Friday, December 31, 2010

bikey bits and pieces at the end of 2010

In no particular order:

1. Learning how to work out has been a slow process, in fits and starts, since joining a gym last month. But I am learning and will stick with it. Sweetie went with me today and helped me figure out a workout plan that's more in lone with my modest goals (get stronger, improve energy levels, reduce stress). I tried some new things and learned how to use more of the equipment. I am hopeful that I can establish a routine that will work for me and help me improve over time. For now I'm not worrying about spinning; with all the daily riding I do I figure there's plenty of time to work intervals into the mix in the spring and for now just focus on strength (resistance work) and flexibility (yoga).

2. The ride to and from the gym, my only ride on this last day of the year, was cold, brisk and simply beautiful. The low-hanging sunlight and wispy clouds in an otherwise hard, bright winter sky took my breath away. I smiled as I felt a little of the sun's warmth on my cheeks in spite of the biting cold. It was, in short, a glorious day to ride a bike; and I'm glad to have had a day like this today.

3. Ending mileage for 2010 -- 2,448.7 miles -- falls a little more than 50 miles short of my stated goal of 2,500. Considering everything that has happened this year I'm prepared to give myself a little break. I haven't yet considered a goal for 2011 but will within the next week.

4. At the end of the secular year I remain grateful: for friends, for family, for my Sweetie and for Just Plain Being Alive. Upright and Breathing is a good state to be in.

I hope 2010 has been at least a reasonably good year for all of my readers, and I hope 2011 brings you love and laughter, some great surprises and memorable adventures.
Happy riding to all in the new year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

so beautiful it makes you weep

Today I'm directing blog traffic to a Site called GritAndGlimmer, so you can read an amazing piece about why we ride bicycles. When I read it it made me sniffle and then cry in recognition.
Go read it. And then read it again. I bet you'll want to ride your bike afterwards.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

boxing day ride

I had offered to host a casually-paced Boxing Day ride a few weeks ago, and several friends indicated interest. I even had a couple of emails late in the last week asking for particulars from three people who all said they'd meet me at the starting point. But the day dawned cold -- 38F when I left the house -- and wet, and very blustery -- and a cold front with more wind gusts was scheduled to move through North Portland around the time of the ride. So I was not entirely shocked to see only one person waiting for me at the starting point -- my new team mate Rob, clad in knickers and a rain shell and smiling wryly at the sky as I pulled up.

With more wind moving in, I was frankly not excited at the prospect of wrestling with my bike all the way past Smith & Bybee Lakes out to Kelly Point, and asked if Rob would be okay with a more urban, coffee-oriented ride. He had ridden in from the west side and didn't mind at all. So we enjoyed a gently-paced ride through North Portland out to downtown St. Johns. Riding on N. Willamette Boulevard was rather exciting, as gusts of wind from the south and west threatened to knock me off my bike a couple of times. It got easier to deal with when we turned off from the Bluff and rode past the University of Portland. We lingered a little longer than I normally would at Anna Bananna's, no doubt because the weather outside simply did not excite either of us and it was a chance to get to know each other a little more -- a good thing since we'll be racing and riding together next season.

boxing day ride

When we left Anna's, content after coffee, fresh baked goods and conversation, the sun was peeking out from behind fast-moving clouds, and the showers started up again when we opted to take a more direct loop back along N. Lombard for several blocks. When we turned onto Greeley we were exposed to the wind again rather suddenly. By the time we'd ridden up Greeley to Bryant I was ready to go home, so we parted ways there, happy to have gotten out and stretched our legs a bit but neither of us feeling especially ambitious.

boxing day ride

boxing day ride

Crossing the Bryant Street overpass wasn't too bad. The wind had died down a little and the sun had come out and made everything soaked by the morning's rain turn bright and sparkly. Still, I was very glad to get home, take a hot shower and scrub off the embrocation from my legs. I like using embrocation for cold-weather riding; it allows me to forego heavy tights (which I find a little restrictive on a bike) and ride in wool knickers instead, which do a good job of covering my knees and are warm enough once you get moving a bit. I used the hottest stuff I had today, and I'm still enjoying the last residual burning tingles an hour and a half after getting home. Nearly 15 miles on the morning was just enough to feel like I went out and did something on my bike without killing myself.

Friday, December 24, 2010

merry christmas and eat your vegetables

To all my readers who celebrate it, have a very merry Christmas.
When you go back for seconds on the baked ham, maybe take some more vegetables too.
(And no, sweet potato pie does not count as a vegetable.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

i won't do it and they can't make me.

It always seems to start with a study:

Once again the idea of bicycle licenses has reared its ugly head in Oregon. Feel free to read all the arguments for and against if you like. As for me, I'm already trying to decide which of my two middle fingers to wave at this nonsense.

I don't -- I shouldn't -- need to go into all the reasons why attempting to license bikes will fail from the start. I also won't go into why it's patently unfair. Instead, I'll just jump right to my final talking point.

I am not normally a conspiracy theorist about most things, even about government. Government isn't cunning, it's merely bloated, falling down under its own weight and grossly inept when it comes to actually representing the interests of the electorate. But about this dog of a proposal, I'll posit a conspiracy theory.

This is not about protecting bicyclists, motorists or pedestrians in the event of a bicycle-related collision. It's not about building more bike infrastructure (because there won't even be enough money from bicycle licensing to to cover the cost of the paperwork). It's not about making things more fair between bicyclists and motorists, or about reducing bicycle theft (as if anything could effectively do either in our present car-centric landscape).

What it's really about is being a precursor to bicycle insurance.

I'm fairly certain this baby was spawned straight from the forehead of the insurance industry. Bicycle licensing is a wet dream for the insurance industry because once you require people to buy bicycle licenses you can then mandate the purchase of bicycle insurance. Bicycle licensing simply represents a new revenue stream -- and anyone who's paying attention knows that the primary reason for the modern insurance industry to exist at all is to turn a profit for its shareholders.

Needless to say, I cannot wait for this absolute turd of an idea to become an unjust law so I can rush right out and break it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

the gym thing. it's sort of weird.

In an effort to get stronger next season I've begun working out. At a gym. Really.

I've been in for a yoga class, a spin class and now my first time doing resistance work.
And it's weird. It's weird mostly because I worked up more of a sweat in all the bike riding I did on errands and stuff today (11 miles worth) than I did in 45 minutes pushing and pulling things at the gym. Only when I got home did I learn from Sweetie (who's an old hand at resistance training) that this is how it works. Apparently, one does not build up as much of a sweat pushing and pulling. What one does is build up strength.

I also learned that, because I ride to and from the gym, I probably don't really need to do much "cardio" before I push and pull things.

But it's weird, this whole gym thing. I've never really worked out before and this will take some getting used to.

Friday, December 17, 2010


I have made the decision to change my team affiliation for 2011, and will be riding with a local club. If you look at the right-hand column of my blog page you will see that the link to Velo Bella has been replaced by a link to something called Team Slow.

