Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Things That Don't Suck, Part 1

While chatting off-blog with fellow virtual scribe Scott of Landscape Cycling fame, it dawned on me that my bike-centric blog focus could turn this site into a profound bummer over the next few months. After all, how many creative ways are there to whine about attempting to ride through a Midwestern winter? So, to cure my (and your) seasonal affective disorder, I thought I'd turn my attention to some of the non-bikey things taking up my brain-space now that the riding (though it continues) isn't worth talking about.

BOOKS: I just finished The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. Sounds like the feel-good hit of the year, right? Actually, it's fascinating look at what might happen if, through some mysterious fate (mass illness? alien abduction? insert your own B-movie plotline here) were to remove humans from our planet in one fell swoop. How would our cities give in to entropy? How would the plants and animals left behind re-colonize in our absence? What works of art would be preserved? How long until our untended nuclear power plants melted down? How long until our impact on the global climate faded? Weisman extrapolates from what we know about the world before us, what our engineering marvels are designed to endure (and what they can't), and even what is currently happening in the places we have abandoned (such as the Korean DMZ and Chernobyl) to craft a simultaneously disturbing and beautiful "future history" of Earth without its most familiar inhabitants. The section on how our houses will collapse hit a bit too close to my 91-year-old home and the ongoing struggle to maintain it. I was especially impressed by the even-handedness of the writing; what could have been a shrill "humans are evil" environmental screed came across as remarkably balanced and apolitical (with the required disclosure that your humble narrator can be kind of a greenie weenie, and thus may have missed a touch of screed as he was agreeing with it.)
MUSIC: I put The Crane Wife by the Decemberists on my iPod about a week ago, and it's all I've listened to since. I'm at a loss trying to describe this album -- while it hints at things I'm familiar with (from Emerson, Lake, and Palmer to Jack White to the Shins to the occasional Zeppelin-esque riff), I can't toss off a quickie comparison ("it's like [insert band] with a hint of [insert another band]") that does it justice. The sound and lyrical sensibility is anachronistic yet perfectly modern. And in the era of the iTunes "viral single" -- where one song is all you need, never mind something as silly as an album -- these ten tracks hang together as a cohesive, too-big-for-one-bite experience.

TECHNOLOGY: Since I mentioned my iPod, let me just say damn the Gen-X stereotypes and full speed ahead: I like my iPod in terribly unhealthy ways. I know the white color with all the white accessories was just a brilliant branding move by Evil Emperor Jobs ("Hey, look, white headphones! That guy's got an iPod!") which also allowed a hundred other companies to overcharge for basic audio accessories because they are a) white, and b) "designed for iPods", but still, kudos. Because even though I'm acting as a branded tool every time I wear those stupid white headphones, they also tell the people around me, "That guy is listening to music, thus he cannot hear me, thus I will not speak to him." It's my very own Cone of SIlence! There is just no better gift you can give a loner agoraphobe. (Double bonus in December, it even allows a loner agoraphobe Jew to avoid the relentless onslaught of Christmas music spewing from every corner. Cute kids' choir, your mouths may say Jingle Bells, but all I hear is Motorhead's Ace of Spades. Damn, what's the HTML for an umlaut, anyway?)

See, I'm feeling better already!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Knowing My Limits

Rugged week on the commuting front. I consider myself fairly tough (or stubborn, or stupid) when it comes to riding in cruddy weather, but the sub-zero temps and 20- to 30-below wind chills on Monday put me in the car. I kind of like having all ten fingers and all ten toes attached, thanks. Tuesday was OK for riding, since the temps came up and we weren't barraged by any more of that silly frozen precipitation.

Yesterday morning, we had fresh snow (AGAIN), but when I got up, our block had already been plowed. Now, I'm not all that critical of Des Moines municipal services (the new single-stream recycling rocks my world in a nerdy environmental way), but after most storms, our little block of Iowa heaven is the last one to feel the scrape of a plow blade. Former neighbor, driveway sharer, and frequent blog-commenter Steve F. can probably attest to that (Aside to Steve: Any time you, Kathy, and Conor want to shovel your former driveway for old time's sake, c'mon over.) So when I saw that our street was scraped down to a studded-tire-friendly layer of hardpack, I figured I was golden for the commute.

Not so. The street at the end of our block? Miserable squished powder, like riding through sand. So I jogged over to a semi-main artery into downtown, one that's almost guaranteed to be plowed. No such luck. I was fighting to keep my line through the slop the whole way in, crawling along at single-digit speeds in the single-digit temps. Insult to injury? As I was starting up after waiting out a red light, another biker absolutely FLEW past me -- ruining my delusions of bad-arse grandeur: "This sucks, but I'm out here doing it, unlike the rest of those wimps."

Is it April yet?

Friday, December 19, 2008

2009's To-Do List

I won't call these "resolutions" (which would only make me feel guilty when I didn't do them), just some things I'd like to try next year inspired by my "stuff I liked in '08" musings.

LIMPSTRONG 3.0: I've managed to pull off two self-contained centuries since snapping my femur in 2007 and creating the fictional LimpStrong Foundation for the Femorally-Challenged. LimpStrong 1 and LimpStrong 2 were both successful enough that I feel almost obligated to make this an annual event. So, I will get another century in for 2009. Note that I'm not making any promises that LimpStrong 3 will be on the fixed gear like I did last year, since that didn't quite work out. However, one of my '09 goals will be...

MORE DISTANCE RIDES ON THE FIXED: I like fixed-gear riding. Simple as that -- no cliched "Zen connectedness with the bike" crap, it's just something I enjoy. I'm a relentless bike futzer, unable to leave well enough alone, so a simple bike that denies futzitude is a good mental exercise for me. But for the most part, I'm a short-distance fixter, getting my mental exercise in commutes and around-town errands. I'd like to stretch that a little in 2009 and do some of my longer rides on one non-coasting gear. A key element in that goal will be...

ACQUIRING A BIKE THAT'S OLDER THAN ME: My current fixie, wonderful though it may be as a commute bike/adult BMX toy, is not the most comfortable thing to put between my tuchus and the road for more than about an hour. Thus, I'm saving my pennies to (hopefully) liberate a classic Raleigh International frameset from pal Steve K's stable. Methinks it will be a much more pleasant fixed for extended jaunts. Heck, maybe its skinny steel tubes will let me experience the mythical "planing" that Jan Heine and the Bicycle Quarterly crew are pursuing like an elusive cycling Sasquatch.

(Vintage Raleigh with Nonplussed Cat, courtesy of Steve K.)

MORE TANDEM RIDES: Maybe I'm just imagining this, but 2008 seemed like an off-year for two-seater cycling. The floods in the Spring wiped out a lot of the local trails that Carla and I usually haunt, which probably had a lot to do with it. Bummer. I really enjoy spinning the miles with my spouse, and there's no better way to do it than on the tandem, whether we're hammering to catch someone or just tootling downtown to the Farmers' Market. I promise, Carla, we'll take the long bike out a lot more in 2009.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. Being an uncle rocks. And I'm even more stoked now that there's going to be Nephew 2 to complement Wonderful, Wacky Wilson, the redheaded eating machine. I can't wait to tow that cute little goofball around in his bike trailer, just like my late-Dad used to tow me around when I was that age.

MORE BLOG VOLUME, HIGHER BLOG QUALITY: As much as I've tried to deny it, I do have an itch to write, and it's a good salve for my sometimes-scattered sanity. So, dear reader(s), my promise to you is that I'll try to have more to say next year, and it will be (more) interesting to read. It might be here, it might be next door on Veloquent, it might be as a guest star on a pal's blog (anybody? Bueller? Bueller?), it might be on that old-fashioned paper stuff, or it might be somewhere else entirely, but I'll keep slapping words together to see if they stick.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tried & Liked In 2008

It's a long-standing tradition over on the iBOB mailing list (a joint I've haunted for years, despite my Groucho-Marxist fears of joining a club that would have me as a member) to reflect on the (usually) bike-related things that worked out for us each year. Rather than suck up the bandwidth over there, I figured I'd bore reader(s) of The Cycle with this year's list.

