled
And you're struggling to keep your front wheel pointing straight
When you ride on the flats at 10-degree angle
At a glacial, detestable, crustacean rate

That's when you know that you're cycling New England --
Might as well go on a long tour of Finland --
When you're cycling New England in March

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Egg Recovery Ride

Took Mrs. V. on our first joint ride of the spring today -- it was Easter Sunday, and 71 degrees with blues skies. The Valley is just delightful right now, birds busting out all over, trees showing that first faint veil of lacy yellow-green, pine-cone aromas wafting out of the roadside woods.

The missus was lamenting last night that we don't have any Easter traditions yet, as we've only been married a few years, and, moreover, I'm Jewish. I pondered this after she left for church this morning, and remembered a brilliant idea, passed on to me by the ever-thoughtful No One Line. I had told him that I wanted to get my sweetheart more into cycling, and he suggested that I take her for short rides around the neighborhood, having hidden a picnic basket or such-like not too far away, and surprise her thusly. I liked the idea at the time, had been pondering it ever since. When I began puzzling over the Easter question this morning, and then remembered that we'd discussed going for a ride this afternoon -- well, as the Brits say, the penny dropped.

I threw some pedals on my winter bike (now seasonally re-incarnated as my town/pleasure/dirt-road bike) and dashed around the neighborhood finding sweet spots to hide chocolate Easter eggs before she got home. I live in the country, so it weren't too hard.

Mrs. V is a particular fan of New England cemeteries, so the first couple were hidden behind time-worn 300-year-old headstones, way in the back of our little local burying grounds. I hid others in other pretty spots along the way home; by a stream, behind fence posts. This part was almost more fun than actually taking her on the ride later.

When she got home, I was lounging about, and tried to show only the usual enthusiasm for the idea of a ride. When we got to the graveyard, I dropped a few cryptic (Get it? "Cryptic?") hints about searching around gravestones with certain names on them, and let her loose -- thus adding a dash of treasure hunt/history adventure to the usual hunt approach. You should have seen her smile when she found the eggs: Sweeter than Easter candy.

It was an ideal ride home, happy, chatty, and beautiful. She reports now that she had no suspicion that I had hidden eggs in any other locations until we stopped the seond time. I gave vague hints each time, and she was as game as could be.

We had a blast, and she was happy as a little girl on Easter. Mission accomplished!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ford F 150:TT Roadster::Giant OCR 3:CAAD 8

Busted out the CAAD 8, last year's NOS purchase, in honor of the advent of April, and of the temps in the 70s (??!!).

Beautiful day, beautiful ride. Legs felt awfully sluggish, and I finally figured out: Duh! I'm short two low gears now. Welcome to the jungle.

Last year, started riding the 'Dale in early spring, out of shape, couldn't tell the difference in handling. This year, rode the "Gigante" (as No One Line calls it) Jan.-March. Got on the 'Dale, and in the first two minutes, I was blown away. What a beautiful-riding bike. Fast. Light. "Handles like a dream," to quote Tony Stark.

The Valley this morning spread herself before me like a come-hither maiden shedding the virginal snow-laced wedding dress. She is ready -- and so am I.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Cyclist

Lately, there's been a tidal wave of Velophoriacs writing People magazine, the Weekly World News, congresspeople, and Martian headquarters leaders, to the following effect: Why, WHY do we not know what the Velosopher looks like?! Every day we are force-fed Cruise's baby's latest gas bubble, Obama's dog's fleas -- but no Velosopher? IS THERE NO JUSTICE IN THIS VEIL OF TEARS?!!

Well, I hope you're happy now. The pic below was subtly snapped by some vile paparazzo slithering through the bushes across from my house last week as I stepped outside, minutes before embarking on the weekly long ride, clad only in my bib-shorts and bike shoes.

© 2010 Ppl Magazine

People!! Have I no dignity left me?? Is it so much to ask -- the right to skin-test the ambient temperature before a ride, without the wide world knowing about it??!

For Merckx' sake, leave me alone!

If you, too, want to avatar yourself as a Wimpy Kid -- you can't fool me, I know you do -- go here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Of Wood, Chrome and Campy

An exciting visit Sunday morning to my first bike swap – this one officially for “antique” bikes, of which there were many delectable examples present. Yes, there is bike porn at the end of this, but see if you can delay your gratification long enough to peruse my account.