Team Slow began as a focus group of like-minded friends who simply love to ride bikes and who all got into racing this past year. Their premise:

--Racing should be accessible to anyone who wants to try it, and that it's more fun to do it in a group of supportive, fun-loving friends than to do it alone.
--Racing shouldn't only be about being fast and beating everyone else; otherwise only the fastest people would be welcome at races. Team Slow recognizes that some of the hardest and most profound racing we do is against ourselves, and so every time we finish the challenge of a race, we've succeeded, we've won in a sense. Team Slow wants to celebrate those victories along with the actual placings in a given race.
--Racing is only one kind of bicycle riding, and bicycle riding should be accessible to anyone who's able to do it, regardless of their present level of experience, ability or fitness. Team Slow will hold regular non-racing, social rides as well.

And -- in an unusual move for a racing club -- they recognize that racing is, in and of itself, an inherently indulgent activity. To counter that, Team Slow aims to find ways to spotlight the good work of select non-profits while they race, perhaps through adding logos of those organizations to the team jersey and/or raising money for them.

In short, this sounds like my kinda focus group. I've hung with them at a few races this past year and every single one of them I've met so far is simply a lovely human being. I like them.

This winter the focus group has become an official team, with OBRA dues, and jerseys and sponsors in the works and all of it. And they invited me to join them as a member. That's right -- they asked me. Then, to ease off the pressure, they said that if I decided not to join they would still invite me to be a groupie -- to hang out with them, enjoy the shelter of their tent at colder races, and they'd wave the pom-poms and cheer for me and stuff. Obviously, this is a decision that is NOT based on my results as a racer; but simply because, well, they like me.

I met yesterday morning with Kristin, a friend from my singlespeed short-track adventures who's also a Team Slow member, and another attractive thing is that they want to run their club democratically (you know, as in -- gulp -- consensus-based decision making). So now I was really intrigued.

After bouncing this idea off Sweetie's brain, sleeping on it and otherwise weighing my options, which included my reasons for racing, my current association with Velo Bella (a national syndicate with only a handful of members scattered throughout the Pacific NW), and my desire to have a nice buncha folks to ride and race with in my area without upsetting the balance between racing and The Rest Of My Life, I took the plunge and said yes.

I'll keep one VB jersey, a lovely souvenir of all that I've learned and done while racing as a Bella, and something fun to wear on group rides. But since the rules state that you can't race in the kit of a USAC- registered team after you've left, I will be finding homes for almost everything else in the drawer. Except maybe the socks. (Seriously. Eeww.)

I'm surprisingly comfortable with how this is going down. And maybe that's the point. Racing shouldn't be a chore, but fun. I am pleased to have found others in my area who feel the same way.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

new-old rivvy longlow and other changes

new-old rivvy longlow

After previously struggling to make the All-Rounder the perfect bike I hadn't suspected it of being, I was left with a glaring reality: What about the Rivvy?

Well, ultimately I had to see if I could run drops on the Rivvy again and be happy with it. I want to have a drop-bar bike in the stable so when I need those longer unencumbered rides I can hop on and just go for them. So, after some tweaking and a few changes (including a shorter stem and some new bar tape), I'm running drops on the Rivvy again.

It's not perfect in that angels-singing-and-sunbeams-shooting-down-from-the-clouds sort of way, but its good enough for now. I am pretty comfortable on it and am giving myself plenty of adjustment time (it's been months since I last rode a drop-bar bike regularly and there are the usual wobbles that come for someone who's more comfortable on uprights).

That said, the larger, looking truth is that I may be be getting to a point where I cannot ride drops comfortably anymore, which would make very long rides harder (since I can't change hand/torso positions on uprights and that is not so fun on any ride longer than about 15 miles). Still, I am scheduling one longer (20- to 40-mile) ride a month between now and April and we'll see how it goes.

A final note: Tonight I tried a Spinning class at a local gym. Oh my it was SO hard. Made my head spin, I saw lights, drooled and gasped for breath until I could figure out that pushing myself did not mean emulating the instructor's every move -- she's easily 15 years younger than me, if not more; and she does this three times a week. It also took some time to learn how to use the Spinning bikes; you cannot suddenly stop pedaling and expect to simply coast on one of these things, and that is the point -- you spin, for an hour. You turn the cranks at varying levels of resistance/ease/difficulty and you Just. Keep. Pedaling. Period. The loud house music helped maintain a rhythm and the instructor's low-key but cheerful vibe was certainly better than trying to do this on a trainer in my shed with no one else there. (That's why people do these things in groups. It's easier to push yourself when others around you are suffering, too.)

At the end of the hour I found it strangely compelling, and knew that I would come back next week to do it again (I figure that with all the bike commuting I do through the week, one intense bike "ride" a week is plenty to start with). My own bike felt very wobbly for the first half-mile home. Two hours later I am still feeling baked. I expect to sleep pretty well tonight.

Friday, December 10, 2010

am i missing out?

Over at Cyclocross Magazine's site there is live coverage of the US National Cyclocross Championships. Included in the coverage is a large column in the center of the page showing a constantly-rotating, updating twitter feed, with hundreds (maybe thousands) of folks sending 140-character "tweets" about the action in Bend -- as it's happening before their eyes.

For those without a modern cell phone -- like me -- the only way to watch this little drama unfold is to sit in front of a computer all afternoon. Since that's more time than I'd like to spend staring at a computer (especially on my day off), I am content to wait for emailed race reports, or blog updates, from friends who are fast enough (or just crazy enough) to go to Bend. I can read these at my leisure; and if it's not moments but hours or even days after the fact, does it matter?

Apparently, for the millions of folks with modern touch-screen phones, the answer is yes.

Sweetie and I were given a cell-phone about seven years ago, from a friend who wanted to be able to find us at a large music festival in Seattle that saw over 40,000 visitors a day. He programmed it with a Portland area code, loaded it with minutes, told me how to load it with more at my local Radio Shack, and said we could decide if we liked having a cell phone enough to keep it. (If we didn't we could donate it to a womens' shelter when the minutes ran out.) We decided it might be handy for traveling, and every ninety days I have continued to top it off with the minimum amount of money to keep the number active. It's far cheaper doing it this way than buying an actual monthly plan; and so far the phone has continued to work just fine. It's primitive by current standards (instead of a touch screen, it has actual buttons you push to dial the number, and a stubby little "antenna", and sometimes it turns on accidentally if you sit on it the wrong way), but as long as it works we'll keep it. (It does allow for texting, and I have successfully sent four or five text messages in the seven years we've had the phone; but my slow keypad speed and very large thumbs make texting ridiculous, so when I do use the cell-phone, I just dial a number and talk into the phone. Apparently, this option is now becoming quaintly old-fashioned among adults of a certain, younger age, all of whom can text with lightning speed -- and one handed, no less.)

