From time to time I’ve mentioned that I find the local cycling scene, or more accurately local cyclists annoying (we’ll, maybe I’ve implied it more than directly written in).  Here’s an example of why.

Rider X was lamenting the fact that his kit was slightly different from the kit of his two teammates, each of whose kit, coincidently, was also slightly different.  This was on the start line of a cross race, where I’ve been told an eerie quiet descends before the gun.  Rider X was then heard to say something to the effect that he’d call his the state track champion’s skinsuit.  Reportedly loud enough for everyone to hear, of course.

Why is that at the lower levels of our sport, and let’s face it, apart from the odd occurrence, e.g., George Hincapie, the very best cyclist in New York is still a pimple on the derriere of cycling in the grand scheme of things, the backs are always arched and the attitude always rides high?  As a bunch, and I know it’s a gross generalization, but in all the years I’ve been riding and racing, I’ve found it to be a fairly accurate one, the local peloton is brash, unwelcoming and unfriendly.  Newbies suck, that guy’s not as good as me, I did that hill in this time, look at that Fred, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  Gus have so narrowly defined themselves that their self-esteem seems wrapped up in being a “cyclist” and towards that end, they have to stand up and shout their accomplishments, lest someone not know and think any less of them because of a poor showing.

I debated about writing about Rider X (and in fact called him Rider X) because I heard everything secondhand.  But I have had enough firsthand experience with him to believe that there isn’t any embellishment.  It’s always all about him.  This is the same guy who shows up to a 9W training ride with tubulars (borrowed tubulars no less).  This is the same guy whose teammates buy him breakfast when they’re on training rides.  No big deal in-of-itself until you decide to publically note the fact and lament that your teammates weren’t around on particular ride so you didn’t know where your snack iscoming from.  Maybe I’m picking on Rider X because I personally find him annoying and yet he’s managed to infiltrate my riding circle.  But, he’s not alone, especially not in the local peloton.

I’ve had the luck and good fortune to ride with some of the best the sport has to offer, all of whose names I’ve invariably dropped at some point (and am happy to do so again) in the course of writing A View From The Back – Fondriest, Tafi, Moser, Cassani, Motta, Clerici, Scinto, Sorensen, O’Neill, Fornaciari, Biasci, Magrini.  Holding aside Moser and Sorensen (exceptions that prove the rule perhaps), they were all incredibly approachable, friendly and modest.  While their fortunes are tied up in the fact that they are pros or ex-pros, they never give you the impression that they define themselves in terms of their cycling.  Sure it’s easier for them in some respects.  They’ve got nothing to prove to anyone.  Their accomplishments on the bike speak for themselves, and for the most part, they are still able to ride you into the ground.  But they’ve also got to listen to every cockamamie cycling story and inane question and they do so with grace. 

Not the local rider though.  They scoff at everyone and everything because they’re racers.  More than anything else though it’s the insecurity that baffles me.  I’ve no doubt Rider X’s comments were made because he knew he was not going to do well in that cross race.  In his insecurity, he had to let everyone know that he is a great, amateur track racer.  So insecure that he judges himself and therefore believes everyone else does so as well, on his performance at any given race.  Why else would anyone have the need to proclaim their championship to the masses in a completely different discipline?   How sad.

Of course, you should take racing seriously and do everything you can to do as well as you can, just as you should thoroughly enjoy the results you might reap.  And yes, I get that you do need to have some of that ubiquitous killer attitude to do well.  And that’s fine.  But at the end of the day it’s just a bike race and amateur one at that.  There’s so much more to life.  A little perspective goes a long way, especially once you figure out that there’s more to life than how you raced yesterday.  Heck, might even make you a little happier too.  That would bode well for the rest of us.

Random Pic
Thanks to No One Line who tweeted this rather funny cartoon.


Especially for MtJ
Get your umbrella out because you’re going to need it.  See you Tuesday.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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(c) Deborah Atkinson

(c) Deborah Atkinson

As I got home from a ride over the weekend, I ran into some friends from across the street who were just heading out.  It was 8:45am.  I had been on the bike for a good bit over three hours at the point. 

It never used to be like this.  Back in the good old days an early morning ride meant 8:00 am, and quite frankly, I found that tad too early, so usually it meant a 9:00 am meeting time.  And this at time when I was young enough to bounce back from anything, even a gig that went until 2:00 am.  Weekday training rides were not allowed before 7:00 am.   Never.

