Thursday, September 30, 2010

nerves, round two.

On the precipice of a new racing season I am feeling the doubts.

I went to my final cross practice last night (hosted by the nice folks of Existential Velo), and while all the fast kids were doing eight, ten, fiteen laps around the little practice course, I barely manged three or four before having to stop, reach for my inhaler, and lean over my handlebars wheezing like an old lady. My legs felt merely okay, fine for commuting; but without a solid plan of action to learn how to train (and, frankly, without time, energy or the aid of someone more experienced), they turned to rubber halfway through the long, steep runup.

This was probably my worst cross practice of the season. Considering that I've only made the concerted effort five times now (two clinics plus three practice sessions on my own or with friends), I can't be surprised at the lackluster feeling of it all.

The truth is that cyclocross is NOT my favorite discipline to participate in. I hate running; and I hate having to run while carrying my bike even more. On top of that, cross courses are long and fast, with fewer transitions or other technical demands to slow things down enough for me to catch my breath. Once I recognized all of that earlier this summer, and decided that I do cyclocross more for the social aspect and the challenge of making myself do hard things, I was at peace with it. But still, it's hard to be so out-of-shape in the presence of others who are so consistently strong and fit. Reminding myself that I'm working with a different body doesn't always help me feel better; sometimes I just envy the younger and healthier folks and that's all there is to it.

I am torn between wishing I could devote more of myself to this so I could actually get stronger and better at it, and recognizing that so many other factors in my life make that difficult. I'm sure I'm not the only slow, somewhat heavy (by bike racing standards), middle-aged, racer-shaped object who struggles with this reality. But it still makes me feel wistful about what might have been, if I'd been healthy and had a family that encouraged athletic pursuits when I was young. The way I get past that wistfulness is to remember that nearly any day I get to spend riding my bike is better than many days I don't spend riding, and to be grateful that I can participate in this at all, at any level.

Alpenrose is Sunday. Family and friends are coming to watch. My goal is to stay upright, not get pulled early, and ride the entire 45 minutes. If I do all of that I will be very happy with my outing.

Although there's no Womens' Singlespeed category at Cross Crusade (this year), I still hope to see other women racing in their chosen categories on singlespeed bikes. (If you are a singlespeeding woman who will be at Alpenrose this Sunday, please look for me! I will be resplendent in my all-black Velo Bella kit, and Stompy, my SS Redline Monocog, will be accessorized in bright pink cable housing. I will also likely be the only singlespeeder in the Master 45's and therefore easier to spot. )

See you at the races.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

feel better. ride a bike.

A couple of bike rides later I am feeling tired but much better than I felt immediately upon arriving home Friday. Saturday, Sweetie and I meandered slowly and leisurely around the neighborhood, stopping at Di Prima Dolci to enjoy coffee and fresh, warm Zeppole. Afterwards, about all I could handle was a nap, which was fine with Sweetie. It was a sort of slow day that I really needed to recover from Vegas.

This morning, feeling better and delighting in the gray skies and light drizzle outside, I rolled over to Woodlawn Park to meet whomever was going to show up for a little cyclocross practice. Crystal was there, already practicing suitcase carries over her homemade barriers (I'd left mine home). The two of us spent the next solid hour playing cyclocross, rolling over the wet grass and through the few small muddy puddles, while a light rain fell off and on. We showed each other what we knew, and I introduced Crystal to my favorite off-camber part of the park. I was having a little breathing trouble in the beginning but things improved as I rode. After about an hour, we'd had enough and spent another hour or so enjoying coffee and tea at a nearby coffee house that was not far from home for either of us. The time on the bike did me some real good. I am still tired, and tonight my sinuses are clogged (probably from a combination of constantly-changing barometric pressure, my airplane travels and riding in the rain for almost 90 minutes) but I am much mellower, and happy to be home.

My next (and probably final) cyclocross practice is Wednesday night. First race of my season is next Sunday at Alpenrose. I expect it to be a total mob scene, with ridership to exceed last year's start field of just over 1,400 racers (in all categories). Several friends of mine are skipping Alpenrose this year in favor of a Vancouver, WA race the day before, where the start fields will be considerably smaller. After last year's USGP and my growing aversion to racing on Shabbat, I have decided tat this cross season I will try very hard to stick to Sunday racing only and see how it goes.