I can count on my fingers the number of times I've actually needed to carry it with me in a given year -- another reason, along with the greater cost involved, that I haven't bothered to get a cell phone with a "real" plan.

Still, it's strange and occasionally disconcerting to have coffee with someone and watch their eyes dart back and forth from me to the myPhone or CrackBerry on the counter near their latte, as if they're waiting for something vital to pop up on the little screen that will demand and divert their attention away from our conversation. It's even more jarring to look around the cafe and see that I am often the only customer in the place not staring at a small, portable electronic device of some kind. It's not quite like a reversal of a scene from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, not yet anyway, though it definitely hints at that vibe.

But it begs the question: other than up-to-the-moment blasts of mostly trivial information, what am I really missing?
I feel more and more like a dinosaur, but not necessarily in a bad way, not like I'm the one being left behind. Instead, it feels sometimes like I am watching the rest of the world get on a bus to go someplace I don't yet feel a need to visit, much less live permanently.

What will happen if I don't get on this particular bus? Besides the fact that fewer of my friends will have time to communicate with me face-to-face, what will this mean for my socio-economic future? I don't know yet. In the meantime, there's a bike in the shed that needs some work, and once I fire up the space heater I'll be all toasty-warm in there while I sip on my coffee, listen to the radio and rummage through my tools for the right wrench with which to adjust my brakes.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

my 2010 racing season: by the numbers

(Stats taken from the OBRA results pages.)

2010 racing season - results






USGP of Cyclocross

Masters Women



OBRA CCX Championship

Singlespeed Women



Cross Crusade: Washington County Fair Complex

Masters Women 45+



Cross Crusade: Portland International Raceway

Masters Women 45+



Cross Crusade: Alpenrose Dairy

Masters Women 45+




SS Women



Portland MTB Short Track Series Overall

Singlespeed Wmn

06/21 - 08/02/2010


Portland MTB Short Track Series

Singlespeed Women



Portland MTB Short Track Series

Singlespeed Wmn



Portland MTB Short Track Series

Singlespeed Wmn



Portland MTB Short Track Series

Singlespeed Women



Portland MTB Short Track Series

Singlespeed Women



Portland MTB Short Track Series

Singlespeed Women


As you can see, my season this year began in June and ended in early December. For someone who doesn't yet know how to train, cannot afford a coach and works full time, this is a fair amount of activity for a second season of racing. You can also see that regular participation changes the math. By racing six of the seven weeks of short-track and finishing five of those races successfully, I managed to land in fifth place in the overall series standings, even though I finished last or near-last every time. (My second place showing at the first short-track race happened because there were only three of us in the new Womens' singlespeed category, and the third woman DNF'd on a mechanical.) All those top-ten finishes reflect the smaller fields of a brand-new category; but they also means a lot of points and those points add up.

What do I take from this? That Womens' singlespeed is growing and that more women will sign up for the category next year -- so I had better learn how to train if I hope to stay in the top ten at short-track.

There is talk of adding Womens' singlespeed to the Cross Crusade (be still, my heart). If that happens I will definitely enter at least four of the Crusade races and possibly more if the transportation and scheduling work out. It's one thing to race in my masters' age group on my singlespeed bike, but quite another to race against other women who are all on singlespeed bikes. Even though I will likely be the oldest woman out there in the latter case, that latter case is what I want. Call me crazy. Call me hopeful.

Monday, December 6, 2010

old-school: 1996 cyclocross

Earlier this fall, Oregon Public Broadcasting brought a camera crew out to one of the Cross Crusade races to shoot some film for an upcoming broadcast of Oregon Field Guide. Wondering when I might hope to see the spot air, I checked out OPB's web site. I didn't find mention of any upcoming cyclocross coverage, but I did find this gem from a 1996 Field Guide broadcast.

Dig the clothes (gym shorts over tights! Sweatshirts! Hiking shoes with flat pedals!). Dig the glasses (gigantic, face-eating Oakleys!) And dig the bikes! Almost everyone in this footage is riding a mountain bike; the handful of folks who are riding road bikes are using flat mountain bars. It was a different time for sure. Also a treat is seeing some older race venues that don't get used now, like Pier Park in Portland and Willamette Mission Park in Salem.

Some things about 'cross have changed, and as this video shows, some have not. Enjoy.

usgp: evidence photos

Evidence of my participation:

1. At the end of the starting straight (paved section), moments from entering the back forty, pretty sure this is on the first lap when I drilled it and cooked myself. Stupid, stupid. (Note my rear tire, exhibiting tubular envy and being dangerously underinflated for a clincher. I am surprised that I did not bottom out and flat during my race.)

2. In the switchbacks, trying not to die on the short, steep inclines in the trees. Second lap. I'm about 2/3 of the way through the course at this point and I'm ready for my race to be over.
(Lesson: don't kill yourself in the first 50 seconds of a race. Ugh.)

Yes, I have a belly, a rather noticeable one for a bicycle racer.
In a field of sleek, slender bodies I stick out.
Still, I pinned a number on and propelled my belly around a muddy race course.
In forty-degree temps.
On a singlespeed bike.
A hundred women my age stood on the sidelines yesterday and did not do that.
So today I am enjoying the afterglow of my race and feeling like a bit of a rock star.
I am SO glad I raced at USGP this year. It was a satisfying way to end the season.

(Photos taken by Janet Hill and used with Permission.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

race report: usgp portland day two

When I woke up this morning I did not want to race. I didn't even want to go outside. It was cold and still sort of dark and I was simply not in the mood. I couldn't explain it, either, at least not until after my race. I think what did it was my memory of last year's usgp and how intensely c-o-l-d it was (freezing fog and frozen mud on the course, and a morning on which I never got warm). Still, I dressed, layered off with rain pants and my thermal jacket, and rode all the way down to PIR, a nice warmup. I was almost surprised at how much warmer it felt this year. Once at the venue, I said hello to Mielle, who'd poached a spot at a friend's team tent. I felt it would be bad form to invite myself to piggyback on her coattails, so I rode around the parking lot with my backpack still on, reasoning that when I finally did shed it to race I would feel so much lighter. Still, it was cold enough to make me wince a little at the thought of taking on this course with all those faster, stronger, fitter women, and I wasn't fully convinced I wanted to be there. An odd, odd feeling to have right before a race.

Whatever it was, my desire to grit my teeth and really go for it actually did not begin to kick in until callups. I was pleased to see another woman in my category racing on a singlespeed; we high-fived each other and grinned maniacally, the secret smile of the truly insane. And suddenly, everything felt more okay, like the requisite pieces simply beginning to fall into place. We were all sitting and waiting for our start and smiling in spite of the cold. And although I didn't feel any faster now than when I began racing two seasons ago, it suddenly made sense for me to be here, in the midst of other women my age, clad in much-too-clingy lycra and doing the implausible. So when the whistle blew and we were off, I forgot that I didn't feel like racing and suddenly found myself spinning my cranks faster than I ever had in my life, like a hamster spinning madly on the wheel, all the way to the end of the paved section.