PINNED BMX PLATFORM PEDALS: Maybe I'm slurping down Grant Petersen's Rivendell Kool-Aid (stop me if I start tying twigs to my bike with discarded bits of twine), but these were a revelation. If you have wide feet, wacky-shaped feet, toes that point anywhere but straight ahead, or any other below-the-ankle malady (I have all of the above), you owe it to yourself to try platforms with whatever regular old shoes your freak feet find comfortable. Even the cheapo $15-$20 ones with cast-in pins beat my clipless setup for comfort and convenience. The fancy magnesium ones can even get surprisingly light, for the weight-weenies in the house.

CLIP-ON FENDERS: If that last one got the Rivendellistas and iBOBerinos to move closer on the Group W bench, this one will have them all moving away again. To the true fender fan, the partial coverage of a clip-on fender gets about as much respect as the clip-on tie. Heck, you could be shunned from a Bicycle Quarterly paceline if your fenders don't wrap far enough to drag their mudflaps on the ground like some sort of static electricity discharge strap (maybe the combination of generator hubs, wool jerseys, and leather saddles builds up a charge?) But, despite being the Rodney Dangerfield of fenders, a set of clip-ons found their way aboard my fixed gear this Fall and have more than earned their keep. They aren't doing much to protect the drivetrain (it's a fixie -- what's to protect?), but they're keeping the slop off me while clearing the studded tires with room to spare. That's really all I could ask.

BREWING COLD-PRESS COFFEE AT HOME: I've been a little bit lax chronicling my caffeine addiction here, despite touting it in my "who is this guy?" mini-bio to the right. In short, I drink a lot of coffee. A stunning amount. Sure, I tell my doctor "one cup in the morning and one in the afternoon," but only because he hasn't wised up and asked how big the cup is -- it may actually exert a slight gravitational pull on the smaller cups in the cabinet. The first time I tried cold press, it was like a cocaine addict trying crack -- or so I'm told. But I thought could only get the stuff outside the house from my local caffeine dealer. Not so! Follow normal "startup" procedures for the French press, use cold water instead of boiling, stew in the fridge overnight, press, and voila! Homebrewed liquid crack. (Warning: If you don't have a caffeine tolerance, sip gently. Without the tongue-scalding reminder to drink in moderation, it's way too easy to chugalug this stuff and twitch like a raving lunatic. Ask me how I know.)

KEEN NEWPORT SANDALS: The sneaky buggers at Keen actually crept into my bedroom one night, made plaster casts of my mutant feet while I slept, and shipped them off to the Keen factory with the following instructions: "Make size 10 like this." That's the only way to explain how these things fit me. Pair 'em with a set of platform pedals (see above) and I'm golden. I tried the clipless version too (the Commuter), but it seems they cast some other mutant to make that size 10 (I still have them for sale, if that particular mutant or one like him is reading and wants to make an offer.)

CHAIN WAXING: Let's not start the Great Chain Lubrication Crusades/Inquisition here.
I'm not trying to convert anyone from the First United Church of Prolink or Our Holy Mother of Blessed Boeshield. How you choose to lubricate in the privacy of your own home is your business. I'll just say that I've been cleaning and lubing my chains with a couple bucks' worth of paraffin and the tiniest dribblet of Triflow in a Crock Pot this year, and I'm sold.

HOMEMADE WINTER GEAR: The helmet liner Carla made for me was another revelation: warmer than it should be for its weight/bulk, remarkably stink-resistant, and when I wasn't 100% satisfied with the prototype from the stock pattern, she just sat down and cranked out V2.0 based on my feedback. Next on the needles will be a pair of open-source S'mittens thanks to a pattern from Natalie at Sweetpea Bicycles.

I think that's it -- up next, things I want to try in 2009!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beware the Conspicuous Ninja

Obviously, any ninja can get the jump on you if he's sneaky and dressed in all black. It's a special brand of ninja who says, "I can get to you even in this revoltingly bright vest that guarantees you'll see me coming a mile away!" This guy even went so far as to say, "I'll be there at 5:33," thus giving away any hope of surprising his foe.

What you're seeing is pretty much everything new about my winter cycling wardrobe for the '08-'09 frigid season. The zipper on my old shell crapped out, so I found this bruise-colored thing on mega-clearance at a local discount store. Despite being...

  1. arguably designed for golf (a sport I don't even understand enough to write a post about how I don't understand it),
  2. a product of the Great Importer of Swoosh-Encrusted Crap Made In Chinese Sweatshops, and
  3. darn near impossible for drivers to see in stock form,
...I must grudgingly admit that I like it lots. It's a waterproof "soft shell" (whatever that marketing nonsense means) with a waffle-patterned fleece inside that seems to trap a lot of warm air -- and if anyone knows about hot air, it's me. Plus, it only has one very subtle swoosh (must be why it was so cheap, since the Great Importer of Swoosh-Encrusted Crap Made In Chinese Sweatshops charges by the swoosh), and it doesn't make me look like (much of) a bike dork when I'm not on the bike.

The obnoxious vest is a Carhartt hi-vis number made for construction workers that I picked up from G and L Clothing -- a locally-owned store in my 'hood that also
happens to have a Web presence. Frankly, the reflective vests that are supposedly designed for runners and cyclists cannot TOUCH this thing. It makes my eyes hurt to look at it. I got the idea when I was riding through my neighborhood and saw a kid wearing one on her walk home from school. You couldn't not see this kid. So, I thank her parents for keeping both her and me safe. (Aside: G & L is also a great source for non-bike-specific gloves, hats, and long undies that work better for biking -- and are way cheaper -- than a lot of bike-specific stuff. Construction workers and farmers don't screw around when it comes to staying warm and frugal simultaneously.)

Finally, there's my ninja headgear. This is V2.0 of the helmet liner my wife made for me last winter. V2.0 is longer in the neck (good, since my jacket lacks a high collar) and made of 100% merino wool rather than V1.0's wool/mohair blend. The merino version isn't as warm as the mohair, but it's still plenty warm, and it's also less likely to give me hairballs.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Almost Forgot...

After this, I promise to lay off the mushrooms (magic or otherwise) for a while.

It's my favorite annoying mushroom-related viral/bizarre Web video.

(This baby makes noise. And gets stuck in your head. And is pretty much guaranteed to annoy your co-workers if you happen to be stealing time and bandwidth from an employer right now. You've been warned.)

No, I don't get it either.

But I can't stop watching.

I've Got Fungus!

Huh. Maybe I'll send that headline back for a rewrite. Of course, Steve F. already stole the fungi/fun guy pun that I was waiting to unleash, so I got nuthin'.

Unappealing as it sounds, my career as a mushroom farmer is off to a thrilling start, at least by mushroom-growing standards.

Harken back to November 21, the date that my box o'shrooms was supposedly going to "mature." Thus, the great unveiling (and pay no attention to that bald spot -- I swear, it's a camera trick):

Knowing that the anticipation may just kill several of my more frail readers (and I can't spare any), I'll cut directly to the big reveal:

That's right... it's a BOX OF DIRT!

At this point, I'm sure you're wishing for smell-enhanced Web access, because who doesn't love the smell of moist mushroom mulch in the morning? Smells like... victory.

Fast forward again (can you handle such an action-packed thrill ride? it's almost as exciting as watching mushrooms grow!) to today, December 4, and you'll see that I now have a...

Wait for it...

wait for it...

A box of DIRT!

Oh, but all you doubters, look again.



A little bit closer...

That's right. MUSHROOMS!

As Stephen Colbert would say, "I accept your apology."

Monday, November 24, 2008

What Good Writers Won't Tell You

We had one of those profound word-nerd moments at work the other day. Someone had stumbled into a really weird, awkward, special-case plural possessive -- I won't reveal it, so as not to humiliate myself, my co-workers, and all our collected English teachers.

As we're wont to do in these situations (being a cube-farm full of professionally trained wordsmiths), everyone had a go at it, and no one really knew the absolutely-100%-correct way to handle this obscure little corner of the language. There were lots of theories and lots of, "I like it this way, but I don't know if that's right," answers, but no one planted their flag in the sand and said, "I've got it!"

What this room full of good writers could do, however, was artfully dodge the offending construction. Everyone had at least three rewrites of the sentence that would skirt the problem entirely, sneaky little rhetorical and/or grammatical sidesteps that came to us almost by instinct.

It made me wonder if that's how other people make other occupations look way too easy. Maybe everyone -- no matter what their area of expertise or how long they've studied it -- has that nagging hole in their knowledge, but they can run around it or jump over it so fast, the untrained observer thinks they meant to do it that way all along.