Schedule for Alpenrose is here. All womens' categories race together at 2 pm, next to the last race of the day. I will probably go out pretty early so I can pre-ride or at least walk the course, and watch some friends race in earlier categories. I hope to stay for the final race of the day after I'm done, as I'm sure to see a few of the same elite/pro racers there that I watched last Wednesday night at Cross Vegas.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

interbike is just. too. much.

There was so much involved in my trip to Interbike this year that I can't really explain all of it, but I will hit some of the highlights and try to let you in on the Secret Inner Workings Of My Big-Picture Mind.

In no particular order:

1. Vegas remains a wasteland of utter absurdity, plopped down in the middle of -- and thereby spoiling -- an otherwise breathtakingly beautiful desert.
Moonrise, from my hotel room window (blown up and cropped, this was way off in the distance):

2. The trade show itself was a riot of color and sound. Because this was not my first Interbike, I was prepared with a massive bottle of water by my side at all times, and a map showing exit routes from each quadrant of the exhibition hall to the nearest outside door and fresh air. I was also there to do some very specific looking and information-gathering on behalf of the cooperative, so having a clear agenda helped as well.

I saw some cool things, including a line of bikes I hope our shop can pick up; but most of the show was basically a giant mountain of rubber and plastic. I brought home far fewer bits of schwag for my co-workers this time, and my bag was stuffed mostly with next year's dealer catalogs and a few samples of actual product to pass around at the shop. At the start of the show, I was mostly inured to the hundreds upon hundreds of trade show booths made of plastic and glass and steel, inured to the mountains of schwag that had all been made in a factory somewhere in China by workers making pennies for every dollar I earned at my job, and I managed to hold it together pretty darned well for most of the two days I was there. My co-worker was a very mellow and easy-going traveling companion who was quite self-directed and able to follow her own plan of action at the show, which I appreciated greatly. But in the end, Interbike still got to me. (More on that to follow.)

3. Then there was The Strip itself, that unavoidable snake I had to traverse when going back and forth between the hotel and the convention center. Along the five-block walk I was confronted by several groups of older, mostly Latino men and women clad in brightly colored T-shirts that read, in bold lettering, "HOT GIRLS at your door in 20 minutes! Call [phone number] NOW". Each person held a stack of tiny fliers with scantily-clad women on them, and to get the attention of passers-by they would slap the stacks of fliers against their fingers, or sometimes they'd flick them together directly in my path -- as if I was going to stop and ask them to get me an escort!!? (The second morning of the show, I noticed one of the Interbike attendees, waiting with the rest of us for the exhibition hall to open, wearing one of those same T-shirts. I don't want to know what he had to do to get one.) I wondered how much these people were earning to stand there and find clients. My soul ached a little at how empty it all felt.

En route to the show I made my way past rickety sidewalk booths filled with junky souvenirs, walked passed tourists who were there to gamble and maybe see a floor show or two, and occasionally I could see the distant sandstone cliffs in the distance that reminded me there was a world beyond this movie set that was far more real, and more beautiful. The thought made my soul ache more, but I held it together by finding bike shop friends to have lunch or coffee with and schmoozing with some really nice industry people between appointments.

4. On the first day of the show I saw a bike fashion show, consisting of hip younger people clad in the latest bike-friendly fashions while astride the newest fixie and city bikes. The music was booming, uncomfortably loud with more drum track than actual melody. I felt like an old geezer wanting to yell at someone to turn the damned stereo down; and most of the fashions didn't do much for me either. (I certainly couldn't see myself wearing most of it, anyway). I felt old and out of style.

Walking the show floor and seeing the anodized this and the titanium that, the new and the shiny, the reps passively and quietly beseeching the retailers to buy this and that and order this new thing, it was hard to ignore the lump in my throat and pretend that nothing was the matter. Still, I managed to keep my appointments, see new product that I knew my co-workers might be interested in, and gather information I had come prepared to seek out. My desire for efficiency, and a full dance card of appointments, helped me maintain my sense of internal order and professionalism. I even managed to find and meet blog-pal Judi and her sweetie Dom in person for a brief conversation and to wish them well on their pending nuptials (they were, at the time of our meeting, mere hours away from their wedding!). But by the end of the first day at the show my head was beginning to throb.

