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Archive for September, 2009

Give Me The Summer Anytime

Give Me The Summer Anytime

September 22nd,  2009.  The first day of fall and the beginning of the end.  I never understand all the blather about how the fall is so wonderful.  “It’s not too hot”, “the air is crisp”, “the colors are beautiful” – what a bunch of [expletive deleted].   The fall is absolute worst time of the year.  Bar nothing.

The air is not crisp, it runs from hot to cold and everything in between, all in the matter of three days.  You’re riding a bike, not sightseeing, so who cares what color the leaves are.  You should just be worried that those red and yellow leaves are now on the ground and wet as you make your way through a corner you on a descent you are bombing.  Who likes seasons anyway?

I should note I have a weather neurosis, probably bordering on cheimaphobia.   That’s what makes fall so awful.  The temperature variances from one day to the next are enough to drive you nuts.  The morning routine of what to wear is worse than watching my wife get ready for work.

Complicating matters is the fact that the longer you ride a bike the more [expletive deleted] you accumulate.  I’ve got racing arm warmers, regular arm warmers and thermal arm warmers.  I’ve got thermal booties, regular booties and over socks.  I’ve got fleeced lined tights, regular tights, knee warmers and bib-knickers, fleeced-lined of course.  I’ve got pretty much everything.  Half my closet is devoted to my cycling gear.  It got to the point that I had to develop a laminated, color coded play book to get me dressed.  Based on actual temperature and “real feel” differentials (and which weather service to use is another chapter in War & Peace on its own) it dictates what piece of gear needs to go where, when.  Of course, the problem is that it adds 30 minutes to the process, so I’m pretty much getting up right after I go to bed.

Give me the summer any day.  It’s easy.  Short-sleeve jersey, bib shorts and go.  Even in the dead of winter is better than the fall.  You know it’s going to be cold, so it’s just a matter of how cold – below 30o, winter jacket; above 30o, winter vest, everything else is the same.  Oh, but not the dreaded fall f or its much ballyhooed sister spring.  Keep them both.  I need to find a home on the equator.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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BrooklynBridgeThe New York Times ran an interesting OpEd piece over the weekend calling for a ban of bikes on the footpath of the Brooklyn Bridge.  One with which all cyclists should thoroughly agree.  With is proposal to ban cyclists on the footpath but to create dedicated bike lanes on the Brooklyn Bridge roadway, Robert Sullivan hits the nail on the head.  Trading shared pedestrian space for roadway is a deal we should always be made.

The problem with the turf war between cyclists, pedestrians, runners, et. al. (described in this New York magazine article using Central Park as a microcosm) has always seemed misdirected.  The focus of these groups, each with their own hard-core, self-focused views on the topic, should be at who to carve up the limited space available to them, it should be on how to create more space.  The issue shouldn’t be with the other groups, it should be with the zillions of cars that plague the city.

With European Union mandates as a driving force, most major cities across the EU have some sort of traffic limiting plan in place.  Some are permanent, such as London charging a fee to drivers entering the center of the city, while others are periodic.  Every month or so, cars are banned in Rome and the historic center is declared an isola pedonale(pedestrian island).  If you have any idea how deep the Roman love of their cars runs, you can appreciate the accomplishment of the isola pedonale.  The point is there are ways to make it work and their on display in large metropolises all over the world.

Navigating The Brooklyn Bridge

Navigating The Brooklyn Bridge

What to do about New York?  In addition to reviving Mayor Bloomberg’s apparently now forgotten congestion pricing plan, why not ban cars on a few main arteries around the city.  Why not open one avenue somewhere in the middle along with five or six east-west streets for pedestrian traffic (which would include cyclists)?  As Sullivan suggests on the Brooklyn Bridge, there would have to be dedicated bike lanes created as well, otherwise, we’re back to the current poorly-focused turf war.  But, coupled with the eastside and westside bike lanes, you’d have three north-south routes and six or so east-west routes.  Some cross-streets, perhaps the major ones, i.e., 14th, 23rd) would have to remain open to traffic.  In exchange, the city could get rid of the ill conceived bike lanes on 8th Avenue and 9th Avenue, along with the slightly better one on Broadway (slightly better at least until the stupidity that reigns supreme with the Times Square debacle).  The city already has its pilot run with the closing of Park Avenue during the summer.  Why not make it permanent?