It was dumb, I know. I cooked myself in that single stretch, starting at full speed, sheer madness. When I hit the grassy "back forty", I could feel my momentum packing up and flying to Reno, and suddenly I didn't feel like racing all over again. The only problem was, I was already racing. So there was nothing more to say, and I sucked it up and kept going, an angry little Energizer Bunny wondering how on earth I had talked myself into this folly. Still angry as I stomped on my pedals, over the gravel and through the firm, cold mud, I could see actual lines where others had threaded their way before me, and just before the Junior men began to pass me I was up and over the first corner in the mud, a section straight from the short-track course. (In fact, several newly added turns in today's course were copped right out of the short-track playbook, and in those few sections I had the remarkable sensation of feeling at home on a race course.)

At this point, I realized that I was not uncomfortably cold anymore.

I kept going. My mental state swung back and forth between not wanting to be there, and being almost happy every time I cleaned a section of the course, and hating every single time I had to dismount and jog with the bike. Maybe this is what it's like to be Bipolar, I thought. Still, it was exhilarating to notice how my bike handling was better now than it had been when I first started racing, and to hear friends call out my name in encouragement (I'm pretty sure someone from Team Beer was out there, because he yelled my name and the familiar Team Beer battle cry: "Let's go, Beth! C'mon, GET SOME!"). Because it was an early morning race, there were fewer cowbells in evidence and I could actually hear people shouting, which was sort of cool.

The short, steep runup that was added for the second day simply sucked. But the downhill that had eaten me alive at the pre-ride was now rideable all the way down and I rejoiced. It was my reward for the runup.

As I neared the end of my first lap I had a sudden and slightly scary loss of breath, but I was terrified of pulling out my inhaler at a USGP where officials from USA Cycling and the UCI were present, so I then wondered momentarily about DNF'g. Thankfully, I was able to calm down, slow my pedaling for a few moments and thereby catch my breath when I looked up and saw two course marshals just past the finish line; they were grinning and jumping up and down and waving me on towards another lap. I shrugged, smiled at them and pushed harder for about a dozen pedal strokes, enough to power back onto the Back Forty and begin all over again.

The second lap was physically harder than the first, but felt mentally better. I was all in now, no matter what. If I was in the wrong place when the bell lap began and had to suffer through a third lap (or worse, part of a third lap before being pulled), so be it. I was there to beat The Woman In The Mirror, the woman I race every single time, and today I would beat her into submission if it killed me.

By the time I'd hit the moto course the second time, I was feeling physically ready for it to be over. As I hit the rhythm section, I forgot my own rule about going too aggressively, caught a little air on the second whoopdie, lost track of my rear wheel and crashed. And this is why I love my adrenaline: when I have it, nothing hurts much. I got right back up, hopped back on my bike, and gutted it out all the way up that damned runup and into the switchbacks that felt like home.

As I neared the end of what would be my final lap, I encountered a Junior woman who was running with her shouldered bike through a muddy section, talking under her breath, hyping herself up to stay in it and finish strong. I as I passed her on my bike I said, "good job!" to her and she smiled. Then a man who had to be her father came running up alongside the course, and from the other side of the tape he yelled, "Keep going sweetie, you're doing great! I believe in you!" The girl grinned and got back on her bike and started to pedal. I suddenly thought of my own parents, both gone for some years now, and almost lost it right there. As I pushed myself to the finish line, I started to tear up; what would they have made of me, a grown woman, living out her BMX fantasies on a freezing cold day like this? They certainly wouldn't have run after me like that; they were both in such poor health in their respective final decades that they couldn't have. Still, I felt sad that they couldn't have seen all this today; my wonderful season of racing, the absolutely lovely, unpretentious people I've befriended here, and how wonderful it felt to hang in there and finish doing something implausible, like racing my singlespeed bike on a course that wasn't really meant for it. I rode off the course and did a couple of laps in the parking lot so so my tears would dry (or perhaps freeze; it was still plenty cold). Then I felt better, and after I collected my things and changed clothes, I rewarded myself with a hot waffle with nutella folded into it.

I stuck around for a few more races -- Joel looked strong in his Singlespeed/B's race, even if his placing was not to his liking; and Dave from Seattle was equally impressive-looking in his Masters' race afterwards. I was pleased to learn that pal Mielle had finished on the podium in the Masters' women's race, a nice way to finish your regular season, especially when your next race is Cross Nationals in Bend (way to go, M!). Just for the heck of it, I checked my results on the sheets of paper taped to the wall of the registration tent: as expected I got last place, with credit given for two tough laps in a 35-minute race (I'm fairly sure I could've pulled off a third lap if the race had gone for 45 minutes like Cross Crusade races do, but I was also fine with not having to find out. By then I was starting to feel pretty baked). The thing I didn't expect was to see that two other women in my category also got credit for doing just two laps -- but they did those laps on geared bikes while I did them on a singlespeed. I glowed, grinned, and giggled all the way to the coffee line. That final realization has stayed with me and it's making me pretty happy right now. I have no idea what this means in the larger picture, but for now it means that I hung in there with two other Masters women (both of whom I saw regularly at Cross Crusade and whom I know to be strong riders), and I did it on my singlespeed mountain bike. Yay Stompy!

UPDATE: I finished in 15th in the Masters' Women race.

I went home before noon, feeling the cold and the exertion beginning too catch up with me and deciding that I'd gotten my money's worth on the day. As I made my way out of the PIR parking lot, I heard a cheerful "Hi, Beth!" and saw it was Sue Butler, warming up for her race. Sue had been one of the clinicians at my first cyclocross clinic (and is a terriffic teacher as well as racer, by the way), and we've very occasionally bumped into each other at races. She looked happy and relaxed and she asked me how my race had gone. I told her I felt good, happy with my outcome and feeling happy with my season. But I was ready to go home. I wished her luck on her race and by then I was approaching the light rail station. I was shocked to discover that I had no energy left to contemplate the five-mile ride home, so I rode up to the platform and caught the next MAX train, which cut my trip in half.

I finished my race. I beat The Woman In The Mirror. And I had an amazing time doing it. At home now, I am feeling the bruises that are forming where the adrenaline has receded into memory, and I marvel at how they make me feel happier somehow, residual and, eventually, colorful proof of my exertion and effort. (I wonder if anyone else loves their racing bruises this way.) My back is sore and my legs ache with fatigue, and I know that a second hot shower -- a luxury! -- awaits me before bedtime.

It has been a lovely, amazing, rewarding second season of bicycle racing. I welcome the downtime and the rest before beginning to prepare for next summer, and I'm not sorry to see it end. I'm just happy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

usgp portland - day one

Forecast for Sun Dec 5:

Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy 43°/34°; 20% chance of precipitation

I rode out to PIR from my house this morning (roughly 4.5 miles) to cheer on some friends and work in the pit for Mielle during her race. It was cold, for sure; but not quite as viciously cold as last year when I rode to the race in nearly zero-visibility fog with temps below freezing.