File under L for "Lazy justifications for not studying up on my obscure possessive rules."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Bikey Break From The Fungus

... in which your humble narrator wimps out not once, but twice.

As I passed the new bank on my ride to work yesterday morning (locals: southwest corner of Woodland and MLK), the temp read 14 degrees (international readers: Fahrenheit), but I swore it felt colder. Brutal.

After work, I saddled up, and something felt rotten in Denmark. Flat front tire. Crap.

I dug out my cell phone (no easy feat in full-bore winterwear) to tell Carla that I would be a little late getting home since I had a flat to fix. Check that -- those were the words in my head. What came out of my mouth was, "Can you come pick me up?" Pansy.

Today, the temps felt a little better, and while I didn't intend to do the local Cranksgiving alleycat (see footnote), I figured I could at least go turn the cranks outside for 45 minutes or so. Then, big fluffy snowflakes started falling, my bionic leg started aching, and the irresistible pull of couch/football games proved to be too much. Does reading Nashbar and Performance catalogs on the couch count for anything?

I did, however, fix my flat, in the heated comfort of my own home. Mini-product endorsement for a mini-product: I really, really, really like the Topeak Mini-Morph pump that arrived this week as a birthday present from my third set of grandparents, the Fischbeins -- hi, Bernice and Jerry! This is the tiniest one with no gauge, but I was able to hit a reasonably rideable 50psi (in a 700x32) with very little strain. In the field, it wouldn't have taken much more work to hit my usual 60psi, but with a full-size floor pump sitting behind me, I figured it wasn't worth the bother.

FOOTNOTE (as promised): Do all alleycats lump "fixed gear with brake" into the "singlespeed" category instead of letting them compete against other fixed gear riders? Last I checked, the term "fixed gear" referred to one's drivetrain. Sounds to me like a tacit admission that a brakeless fixed gear can't hang with those whose common sense has trumped their need for the "pure, Zen-like essence of the unadorned bike", or whatever the current line of crap is these days on Fixed Gear Gallery.

Bitter, table for one!

Sounds like I need to go back to tending my mushrooms, enjoying the pure, Zen-like essence of the unadorned farm in a cardboard box...

SHEEPISH ADMISSION, INSERTED TWO DAYS AFTER ORIGINAL POST: Blowing the cobwebs off my memory of the one Cranksgiving I raced, I seem to recall that despite my "methinks he doth protest too much" kvetching about the fixie-with-brake-equals-singlespeed taxonomy, I managed to get my arse soundly whupped by every one of those brakeless fixie guys. So, perhaps the old adage is true, that a brake only slows you down. Or the slightly less old adage, guys who blog more than they ride are really slow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mycological Mystery Mastered: Me Mum Mailed Mushrooms

Yes, suspense-addled readers, it was my dear Mom who sent the box o'shrooms for my birthday. Those who correctly bet on "Nancy" may now collect their winnings.

Not much else to report on my new career as a mushroom farmer, as the fungi in question are still sitting in the box, waiting to mature. I fear that they've reached the "angry teen" stage, as I'm hearing the unmistakable sounds of mushroom punk blaring from the box.

Stay tuned for the grand opening, and for the subsequent announcement that I've cast off my business casual yoke, bolted from my cubicle, and embraced a simpler life on the land, raising only the finest free-range fungi.

Or, I'll end up with a smelly box of dirt. Place your bets...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Today's Mystery: Fungus Among Us

Warning: ZERO bicycle content here. My usual cadre of cyclemaniacs can move along.

I discovered a strange box on my porch this afternoon:

It was addressed to me, and I did have a birthday last weekend (turning the ripe old age of [REDACTED]), but I must say, I'm a bit mystified. Who the heck would send me a "grow your own portobello mushrooms" kit from the good folks at (I kid you not) Mushroom Adventures? There may be a card inside explaining everything, but the box insists that I not "start" the kit before November 21 (since it is "still maturing" -- a mildly disturbing thought, since as the picture shows, I've let it into my house), and I don't know if opening the box constitutes "starting."

All things considered, quite a mystery.

This is the sort of thing my mom would send. Or maybe one of my nutty aunts (he says with love -- they both know they're nuts, just like the rest of the family, present company included). But for now, I'm soaking in the mysteriousness of my fungal arrival, not wanting to break the spell by calling family and getting some answers.

So, consider this the beginning of Mushroom Countdown '08: This Time, It's Mycological. We're at SIX days and counting to the great unveiling, which (I hope) will have all the grandeur, drama, and military precision of the opening of the Ark of the Covenant scene in Raiders, but without all the Nazis and the face-melting.

Stay tuned, folks! After all, the mystery box promises that growing mushrooms at home is "fun and exciting" -- which makes me mildly concerned, since I knew guys in college who got arrested for growing "fun and exciting" mushrooms at home and going on a little "mushroom adventure".

Saturday, November 8, 2008

One Brief Political Indulgence

This is not (repeat, NOT) a partisan political blog. Sure, I'll gripe about the entire political process/machine from time to time, but I try (usually) to keep my personal leanings out of it.

Still, I'm going to allow myself one tiny commentary on the election.

I was having a hard time expressing how I felt after the dust settled Tuesday night. Then, a good friend sent me the following e-mail: "It feels like the Dementors are finally gone."

Yup, that seems about right.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Non-Runner Eats Crow

Well that just figures.

I was in Phoenix AZ for a week on business, and decided that it just wasn't worth the hassle to either a) ship a bike down, b) fly with a bike, or c) rent a bike while I was there. That meant a week of toil on the exercise room elliptical machine just so I wouldn't feel like a fat tub of goo after eating restaurant food all week.

Meanwhile, one of my co-workers was training for a marathon. His entire training kit fit in a tiny corner of one small carry-on bag. So while I marinated in my own sweat, he put in real miles on 70-degree mornings with zero humidity.

Advantage: Runners.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sports I Don't Understand: Running

During an attempted ride on Sunday, I got stuck behind the end of the Des Moines Marathon. Don't get me wrong -- I'm thrilled that Des Moines has a marathon and a major triathlon, since both events make us look more like a "real" city, possibly moving us past Topeka and Peoria in the "Least Dull Places to Live" rankings. (sorry, Steve K.)

However, I simply do not get running. Exhibit A: Look at any runner's face while he/she is participating in this activity. 94 times out of 100, you'll see a grimace of pain (the other 6 fall into the "rictus of agony" category). To look at a runner in action, you would think that the sport is just a socially acceptable way to engage in a self-punishment fetish. Granted, I've had some unpleasant moments on a bicycle -- sore hands, tired legs, numbness in places where I'd rather not be numb -- but most of the time, when I'm on wheels, I can (and do) smile. Good friend Elroy "Uncle E" Wylde had it right when he said, "Running is like hitting myself with a hammer. I only do it because it feels so good to stop."

Exhibit B: Chapped, bleeding nipples. Enough said, I hope.

Exhibit C: Shoes. My late-dad was a runner for most of the 80s, and he relentlessly (nay, obsessively) journaled the experience, actually writing down some sort of narrative about each and every run rather than just keeping a mileage log. And while that journal is one of my most treasured possessions, it bores me to death on the subject of shoes. "First run in new Nike Air Max today." "Not happy with the Nikes, trying a pair of Adidas." "Orthotics fit poorly in Adidas, going to try New Balance 990s." "990s good, but apparently out of production. Not sure what I'll do when these wear out." Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. Bikers certainly aren't immune to equipment obsession (he says, writing a ridiculously self-indulgent blog packed with bicycle equipment minutiae), but at least we have equipment to obsess about. Brake pad compounds. Chain lubes. Gear ratios. Crank lengths. Handlebar shapes. What's to obsess about with running shoes? Tie them, and go abuse yourself.

Exhibit D: The inability to coast. I ride a fixed gear about half the time, so I've voluntarily abandoned my coasting capacity for a lot of rides. Note, however, that I said voluntarily. Runners get no choice. Downhill, uphill, it's all the same. No rest for the wicked. Just keep slappin' the feet down. No wonder the runner's epic, be-all-end-all event is only 26 (pardon me, 26.2) miles long. If you guys could figure out a way to rest while moving, maybe you could cover more distance.