Not following much in the way of the whole debate, I can’t imagine that anything here is original.  I much preferred it when there were no “sophisticated” bike lanes wreaking havoc for both cars and cyclists alike.  It was easier to get around the city and much, much safer.  Whatever the solution is, the real issue is that we’re all missing the issue in the first place.  The focus of all non-driving groups should be creating more dedicated non-driving area and not on beating each other up over the limited space there is today.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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Why Do I Bother
I’m a firm believer that you will get better following a plan, no matter what plan you’re following.   So every fall, I sit down and create my training plan for the upcoming season.  I just finished mine for 2010.  It’s got all the prerequisites for a training plan, base periods, build periods, peak periods and racing periods, plus rest weeks built in.  I leave it at that level because the plan is for me to figure out the actual workouts at the beginning of each week of the plan.  I enjoy putting the plan together (makes me happy to think about the possibilities for the next year and to leave behind the disappointments of the past season), and I like having my plan finished.

Of course, the problem is I never stick to the plan.  Never.  Not Once.  It simply can’t be done.  And it’s not for lack of trying.  I’ve made it as far as 12 weeks into the plan once, but then it all goes awry – not enough time to actually go out and ride, everyone else seems to be going so fast, going to hard during the rest week.  Invariably, something derails then plan.

 So truth be told, I have no idea why I bother putting the thing together when I already know there’s no chance I’ll actually follow through on it.  Pretty stupid, and yet, I can promise you this time next year, I’ll be writing about my new, spiffy training plan for the 2011 season.

Technology, Technology, Technology
Speaking of stupid, in addition to banning radios, the UCI also voted to phase out cyclists in all levels of the sport.   The UCI apparently felt with today’s sophisticated training methods, diet regimens and athletic specialization, the riders themselves were too far technically advanced to allow them to continue racing.

Worlds
With the World Championship Road Race on Sunday, here’s my favorite two shots from when I went to the 2004 Worlds in Verona. It’s Cristian Moreni’s wife or girlfriend as they came around on the first lap. 

La ragazza di Moreni

La ragazza di Moreni

It reminds of the one and only time my wife came to watch me race (we were still dating then).  She sat and read a magazine.  Not that I blame her at all.  Watching cycling is a lot like watching baseball, unless you really know what’s going on, it’s a tad bit boring.

Moreni when he spots his lady friend

Moreni when he spots his lady friend

 

Moreni e la ragazza

Moreni e la ragazza

I do have several shots of the actual race, but a) I’m no Graham Watson and b) you can go online and see a zillion photos and probably some videos of it.  I just always found this series of photos compelling for some reason.

Parting Shot
It took me four years of trying, but I’ve finally made a passable cuore.  Reports from Italy, of course I sent the photo around to my friends back in the motherland, are all positive.  Maybe I can land a job as a barista.  Then again, they’re probably not hiring either.

Un cappucio

Un cappuccio

That’s today’s view from the back.

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Ibert? WhyBert?

My son started school last week which is great because it means there’s yet a whole new bunch of folks I get to introduce myself as a cyclist to.   That said, the father of a classmate of my son approached me in the park with this: “Your wife told me you do a lot of riding.  What do you think of the Ibert?  I just got one.  It’s great.”  Apart from being annoying (I really don’t like that assumption that people make once they hear you ride a bike that you know about every single piece of [expletive deleted] that’s ever come out.  A small divergence and a note to parents in the local park: I don’t know a good bike shop in the neighborhood that can tune-up your 15 year-old bike you just dusted off for the first time in five years.  I can tell you where I take my bikes and it’s not in the neighborhood and it’s not cheap so don’t gasp at the price of a tune-up.).   Anyway, it turns out the Ibert safe-T-seat is a front mounted child seat for your bike.  Why anyone would get a front mounted seat, let alone be all giddy about it, is beyond me. 

Ibert safe-T-seat

Ibert safe-T-seat

I’m can’t call this a review because I don’t have one, and I’ve never tried one.  I’ll simply call it an opinion piece.  Personally, I use a Co-Pilot Limo to port my son around on my commuter.  I like it a lot.  It’s the only one I’ve ever used, so I won’t say it’s the best thing out there, but it can’t be far off.  It’s rear-mounted and slides on and off the rack that is included with it.  The only two issues I have with it are due to the short chainstays on my commuter the safety bar rubs against my saddle every time I put it down or life it up and when they tell you to be careful taking it off the bike because your finger might get caught in the rack, they’re not kidding.  Still, I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking.