Then the alarm switched to 6:00 am.  I got a new job, I moved into the city, and I got a new girlfriend.  I couldn’t please everyone, so I sacrificed an hour of sleep to get my rides in.  I hated riding with the loop open to traffic in Central Park, but not even that could persuade me to get up earlier.  I would have rather done workouts at night (which I did and which I hated because it hung over your head all day long like that term paper in college.)  It was pretty much the same schedule in Italy, as I could get my ride in and still get to work on time.

I came back from Italy with a wife and more work responsibilities so I did the unthinkable and set the alarm for an hour in which the first digit was 5.  5.  5.  5.  I kept repeating to myself because I couldn’t believe it.  I figured maybe it would seem normal if I said it a lot.  I didn’t.  But, I’d get to the park by 6:00 am and meet some teammates and we’d do our thing.  The good part:  during the summer it was light out and the loop was closed to traffic.  Bad part: That darn Armstrong guy had set of a cycling resurgence and the park was a kind of crowded.

It was somewhere during this time, Sayid decided we should do our weekend rides at the then unthinkable hour of 7:00 am.  His thinking was we could beat the rest of the world, get back early, like by 11:00, and still have the whole day.  And so we did, relishing it every time we’d be on our way back on Riverside Drive and we’d see the legions heading out.  Oh the fond memories I have of those days of riding in actual sunlight.

My son was born and I got more responsibility at work.  The park kept getting more and more crowded and training started becoming more and more difficult, so Sayid upped the meeting times.  He moved weekend times to 6:00 am, which was fine with me because I could get back to take care of my son, but he also moved the weekday times.

First it was 5:30, which was okay because I could still get up while the clock was showing a 5 as the first digit.  Unfortunately, we noticed we could only get in about 30 minutes of hard riding before the crowds hit the park.  The first response was to head over the bridge during the week.  Not so common when we started doing it – not saying we were the first but we didn’t have much company.  That worked when there was enough sunlight in the summer, but not so good for the spring, fall and winter.   So Sayid did the unthinkable and upped the meeting time to 5:00 am.  This is where I drew my finish line in the sand.

I don’t remember the exact words, but suffice it to say my mom would have been reaching for the dish soap.  No way.  I wasn’t budging.  Not a chance.  And then I did.  My daughter came along, and I needed to be back even earlier than before.  If I wanted to get my 2-2.5 hours in on a weekday, I had to get out earlier – really kind of simple math.  And so the alarm clock was set for 4:20 am.

I still remember the first time.  It was surreal.  I just given up sunshine.  About the only positive was that I could run up 10th Avenue instead of the bike path. It was just me, a few club goers trying to keep their night alive a little longer and the garbage trucks.   I tried to console myself with the idea that it was a strategic advantage on race day as I would be getting up a normal time while everyone else would be still sleepy-brained because of the super early wake up call.  That lasted about two rides.

The funny thing is now it seems pretty normal, to us at least.  About the only time I realize just how insane it really is (getting up at 4:20 am for anything, especially a hobby is simply not normal under any circumstances, unless it’s hockey because of the rink times and even then it really isn’t ok) is when I’ve just met someone and the conversation invariable works its way to cycling, as it always does.  You get some pretty strange looks when you say “I get up at 4:20 am to go riding.”

So while I looked at my friends with wide-eyed wonder and a fondness as I recalled the glorious days of sleeping in, I wouldn’t change my routine for anything.  It’s 8:45 am, and I’ve got the whole day to spend with my family.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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Riding back from some shopping last week, I was run into by a bicycle delivery guy going the wrong way up the bike path on 9th Avenue.  He was too busy looking at some woman walking across the street to notice that he was a) veering across the bike path and b) he was now heading straight for me.  I can’t remember why, but I couldn’t move to my left and didn’t want to for fear the numbskull was going to suddenly take corrective action and head straight for me again.  In the end, the impact wasn’t a big deal, as I had slowed down to a crawl and he finally realized where he was headed.  There wasn’t much to say and no harm was done, so I just kept on my way.  And while I was ticked off, I can’t say I was the least bit surprised.