Exhibit E: That extra .2 miles on the marathon. Yes, I know, the distance run by Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens was PRECISELY 26.2 miles. I'm that big of a nerd. But round down, for Pete's sake. You just ran 26 miles. Isn't that enough punishment? You really have to tack on another .2 in honor of a Greek guy who, if the legend is to be believed, immediately DROPPED DEAD upon finishing that last point-two? I'd be inclined to take that as a lesson: "26 miles is a fine stopping point." (The cyclist's corollary is, "Don't take amphetamines and climb Mount Ventoux in the heat," a rule I have steadfastly followed all my life.)

I think I've made my case, so I'm going to close up and go for a ride. If for some reason I'm found dead with New Balance and Nike tracks all over my body, just look for the grimacing guys with shin splints and bloody nipples.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

It Was 13 Years Ago Today...

October 11, 1995. A day that will live in whatever the opposite of "infamy" is. "Famy"?

I was playing racquetball with my roomate Edith (we had a whole "Three's Company" thing going on with third roomate Christine). Edith had been playing matchmaker for months, unable to mention her friend Carla without the postscript "... who's single!" Meanwhile, I was "Jason... who's single!" whenever she talked to Carla.

Racquetball game ends, and Edith says, "We're meeting Carla for pizza tonight." I don't even have time to shower. All I can do is throw on my cutoff jean shorts, a ratty t-shirt, and my Doc Martens -- I was in my grunge phase, sorry.

We meet the mythical (and single!) Carla at an Iowa City bar, order up our pizza, and proceed to play a cutthroat game of "name that tune" with everything that comes up on the jukebox. There are conflicting reports regarding the outcome of that game, but I hold firm to my recollection that I was Supreme Ruler of All Things Musical and Trivial that night. This mythical Carla was unlike anyone I'd ever met, not to mention dated. Ridiculously funny, incredibly smart, took no crap, and could dish it back out with the best of them.

A week later -- after I've plied Edith for an assurance that I won't be shot down in a blazing fireball -- I get up the courage to ask this amazing woman out. And she says yes! (It was years later that I actually learned how Carla described me to Edith: "Cute, in an Aryan sort of way." Perfect first impression when you're meeting a nice Jewish girl, right?)

Abridged version: Just short of two years later, we were married. And today, 13 years after the fact, I can't believe how much good is in my life thanks to that one impulsive pizza run.

Happy meet-iversary to the person who changed everything, from your big Aryan-looking nerd.

Pondering Pedals

I confess: I am a pedal polygamist.

I've tried 'em all: Clips and straps, about a dozen flavors of clipless, and even plain, flat pedals. Just when I think I've settled, dropping the coin to convert the entire fleet to whatever my pedal du jour happens to be, my eye starts to wander again, and suddenly I'm digging in the parts box for the pedals I took off in order to put on today's pedal du jour, or yesterday's, or the day before that.

With all that experimenting, I think I've learned one basic thing about pedaling. Feet need support. They shouldn't have to work against being bent or smooshed in directions they were never intended to go. With my extra-wide feet (shaped more like shoeboxes than shoes -- thanks for that little genetic gift, Dad), I'm hyper-aware of this flexing/smooshing issue.

That leaves two choices: Big pedals (so your feet can't hang off the edge) or super-stiff shoe soles (so your feet can't flex even if they hang off the edge). Most modern clipless pedals approach the problem from the second direction, concentrating pressure on tiny cleats and Tootsie Pop-sized pedals, relying on the stiffness of (expensive) carbon-fiber soles to keep your feet where they belong. Then, there's the opposite extreme: Huge, flat, BMX pedals that support the width of your foot regardless of the stiffness of your shoe.

For me, today's pedal du jour is the latter, a cheap as all gitout pair of BMX flats. It's hard enough to find any shoe that fits my paddle-feet, much less a cycling shoe. I'd rather be able to ride in whatever ridiculously wide tennis shoe or sandal I can find without worrying if it takes a SPD or Look cleat -- the Windows vs. Mac of the clipless world.

(Note that I'm completely avoiding the issue of being attached to one's pedals for either safety or efficiency. That's a religious war, and neither side's convinced me to follow their crusade to the death just yet.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Riding Scared

About ten years ago (when I was suffering through grad school at THE Ohio State University), I went out for a late Fall ride along the Olentangy Bikeway in Columbus, OH -- a fairly mellow, scenic (for Columbus) trail that wound through the north side of the city.

I don't remember much about the early part of the ride, but as I was getting out to the more suburban neighborhoods, I overcooked a turn on wet leaves and went down hard. I popped up (the automatic "I meant to do that!" reaction), spat, and only then realized that I'd spit out something chunky. Sure enough, the reflection in my sunglasses showed a gashed-up lip and bloody gap previously occupied by two teeth. My rear derailleur was shoved into my wheel, making the bike unrideable.

So, in the Age Before Ubiquitous Cell Phones, I did what anybody would have done on an isolated trail: I started walking out. After about a quarter mile, I was surrounded by a nice suburban neighborhood -- the benefit of trails within city limits. I picked a door and rang the bell.

"Ma'am, as you can see, I've had a bit of an accident, and I was wondering if I could use your phone to call for help."

"I'm... I'm not comfortable with that." Door shut, end of conversation.

At the time, I was stunned and more than a little ticked. But looking back (and looking at myself in a mirror), I can't blame her. If you don't know me, and all 200 pounds of my bald, goateed freakshow self is standing on your porch bleeding from a toothless maw, I'm probably scary as hell. If you're a woman home alone (or maybe with just your kids in the house), ratchet that up another notch. If my wife were confronted by such a sight, maybe I'd be comfortable with her calling 911 for the scary stranger, but I'd rather she do it from behind a locked door, thanks.

I think about that day a lot when I'm out riding the trails in Iowa. There are a lot of women who ride around here. I find that simply awesome, such an improvement over the "let's compare Lycra bulges" brand of masculinity that so often marks our sport (usually by peeing on it). A lot of those women can ride my sorry butt right off their wheel with nary a pedal turned in anger. But every once in a while, I start to catch up to a female rider who's out there by herself on an isolated trail (sometimes after dark), and I'm suddenly gripped by Sensitive New Age Guy paralysis. Does she see me as just another rider back here, or am I a Big Scary Threat? The last thing I want to do is wreck someone's ride, so what next? Say hello? Hammer past with an "on your left"? Sit up and drop back?

I've ridden in some scary places (not in Des Moines, thankfully) -- neighborhoods where my Spidey-sense was constantly a-tingle -- and all I wanted to do was hustle out of there. I should probably feel more like that on my daily commute, with gargantuan SUVs passing within inches. But I don't. I'm comfortable in my skin, on my wheels, in my surroundings. If I didn't feel safe, if something as simple as a rider just a few lengths off my back wheel were enough to make me tense up, I don't know if I'd keep riding. It just wouldn't be worth it to me. I ride to make those kinds of feelings go away.

I'm probably over-thinking it, as usual. And the fact that I've been an awkard, almost-mute nerd-boy around the fairer gender my whole life probably doesn't help matters. But it bothers me. I hope my presence -- or the presence of any freaky-looking male rider like me -- doesn't trigger fight-or-flight, or an involuntary twitch toward the pepper spray. I hope I'm just underestimating the bad-assedness of our local wheeled women and that they don't give a second thought to ol' tubby-and-slow back there. If that's not the case, if I've ever spooked someone out there, I sincerely apologize -- and next time, I'll say hi.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I Want to Write for Wald

There. I said it.

This flies in the face of not one but two of my formerly held beliefs. One, that the four years I spent writing ad copy were a soul-sucking evil that will take years (nay, decades) to erase. Writing advertising is like throwing up: When it's over, you can spit and swish and gargle all you want, but you're still going to taste the bile long after you've flushed down the remains of yesterday's lunch.

The second formerly held belief is that all things Wald are cheap, heavy, and have no place on a "real bicycle." Sure, a Wald basket may be just the thing for collecting scrap aluminum on a Huffy, but no self-respecting Cyclist with a Capital C would ever strap two tons of Kentucky steel on a refined double-diamond thoroughbred. No way, no how.

