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.