5. Cross Vegas was pretty cool in some ways: I got to meet Josh Liberles from Cyclocross Magazine -- a great guy who was happy to meet me in person, and happier still to receive my positive opinion of the newly improved mag (they went totally color, with glossy paper and four-color passes and everything. It looks seriously professional now). I got to schmooze briefly with some other Portland folks between races, and was happy to cheer for Portland heroine Molly Cameron, who rocked it with the elites and finished strong. The course itself was typical kowtowing-to-UCI material, mostly flat and roadie-like, with only a few run-ups, a significant section that was paved, and NO mud to speak of. In short, it was more like a crit than a real cross race.

One odd little bummer was that pretty much everyone else I knew who attended the race (including my co-worker) had managed to get a VIP pass into the beer garden where free beer flowed. They all hung out there while I paid my working-class eight bucks for general admission and watched the racing alone almost the entire evening. I didn't need the beer; I didn't drink at all the entire trip, in fact. But it felt strange, like a reminder of the uncool kid I'd been in school; on the one hand it was sad, but on the other hand it gave me a perspective that by turns humbled me and opened me up inside. By the next morning I was strangely grateful for the experience, though I could not say exactly why.

6. I went back to the hotel with a serious, four-aspirin headache after the race, while my co-worker went out to a couple of industry-hosted "after" parties. I fell asleep around midnight. She arrived sometime after 2 am. She told me the next morning that she was one of only a few industry women at these parties, while nearly all the other women present were "escorts". (This may explain how that fellow got the shirt. Gross.)

7. The second day of the show I managed to get through my remaining appointments and to finally hook up with Judi and Dom (of Drunk Cyclist fame, which is how I found these two in the first place) and managed to get a picture of the happy couple with their titanium wedding bands. I LOVE seeing people get married, I love it when two people make that commitment to each other and do the work to make it last. It gives me hope for a better world. Thanks so much, you two; and I hope you will be happy in each other for many beautiful years to come. (Please consider a trip to Portland during some cross season!)

8. At a dinner meeting with a rep, I was asked why we had ordered less from that company in the past year; our purchases hadn't taken a dive but they had definitely flatlined. I told him truthfully that the economy had forced us and lots of retailers to look much harder at every dollar we spent. At the same time he was nodding his head in understanding, I imagined his growing nervousness at trying to make ends meet on a gig that paid straight commission and no regular wage. I imagined the utter ridiculousness of a line of work that desperately depended on getting people to buy stuff all the time so that you could make your cut and earn your living. I imagined my part in this stupid and cruel cycle, and I winced, for him and for me and for the millions of people whose lives depend on the buying and selling of so many, many things -- too many of which we don't really need.

9. To get to the show, and to get to my hotel room I had to walk through a casino. Depending on the time of day this was by turns annoying, scary or downright depressing. The annoying part was that the casinos are laid out so that it is hard to leave them. The scary part is that this is by design. The depressing part came on my last morning of the trip. I had gone downstairs to eat an early breakfast and take care of, um, business (people with Crohn's often need more time at some point in the day; my time is early morning). In the cafe I was surrounded by older folks, mostly retirees if I had to guess, who were all there on vacation and were waiting for the bus that would take them to the next grand casino for a day's gambling and shopping. They were talking about gambling, and shopping, and little else. I know that they were there to gamble and shop, and that we all make choices, but I could not understand their choice. The hole in my soul felt a tiny bit bigger.

Then I walked through the casino to the front desk to meet my co-worker and turn in my key before hailing a cab to the airport. It was around 8 am, and the casino was not terribly busy; the daquiri bar wouldn't open for another two hours and although the slot machines were ringing and humming it felt quieter than the previous evening when the place was packed with gamblers. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman as I passed. She looked utterly exhausted, and beneath her glassy-eyed, vacant stare I saw what looked like two bruises, or the biggest sleep-deprivation circles ever. She barely held onto a cigarette with one hand, and with the other she took a sip from something amber-colored in a rocks glass. Clad in shorts and a rumpled tank top that was a size too small for her, she looked lost and totally out of it. My soul ripped open another inch.