The revelation that has changed my mind for good is the Wald website. I don't know who's responsible for it, but there's someone out there having a really good time filling in the copy. It ranks up there with the nameless Nashbar scribe who once desperately fattened up a word count with, "It's not just a kickstand... it's a Greenfield." Granted, it
is just a kickstand, but I can't see one now without thinking of that line.

One example of why I envy Mr./Ms. Wald Copywriter:

The Wald 8069 handlebar provides an industry-unique feature: clothes hanging compatability.
(sic) With a meager rise of 13 inches, you could hang a half dozen shirts on the handles easily (provided you remember to stow the bags so they don't get caught in your spokes).
There are endzone uprights with shorter reaches than these pillars of chrome.
Pillars of chrome! Poetry. And a metaphorical comparison to a football goalpost! Now THAT is good stuff. Unconvinced? Try this on for size:

If commuters are the demigods of dedicated cycling, then messengers are titans of devotion. For those of you a little rusty on your Greek mythology, the Titans held powers usurping that of the gods. Bike messengers have what most might consider a death wish. They stick to their bikes no matter what and are determined to make certain cars, SUVs, buses, cabs, and garbage trucks know they are on the road. If you dare cross into the bike lane they occupy, prepare to be yelled at.

In my days of copywriting, I think I made one tiny stab at a Greek mythology metaphor (likening a gigantic outdoor grill to some obscure, flame-wielding deity -- yeah, I was stretching), and was promptly laughed out of a creative meeting by several spellcheck-deficient graphic designers (it's a tragic ailment of the breed). Meanwhile, over at Wald, some ink-stained wretch (who's probably working on a novel on the side) decides that bike messengers are "titans of devotion" and (envy rising) gets away with it! Beautiful.

So, if any Wald-folk in Maryville, Kentucky are reading, consider this my job application. I'll freelance from here, move to Kentucky, work for chrome fenders and big baskets, you name it.

Now, which one of my bikes needs a dash of Kentucky chrome? Heck, which one doesn't?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Cycle Goes Ad-Free

I admit it, when someone told me, "Hey, you can actually make money just for throwing your words against an electronic wall," I was hooked. That's the writer's dream, after all -- actually getting paid to listen to yourself talk.

But after almost a year, my Google-inserted ads have netted me an underwhelming two dollars and change. The kicker? Those ads only pay out in increments of $100. I'm no math major, but it would seem that at my current rate of return, I would have seen that first check on my 85th birthday.

So in honor of my stunning lack of success as an online entrepreneur/scribe, I've just removed the ads from this blog. From here on out, you read for free, no spam cluttering the view. Hopefully, it balances my karmic account for the four years I spent as an advertising lackey.

I may still spam and/or endorse bicycle-related products in my actual writing, but you can be sure I'm plugging them because I've actually used and enjoyed them, not because they were given to me or I was paid to talk about them. If for some reason that changes (hey, maybe there's a bike company out there just looking for the testimonial of a sparsely-read, fat commuter), I'll be sure to provide full disclosure.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Breaking News from the World of Swimming

A few days ago, I reported on the Lance-ification of swimming following the success of Michael Phelps. Well, the swimming world was rocked today by an announcement from Gary Fisher. Here is the press release in its entirety:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gary Fisher Does It Again!

Long known as a pioneering figure in sport, Gary Fisher -- inventor of the mountain bike, in case you hadn't noticed -- announced today that he is also responsible for the latest athletic endeavor to take America by storm: Swimming.

"I was there when it started," Fisher said. "God created the heavens and the earth, and I said to Him, hey, Big Fella, that's going to work out great for this other thing I'm working on -- it's called a Mountain Bike (copyright Gary Fisher, year zero) -- but what say You add something, I don't know, more wet, maybe? So He made the seas and the oceans and the rivers and the streams, and I figured, yeah, I can work with that. I dove in, but the idea didn't hit me right away. I guess you could say I invented drowning too! (laughs) But then I did this sort of arm-flapping, leg-kicking thing, and there you go: Swimming."

Additional notebooks from the early years of Gary Fisher's prodigious career have recently come to light, revealing his pioneering work on the pneumatic tire, the cotton gin, walking upright, and fire.

What will this creative juggernaut come up with next? Only time will tell.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

LimpStrong 2.0: On The Books!

Avid readers (all four of you) will note that the Second Annual LimpStrong Ride for the Femorally-Challenged didn't quite get the media coverage of last year's inaugural LimpStrong. Frankly, I was feeling a bit undertrained, so I wasn't quite sure there would even be a Second Annual LimpStrong. But, undertrained or not, I took advantage of astonishingly good weather yesterday and gave it a shot. (Full disclosure: What little media coverage there was for LS 2.0 had mentioned the possibility that it would be on a fixed-gear. Those reports were entirely false, and I'm not sure what the reporter was smoking.)

Our intrepid hero rolls out at 9:30 in the morning, bathed in a heavenly glow. Yes, that's my garage back there, proving that all bicycle-related photography must have a garage door in it somewhere:

Had a nice cat-mouse game with someone as I warmed up on the curvy Greenbelt trail. On each straightaway, I could sense her coming up on my wheel, then I would pull ahead again on the curves. The surface of the trail is pretty choppy, so I'm assuming my fat tires provided a little advantage in the serpentine parts. I could actually hear her getting on the brakes in the curves. Once we turned off on the Raccoon River trail and broke out into the long straight stretch before Waukee, she dropped me like I wasn't moving.

An impaled Yugo on the outskirts of Waukee warns all who come near: "Tiny foreign cars are not welcome here! Begone!" I suspect the ghost of this car prowls the nearby Chevrolet dealer, mocking the rows of unsold SUVs. Yes, that's an official Iowa cornfield in the foreground. I hate to encourage the flyover cliche, but that's our scenery.

Trusty steed, ready to get the "real ride" underway at the trailhead outside Waukee. I did drop my $2 into the "trail pass" tube (confession: I don't always), and it was a good thing I did. They were checking today. Alert readers will note the blue coffee recycling center in the background. I believe those are also soybeans back there, proving that we do have some variety in our scenery.

Old railroad signs don't lie: Yes, this is a converted railbed, and yes, I made it to Adel:

And then there was Redfield. The name of the town didn't turn out in the photo of its co-op, but trust me, it's there:

Lunch break in lovely Panora:

And here's where things turned ugly, as evidenced by the full stop of photos in the SpongeBob mini-cam. To get 100, I needed to push past Panora for about six miles. Next town out there was Yale, 12 miles away. In other words, I was headed into a long mid-day slog in no-person's-land. I gamely pushed out of Panora a couple miles, got pummeled by both wind and sun, and decided to heck with it, LimpStrong 2.0 would be a 90-miler.

Of course, after catching a brief second wind (thanks to a tailwind) getting back home, 90 seemed extremely lame, so I ended up riding some very slow loops around town for the last 10 to make it an official century. I looked (and felt) pretty rough by the time it was all said and done, but I did it. A little over 7 hours ride time and 9 hours "real time." Had every intention of seeing a friend's band play at a nearby street festival, but after a shower and an "eat everything in sight" meal, I just couldn't motivate myself off the couch. Sorry about that, Timm (no typo, two M's) and the rest of Faculty Lounge!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Michael Phelps: The Lance Armstrong of Swimming?

Hang with the analogy for a minute: You take a relatively obscure sport (in terms of American mainstream awareness), add an American athlete who soundly whups the world in a way nobody's ever done before, and throw in a heaping helping of hero-worship media hype. Granted, Phelps loses points for not reaching his astounding achievement after battling back from almost-certain death, but other than that little detail, it's a pretty similar narrative.