I had the boon of the uplifting company of No One Line, who rode first thing the 10 or 15 miles to my house (a stalwart, he, in the icy March air, the day after a brutal ride in the hills). We toasted our adventure with a healthy dose of Bialetti-brewed espresso – the time-honored libation of the europhile bike geek. Thence, into my jalopy and off to Monson, Mass., whose Memorial Town Hall, itself a handsome antique, played host to the swap. Definitely an out-of-the-way location, Monson is odd, and oddly appealing. It’s got scattered clues to a quirky outdoors/history-loving/local business-supporting sub-culture there, underneath the “just another failed mill town” veneer.

Having never been to a swap, much less one in a tiny, old-school town, I was unprepared for the homely/homey nature of the crowd. We were some of the youngest attendees, on either side of the tables, and I'm middle-aged. Of course, the room was also 98% male -- it's mostly guys who are weird enough to give over 80% of their waking hours to obscure historical restoration and repair hobbies. The vendors were mostly bearded and pot-bellied, sporting faded hiking boots, worn-out wool sweaters, and looking for all the world like just another guy off the street of any small hard-luck town. Like maybe they did some hunting in the fall, and a little fishing in the warm weather. You know -- just old guys. Being naive, I sincerely doubted that these shapeless, cantankerous characters could really be serious cyclists, much less fonts of knowledge about the difference between 1930s and 1940s Campagnolo derailleurs.

I’m sure you already have guessed how wrong I turned out to be. In short order, I discerned that these gents knew more about bikes than I probably ever will. More, even, than NOL, a scholar up to whom I frequently look for tutelage on all things velocipedic. The flurry of obscure brand names, outdated measurements, and general arcana they exchanged with their customers (often hard to distinguish from the vendors) was dizzying, intoxicating.

More than the boxes full of tarnished Campy derailleurs, more than the saliva-inducing rows of lovingly restored bikes, I lusted after this knowledge, the ability to casually reel off the details of restoring a 65-year-old drive train. As they say on the swap floor, “How much for that?” Answer: Decades of loving, slightly unbalanced obsession. I would have to end up living like these guys, and probably looking like them, to achieve some measure of their wisdom and skill. They are the sadhus of the bike world: transformed into outsiders by their spiritual asceticism, yet at the same time, invaluable sources of insight.

My guide through these mists of secret knowledge was NOL with his years of research and wrenching in various capacities. Best of all, he lives faithfully the DIY, reduce/reuse/recycle, nothing-goes-to-waste mentality that makes a swap meet more of a vital connection point than a curiosity. I learned to dive into dumpy-looking cardboard boxes overflowing with a daunting quantity of miscellanea, and patiently sort through them, coming up with the diamond in the rough.

I ended up purchasing a few small items that will serve me well, and for which I paid a mystically small amount. It was a strikingly minor purchase compared to the satisfaction it brought. A large bottle, for example, of Finish Line citrus degreaser, 90% full. I will without doubt use every drop of this bottle, and someday far in the future, as I drop the container in the recycling bin, I'll fondly remember the elegant single dollar I paid for it back in Monson in 2010.

Okay -- enough philosophizing. (As if!) I know you're waiting for the bling. How could I deny you, faithful reader? There were beauties aplenty, and here is a sampling:

"For you?" the seller asked. "$1000 – but I'd take $800.".

The Legnano, made in la Madrepatria. No CO2 inflators in those days.

Lug lust for a Hetchins. Siiiigh.

Hetchins chrome. "How much, how much???" Forced myself not to ask.

'50s Schwinn lights the way home from an after-dark date at the soda fountain.

Hydraulically-powered low rider. I had to sing. "All... my... friends..."

Our choice for Best of Show: Perfect restoration of a late 19th-C. Hanover. Puts one in mind of Major Taylor.


And made right heah in Massachusetts.

The Hanover's inch-gauge chain and ring teeth – try and break that puppy.

Wood rims sport tires thick enough to deflect bullets.

Hanover handlebar grips -- leather tightly wrapped and varnished.

Like I said -- Best in Show. Hanover badge.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Weighty Decisions

Now why in the wide world would I spend a morning in the gym, when it's 45 degrees and sunny out?

Come ride with me in a few weeks and you'll find out.

Puttin' sum'n in the bank.

That is all.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Belgium Ain't got Nothin' on Mass.

High of 42 degrees. Winds gusting up to 28 miles per hour. And rain.


You know what they say about early season rides: If it ain't rainin', you ain't trainin'.