Someone once wrote “Cycling’s enemy is not the car; it is the idiot” (actually, the BikeSnob wrote that, and although I don’t read the Snob with any regularity, when the Snob writes something like that it usually becomes part of the vernacular.)  The problem is there is no cure for the idiot. 

We live in a world in which everyone is so self-centered, so self-absorbed, that I question what awaits my kids when they grow up.  Why else do people walk three-abreast down a crowded sidewalk?  Why else do people walk in the bike lanes?  Why else did I get run into?

I live in a condo in Chelsea.  Small enough building that everyone knows everyone.  A couple of months ago, I walk into a smoked filled elevator on my way down to get my bike.  I ask the doorman what’s going on (I’m also on the condo board) and what he tells me is beyond belief.  I head up to the roof deck, where another unit owner and his half-dozen friends are sitting on the water tank compartment, lighting firecrackers and throwing them onto the roof deck.  Said unit owner’s reaction when I tell him to stop is “What’s wrong, they’re noiseless firecrackers?”  We once had a fire in the building once because someone threw their cigarette butt either from a balcony or the roof deck onto someone else’s terrace.

We live on a block where there is a movie shoot just about every other week.  A neighbor got into it with one of the guys who puts the cones out 24 hours in advance to keep cars from parking.  Mind you, the shoot doesn’t start until the next day at 6am, but they’ve already blocked off the street.  Anyway, my neighbor tells the guy he’s parking in front of the building and that the car will be moved by 6 am as required.  The cone guy doesn’t like that and suddenly there are three of them confronting my neighbor and one of them takes a swing with a pipe at my neighbor as he enters the building.  Over a parking spot, that was going to be vacated on time anyway.

More than anything what bothers me is that way the people make their issue your issue.  Take my friend, the delivery guy.  He’s going the wrong way, not me, yet I’m now the one with the issue.  Same when there’s a double parked car that forces you into traffic.  You’re the one getting yelled out, when the other drivers’ real issue is with the double parkers, not you.

So what’s the point?  I’m not sure there is one.  Originally, I set out to expand on the thought that despite the Snob’s voice that cyclists need to be treated more like cars, what we really need is to try for as much rideable “territory” as we can possible get.  Obviously, I veered off that path.

The Snob went on to write, “When it comes to sharing our roadways, the most important thing is to retain our humanity by respecting our fellow humans.”  Ubuntu botho renewed.   And yet, try as I might to live it, and trust me it’s hard just because it’s a hard thing to do, it does take two to make it work.  “My humanity is bound up in your humanity.”  Actually it takes all of us, but I’d settle for a handful. 

Armstrong to the 2011 Ironman
Apparently Lance Armstrong is going to do the Ironman Championships in 2011.  I guess it’s cool, although I’m sure the we could do without a MellowJohnny’s sleeveless jersey being on the market.  Armstrong should do well given his triathlon background and the fact that if Udo Bolts’ experience is anything, Armstrong should be the first one off the bike.   The bigger question is what’s Armstrong’s obsession with Laurent Jalabert?  First professional cycling.  Then the New York City Marathon.  Now the Ironman.  What’s next?  Armstrong tries for the polka-dot jersey next year?

That’s today’s view from the back.

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(c) nvtech.com (c) WatchBuddy

(c) nvtech.com (c) WatchBuddy

What’s your weekly mileage?  Dumb question.  Who cares?

We’ve all done it or experienced it or both, especially if you have a time commitment on the back end of your ride.  The ride speeds up as people start to realize they might not get as many miles in is they had planned.  Suddenly, a peaceful ride has turned into something much harder than you wanted to do or should be doing.  It’s probably the most difficult change to make, but switching to thinking about training on a time basis can have a profound effect.

Ever notice that whenever you read about a pro’s training plan it’s almost always expressed in hours, not in distance.  There are many reasons why, but they all pretty much boil down to the fact 20 miles into a headwind is not the same as 20 miles into a tailwind just as 20 miles solo is not the same as 20 miles in a group.  Once you make the switch, you’ll find you’re less concerned about getting to point B and more concerned about the type of workout you are doing.  This, in turn, enables you to incorporate the right mix of intensity, speed-work, power-work and recovery into your training which will make you a better cyclist.  Unless you’re a professional cyclist (in which case, you’re training by hours already), you most likely have a few constraints on your time.  If you commit yourself to x miles for the day, and then you find either your more tired than you thought or that headwind really is a kicker, your forced to either overextend yourself to make x mile marker or miss the marker and have that weigh on your conscience.  If you’re training by hours you go as hard as you need to for as long as you need to and then stop.  The conditions are somewhat irrelevant.