Assuming the Phelps/Armstrong parallel holds, here's what I predict for swimming in America over the next few years based on what Lance did for American cycling:

  • LSS (Local Swimming Shops) will be overrun by pudgy guys in their 40s with too much disposable income trying to wedge themselves into those American flag neck-to-ankle swimsuits, convinced that wearing Michael's suit will help them beat their buddies to the other end of the pool at the Y. To capitalize on this trend, the maker of these suits will come out with a special "Gold" version that features eight Olympic gold medals silkscreened across the front -- the "faux Maillot Jaune" of swimming.
  • Pools across the nation will be packed to capacity with people who can't swim a stroke to save their lives. Diehard swimmers who once had the water to themselves now won't be able to swing an arm without getting kicked in the head by three Phelps-wannabes who can't stay in one half of the pool, much less one lane.
  • Phelps will want to use his newfound stardom to benefit a cause. However, with all the good diseases, genocides, and natural disasters already spoken for (damn you, Bono, snagging Darfur!), Phelps will have to aim a little lower. Still, his light-blue "Swimstrong" rubber bracelets (with proceeds benefiting MPFPSE: the Michael Phelps Foundation to Prevent Swimmer's Ear) will take the worlds of sports and fashion by storm.
  • Ever the contrarian, Grant Petersen will expand his Rivendell retro-empire into the world of swimming. His "underswimming" concept will be based on the style of Mark Spitz: banana-hammock trunks, no cap, and no goggles (because the burning sensation of chlorine in your eyes keeps you "more connected to the water"). Petersen will also prototype a Spitz-style fake mustache, made in the USA of hand-woven, 100% Merino wool. However, he takes so long to come up with a cutesy name for it (the "Splashy 'Stachey") that Surly is able to produce and sell thousands of its Taiwanese knockoff (the "Lip Tickler") before one Rivendell mustache goes to market.
Remember, you saw it here first.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Class, Grade-School Style

As I watch even more of the Olympics I swore I wouldn't watch, I can't help but remember my elementary school principal and old friend, Phil Hunsberger.

Phil was (and is) a force of nature, perpetually smiling behind his thick beard, guitar always at the ready, prowling the lunchroom in search of unattended Cheetos, and known for spontaneous attacks of "happy feet." Imagine a 60s idealist turned public educator and administrator who never lost one iota of that idealism. That's Phil.

At any sort of performance -- music, sports, guest speakers, plays -- Franklin School students were expected to follow one simple rule:

"You may choose not to clap, but you do not boo."

As a 10-year-old, I just knew that a violation of this rule was one of the few things that would make Phil upset. With a few decades of hindsight, it shows itself to be such a perfect expression of the Phil Way. Franklin School was no dictatorship. If you didn't like what you saw, you didn't have to clap for it. That was your choice. But an outward expression of displeasure, of hostility toward the performer, that was unacceptable. You could choose to elevate the other person or not, but to lessen that person was taboo.

Call me the idealist if you will, but that's a pretty good rule to live by.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cynic Succumbs to Mild Case of Olympic Fever

I really wanted to hate the Olympics this year.

There's the whole Chinese political thing. And the pollution thing. And the typical uber-nationalist coverage from NBC where nothing interesting happens in any event unless it's happening to an American ("Yawn... so somebody with a name I can't pronounce from a country I couldn't find with Wikipedia and a GPS just set a world record... BUT LOOK AT THE HEART BEING SHOWN BY AMERICAN BOB SMITH, PROUDLY STRUGGLING TO A LAST PLACE FINISH ON THE ANKLE HE BROKE DURING LAST NIGHT'S BEER BENDER! TRULY, THIS IS ONE FOR THE AGES!")

But dammit, I keep watching. And I've even been sucked into the local angle, West Des Moines gymnast Shawn Johnson, the Mary Lou of ought-eight. How can you not love a kid who's been immortalized in butter sculpture at our State Fair?

Still, I have noted a couple things with my usual level of snarkiness.

One, isn't it interesting that American corporations are actually paying for the privilege of doing Chinese propaganda? Just watch for the pro-China subtext in the advertising and ask yourself how much NBC charged for that time. The Chinese government must be laughing all the way to Tibet watching U.S. companies shell out big bucks (relatively big, that is -- they are American bucks, after all) to give China a more positive brand identity.

Two, I love the choice of sponsors for an athletic event. "Years of rigorous training, hours of workouts each day, all leading to this one extraordinary feat of athleticism... and now a word from McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and Budweiser." Seeing as cycling is an Olympic event (though you wouldn't know it from watching NBC, which leads me to believe that no Americans bothered to enter those races), I intend to change my training regimen to the Olympic Sponsor Diet: Big Macs, Cherry Coke, and Bud Light. I'm sure it will shave precious seconds off my personal best time-to-vomit.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Crass Self-Interest in a Blog? C'mon! Really?

I'm putting my fixed gear up for sale to fund a potential addition to the bike fleet -- damn you, one-bike-in, one-bike-out rule!

Details are in my Craigslist posting.

Obviously, I'd rather move this thing locally, but if you're salivating over it AND I know you through some other connection (like the iBOB mailing list) or you can be vouched for by someone I know, ping me through the Craigslist ad and let's talk.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cute Alert Level Raised to Red

Time to quit my whining (at least for one post) and revel in the recent visit of Wilson, the World's Most Amazingly Stupendous Nephew... and, of course, his parents, my sis E.B. and bro-in-law Mark.

I have to say, the man travels in style. Here he is shortly after arrival, darn near naked save for the fashion-forward Viking hat knitted for him by Aunt Carla:

Pay no heed to the ugly brute holding our hero. Note, however, Mighty Wilson's non-plussed mom in the background, clearly unaware that Uncle Jason is collecting future blackmail material to be trotted out the moment he brings home a girlfriend. At least I resisted the urge to hang a clock around his neck Flavor-Flav style. I call him... MINI Flav!

The World's Most Awesomest Nephew also enjoyed the Botanical Center. Every funky leaf, stem, or stray bit of poky plant material had to be touched. Many of the gigantic koi swimming through the BC's assorted ponds enjoyed a brunch of Wilson's stray Cheerios, too.

Another at the Botanical Center, under its space-age geodesic dome. Hey, how did that ugly chump get into yet another photo? Dude, the guy from Ace of Cakes called, and he wants his no-soul patch back.

Other Des Moines activities that elicited pre-verbal grunts of joy from uncle and nephew alike included...

  • Costco. What can I say? The dude likes tubs of hummus the size of his head.
  • Farmer's Market, at least until the sensory overload caused him to shut down.
  • Blank Park Zoo. Petting a donkey's nose, getting squawked at by birds bigger than you are, what's not to love?
  • Giant, squishy mall playground. I'd always thought of those places as convenient birth control, but it was nice to turn the little ape loose in a "no sharp edges" zone for a while.
Small thumbs-down were awarded to...
  • Attempting (unsuccessfully) to sleep in Uncle Jason and Aunt Carla's unfamiliar guest room. Let's just say you can tell the kid's parents both play wind instruments, 'cause he's got LUNGS. (But, by Night 2, it was familiar, and he zonked.)
  • Hanging on to Dad for dear life at the Union Park Carousel. Note to self, activities that seem fun in theory may in fact terrify the tiny.
All in all, it was a hoot to host the family. Being an uncle rocks.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

RAGBRAI Rant #2: It's That Wagon You're Draggin'

News Flash #1: Iowa is NOT hilly. Yes, yes, yes, I've been to the Loess Hills, I've been to Dubuque, I've seen and ridden the bluffs that dot several regions of our fair state. But when you look at places that have REAL hills (heck, even the baby hills of Western Pennsylvania, where I learned to love my granny gear nearly as much as my own Granny), the most defining geographic feature of our state is its pool-table flatness.

News Flash #2: When you are doing your "training rides" in Central Iowa, your inspirational soundtrack of Hootie & The Blowfish/Lynrd Skynrd/ESPN Arena Rock 7/Best(?!?) of Garth Brooks does NOT need to be broadcast to ALL of Central Iowa. If your iPod's anything like mine, it came with a set of headphones. Try 'em. It's a pretty safe bet they won't make you any more clueless or less aware of your surroundings than you already are.

News Flash #3: There's a better-than-average chance that the fact you weren't aware of News Flash #2 explains the fact that you also missed out on News Flash #1. In other words, maybe Iowa wouldn't FEEL so hilly if you weren't dragging an abandoned hayrack loaded down with a Marshall stack and enough car batteries to send a Prius to Mars.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

RAGBRAI Rant #1: When Lycra Goes Wrong

As predicted, Thursday's "naked" post tweaked the content of my Google-inserted spam, but not in the way I expected. I saw five ads for bike clothing today. Cycle-capitalism trumps pornography on the Internet! Who knew? So, inspired by this sartorial swing, I'm taking my first snarky potshot at Iowa's big ride.

First, let me say that I am not a slender man. There was a time in my life where I could sort-of hang with a middle group of recreational riders on a mediocre climb, but these days, I've found some pounds. I know this about myself. Therefore, all the form-fitting, stretchy garments that formerly made up the bulk of my cycling wardrobe have been banished to a cedar-lined storage bin, to be pulled out from time to time as a not-so-gentle reminder of just how pudgy I've become.