Hit the Internets yesterday and goaded a couple of buddies into riding with me today. They were pretty game, it didn't take too much, though Racer Rob balked, apparently still not acclimated to the damp New England chill after the temperate lands of his native northern Utah. I wrote back shamelessly reminded him of the many ridiculous over-efforts he's managed to coax me into. Wasn't sure if that alone would do it, so I also made quick, unflattering reference to his manhood -- a graceless coup de grace which apparently did the trick.

In fact, in a year and a half of friendship with both these guys, who are also good friends with each other, it's the first time we've managed to get all of us on the road at one time. I wanted champagne and a ribbon cutting, but they demurred, being both modest and abstemious.

The start was ominous. Like Lear shouting into the teeth of the dooming storm -- "Blow, ye winds, and crack ye hurricanoes!" -- we knew we were in for it. When we all started leaning into the "side-winds" (I can't think of a term that actually captures them) at a 45-degree angle, we even got to try echeloning -- a first for two of us. The dry and warm drivers behind us were not amused, but we sure were.

Rob, true to his grimpeur roots (there are definitely mountains in northern UT) "encouraged" us into a couple of noticeable hills at the far end of our route. As Jacob so accurately pointed out, hills are always worth it -- after you've finished them.

When we neared Jacob's homestead (our finish line), I realized I still needed time to make my goal for the day. Fool that I am, I turned as they headed straight. Straight, that is, for baseboard heating and warm food. I foundered pretty quickly without companionship -- in this weather, having friends along is like having hot tea in your bottle. I realized I was starting to get cold in my core, and was lacking calories. I soon took a shortcut back, making for only an additional :20.

Friends, wives, children and a mug of herbal tea were waiting upon my return. Salves, all.

Despite the weather -- nay, thanks to the weather -- we had a grand time. That is, if smiles, quivering quads, and enthusiastic comments shouted above howling winds are any judge. I hereby declare they are.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Strade Bianche: The Hell of the South?

Strade Bianche (White Roads) is Italy's newest answer to the cobblestoned spring classics of the north. Yesterday, in the third edition of this young race, riders covered 190 km, much of them comprised of steep white gravel paths made from the indigenous marble of the gorgeous Tuscany region in which the race is set.

Why would I would want to travel to Tuscany in March? After all, it's the chilly off-season, not much warmer than New England right now. Well, clearly the beautiful countryside, so popular in books and movies of the last few years, is one reason, not to mention those infamous gravel roads.

But I'd point you to the last 5:30 of the video below to show you what really attracts me: Locals crowding the boulevards, side streets and arches of ancient Siena, jostling and gossiping in the cool spring air, waiting to see the multicolored peloton whizz through the canyons. See that "cafeteria" right by the finish line? You'd find me right around there, warming myself by wrapping my hands around a demitasse of perfect espresso, grinning and cheering.

If you prefer to do your cultural appreciation from the saddle, complete with vintage kits, goggles, 70-year-old bikes, and metal water bottles rigged to your handlebars, go ride the gran fondo version of Strade Bianche, called L'Eroica (The Heroic -- don't miss this fun Outside article on it, with great pix). It covers many of the same roads, and takes place every fall. (In fact, L'Eroica predates Strade Bianchi by a number of years, and was the inspiration for the pro race). The tourist version was meant to raise awareness of the need to protect Italy's storied white roads, as it was those perilous byways on which the giants of old rode their heavy steel bikes day and night in races that would have the hard men of today forming picket lines and sending whimpering protest tweets.

Just another Euro-lust post, brought to you by Velophoria, the nostalgia-fueled blog you love to love.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

By the Numbers

One sunny day in March, 50 degrees.

One week kicking a small but sticky cold, no riding or gym workouts.

One restless boy.

One hour of indecisive waffling -- would my scheduled ride of 2:00 set me back into headcold-ville?

One minute of riding before I knew I'd done the right thing.

One @#$! of a headwind -- standard issue for Massachusetts in March.

One heavy feeling in legs on hills that felt minor last week.

Many wafting aromas hinting of thaw -- farm-field manure; inky, overturned earth; pine trees scenting the road as I dash by.

Three stops to check in with the body and ask whether this is helping or hurting the effort to kick out the cold.

Two detours to add a little time in the sun and hills after the answer came back, "Keep going."

One extra detour because my street was blocked off by police cruisers and fire engines. A poor family down the street from us had a very big house fire in the brief time I was on the road.

One prayer of thanks when the officer in the cruiser told me the house number, and it wasn't ours.

15 extra minutes in the sun and wind getting to the other entrance to our road.