On the bright side, the mud had firmed up as it got colder, and today it wasn't quite as gloppy as it had been at the pre-ride. On the not-so-bright side, it's still pretty cold out there, and even as I was in the pit paying attention to where "my" racer was on the course, I was contemplating what I would wear for my race tomorrow. My tights are thin and won't be warm enough; my knickers are heavier, wool and might be warm enough but my lower legs will be exposed and might suffer, even with extra-hot embrocation.

By 11:15 I'd had enough of standing around in the cold, and headed out. I still felt pretty darned cold -- the wind had picked up and began to blow hard. By the time I got home, I knew that I would have to go with the wool knickers and just slather the embro on my calves. Up top, a wool turtleneck baselayer and long-sleeved jersey would have to do. I'll complete my ensemble with wool gloves and cap, and wool socks inside my shoes (because I don't ride clipless I cannot cover my shoes with booties -- I'd lose any traction in the toes as a result and I need all I can get on the run-ups).

Tonight, Stompy is cleaned and lubed and ready to go. Soup, a hot bath and an early bedtime with a good book await. Tomorrow, we go and get muddy one last time at PIR.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

chag sameach...

...and Bon Appetit ! בתיאבון
May your holiday be bright -- and delicious.

(Special thanks to E. Schwartz for the photos)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

pre-race hype: going deep

There's a pre-ride of the course available to all registered racers on Friday afternoon, between 2 and 4 pm. I went last year and will probably go again. Friday's pre-ride gives you the opportunity to try out Saturday's course; USGP officials will change the course slightly for Sunday's race, to keep things fresh for those racing both days. I will pre-ride Friday and expect a few things to be different on Sunday.

I admit that I am scared of this race. I am scared because on a truly athletic level I know I have NO business even being on the starting line. True, it's an OBRA-sanctioned race in the morning and as long as I pay my money I am free to show up and ride till my face falls off. The only problem is, at the Cross Crusade races I was on the course with women of every skill level. At USGP I will be on the course with a much smaller field of women who know how to train, who have coaches and workout plans and special diets and who, well, are pretty darned dedicated to this racing thing, who have centered at least a good chunk of their lives around it. And that is not me. Not even close.

Sure, I set up some practices alone and with friends; and I tried really hard to get to bed the same time every night during the week leading up to a race; and I raced more this year than I did last year and felt good about it; and all of that is certainly more than I did last year. But let's face it -- I am not working with the same tools or the same body, and and a part of me worries about succumbing to Pretender Syndrome: What on earth am I doing entering a race with women who are, well, so serious about racing?

I make it pretty easy for folks to spot my pretenditude: I'm racing cyclocross on a singlespeed mountain bike with 26" wheels and flat pedals, and while I would never call myself fat, my physique doesn't exactly scream "athlete" either.

So -- how I get through these races, the only way I get through these races, is pretty much an exercise in sheer will and stubbornness.

I finish my races because I am stubborn, and too proud to quit when it gets harder. I will make the officials pull my ass off the course, because as humiliating as that is -- and it IS humiliating, trust me -- it is not ever as bad as quitting. So on Sunday morning, I will go like the Energizer Bunny and the only way I'll stop before the race is over is for someone to trip me and yank the damned batteries out of my back.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my final pre-race hype of the season.

Monday, November 29, 2010

how cool is this?

So last year one of my bike racing pals started up a seasonal business delivering Christmas trees by bicycle. It was so successful that he hired additional riders and is doing it again this year. He also added Chanukah candle delivery; and today I received three boxes of Chanukah candles at the shop, delivered by a nice young man clad in a stylish messenger bag. Yessssss!

Forget about the future -- bicycle delivery is the wave of the Right Now.

(Sadly, Chanukah is a floating-time-sensitive holiday -- it starts Wednesday night -- so Max is already out of candles for the year. Mark your calendar and plan ahead for 2011, when Chanukah will begin at sundown on December 11 and end at sundown on December 19.)

However, If you live in Portland and are in the market for a Christmas tree, this is one cool way to get your greenery. Give Max a call and set it up. (BTW, Max's riders are allowed to accept tips, so feel free to kick in a little extra when you get your tree.)

I promise your tree cannot possibly arrive in grander style than this, at least not in Portland.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


This weekend I had no racing scheduled. Thankfully, the deep-freeze of midweek had given way to warmer temperatures (mid-40's) so we got out and finished putting the garden to bed for the year. Not all of these pictures were taken this year, but this gives you the general idea of the steps to take to put a garden plot to bed for the winter:
1. remove any leftover, rotting vegetable plants, tomato cages and bean trellis;
2. weed as needed (a scuffle-hoe makes this easier);
3. lay down alternating layers of compost, cardboard (hose down if necessary -- this shot was taken 2 years ago in a dry spell -- we did not have to wet it down this year) and some kind of mulch material like leaves and/or straw over the top;
4. Let nature do the rest over the next few months, until planting time.

Believe it or not, that cardboard actually does degrade quite a lot during the winter -- especially if we get lots of rain and perhaps a good snowfall -- and by next April or May it will have become part of the enriched soil, nice and loamy and perfect for planting.

The great thing about gardening is that, in addition to growing our own vegetables I get some time to work out with other parts of my body besides my legs. Hauling multiple loads of compost and mulch and shoveling onto the beds is not a bad way to get outside and move around, especially with help from Sweetie.

Still, I hope to get in a short ride today. Of course.

Friday, November 26, 2010

the state vocational school of new york at albany

(Thanks to Grant Peterson at Rivendell Bicycle Works for turning me on to this letter.)

Colleges and universities all across the country are shrinking and even slashing programs in an effort to stop the fiscal bloodletting that is the result of a down economy. It's simple, really; humanities courses make virtually no money for a school, while the sciences rake in the big bucks in the form of large gifts and research grants. So it was no big surprise when the president of SUNY (State University of New York) - Albany announced last month that the decision had been made to completely eliminate several foreign language departments, the Classics department and the entire theater arts program from the university's course offerings.

There's just one very large problem with the logic behind this move: it assumes that the best way to run a university is to run it like a business, weighing everything offered against that most sacred of cows, The Bottom Line.

Gregory A Petsko, Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry at Brandeis University, wrote a scathing letter to the president of SUNY-Albany in response to this decision. It is long, and if you care at all about the state of education in this country, absolutely worth reading.