10. On the flight home, as we prepared to land in Portland, two flight attendants moved through the cabin circulating airline credit card and mileage card applications, while a third prattled on about how getting approved for their card could get you so many more mileage points, perhaps enough for a trip to Hawaii! As this scene unfolded before me the plane jostled through some turbulence, and I felt terrified and sad, my soul ripped wide open and overwhelmed by the whole of the last two days. I turned away from my co-worker and stared at the floor of the aisle as I thought of how sad the world had become.

The Big-Picture part of my mind, the sensitive part that has trouble sometimes dealing with the world-as-it-is, put all the experiences and thoughts of the last two days together and I was overwhelmed with a sadness deeper than anything I'd felt in a long time, even deeper than on my last trip to Interbike. I cried and thought of getting off the damned plane, getting home and burying myself in my sweetie's loving embrace. I prayed that we'd land safely and that I would be home soon. I felt sad and scared and completely engulfed by the world. It was the saddest moment in all my years working in the bike industry, and one of the saddest moments of my life. I was so sorry that I'd gone to Interbike, and to Las Vegas; sorry that I'd gone to do my part in keeping the wheel of commerce turning around one more day, one more month, one more year; sorry that this was the way of the world that, in order to keep a roof over our heads so many of us depended on millions of others of us going to stores and buying things, mountains of things, useless things that none of us really need, while others of us go without the necessities of food, clothing, shelter. Our entire global economy -- our very way of life -- is based on rampant consumerism, a consumerism so blatant and bald that some MUST prosper at the expense of others who MUST remain less fortunate. True equality -- of access to resources, to opportunities, to safety and security -- would be impossible, and if it were ever achieved it could not last for long. Recognizing my involvement in all that consumerism, the time it took from my lifespan, the resources it chewed up and wasted, it made me so sad that all I could do was cry.

I know that I will probably not want to go to another Interbike anytime soon, anywhere; and I will never want to set foot in Las Vegas again for as long as I live.
Tonight I am feeling calmer. I went for a lovely bike ride with my sweetie this afternoon and had my Shabbes nap; and tonight I am definitely calmer. But I'm not sure I feel better. I don't yet feel really okay. That may take longer.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

preseason uncertainties

Once again I am faced with the prospect of bike racing -- and feeling the nerves, the jitters, the doubts. I am sure most racers have these concerns and worries at the start of the season. But most racers I know are also actually racers -- they train; they work out at a gym (they can afford a gym membership, and maybe a coach). They have not yet encountered Middle Aged Belly (or they've overcome it somehow). They aren't beset by a million little physical and mental realities that keep them from becoming a more dedicated athlete (how would my getting more serious about this affect my relationships with my non-athletic family and friends? How would I cram in the time to train and still have enough energy to hold down my job? How on earth could I overcome the Crohn's to a point where I could look and feel like all those other racers surely must feel when they race -- strong and sleek and fast, and able to keep going and come back for more?)


I dreamed of how I would prepare for short-track and then for 'cross; I plotted out a schedule of yoga, and intervals, and longer training rides. Then life got in the way -- asthma attacks and Crohn's flare-ups; a partner who I wanted to spend time with; a job that demanded my energy; various trips and then the High Holidays and finally a trip to Interbike -- and my entire season of training basically went to hell. And here I am, showing up for cross practice and able to last barely an hour before the wheezing and fatigue set in; and yes, looking in the mirror and seeing my odd-looking body with the long skinny legs and little belly pooching out and my back swaying ridiculously as if there were a heavy marching drum permanently strapped on. This is not the body of a bike racer. I know; I've seen what bike racers look like and for all my best efforts and the team kit, I do not look like that -- or feel like that.

But the thing is, there must be some crazy stubborn streak in me, because here I am gathering my kit and gear and working on my transportation options for the local races I will enter; and although it's suicide I have gone ahead and catted up to my Masters age group where I will likely get flattened, rather like a not-so-flat pancake. Why on earth do I go through with this when, by all appearances, it looks and feels so futile?