One happy boy sitting eating almonds, bananas and pretzels, drinking OJ, taking (final?) Wellness Formulas and garlic pills, and writing a post on his blog, sun blasting through the French doors.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Velophoria Incident Report

Yesterday, it was 44 degrees and sunny enough to blind me, so I embarked with great anticipation on my first true (outdoor) “long ride” of the year. I was expecting pure Velophoria all the way, but to my surprise, about an hour in, I was sluggish, uninspired, and contemplating cutting down the length of the ride.

So, I’m leaning on my top tube by the side of the road, chomping on raisins and almonds, feeling the sun on my back, trying to make up my mind how much further to go. Over the rise comes a rider out of his saddle, and the colors of his jersey are familiar. A moment later I place them: the Kissena Cycling Club in New York City. Only one dude I know of around here flies the blue and orange of the Empire State: No One Line, who I’ve been lucky enough to have in my neighborhood for the duration of this school year. Is it him? The rider shouts a friendly, generic, “Hey” to me, which alone speaks in his favor; most cyclists will simply lift a hand, at best, or just ignore you. I check his bike: A brand-new, matte-black Spooky Skeletor, a truly sinister whip. It’s NOL, all right. I shout his name, and he hits the brakes, does a double-take, and yells, “What are YOU doing here?” – as if he didn’t know. There follows much hail-fellow-well-met.

We were headed in opposite directions, but that just seemed silly. My route puzzlement clearly answered by his fortuitous appearance, I glommed on to the opportunity to ride with a friend through the knife-like February wind, as a way of brightening the day. And brighten, it did. We chattered away like magpies, about everything from bikes (natch) to woman mathematicians (his partner is a hard-rockin’ example) to novel-writing.

If I could dream up a perfect ride partner, it would be one who was in far better shape than me, inspiring me to hammer up a few hills I wasn’t at all planning to hammer up – and then, too, a delightful conversationalist with a broad-ranging zest for life, so when we’re back in February Base mode, we reel in the miles unnoticed (except for the perfect New England scenery; NOL comes most recently from the Big City, so the contrast ‘round here leaves him agreeably gobsmacked at times).

I guess I was dreaming yesterday, because before I knew it, it was an hour later, and I was just hitting my stride. We parted ways with promises to be in touch, and I finished out the last of my 2:30 with a little left in the tank, and some extra gratitude on top of that for friends, and the marvelous and mysterious forces that nudge us across each others’ paths.

Velophoria, indeed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chasing Dave Stoller, Pt. II

[Read Part I here.]

So, this bike thing. Could it do for me what it did for Dave Stoller?

It seemed like Dave and I had similar personalities. What’s more, Dave’s vehicle to happiness and self-expression was a ten-speed. I had a ten-speed, too -- a brand-new ten speed. and I was going on a four-week, haul-ass trip on that shiny new thing in two months. What if I actually prepared for that? What if I showed up in shape and impressed everyone with my cycling prowess? What if I did what worked for Dave?

What if, indeed

The very next day, I was in Riverside Park, doing laps around the empty half-mile promenade alongside the broad, steely Hudson, which flowed to my left, and then my right, then back to my left. I wanted to experience riding fast, as fast as I could. Sure, I’d had a bike before, but that was for transportation, fun, freedom – not speed. So, I got down in the drops, stood on the pedals, and I felt a new, powerful connection with the bike as I bolted down the flat pavement.

I liked that.

After a couple days of this, it became clear I needed a bigger challenge. I got up the nerve to head in the other direction from the front door of my apartment building, over to the the five-mile bike loop in Central Park.

My first two laps left my lungs burning like a house afire. I decided right there and then to quit smoking. Popular friends? What popular friends? What did they know about oneness between body and machine? What did they know about the Dave Way? They were shallow, insecure; they wouldn’t be caught dead wobbling their bike down the road, un-ironically singing an aria at the top of their lungs. Me? I was on my way to Davehood.

I dove in head-first. I started getting up early on Saturdays to beat the crowds to Central Park, where I went 'round and 'round the loop, now including the extra mile and the more serious hill starting at 116th Street. I picked up speed, endurance. I drafted racers here and there. I began to understand how doing something hard over and over pays off. This was an insight that was to inspire me for the rest of my life.

I went on the trip, up through the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, and enjoyed riding strong. When I got back, I talked my best friend Kenny into signing up with me for an AYH trip the next summer, down the West Coast, from Portland to San Francisco (which is a whole ‘nother post). I bought my first issue of Bicycling magazine. I bought Richard’s Bike Book and learned to adjust my derailleurs, my brakes. I began taking apart my bicycle in my bedroom (to my parents’ dismay). I even learned to repack my hub bearings.