Full disclosure: I was a music education major when I began my college studies in the fall of 1981. I went to school for four or five years, until I couldn't afford to anymore, then I dropped out -- for almost 15 years. When I went back to college in the spring of 1999, teaching jobs in the arts had all but dried up across the West and there was no longer any point in pursuing a teaching degree. So I decided to simply complete my education, and specific job qualifications be damned. I was lucky; I came back to my school -- Portland State University -- at a time when there was still a rich and varied selection of humanities offerings. As a result, I could parlay my 15-year-old music credits (of which there were many) into what eventually became, on paper, a BA in Arts & Letters. In addition to the heavy concentration in Music, I was able to add a significant concentrations in Middle East Studies and Philosophy to my educational program. My course of study was fascinating, enriching, and gave me the focus to hone my existing skills and grow some new ones with a new sense of discipline and a surprising passion for learning. I finished my degree in the spring of 2001 and felt not exhausted, but invigorated by the experience. Today my diploma hangs on the wall in our home office and every time I look at it I smile. It's mine, this thing called an education; it's something I earned for myself and can call upon today, and no one can ever take it away from me. As the first person in my family to earn a University degree, I can tell you that my education is precious, a gift I gave to myself.

Today I am not a working musician or even a music teacher, but instead I'm a co-owner in a small retail business. Am I using the skills I developed in college? I would say yes, at least indirectly. I have to engage in cooperation with co-workers; use analytical thought to arrive at creative solutions to the daily challenges of running a small business; and discipline myself to seek out and develop as many new resources and tools as possible to help our business remain on stable ground. I no longer have to write lengthy research papers on the Arab-Israeli conflict or read endless chapters of Kant and Spinoza; but I would definitely not be as good at my work today without the time I spent in college, because it helped make me a more complete, thoughtful and well-rounded person.

The problem is that we are so fixated on the market value of everything we use, buy or do that we end up questioning our very motives and desires based on a time-money correlation. Time is NOT money. You can always make more money, but once you spend time, that's it. You can't get it back, or make more. This false correlation is hurting the quality of our educational systems, as more schools buy into courting the Bottom Line to the exclusion of entire programs of study. Worse, it's creating a divide between those who are educated and those who are not; and out of that grows a mistrust of the educated that discourages community and government support for educational institutions at every stage of life, from kindergarten to college.

Read Petsko's letter and see what you think. Consider how your education has helped you, directly and indirectly; and see how you continue to use it today. Then think about what you want the next generation's educational opportunities to look like, and how we can all help keep their choices varied and plentiful.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

gratitude is a state of mind

It seems a shame to reserve the Giving Of Thanks for only one day a year.
It seems especially a shame when that one day is slowly being eaten alive by the machinery of marketing for Halloween candy and Christmas gifts.
Still, it gives us -- most of us, at any rate, those who don't have to work today -- time to pause and think about what matters most in our lives, and to remind ourselves of just how much abundance we have in our lives.
Even if that abundance can't be materially measured (because of job loss/downsizing, the burden of too many bills to pay, health concerns and a host of other responsibilities and worries that can weigh us down to the point of being One With The Floor), it's still there.
The very capacity for living, for being, as my mom's hospice helper used to say, "upright and breathing", and all that means to each of us, is the first thing to be thankful for, this and every day.

There is a prayer observant Jews say every morning, before they swing their legs over the side of the bed, before they even sit up, a prayer for the moment you open your eyes and realize the most amazing thing of all: I'm still here. Basically, it goes something like, Thank You God, for giving me back my soul for another day of living.
Remembering the miraculousness of my being this thing called "alive" each day brings all the rest of my blessings -- and there are many -- into sharper focus. It makes those other blessings, I think, a little bit sweeter and more dear.
I am grateful that my soul is back in my body for another day -- so I get to enjoy everything else I have in this life. I am blessed with a loving partner; family and friends; meaningful (if not highly-paying) work; a way to use my skills and talents to help others; food on the table and a warm, dry place to live; and time and energy for my own pleasure. I try to sustain this gratitude all through the year by silently beginning each and every day with that little prayer. And although it seems corny as hell, it actually helps remind me of what's important.

What's important is being here.

I took a bike ride this morning. I usually go for a bike ride every Thanksgiving morning, a vain preventative measure against the Tryptophan lethargy I will know later in the day. This year, between recovering from all the racing I've done this fall and the intense cold of the last few days, my usual 20-mile loop around the lakes was out. I opted for a shorter ride around N-NE Portland to enjoy what was left of the fall colors and the new, always surprising bitterness of the first blast of winter air. It was exactly what I needed, and the focus brought about by my awareness of living, the snap of the frigid air in my nose and lungs, the motion of my legs turning perfect circles and the soft purr of my tires over damp pavement, the cold mist that partly obscured the downtown skyline from my vantage point on the Bluff, and the moss on the now mostly-bare trees above the Slough -- all contributed to some of the sweetest, loveliest miles I've ridden this year. I came home and gave Sweetie a big hug and kiss and the entire morning felt Completely Right.

May your gratitude be awakened in an excellent way this Thanksgiving, and may you find time and energy to sustain it through the year.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

i think i'm outgrowing extreme darkness.

I rode to a committee meeting this morning, after a light dusting of snow and plummeting temperatures last night presented me with streets that had icy patches all over the place. When I left the house it was an unusually cold [for Portland in November, anyway] 25 deg F. I found a slower-but-steady pedaling tempo and managed to make it to my meeting only a few minutes late after what felt like a pleasantly bracing ride. A co-worker who lives only blocks from me didn't make it to the meeting; apparently he was uncomfortable riding his skinny-tired bicycle on icy streets.

The temperature never got above 30 degrees all day. The pot-pie place down the street was so busy I had to get my lunch to go and eat it back at the shop. The air stung my cheeks. When it was time to go home, the same multiple layers of wool covered by a shell were suddenly no longer sufficient to keep me warm while riding -- and with the fall of darkness, my ability to see plummeted with the temperature.

I've had night-vision issues since I was a teenager, a non-intestinal manifestation (yes, they really call it that) of what would later be diagnosed as Crohn's. My night vision has gotten slowly and progressively worse over the years, but this was the first year that I noticed just how bad it had gotten. Roads I used to ride comfortably with ambient glow of street lights now became downright scary -- and with the icy patches that had never melted from this morning, those same streets were now absolutely nerve-wracking to ride. The glare from car lights only made things worse; glare blinds me at night, sometimes for up to five whole minutes until my eyes have readjusted enough to see again. The ice was still there, only now I couldn't see it.

So tonight, instead of a full commute, I rode downtown (taking the sidewalk on the Burnside Bridge because the bike lane was apparently completely covered with black ice). I hopped a MAX train to the light-rail stop closest to my house, still a good two mile ride from home. I wobbled nervously and felt my back wheel skid out from under me a few times in an icy patch I didn't see before rolling over it. Each time I would put my foot down to keep from falling. Then I would resume pedaling, peering vainly into the darkness of the next block and hoping another car wouldn't come from out of nowhere and blind me again.