Turning back to the Ibert, it also slides on and off of an attachment you clamp on to over the spacers on your steerer tube.  According the website, the advantages over a rear-mounted seat are:

• Interaction with your child
• Child has a better view
• Easier/safer loading and unloading of your child
• Better center of gravity
• Similar construction to rear-mounted seats
• Easy to install
• One adult can take multiple children for bike rides

All probably true, although when I’m riding my child through the very safe and lightly trafficked streets of Manhattan, I’m really not all that concerned about interacting with him or how good a view he had.  My main concern is safety, his safety.

Safety
And that’s the main reason I think the Ibert and most front mounted seats that I’ve seen are terrible.  If you go down, there is absolutely zero protection for your kid.  There’s no sidewall and no head rest, so your child’s head is almost guaranteed to hit the ground and most likely their arms as well.  I’m not saying that it can’t happen with the rear-mounted seat, but at least there is a protective shell that strives to minimize contact with the ground.

That looks comfortable

That looks comfortable

Rideability
I stop at the safety concern, but if you’re not deterred yet, my first question to my new found friend was “Can you ride without having to flare your knees out to the side?”  “Uhm, no.”  Death blow number two.  If you’re carrying another ~40 lbs on your bike, I’m thinking you want to be able to at least ride as comfortable and as efficiently as possible.  Of all the crazy bike positions I’ve seen racing my bike, the one I’ve never seen in front of me is the guy with the knee pointed out.  Not efficient and not comfortable.

No Head Support
The Ibert has no head support for the child which isn’t a big deal because no young kid ever falls asleep in strange places.  I’ve had my son fall asleep while riding on my bike in his seat, and there was no issue.  I just reached back to make sure his head was positioned against the rear wall and the side wall, and rode until from Central Park to the Village.  Had to wake him up when we got to our destination.  That’s not happening on the Ibert.

Other Minor Issues
The capacity with the Ibert is 38lbs versus 50 lbs for my Co-Pilot Limo.  I have to imagine that is due the 4-bolt clamping mechanism for the “stinger system” attachment to the steerer tube.  I can’t imagine that having 38 lbs pounds clamped to the steerer tube is better than having to adjust because of the extra weight on the rear of your bike with a rear-mounted child seat.  I’m also having a hard time picturing how you don’t get skewered by the “stinger system” attachment when the seat is not mounted on the bike, especially if you were to crash.

Co-Pilot Limo

Co-Pilot Limo

The Ibert safe-T-seat just maybe the greatest seat ever, but I’ll never find out.  The safety issues in the event of a crash (lack of head support, lack of sidewall protection and the like) are enough for me to say no to the Ibert.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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The Grind

OldManCyclistAs I was heading out the door for a ride the other day, my wife told me to have fun.  I had to laugh.  Does anyone actually enjoy riding their bike?  I can vaguely recall looking forward to going out for a ride, like ten years ago.  Nowadays the mere thought of the rollout to the George Washington Bridge is enough to keep me indoors.  Riding is a chore, just another thing that has to be done.

I’m guessing my experience is not too uncommon.  You start out riding, and you can’t get enough, especially after the first race.  Soon your world revolves around the bike, and you can’t wait to head out for that solo 80-mile training ride.  At some point though, you find that solo ride isn’t all that appealing and that no matter how many different routes you have at your disposal, they’re all a little stale.  Eventually, you will do almost anything to avoid having to ride alone (and that ability to train solo is probably the most important asset for any cyclist).  That and the fact that the thought of being on the bike for six hours is excruciating.

Sure there are those days where everything just clicks, and the bike is fun again.  Yesterday for example.  I went out at 1pm for an out and back on River Road, a local favorite because it’s tucked away from a lot of traffic and it’s got some rollers to keep it interesting.  There were few cyclists on the bridge on the way out and for the most part riders on River Road where going the other direction, so I pretty much had the road to myself.  The weather was great (heck, I was riding and there was the sun, the whole sun, not just a little crescent poking its head above the buildings), and I was feeling pretty good.  It reminded me of why I got hooked on riding in the first place.  And, of course, races are just different.  It’s not so much a love or hate thing, there’s just little time to think about whether I am having fun or not during a race, and the stories afterwards are always good for a laugh.  There are a million reasons that I ride even if I don’t take the same pleasure from it that I did when was much younger.