I do it because of something that keeps re-occurring to me, sometimes it is made apparent again when I describe it out loud to a friend. The reality is I will probably never win a race outright, never win because I made a holeshot or successfully passed and reeled in a string of weaker, slower racers. There are few, if any, weaker and slower racers than me out there. But every time I enter and complete a race, every time I am able to make myself ride the whole damned time, an impossible 45 minutes of forward motion and breathless, crazy suffering -- when I cross the line the last time, no matter how many (or few) laps I complete I have won something. I have beaten my history, and in some way my body, too.

I have slain, for another week at least, that still, small voice that has haunted me since earliest childhood, the one that sneers, "wimp, crybaby, wierdo...", the one that has watched me shrink back from physically-risky games where children delight in beating the crap out of each other to see who the weakest one is. That voice has followed me and hounded me almost my entire life. But so, too, has my childhood dream of athletic greatness, of strength, of power -- a dream that I might one day be as tall as my sister and as strong -- or as strong-looking, anyway -- as my parents (I would find out much later that neither of my parents was actually all that physically strong, or healthy, but I digress).

The day I decided to follow my dream to its logical conclusion, I stared down my Crohns'y, asthmatic, spindly-legged self in the mirror and shot back, okay, so this is what I've got to work with... how far can I go with it? And since then I have discovered -- I continue to discover -- that I haven't gone all the way yet. There is more I can do. There are more races I can enter, and complete. Maybe it's about beating other racers for other folks, but for me it is about beating myself, and my history, every time I choose to race. That is why, ultimately, my placement in the pack is almost irrelevant. Sure, it'd be nice to win by actually passing someone else, but that is secondary to why I'm there in the first place. I am there to find out what I can do, how hard and how far I can go.

And so I keep getting back on my bike and riding my brains out. Maybe one day I'll collapse from exhaustion, or I'll be pulled from a race for medical reasons, and that will be that. But that day has not come yet, not by a long shot. So here I go, as hard and as far as I can. It's 'cross season, and I am looking forward to days of breathlessness, of wheezing, of mounts and dismounts and stutter-steps, the slap of cold mud on my backside, cowbells in my ears and dark afternoons of sideways rain.
It's 'cross season. Bring it on.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

how the big kids go play cyclocross

(or, eat your heart out, Joel Metz:)

This afternoon I loaded up my bike and my practice barrier and headed five blocks away to my local park for some cyclocross practice.

I'd invited a few women to join me, and Maria and Crystal showed up to play. Krystal was new; she and I had connected when I was trying to lobby for a womens' SS category at Cross Crusade and had prior cross experience. Maria was a novice road racer and ex-messenger who had almost no off-road experience, but she was game and showed up on a mountain bike, ready to learn.

Crystal came with two lightweight, collapsible barriers made of PVC pipe. They stacked in small sections and rested on her handlebars, tied in place with a bungee cord. We set up our three practice barriers and proceeded to work on mounting and dismounting skills. I taught Maria what I knew, Crystal taught what she knew, and in less than 30 minutes Maria was dismounting with ease. Learning to re-mount, of course, is another thing entirely, and we admitted we could all use some practice on that.

Then we tried putting it all together with some runs through the barriers.

Maria definitely was brought up a little short by the addition of barriers into the mix. But she handled it with aplomb. I predict that if we can get her onto a traditional cross bike -- with skinnier tires and drop bars -- she'll not only love cross, she'll get really good at it.

We also showed Maria a little bit about off-camber riding -- one of the reasons I like practicing here is that there are two berms that offer excellent off-camber opportunities.

After an hour I had to stop. I went back to the house to drop off the race bike and barrier and change out of my shorts while Maria and Crystal took another 15 minutes or so of practice runs at the barriers. I reterned on an empty cargo bike and we all headed over to Breakside Brewery for a bite to eat, and a chance to chat about bikes, food and gentrification (among other subjects). Great fun, and another opportunity for me to work on cross skills -- everything I showed to Maria I ended up simultaneously working on for myself. I'm looking forward to another practice session next weekend after I get back from Interbike.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

rain dance

I came home from Yom Kippur services and it was raining lightly.
Now, it's pouring, and I can hear the rain slamming against the roof.
This means that tomorrow when I head over to the park for a little 'cross practice we may get to do a little rain dance.
The rain is expected to last a few days, and we are expecting a rather wet fall this year.
This means local cyclocross courses could look sort of like this:

Oh, the joy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

barriers are invitations: cx season begins

Technically, cyclocross season began earlier this month for many across the country. I'd been practicing casual dismounts off my bike for some weeks during my commutes. But when the forecast called for rain yesterday afternoon I knew it was time.