Somewhere along the line, thoughts of Dave began to drift to the background, as I discovered, in my wide-eyed, teenage way, my own reasons for, and style of, riding the bike and enjoying it as a way of life. At some point, we all have to branch off from our source of inspiration and forge our own path, yes?

Which, when I think about it, is just exactly what happened to Dave.

For me, Breaking Away will always be more than just a great movie about a great era in cycling. It was the right parable, appearing to the right student, at just the right time. For this confused 16-year-old, it was a bridge to strength, self-worth and a boatload of fun. Grazie, Steve Tesich – I’ll always be grateful.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Chasing Dave Stoller

I am 16 years old, and it is spring on the Upper West Side of New York City. The breeze off the Hudson River has lost its icy edge, become a tad warmer and more fishy. The trees are greening out. Somewhere far away, a very young Greg LeMond is training with the doomed 1980 Olympic cycling team, but I’m not aware of anything beyond homework and friends.

My dad, wanting to make sure I don’t sit around and rot all summer, has just recently signed me up for a crazy month-long bike trip with something called American Youth Hostels. He then shepherded me to Angelo’s bike store on Amsterdam Avenue (with soft-worn wooden floors and a perpetual aroma of bike oil and new rubber) to buy a burgundy ten-speed with a fancy badge on the front reading “St. Tropez.” Maybe it was made in Japan, maybe it was cheap, but it was pretty and it did have a French name. We were told it would last as long as I wanted to ride it.

Since then, the bike had been sitting in my room collecting dust, awaiting my departure for the trip. Then, one Friday night, my parents were going out with friends. Dad pressed ten dollars into my palm and told me to grab some pizza, and then head down to the Embassy 72nd Street and take a look at this little movie they’d seen and liked. It was called Breaking Away, and it was about teenagers, and cycling. Since I was going on a bike trip soon, who knows, maybe I’d like it.

I walked out of the Embassy four hours later a different person. How had someone climbed inside my head and made a movie about me? Dave Stoller was me. Eccentric. Obsessive. An incurable dreamer. With a father who ceaselessly worried about and pestered him, but who also, somewhere inside, loved and cared for him. They knew me, for crying out loud, they knew me somehow!

But bigger yet: The idea that you could be passionate, geeky, confused, and athletically successful. What?!? Why, Dave was happy, he had a niche! Huh. I had loved playing touch football, softball, frisbee. But I’d given that all up in a search for more friends, girls and popularity. I was smoking cigarettes, shifting from one group of friends to another. You know: Teenage identity crisis.

So, this bike thing. Could it do for me what it did for Dave Stoller?

Tune in next time and find out.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

C'est impossible!

In classic old-guard style, Anquetil makes today's ultracyclists look tame. Perhaps the best part isn't Anquetil himself, but the technicolor commentary from his directeur, Raphael GĂ©miniani.

This was too delectable not to repost from VELOGOGO (apologies, guys!).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Today is Imbolc (pronounced either IM-ulk or IM-bulk), an ancient festival predating Christianity, and even the Celtic tradition, dating, in fact, all the way back to Neolithic times. It marks the day halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The age-old tradition of weather prognostication on this day is echoed in the modern North American version: Groundhog Day.

The day originally was based on the beginning of lactation for the ewes, who were preparing for lambing season. But it soon evolved into a recognition that the ground is warming just a bit under the snow; seeds and tree roots are starting to stir in their sleep. It won't be long before the first early flowers peek up through the whiteness.

I'm not a pagan or a Wiccan, but I have to admit that this festival has always been special to me since a friend introduced me to it while I was living in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Ever since, I begin to notice the changes in my surroundings that begin in late January. It might still be frigid outside, but the sun itself feels a little bit warmer on my back during an afternoon ride than it did a few weeks ago. Another example: Last night, as I was leaving work at 6:00 p.m., I noted the last dribble of sunset still in the western sky (appropriately , it was the night the festival begins -- February 1). This is certainly a marked change from the sunsets of early January, which sometimes seem to begin not long after the end of a late lunch.

Wikipedia says, "Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, divination or simply watching for omens (whether performed in all seriousness or as children's games), a great deal of candles, and perhaps an outdoor bonfire if the weather permits." All great ideas; sometimes I simply go for a walk and look around for signs of the change.