For the record, I train about 6-8 hours a week if I’m racing, and 9-11 hours if I’m not – it’s all I can fit in.  What that equates to in terms of mileage, I’d have to guess.  I don’t own a cyclocomputer.

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Fall Revisited
POCyclistSignI had completely forgotten about the one key benefit of the cooler temperatures that arrive with the fall.  They thin out the crowd, significantly.  Riding around Central Park yesterday was actually almost pleasant (apart from the monotony of laps – a back of the envelope calculation puts me at around 2,000 miles in the park this year; that’s a lot of laps.)   It was nice having the park mostly to myself which also made navigating the pedicabs and traffic at the south end a non-issue. 

Of course it only takes one (or in this case two) to let a little air out of an otherwise enjoyable experience.  Spinning an easy gear, I rode the whole time on the left side of the circuit, within a foot or two of the joggers’ lane.  That would leave, oh, a lane and ½, to be conservative, of roadway to the right. An entire group of triathletes could fit through there without incident.  Which is why I was wee bit nonplussed when idiot #1 tried to pass me on the left via the joggers’ lane.

Now for the most part, I’m pretty easy going.  I don’t care if you ride next to me.  I don’t care if you ride behind me.  I’ve come to expect that you’re going to cut me off when you pass me on the right, so I don’t even care about that.  I just ask that you don’t screw up my workout, don’t unnecessarily make me alter what I’m doing because of your incompetence and don’t put me in an unsafe situation.  Needless to say, idiot #1 tried to come to the right when he encountered runners in the joggers’ lane (who would have thought there’d be runners in the joggers’ lane) and found me, surprise, surprise, still there.  He apologized, and I thought maybe he’d figured out he wasn’t in a good place.  That thought last the 20 seconds later it took for it to happen again.  This time, I ever so gently recommend that he ride on the clear, open highway-sized swatch up open road to my right, where he can pass me freely without having to choose between hitting runners or hitting me.  Advice he follows.  Now I probably should have just moved over and avoided the situation, but that goes against made his stupidity my problem. 

With idiot #1 gone, I was back to a nice easy spin with no one around.  That lasted half a lap when idiot #2 does the same thing.  This time I just slowed down to almost a stop and left him to go up the road.

Here’s looking forward to 25 degree mornings this winter.

World Champions Due (as in Two)
While I can’t say I’m a fan of Cadel Evans, it will be fun to watch the world champion’s jersey being four minutes down and making useless jump, after useless jump in each of the Grand Tours next year.   At least the rainbow jersey will be seen, unlike this year with Ballan.

Anyway, in July 2003, I was doing my first Maratona dles Dolomites in Alta Badia, Italy.  The race is always on a Sunday, and the team ritual is to do a short ride up the Campolongo, a 6km climb which is featured twice in the race, and the back down to the Sponsor Village.  My wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) decided to join us.  Also joining us was former World Champion Francesco Moser, the surliest person you’ll ever meet. 

Pre-Ride with Francesco Moser

Pre-Ride with Francesco Moser

Moser is the only ex-pro I’ve ever met who still rides like they’ve got something to prove.  So as we start the Campolongo going at a snail’s pace, Moser goes straight to the front and eventually is clear by a good 300 meters.  We all just keep ticking over the pedals slowly making our way up.  Well almost all of us.

Next thing I see is my wife, who despite being a pretty good climber, has never climbed 6 km (or 3 km or 2 km for that matter), going off the front.  Then she’s caught Moser.  Then she’s passed Moser.  She did everything but give him “The Look” as she went by him like he was standing still (to be fair, while Moser was riding inexplicably harder than the group he was supposed to be enjoying an easy spin with, it wasn’t like he was racing my wife or anything).  Later on I tried explaining to her that “racing” an ex-world champion was bad form, and that’s when I got “The Look.” 

That’s today’s view (or should it be “look”) from the back.

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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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Isola Pedonale

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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