Before I left for work yesterday, I grabbed the long piece of scrap plywood I'd rescued a couple of years earlier, and which had been left out all last winter to "season". I brushed off the leaves, mud and slugs and spent the next 40 minutes or so turning it into a practice barrier.

After work, I rode over to Overlook Park for the first 'cross clinic of the season, sponsored by Edge Fitness and presented by the nice folks on the Existential Velo team. Because attendance was small at this new series of clinics, and because there were no pro racers offering instruction, it was less like a clinic and more like a practice -- and I loved it.

I had worried that so much time away from the intensity I'd known during short-track would leave me feeling out of shape and dreadfully slow and clumsy. (My last short-track race was in mid-August, and I've done no serious, organized "training" to prepare for cross other than a weekly quasi-interval session during my morning commute. If I could work in the "interval" time, I would substitute time on a loaded cargo bike instead.) I needn't have worried. After some excellent off-bike warmups I felt pretty ready to go, and we spent the next 90 minutes practicing mounts and dismounts. My mounts still suck, but slightly less so; I got some pointers to definitely help me improve; and although I don't need to dismount like someone with clipless pedals, the technique actually works pretty well with my flat BMX pedals, and I will now practice to incorporate it into my cross technique.

Stamina will still be an issue, of course; Without a gym program, a coach or really a clue, I am still gasping for breath on the run-ups andmaybe there is just nothing I can really do about that. (I was good; I had my rescue inhaler with me, though I never really needed it.)

Everyone rejoiced at the rain -- Oregon is the only place I know where this happens -- which took hold about the time our clinic started and fell lightly but pretty steadily the whole time. The air was mild and not too cold -- I did the entire clinic in jersey, arm warmers and knickers without feeling a real chill. But by 7:15 it was beginning to get too dark for me to see well enough to continue and I headed home, tired and happy.

I am learning about hard efforts punctuated by periods of rest. Today it's an easy-paced commute with mid-day errands thrown in. Yom Kippur, which begins tomorrow night, will count as a rest period of sorts (though with a very different focus).

I'm doing an informal practice of my own on Sunday, and hope to continue this habit through the season. Even though I'm only racing five, maybe six races this fall and winter, I am already looking forward to what promises to be a fun -- and wet! -- cyclocross season.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

they're hosed

The North American bike industry trade show known as Interbike has announced that in 2011, it will move from Las Vegas (that wasteland of utter absurdity) to Anaheim, CA (that wasteland of utter absurdity).

Perhaps even more significantly than the change in location is the new date: Instead of holding the show in late September, when most dealers are beginning to wind down their season and can actually get away to attend a trade show, Interbike 2011 will take place the first week of August, meaning that almost no one outside of southern California will be able to attend.

Early August is high season for bike retailers and I know that we -- and most mid-level, smaller shops -- would be hard-pressed to spare anyone at that time. Plus, unless the entire bike industry has decided to change their manufacturing and pre-season forecasting schedules, Interbike threatens to become even more irrelevant than it already is, since few items unveiled at the show would be available in quantity before early 2012 anyway. Or, conversely, smaller retailers could, over time, become more irrelevant to Interbike and the largest bike manufacturers, which is certainly another possibility. However, That possibility will take longer to come to fruition; and lots of small hole-in-the-wall shops are still hanging on and doing relatively well, even in the midst of the biggest recession to bite us on the fanny since nineteen-thirty-something.

In the words of one of my visiting reps, who shall remain anonymous, "They're hosed."

I agree. With major manufacturers already pulling out of this year's show (Bell/Blackburn, et al will not have a booth at the show, though I understand they will have some kind of presence at the Outdoor Demo a couple of days beforehand), Interbike, Inc. is going to take a bath if it goes through with this change.

Fascinating. Especially as I begin to finalize my dance card for this year's outing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

product review: rivendell brand v grabsack

(Note: this is an unsolicited review.)