The brand of cycle-enthusiast who enjoys RAGBRAI seems to know no such modesty. I'm not talking about the non-cyclists who drag out their Magnas and spend a day riding from beer to beer in whatever they happen to have handy. I'm talking about people who go in for the full kit but conveniently leave out the training miles. RAGBRAI organizers cater to this brand of cyclist with a vast selection of skin-tight jerseys absolutely guaranteed to accentuate the ICG, or Iowa Cyclist's Gut.

I cast no stones, for I too have the ICG. There's nothing to climb around here, so the more (ahem) "husky" physique of the flatland sprinter tends to dominate. Add some beers, a pork chop or three, and within a couple years, you too can have a jersey-jiggler. Then, you're faced with a choice: Modest baggy tee, or let it all hang out in Lycra.

Granted, there are (tenuous at best) performance gains to be made in jerseys. Nobody my size should claim an aero advantage, but at least the things wick. I'll buy that. However, the RAGBRAI jersey also seems to serve as a uniform/badge of honor, identifying the RAGBRAI rider to others of his herd. Thus, he feels the need to wear it everywhere: bike rides, outdoor concerts, grocery stores, police lineups, weddings, coffee shops, business meetings, and audiences with the Pope. So when I'm just trying to enjoy my third State Fair corn dog in peace, I have to be confronted by the consequences of those corn dogs in much-too-graphic "elastic over butter sculpture" detail.

RAGBRAI organizers, I beg of you: I'm sure you already make a nice t-shirt in sizes ranging from small to me. All you have to do is discontinue the jerseys. Our state already has a smoking ban. Let's stomp out cycling-related visual pollution while we're at it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On Riding "Naked"

Whew, that should dredge up some interesting Google ads.

But the scare quotes are entirely intentional. I'm talking "naked" in the "serious cyclist" sense. You know the "serious cyclist", the one who can't turn a crank without his special clipless-compatible shoes, his cycling-specific socks, his Lycra shorts, his multi-colored and multi-pocketed jersey, his cycling specific gloves, his cycling-specific headband, and his cycling-specific sunglasses (let's just agree not to talk about the helmet, the artifact that's launched a thousand intercycline Holy Wars). He's got a 70-ounce bladder of water strapped to his back, and he's gnawing on a Powerbar. All for the four-block ride to the grocery store.

If I seem to know that guy a little too well, it's because until recently, I was that guy. I started thinking of this activity as "cycling" (instead of just "riding a bike") back when I was a teenager: fat, socially awkward, and desperate for approval. Obviously, I clung to anything that made me part of The Group: Oakley Eyeshades and Look pedals/shoes (like Greg's), black Lycra shorts (like just about everyone's), and a gawdawfully garish team jersey that was way too small. Over the years, those things (or versions of them) became a mindless part of the activity, something I grabbed for out of habit, even though they were nothing more than an adolescent's attempt at sneaking into a clique.

Lately, I've been trying to tweak those old cycling security blankets, though. As much as I love my J&G Cyclewear Touring Shorts (and no one who's ever found their perfect pair of riding shorts will question the use of the word "love" here -- nor will they begrudge me the linked plug), I've been trying to ride in just, well, shorts. And a regular old, no-wicking, not-manufactured-in-a-lab cotton t-shirt. I leave the gloves behind. Sunglasses too. The final holdouts were the clipless-specific shoes, until I broke down and put a pair of $15 BMX pedals on my fixed gear... and loved them instantly. A pedal that lets me ride in whatever comfy shoes I happen to have on my (mutant) feet at any given moment! Who knew?

Lots of people, actually. Folks like Todd the 6-Miler, riding in Crocs. Or Bikelovejones Beth, eschewing foot retention. And of course, there's Kent the Mountain Turtle, extolling the virtues of platform pedals and ordinary shoes. Which I guess means that even when I'm casting off those artifacts of adolescent insecurity, I'm still looking for a clique. At least this one passes the Groucho Marx test: I'd like to be a part of it, even if they'll have me as a member.

Psst... Are They Gone Yet?

Let's see, consult any Iowa media outlet at any hour of the day... um, nope.

RAGBRAI starts next week.

I should have known by all the people I've seen gamely trying to cram months of training into the last four days, on bikes so new they still have the warning tags fluttering from their front quick-release skewers.

I'll wait to launch the full rant (most likely split into several bite-sized rants) for a few more days, when I have the bike racks, trails, and streets to myself.

(Ulterior motive: I fear that speaking ill of the Register's Annual Great Beer Run Across Iowa while its cult-like minions are still in town will get me beaten to a bloody pulp. And as much as I love the sound of my snarkiness, it ain't worth bleeding for.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

80-35 Music Festival, Plus Mini-Cam Test Run

Sorry for the lack of bike content lately. My recurrent back problem has been flaring up on me, so I spend my days shaped like a question mark. Carla has taken to calling me "The Riddler" as a result.

I did drag my old, achy self to the first-ever 80-35 Music Festival this weekend. Quite an event, and a nice poke in the eye to anyone who thinks that Des Moines lacks in coolness. I've kind of adopted Des Moines as my second hometown, so it warmed the cockles of my upper GI
tract to see so many people spanning so many age/race/subculture/sexual orientation/whatever groups crammed into the western end of our fair city. Two thumbs up to the event organizers and all the bands on the docket. Semi-bicycle-topical note, the festival even provided fenced-off, staffed bike parking, which made me wish I'd been able to ride.

I've been searching for a cheap little digicam so I can illustrate my ride reports, but my insistence on using a Macintosh (since about 1989, which officially makes me older than dirt in computer years) has been my undoing... until now. Found a $15 Spongebob Squarepants kiddie-cam this weekend and used it to document Day 2 of 80-35 as a test.

A band whose name I've forgotten, playing one of the free stages and supporting bike advocacy with a "Share The Road" sign in their stage show (okay, not really, but at least I got bikes in here somehow):

Our "hey, that's cool, let's buy some of their music" discovery of the festival, Kaiser Cartel:

And finally, just to break the monotony of my "distant bands shot on the same free stage" montage, here's yours truly (looking like he smelled something bad) and his much better half in an attempted self-portrait. Note the artistic reflection of the photographer's arm in his subject's sunglasses:

Friday, June 27, 2008

Further Faux-French, Front-Load Fun

A while ago, I experimented with adding a front basket to Carla's bike. Of course, as soon as I saw the results, I was smitten and more than a little jealous. Thus, I give you the Front-Load Fixie!

The parts list on this one is a bit simpler. I just took another Yaffa "bubble cube" (how did we end up with so many of these things in the garage?) and ran some heavy-duty Velcro straps through the cube holes to hang it from the bullhorns on my fixed gear. The bottom edge rests against my front brake without
hindering the brake at all -- although I have an idea that would keep the basket off the brake using an old, heavy-duty reflector bracket that I just haven't had time to mess with yet.
This setup has simplified my commuting and grocery runs immensely. I just pack my daily clothes into an old backpack (my messenger bag works too, but it's overkill), toss that into the basket, and off I go. I'd been looking for a way to get my gear off my back for the soupy-humid Iowa summer months; the fixed is set up for a rear rack, but I don't like rear-loading my fixie because it prevents me from using the "grab the front brake and lift the rear wheel to get a good starting pedal position" trick as explained by the late, great Sheldon Brown.

The backpack in a basket really helps for those grocery runs on the way home from work. Rather than trying to cram a couple items into an already-loaded messenger bag, I just take the backpack of clothes out of the basket, throw it on my back, and put the groceries in the now-empty basket. Slick!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Modem Meltdown Ride Report

If you want to find out just how bad your Web addiction is, try having your modem implode on a Friday morning -- with the replacement not scheduled to arrive until Monday night. It was a sad weekend with a heavy Internet monkey on my back, stealing bandwidth from my wife's Web-enabled phone, public libraries, the Apple Store, you name it. Hi, my name is Jason, and I have a problem.