I slowly made my way, carefully riding over the largest icy spots I couldn't safely thread my way around, until I finally arrived at home pretty much a nervous wreck -- and a sort of sad one. Because tonight I know that I will need to come up with some new transportation strategies, modifying my choices little by little as the aging process begins to get in my way. I am not depressed, exactly, but still sort of sad. I am my father's child, not someone to grow older gracefully but to go down fighting, screaming and shaking my fist in indignation at a world and a life where getting old may be part of someone's plan, but certainly not part of mine.

I can still ride at night, to be sure; in fact I can probably still ride home most nights of the year, especially if it's dry. I just can't ride every night anymore -- not on the icy, howling gale, or rain-stormy nights, not comfortably, not confidently and therefore not safely. So a small but powerfully perceptible piece of my fierce independence is changing, shrinking a tiny bit. And that is just one of those things that I knew was coming, but the knowledge doesn't make me feel much better.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

OBRA CX: evidence photos and random bits

(Evidence photos, taken by Craig Ruby)

1. At the starting line. The Womens' Singlespeed field was 15 strong...

2. ...and we got our own call-ups. How cool.

3. Pretty sure this was my second lap. This drop-down, the only one of the course, should have delighted me; but by the time my 1 pm race was underway, several previous heats had degraded the course to the point where there were no decent lines left and it got a little dangerous. Pick the wrong line and you'd go into the tree at the bottom left of the track. I watched someone do this on my first lap as I was on way out to that section and he hit it head-on, pretty hard. I missed the tree every time, but it was a blind drop until you were right over it and it was a little scary.

This morning my body is reminding me that actually, I did crash, during my warmup. It was near the end of my hot laps, I was feeling fairly loose and, in preparation for the curb hops that I knew were part of the course, I decided to hop the curb near the tent and Mielle's car. I mis-timed the hop-up of my rear wheel, the tire caught the slippery curb in just the right place and began to fishtail out from under me -- and I absolutely bit it. I landed on the grass just above the curb, partly on my hip and partly on my backside, against both the curb and the waterbottle in my jersey pocket. Ow! Still, I had to laugh, and I did, right out loud, turning heads and causing a few smiles among the onlookers who had witnessed what became my graceful attempt at a pratfall.

I assume there will be a bruise there at some point.

The rest of me feels quite tired, wiped out actually. Stompy is still in the shed, as dirty as when Mielle brought me home last night. If I don't get to it today -- and I may not, if it stays cold and I feel pooped -- then I will take it to work tomorrow and give it some TLC at the end of my shift.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

race report: OBRA Oregon State CX Championships, Salem

This will be a slightly truncated report, because my personal results were not spectacular and because tonight the tank is officially empty. I left it all out on the course: a very, very hard course, a brutal course, with mud-cum-paste, sickly slick off-camber switchbacks, and an absolutely soul-draining run-up (yes, I know, some people rode up it, but a lot of people did not, could not, and I fell into the latter group) that makes the Stagecoach Road at the Sherwood short-track course look like a freaking cakewalk. (If you remember, I rode up that one on my last lap, in 97-degree heat, after ingesting nearly half a pound of dust. This run-up was simply stupider, longer and harder.)

So to say that I suffered on this course would be an understatement. I suppose that, in the world of cyclocross, suffering to the point where your eyes fall out on the course is sort of the point (for some, it's the only point, but I digress). And if that was all that had happened it would've been fine. But on top of that, I came dangerously close to repeating an experience from my short-track season, where I was the absolute last person on the course and they were about to send off the next heat of racers. In this case, I was close enough to the end of my final lap that they went ahead and sent them off anyway, with two "sweep" riders (who were there to keep pre-riders from being on the course while a race was happening) riding behind me shouting encouragement, yelling at me to push and to keep going.

(A guess as to why this happened: on my second lap, at the top of this stupid, stupid run-up, I felt suddenly and dangerously short of breath, and was forced to pull off to one side so I could use my emergency inhaler. It took me fully three whole minutes to regain enough breath to continue, and I'm sure that lag-time contributed to my race result along with my walking sections of the aforementioned stupid, stupid run-up. Excuses? Sure, I guess. But the reality is that today I was racing at a state championship, in a category where I was in over my head, on a course where I was in waaaaaaay over my head. And all of that is probably why it went down this way.)

On the bright side of things, OBRA did give me credit for all of my laps and did not pull me, allowing me to finish my race. And although the going was very rough -- there were boggy sections of Nutella-like mud that gave even technical-loving ME pause, and would certainly have scared the crap out of someone coming from, say, southern California -- I managed to handle my bike reasonably well, not crashing once (though I did come close).

Another bright spot was watching friends race: Mielle, who is a freaking Rock Goddess on a steep, fast, upward trajectory to Superstardom and who kindly offered to transport me and Stompy to Salem today. (Thanks to her, I got to see how The Other Half races: a tent, chairs, a portable power-washer, and a nice comfy place to dump my stuff during the race. This is living!)
And Kristin, who raced Womens' Singlespeed and finished two spots out of last place, then immediately turned around and raced with Beginner Women where she got 8th out of 15 racers there. Ah, youth and strength are beautiful things to have in tandem and it was so great to see her enjoying the benefits of both all at once. She truly rocked it.

Finally -- and for me, this was the brightest spot of all -- there were 15 women on the starting line of the Womens' Singlespeed category today; the largest number to date and a definite sign that more race promoters really ought to make room for this category to blossom and grow. The fact that I got my head handed to me by some well-trained, super-fit, truly fast women did not bother me in the least; anyone who medaled today earned it on a crazy-hard course.
Once again I want to say Thank you to all the women who had enough faith to sign up for the category, and to the race promoter for including the category at the state championship race. Between today's showing and the fact that there will be National Champions' jerseys on the line in Bend for Mens' and Womens' Singlespeed categories, I am hopeful that Cross Crusade can find a way to include the category in next year's series.

My result: 15th place in a ridiculously talented and strong Womens' Singlespeed field.
I did not get many pictures at all, and few of them worth sharing; but I am hopeful that eventually some decent photos will surface on the Web that I might be able to download and share with family and friends.
Tonight, post-shower, dinner, a footrub (thank you, Sweetie!), hot tea and a teeny-tiny nip of vodka before bedtime, I am utterly completely spent, having expended a degree of energy and sheer will that I did not know I possessed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

callups for womens' SS tomorrow = stoked

Callups for tomorrow's OBRA cyclocross Championships were announced today.

Through the mathematical intersection of 2009 OBRA finishes, Cross Crusade series placements, and BAR (Best All-around Rider) points in various categories, they figure out who gets called by name to the starting line in each category. if your name isn't called then you line up behind everyone else who got called and fight your way forward somewhere on the course.

Since there has been no Womens' SS category at Cross Crusade, they had to use other information to compile a callup list, including overall BAR points and the series totals from the PIR short-track series (the only other big race series in Oregon to offer the category this year).

As a result, the callup order is pretty much the same order of placement for the short-track series overall. And so, for the first time in my short racing career, I will enjoy both a separate start for Singlespeed Women (and the attendant holeshot opportunity), meaning the absolute fantasticness of lining up with possibly a dozen other women all racing singlespeed bikes (yesss!); and the added pop! in the psyche of being called by name called to the starting line. Even if I finish last, it simply cannot get better than all of this.