Bags are funny things. The trend these days is to carry everything with you all the time, or as much as possible; and to that end companies have come out with all manner of backpacks and shoulder bags designed to make you look like a bike messenger without actually having to be one.

The problem with carrying a large bag is that most of us are tempted to carry too much, to overstuff it; and when that happens we get back aches and shoulder aches and in turn tend to keep the local chiropractor -- assuming you can afford to see one -- busy. So most of us who use bags daily tend to own more than one. I own and use three: a large Timbuk2 backpack for carrying my racing kit (which also doubles as an excellent carry-on for trips); a Timbuk2 Dee-Dog messenger bag that's well over a decade old and mostly I'm just too sentimental to let go of it; and more recently, a Rivendell Brand V Grabsack.

I received the Grabsack, designed by the nice people at Rivendell Bicycle Works in Walnut Creek, CA, in June as a gift from a friend. The first thing I noticed about the Grabsack is its size: only about a foot across and maybe 10 inches top to bottom. This means that even if I want to overstuff it, I really can't; its size limits the load and forces me to consider what's actually worth bringing along. In my case, that's usually my calendar, notebook, business card case, pens, a pocket comb and a water bottle and maybe a small snack; plus perhaps a patch kit and tire levers if I'm riding my bike somewhere. It all fits with a little room to spare, and there's a nice divider pocket to keep the little things from getting crushed or lost at the bottom of the bag. If I really want to get ambitious I could probably roll up a rain jacket tightly and stuff it in on top, but then the bag would be bulging at capacity, and not quite as comfortable to carry around all day.

The next thing I noticed was the fabric and overall construction. The Grabsack is designed to be carried either over one shoulder, or to be worn around the waist like a hip-pack. It comes with a fairly long strap, attached with cam-buckles, to facilitate this flexibility of use. In reality, it would have been too large a hip-pack for me, so I trimmed off the excess strap, burned the end with a match to keep it from unraveling, and made it a permanent shoulder bag.

The fabric itself is waxed cotton, in a weight that's pleasingly sturdy-feeling without being cardboard-stiff, and the bag is sewn together with heavyweight thread. A broad horizontal reflective strap across the lower front of the bag offers excellent visibility when riding or walking, and the brilliantly simple toggle/d-ring closure can be managed one-handed, a nice feature when you're noodling around the neighborhood on your bike and suddenly get hungry for that Peppermint Patty you brought along.

Rivendell has these bags made in the US, and they are part of the Brand V [for Vegan] line, meaning there's not a shred of leather to be found anywhere. Leather is often added as trim or as reinforcement for bags that see hard use, but the lack of it here won't mean a less durable bag. I find I now use this shoulder bag about half the time, and it's excellent grab-and-go shoulder bag for on or off the bike. (The time is definitely coming when the Dee-Dog will see far more time hanging on a closet hook than on my shoulder.) And here's the thing -- if I'd had the money I would've ended up buying one of these for myself, because 48 bucks for a US-made bag this good-looking and durable is a helluva bargain.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

the conundrum, part two: solutions

Some solutions to the previously mentioned conundrum have presented themselves:

1. I've found a home for the Mountain Goat; a friend has offered to buy it from me and build it up himself.

2. I've had a bear of a time figuring out how to make the All-Rounder work with drops. Today I took a 6-mile errand loop on it and realized I just couldn't love it with drops anymore; and I'm tired of messing around with it. So tomorrow, I'm doing an upright conversion to see if that helps me enjoy the bike more. I'll slap on some upright bars, maybe a slightly longer stem to compensate, and some upright levers and thumb shifters; and when I'm done I'll go for a ride and see how I like it.

3. If I love it, it will become my fall and winter city bike. (See #4, below.)

3a. If the All-Rounder still doesn't work out the way I want it to, then I will probably strip the frame completely and put those parts on the Schwinn frameset, which is heavier (it's a 1980's ATB frame, after all) but which I know will fit me as an upright bike.

4. I love The Rivvy -- the original Rivendell that was paid for by the accident settlement 11 years ago, and which I've ridden to death with both drops and uprights over the years. When I ordered The Rivvy in 1998, the fattest tire anyone could imagine ever running with fenders was a 700 x 32mm -- which is considered almost "medium" width for a touring tire anymore. At the time, the Rivvyw as to be my only bike, and I wanted ease of adjustment on the road; so I asked that it be made for long-reach sidepull brakes instead of cantilevers (which were standard for the model at the time).