Without my favorite time-waster, I was actually forced to ride on Saturday. Tooled down to the local bike shop in search of a replacement stem after applying my famous "Fists of Ham" human torque wrench to the fixie and snapping a handlebar-clamp bolt in a location that absolutely defied extraction. Then, it was on to the Walnut Creek Trail, site of my infamous leg-breaking crash last year, out to the Greenbelt, and on to the Raccoon River. Bonus discovery -- there's a bike shop just off the Raccoon River trail in Waukee that I'd never visited!

The trails were all open, though they displayed that silty, sandy crud that says, "I've been under flood waters recently." The fields weren't so lucky. A trail that should have been surrounded by knee-high formations of corn or lush creeping carpets of soybeans often looked like a path across the moon's surface.

I had my iPod with me, though I'm discovering that it may do more harm to my riding than good. Sure, there's a motivational factor in the music, but something about riding in isolation, increasing the wind noise, and engaging the drivetrain without hearing it seems to suck my energy. I almost understand the RAGBRAI rider's preoccupation with external stereo speakers, though I still hate it with a passion (but more on that as RAGBRAI season gears up).

On the return leg into Waukee, I happened to meet up with my ex-boss Tom Anderson, who shamed me by a) forcing me to work really hard to catch him, b) having plenty of breath to chat once I did, and c) doing so on his full-suspension mountain bike, while d) on the tail end of a gravel-road century, when I was e) at the 50 mile mark of an all-pavement ride on a road bike. Tom is an animal.

All told, I got 65 miles in just over four hours' ride time, and I was just tired -- not totally wiped out -- by the end. Metric century! 100k brevet! LimpStrong II training ride! Call it what you will, I call it a success.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Blogroll Theme of the Day: Zen

You may have noticed that I just tacked a couple more links on my Blogosphere Ephemera section over there in the lower right. Somehow, they both ended up with a Zen thing going on -- completely unintentional, but you can make of it what you will.

First up is Zen Biking by Steve Fuller. Steve and family (hi, Kathy and Connor!) used to be our next-door neighbors, sharing a driveway (and the joy of shoveling it with every snowstorm). You couldn't ask for better neighbors -- they kept our yard maintained and helped Carla get my much-needed recliner into the house while I was recovering from my broken leg. Steve's a high-mileage animal on two wheels (or three, when he had the trike), and although I don't think I could keep up with him on a bike, at least I can keep up with his exploits on his blog.

Continuing with the Zen theme, I've added Zen and the Art of Bicycle Building by Ethan Labowitz. I can't say that I know a lot about Ethan other than seeing his name pop up in some of the online fora that I haunt. However, after perusing his blog, it seems obvious that this guy is putting a lot of thought into how bikes come together. I think if I wanted to become a framebuilder, I'd pursue it the same way Ethan has. Since I know my level of mechanical/metalworking skill and the limits of my health insurance, I'll just leave that to Ethan and live vicariously.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Empty Niche in the Fleet

Pals Liam and Steve K. will recognize this as one of my semi-annual "I'm dissatisfied with my stable" navel-gazings. I'm going to take the sage advice of Milli Vanilli and blame it on the rain, which conveniently chooses to fall in drenching, windblown sheets only during the hours I don't work.

After my injury last year, I've noticed a real change in my riding style... less scorching, more "casual townie twiddling" rides. It's a style that's crying out for an "adult BMX" bike... one speed, massively fat rubber, flat pedals, maybe even a basket. The sort of bike that you feel a little stupid riding if you're wearing bike clothes. In my mind, it always looks like Kent Peterson's Redline Monocog. Of course, "Mountain Turtle" Kent took his on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race. Kent's kind of a lovable nut that way.

With Carla going back to school, I'm constrained by a strict, self-imposed "one bike in, one bike out" rule -- and I'm not allowed to touch
Carla's bike or the tandem. That leaves the Bruce Gordon (unlinked because I don't want anyone getting ideas -- that's my "pry it from my cold, dead fingers" bike) or the fixed gear.

Uh oh. The fixed-gear market is pretty good right now, isn't it? Throw some chopped riser bars on there and the thing might even be (gasp) trendy.

I can almost smell that tantalizing new-bike scent. Craigslist, here I come!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

News Flash!

No, not for you non-media civilians. This one's a flash for the two mega-corporate entities that controlled 98.3% of all American news outlets at last count.

THIS JUST IN! If you report that gas prices hit a record high EVERY DAY, it is NO LONGER NEWS. You might as well start every newscast with this: "Our sources report that the sun rose in the east today. Experts predict it will set in the west."

Not that I mind watching a different version of the same interview with a different version of the same idiot every day. He's always pouring a tanker truck of X-plus-12 cents-per-gallon gas (where X=yesterday's "record high") down the maw of his Hummer, watching the numbers spin like a slot machine on crack, and stammering, "I just don't know what I'm gonna do if this keeps up. Sell a kidney, maybe? Or a kid? I already stopped feeding them!"

Ah, there's nothing quite like the smug, holier-than-thou vantage point of a guy whose primary vehicle runs on coffee and Cheerios, eh?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Apparently, I'm It

Pal Scott (of Landscape Cycling fame) just "tagged" me in some kind of blog game I'd never heard of before. Scott 'splains it thusly:

"Pick up your nearest book and go to page 123. Find the fifth sentence, and post on your blog the next three sentences. Acknowledge who tagged you, and then tag five more people."

I'm sitting quite close to my collected poems of the late, great Shel Silverstein, so I'm grabbing a tattered copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends. And being a bender of writerly rules, I'm going to find the third stanza (which is, coincidentally, five lines long) and post that. Hey, I got the five and the three in there, right? And the third stanza is where the master put the punchline anyway:

Double-Tail Dog, by Shel Silverstein
He cannot bite, he'll never bark or growl,

Just scratch him on his tails, he'll find it pleasing.

But you'll have to take him out

For twice as many walks,

And I'll bet that you can quickly guess the reason.

I wonder how many writers can reach back into the memory banks and pull out that one author who really lit the fuse for them? I know I can. Shel Silverstein was the guy. His words were so milk-snorted-out-the-nose fun to read, I just knew that he must have been having an absolute ball when he wrote them down. His writing was joyous, poignant, sad, hilarious, elevated, base, thought-provoking, and just as accessible to 6-year-old me (I was a freak-savant reader, but more on that another day) as it is to me today, three decades later. And when I'm absolutely on my best game -- those rare writing moments where I make myself laugh out loud or suck in my breath -- I think, "That must be how he felt."

Now I'm obligated to tag five more people, but I don't know anyone to tag -- and it feels vaguely like a chain letter. So if you're reading and want to play along, post your responses as a comment here. I know I have some voracious readers and excellent writers (I'm looking at you, Stevens!) in my audience of four, so show me what you've got.

I'm also making up my own game, just to wreak my petty vengeance (bwaa haaa haa haaa!!) on Scott. Everyone please go over to Scott's blog (remember, it's Landscape Cycling), read until something he's written sparks a song lyric for you (the more annoying and mind-sticking the better) and post those lyrics as a comment. It's a variation on something I try to do to him as often as possible on the mailing list where we met.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Any Old Porteur in a Storm

Carla's Peugeot (first seen in my "Obligatory Fleet Rundown" series) just got a bit of a makeover, and it's looking a bit more French these days.

She wanted a way to carry a light load on the bike for grocery runs, riding to class, etc. So, with a cheap Nashbar mini-front rack, a Yaffa cube (otherwise known as a fancied-up milk
crate), a little hardware, a toestrap, too much spare time, a smidge of ingenuity, and a healthy dose of pure dumb luck, I came up with what you see here.

I drilled a hole in th
e bottom of the crate that aligns with the reflector hole on the rack and bolted the crate to the rack. Then, a toestrap through the cube-holes and rack stabilizes things in the rear.
It's not a rock-solid "let's throw 50 pounds of gear in there and tour over the Andes" setup, but for tooling around town at moderate speeds with a light load, it does the trick just fine. Carla likes the fact that she can see her stuff while she rides, and the fact that it makes her bike look "dorky, in a cool sort of way" (her words).

True connoisseurs of the porteur will no doubt exclaim, "But ze bike, she has too much trail! And ze wheels, why are they not 650B? Stupid American!" I concede all three points and promise not to submit this steed as a Bicycle Quarterly test subject, for fear of being taunted a second time.

Oh, and the bike now has an official name, inspired by its model (Orient Express) and its dorky/cool old lady vibe. I give you AGATHA!