In ’99 I did the Masters 30+ at the now defunct Killington Stage Race.  A friend’s sister, who eventually raced for Diet Rite, and her boyfriend, Ronnie Z., were also racing – Ronnie Z., a Cat. II, happened to be in my field.  Earlier that summer, Ronnie Z. had told me that you can’t have a family, have a job and be a Cat. II.  You could have two of the three, but not all three.  Ten years later, I finally understand what he meant.  Cycling has become just another thing to fit in – wake up, play with kids, ride for 3 hours, relieve wife at the park, get kids fed, take kids back to the park, cook dinner, put kids to bed, go to bed immediately because you’re getting up in seven hours to ride.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, and I wouldn’t change a thing.  This is life, and it’s grand.  It can also be a grind.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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I Is What I Is
I Ride Therefore I AmI went to two networking events this week, both of which left me scratching my head and wondering if just maybe my perspective is a wee-bit skewed.  Both events were gatherings of ex-colleagues from the last two companies for which I worked.  While it was nice to catch up with people, some of whom I haven’t seen in over 10 years, a disturbing pattern played out with everyone I met.

“Hey, are you still riding?”
“How’s the racing going?”
“How many miles did you ride this year?”

Time and time again, I was greeted with questions about my riding.  In and of itself, no big deal.  And there was I time when I probably would have been proud that everyone knew I ride.  But, here’s the rub.  It can’t be a good thing, that the one thing everyone remembers about you is that you ride a bike.  No questions about my family, no questions about what I was doing, no questions about what I thought about the economy or anything else.  Just “how’s the bike riding going?” over and over and over and over again. 

Now it might not sound like a terrible thing, but at a networking event, where many if not most are trying to make contacts that might eventually lead to a new opportunity, yours truly included, it cannot be a good thing to be remembered more for your hobby (albeit a passionate one) than for the work you did and the success you had.  Am I so shallow that my marketing message consists of single word, cyclist?  I might not be too concerned if I were an ex-pro, but that’s certainly not the case. 

After the second event, I had this moment of self-awareness in which it became clear to me that I needed to start defining myself in other terms especially in the midst of a job search.  I didn’t go so far as to develop my elevator pitch, but focus on not talking about cycling unless the subject was brought up by someone else.  That’s why it was rather disheartening when I was at an event at my son’s school a couple of nights ago, and I hear myself mention cycling with three minutes of meeting another parent.  Check that, every other parent.  Oh well, I guess we are what we.

Get Well Soon
With the Worlds just around the corner, I received an email this morning that former World Champion Maurizio Fondriest had a mountain biking accident and broke his ankle which required surgery. 

I first met Maurizio through the team that I rode for in Italy of which he was also a part.  Later I went to one of his bike camps and an idea was born to bring people from the US over to ride with him.  Along with my friend and teammate Pat, we did just that in 2005.  By all accounts it was a great trip.  What made it a great trip was Maurizio, who is a very engaging, super nice guy – an absolute pleasure to be around.

With Maurizio outside of Cles (his hometown) on the day I picked up my Fondriest

With Maurizio outside of Cles (his hometown) on the day I picked up my Fondriest

He also has stayed incredibly fit since retiring, riding his road bike and, especially his mountain bike a tremendous amount.  In the winter, he turns to sci alpinissmo, in which you cross-country ski up the mountain and ski down regularly (I can’t attest to his sanity, as he does it at before the sun comes up and then jumps into one of the many lakes at the top before skiing back down.)

Looks pretty cold

Looks pretty cold

It’s also funny to see what being a former World Champion will let you get away with.  My wife rode with Maurizio and I on a few occasions.  Though a good climber, one time we came upon a hill where she was struggling.  Maurizio pushed her up the hill.  You have to understand that because she doesn’t ride much, my wife doesn’t like it when I get within two feet of her, let alone push her.  Later she told me it was as if Maurizio was on a motorcycle.  The next day, emblazoned by her experience with Fondriest and facing the idea of struggling up an 8km climb with Maurizio nowhere in sight, she let me push her, for a long, long way, I might add.  Of course, our bars tangled and she went down, and I won’t live long enough to be forgiven.  Why do I get the feeling that if she would have fallen with Maurizio, she would have been apologizing?