Shamefully, Wikipedia omits the critical ritual cyclists have evolved over the last century or so: The purchase of new tires and bar tape. Some sects, it seems, focus instead on a shiny new chain and cassette. Modern historians agree that, in fact, any sundries will do which make our bikes look and feel new again for those first pre-spring group rides or races in a month or so.

Renewal is on its way. Have hope, and light a candle.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Roll Your Own

It's seven degrees outside.

I'm getting on my rollers.

What more is there to say?

Okay, okay, here's a Scooby snack for a chill winter's morning: Go here for some decent twists on the roller/trainer workout.

I hereby solicit you to post your own variations in the comments section.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Get On the Path and Stay On It

Your assignment for the day, should you choose to accept it:

Relate this quote...
But mastery isn't reserved for the supertalented or even for those who are fortunate enough to have gotten an early start. It's available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it - regardless of age, sex, or previous experience.

~ George Leonard, Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-term Fulfillment this popular post on this well-known cycling blog.

I found it an inspiring exercise for an uninspiring point in the yearly training cycle. Hope you do, too.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Discover Jacquie Phelan. Again.

Velophoriacs will enjoy a blog I've just stumbled over. Well, actually, the story of my discovery of Jacquie Phelan's blog is too rich for this quick post, and will have to wait for another day. Just go there. By reading Velophoria, you've already proved you like weird points of view. Jacquie spits me out the back in that category (not to mention the real-life, rubber-meets-the-road cycling category) in very short order. (For those who don't know, Jacquie was a massive MTB champion, and later a massive MTB promoter.) What's more, she's funny, smart, independent and strong.

Go. Read. Benefit.

Code of the Road #2

Riding with a buddy means never having to say you're sorry for interrupting the conversation to bomb the descent. Just go. At the bottom, simply pick up where you left off, as if you hadn't stopped conversing.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A January Air

A weekend morning above freezing, first time in about six weeks.

A professional seminar this week: 45 hours in a stuffy hotel ballroom listening to someone talk.

A layer and a layer and a layer. Hot Gatorade in an insulated water bottle, to keep it from getting frigid.

Astonishment at the difference between hefting stacks of weights at the gym and pedaling a bicycle up a hill.

The pleasant warmth inside just the right amount of gear. Sunlight like a warm hand on my back after emerging from the trees.

A surge of confidence after the biggest hill of the ride. A brief roadside contemplation of the sounds of trees and wind, birds, distant airplane motors. Surge of gratitude for living in Western Massachusetts.

Stepping delicately into the roadside snow to pick up a beer bottle some yahoo tossed out his window. Wait – do yahoos throw O’Doul’s bottles? In the Pioneer Valley, this kind of makes sense.

A rebirth of the familiar dialog between achy leg portions and my mind.

A neighbor in a cowboy hat, work boots and field coat carrying a vintage wood surfboard from his car to his house, through the snow. Again: Glad I live in the Valley.

The blast for home on rolling terrain: dogsCarsFieldsHousesDogsCarsFieldsHouses…

Slip and slide over the driveway ice. Burst through front door, a blend of sweat, enthusiasm and outdoor-fresh-smelling air. Kiss wife. Make lunch. Write post.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

As the Earth Turns

December and January are to the world of blogging about the cycling life as kryptonite is to Superman. If I were to have written entries here in the last few weeks, they would have looked something like this: "Rollers. Gym. Rollers. Gym. Missed workout. Missed workout. Ate prohibited food, gained weight. Rollers. Gym."

Not exactly gripping. Plus, y’all know the deal, ‘cause we do this every year. I didn’t mind writing about it the first couple years. It was all new to me. I wrote a post about how rollers contribute to souplesse – and then a post about what souplesse actually is. (This remains tied for all-time most popular Velophoria post.) I wrote about my first time going hands-free on the rollers. I wrote many variations on the post showing a picture of the snow outside my window, complaining about how long it’s been since I’ve ridden outside.

But today at the gym, pulling a long stretch on the elliptical machine and then another one on the exercise bike, well, there was just nothing exciting about the situation. Not to say I didn’t enjoy myself. I like a workout no matter what. But it just didn't offer up new material or insight for a philosophical kind o’ guy like me.

As I drive to work these days, surrounded by icy white hills, I occasionally get a little warm glow remembering a ride last season on a particular road I’m passing; I can call up the details -- the hills, the views -- and I feel the promise of that and much more coming this summer. Hold on folks; in a month, a local club around here will be starting its pre-pre-season rides in the hills (canceled only in case of icy roads).

It’s coming. Really.