Eleven years later, I want fatter tires and the comfort that comes with them. The most economical way to do this is to -- sigh -- pay a framebuilder to put the cantilever braze-ons on the frame and also to raise the rear brake bridge a little. So I talked with the fantastic framebuilder (and friend) Ira Ryan and asked what he would charge to do this work. His quote was very reasonable, totally affordable; and so I will solve the commuter issue for the fall and winter, and then strip down The Rivvy and take the frameset to him, hopefully in October. Since he also builds custom frames to suit for a living, I will give him tons of time and hope to pick it up sometime in January or February.

Most of all, this means I get to devote some of my free time to some serious puttering.
I don't know what does it for any of you, but time spent puttering is definitely a stress-reliever, sometimes almost as effective as riding my bike. So I am looking forward to it.

UPDATE: DONE. Part One of The Great Puttering took less than half an hour, because I decided to simply swap over the stem and bars from The Rivvy and see how it felt on the All-Rounder. After a couple of short preliminary rides around the neighborhood it's promising. I think I'll need to lower the bars a bit more to get the fit pretty close to my position on The Rivvy, but I think this may work. Part Two: removing all the remaining parts from The Rivvy, and then sanding down the paint in the areas where Ira will work his brazing magic.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Autumn: reign o'er me

This morning, I packed my raingear, even though it was partly sunny as I got ready to ride to work. The forecast called for "showers", meaning we might see a few sprinkles here and there.

I left at 4:30, to meet my sister over a quick cup of tea before going home. The rain started lightly as I pedaled away. I stopped, pulled out my jacket and slipped it on, and resumed my ride. I looked over my left shoulder and saw that the skyline of downtown Portland, usually visible from the street directly in front of the shop, was gone -- hidden behind a thick, gray mist and could only mean rain -- and lots of it. I pedaled another block, heard the drops get louder, and ducked under a tree to put on my rain pants -- only to discover that I had instead packed the RainLegs, demi-chaps, instead of full pants. I sighed; I was going to get soaked in what was quickly becoming a downpour. I sucked it up, slipped on the RainLegs and pedaled on. Two blocks later water had drenched the front of my jeans and was rolling down the front inside my sneakers. It was hopeless. I stopped under the eave of an office in the Franz bakery complex and waited five, ten minutes. When it was clear that the downpour would last longer, I sighed, got back on my and resumed pedaling.

I made it to Lloyd Center, where I caught a bus up the hill. My raingear dried off a little during the bus ride, and got hopelessly soaked again within a minute of getting off and riding towards my meeting with my sister. After a lovely cup of tea I slipped my soggy rain jacket back on, slapped my wet cycling cap and helmet back on my head, and headed home. It was still raining.
Home now, and happy to be dry again. But oh, what a rain that was! If it was still light out I would've been tempted to grab Stompy and go splash through the mud puddles at the nearby park. But that will come soon enough. Hopefully we'll see more showers in the coming weeks, and by the time I get to Alpenrose on the first Sunday in October, the fields will be suitably muddy. My inner 10-year-old is grinning maniacally, almost painfully, at the thought.

Bring it on. I am so ready for Autumn in the northwest.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

shout out to a fellow racer

I want to offer my hearty congratulations to Bicycle Kitty for her third-place finish at the August series of road racing at Monday Night PIR. The roadies are the crazy people who carve tight, fast circles at speeds exceeding sanity on the paved oval track. In racing, when you crash you leave something of yourself out there. In road racing, it can be quite a LOT of yourself.

We have developed an odd mutual-admiration society thing here. She thinks I'm the nut for riding my singlespeed in the dirt and mud, swooping over the rythym sections and around the banked turns and basically riding my brains out on fat knobby tires. I know that she's the one in need of an I-Love-Me Jacket. I went and watched her race last week and gasped as she and the other women jockeyed for position within INCHES of each other, at something like 25 mph, as they approached the finish line.

She's a MONSTAH.
Now if I can just get her to try cyclocross...