Guarisci presto, Maurizio!

That’s today’s view from the back.

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I have lots of neurosis when it comes to cycling.  Above all is my weather neurosis – it’s easy to pick me out at any of the Spring Series races when it’s cold, I’m the one with his whole closet stuffed in his backpack – but running a close second is my night before a race dinner routine.   Dinner has got to feature pasta, no ifs, ands or buts.

In 2003 when I did my first bike race in Italy, I was living alone (my then girlfriend/now wife still hadn’t made the trip over), and I still thought a pasta dinner meant opening a jar of Ragu, and given my cyclist’s arms that wasn’t always a guaranteed outcome.  These days I do all of the cooking at home, but back then I made it through the first four months without the wife on pizza and crashing dinner at my future sister-in-law’s home. 

That’s not entirely true as there was one dish I could make well, a pasta with a tuna sauce, and I made it often.  I did pretty well in that race and so pasta al tonno has become a staple of the pre-race routine.  Certainly not the only pasta, but it’s a got an open invitation to the pre-race dinner table.

The beauty of this dish is that whole thing can be done in the time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta.  Now while I won’t vouch for its caloric or nutritional value, – I have no idea, but it’s pasta so how bad for you can it be – I will vouch for its economic value both in terms of the preparation and cost of the ingredients.  And it’s downright one of the tastiest pastas you can make.

Pasta al Tonno

Pasta al Tonno

Pasta al Tonno
Prep Time:  5 minutes
Total Time:  20 minutes (depending on the pasta you choose)
Servings:  Kind of depends on how much you eat or how long the race is

Ingredients
A note about the amounts, they’re all of the more or less variety, e.g., if you like more tuna, put more tuna in, it won’t hurt.

  • 1 clove garlic, chopped or minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 anchovies (key ingredient which really gives a burst of flavor to the sauce)
  • 7 oz tuna, drained
  • 12 oz passata di pomodoro (tomato puree) – this is a staple to have in your kitchen.  I like the La Valle Passata di Pomodoro although in a pinch I’ll also use Pomi
  • 12-15 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 ½ tablespoons capers
  • ½ vegetable bouillon cube
  • White wine (optional)
  • Peperoncini (red pepper flakes, optional)
  • 1 box pasta – for this dish I particularly like farfalle as the butterflies capture bits of tuna, olive and capers

Directions

  1. Set water for the pasta to boil on the stove.   While waiting for the water to boil begin making the sauce.  At some point during this process the water will boil.  Put the pasta in the water then.  If you buy Barilla or De Ceccho pasta, the box tells you how long to cook it.  They’re always right
  2. Chop the garlic
  3. Pit and chop the olives
  4. In a large sauce pan (large enough to fit the pasta once it is cooked – I like to use a cast iron pot) add olive oil, garlic and anchovies.  Set heat to medium-low and stir until anchovies are mostly dissolved.  Stirring will also keep the garlic from burning
  5. Add the tuna to the sauce pan.  Break up the chunks as you continue to stir – you want to break it up to the point that it is similar to chop meat
  6. Add white wine and stir for 2-3 minutes (this is optional, but gives the sauce more flavor)
  7. Add the passata di pomodoro and turn the heat to the low.  Continue stirring while the sauce simmers
  8. Add the bouillon cube and stir until dissolved
  9. Add the olives and stir for 1-2 minutes
  10. Add the capers with a touch of the brine from container the capers came in and stir
  11. Add salt to taste, although I find this unnecessary – that’s what the anchovies and the bouillon cube were for
Il Sugo - The Sauce

Il Sugo - The Sauce

At this point the sauce is pretty much complete although the longer you can simmer it the better it will be.  The most important part of this or any pasta dish comes when the pasta is cooked.  Do not put the pasta in a serving bowl and pour the sauce over it.  It’s imperative that you “cook” the sauce onto the pasta.   After you’ve drained the pasta throw it into the sauce pan with the heat on simmer and stir it around until the sauce and pasta are completely mixed.  I can’t stress how important this step is to bringing out the flavor and truly integrating the dish.

That’s it.  Simple.  It can’t take you more than 20 minutes and it can’t cost you more than $20 even if you are buying all the ingredients for the first time. 

Buon appetito.

That’s today’s view from the back (of the kitchen).

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