Saturday's forecast for Salem and the Willamette Valley: Showers; low of 36, high of 43F.
Wardrobe: LS wool base layer, LS Bella jersey, Bella shorts with full-length leg-warmers (tights seemed like overkill above freezing), wool socks, neoprene gloves and a wool cap of some kind under my helmet. I hope I'll be warm enough.

I hope I can get a decent night's sleep. Excitement has officially overtaken nerves.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

baby, it's cold outside: help keep your neighbors warm

Fri Nov 19 Showers Sat Nov 20Showers Sun Nov 21Partly Cloudy
Showers 45°/38° Showers 45°/35° Partly Cloudy 42°/33°

At this time of year, we are besieged by five thousand different charities, all doing good work to help those less fortunate. Sure, there are great organizations helping folks get on bicycles, feeding them and helping them take care of their kids.

But when the weather turns really cold -- and it has finally begun to do so here in Oregon -- it gets harder for poor families to stay warm and therefore stay healthy. Choices must be made: Do I pay my [natural] gas bill or do I pay for my medications? Do I try to fix the [electric] baseboard heater or do I simply buy a heavier, warmer coat to wear indoors? Do I buy more oil for the furnace (yes, many Portland-area homes still use oil heat) or do I buy groceries?

So this year, all my charitable money went to one place: Oregon Heat. Oregon Heat accepts donations from folks who can afford to pay their heating bills, in order to subsidize the cost of heating for folks who cannot afford it. With the economy still in the crapper and unemployment in Portland hovering at nearly 10 per cent, more people will have a hard time paying the cost of staying warm this winter. So if you're a Portland-area reader of this blog, I invite you to consider making a contribution to Oregon Heat. If you live somewhere else, ask your local utility providers for electricity, natural gas or home heating oil if they have a subsidy program you can contribute to.

Being cold in the winter really, really sucks. I'm grateful that I'm in a position to help make it a little warmer for someone else in my community this year, and I invite you to do something similar where you live. Bundle up!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

hype of the week: 1984 spirit of atlanta

(File under: "Forget quality, rip my face off")

Seriously, these guys ARE quality. But back in the day, they were also the loudest damn drum corps in DCI. I was in Atlanta in the mid-80's, working part-time for my mom's company (Georgia-Pacific) and, in my free time, hanging out with some guys from the Georgia Tech band. We were helping out at the stadium during morning rehearsals for the DCI South Regional. When Spirit took the field and began to play, a guy next to me asked, "are these guys a Senior [over age 22] corps?"

"No," I answered, "they're a regular DCI [age 21 and under] corps. Why?"

"Because that's got to be the loudest damned corps ever."

That was Spirit. Whatever else they were good at -- and they were good -- they had a hornline so loud it could part hair, shatter windows, and crack the cement. The Senior drum corps, weekend units mostly back east for folks who'd aged out of Junior drum corps but couldn't stop playing, were traditionally known for being really loud. But Spirit could play louder -- and they were amazingly clean. One time, the rumor goes, they played in a parking lot, pointed their horns at a rival's tour bus, and made one of the tires explode. It's just a rumor, but now you know why a whole generation of drum corps alumni are walking around with hearing aids today.

The volume of Spirit's hornline in the 1980's is sort of like cyclocross is now -- it's exciting, utterly ridiculous, and therefore a little dangerous, the kind of dangerous that makes you grin crazily even as you take chances with your health and safety. Listening to Spirit Of Atlanta in those days was, like racing cyclocross now, probably an OSHA violation.

So crank it up, and enjoy having your face ripped off.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

hot laps through north portland

Going to OBRA Championships next week involved staying home from Barton Park today.
The deal was that I wanted to attend an event later today with Sweetie and I could not do that and race at 2 pm at Barton Park. After considering all my options, I decided to skip Barton altogether and race next weekend.
Never mind that Barton Park is the final race of the Cross Crusade series; or that at least two different outdoor sports shows are covering the race for future broadcast; or that Barton is one of the best courses in the series. If had gone to Barton Park today I'd be racing in Womens' Master 45+. But by skipping it, I get to race next weekend in a Womens' Singlespeed category that OBRA has seen fit to award state championship medals for. We will get our own start, and perhaps our own chance at a holeshot before they send the next round of racers off.

Is it worth it?

I had a window of free time this morning, while Sweetie ran errands in preparation for our event tonight. So I dressed, embrocated, and pulled out Stompy for a short, brisk ride around North Portland. I decided that, after a brief stretch, I'd hop on and go wherever Stompy told me to. I ended up doing a very large hot lap out to Willamette Blvd along Rosa Parks, then did a big loop around Overlook and back towards Ainsworth. Then I looped all the way around again, not quite as hot but still at a fairly brisk pace. A couple of these laps allowed me to clear my head, breathe hard and admire the last of the brilliant fall colors still on the trees. By the time I finally rolled back to Woodlawn Park, I decided not to go hard in the mud and wet grass, but to save it for a short mid-week session if time allowed. I arrive home, having ridden hard if not terribly far; and feeling much better.

Ahhhh. Better now.

Friday, November 12, 2010

product review: showers pass club pro jacket

alpenrose 10-3
Originally uploaded by periwinklekog

(Note: this is an unsolicited review.)

In short, the Showers Pass Club Pro jacket, a revision of the company's original Club jacket, is a good example of a company using feedback from users to improve a product.

I tested the Club jacket two years ago, and passed it around for a couple of my co-workers to try as well. Our conclusion was that the feel of the fabric and the very race-oriented fit would not serve our customers very well, and we opted not to carry the jacket in our product line that year. I shared our findings with the folks at Showers Pass, and they responded with a significantly improved version of the Club jacket, now called the Club Pro. Since I was due for a new rain jacket (my 15-year-old Burley having finally given up the ghost), I decided to buy one for myself and try it out. I have ridden about two hundred commuting miles in the jacket so far.

My only complaint is that the pit-zips were redesigned so that they run below the armpit and just behind the chest at an angle, rather than in line with the underarm seam the way most jackets have them positioned. I find this location for the zipper to be much harder to manage with one hand, and I either have to risk riding no-hands in traffic or pull over and stop to adjust my ventilation there. Since I'm not actually racing while wearing the jacket, it's a minor issue; but if I was in a situation where I needed to be able to work the zipper one-handed every time, I'd probably be bothered more by this change.

--Fabric has a better hand inside and out and appears to be more durable than that used for the old Club jacket; It is also surprisingly breathable considering the material used, yet repels water very well. All seams are sealed with what appears to be a durable tape.
--Zippers are all sealed and include pull-tabs with a tiny spot of rubber or silicon melted into the tab for extra grippiness -- ideal when trying to use the zipper while wearing gloves.
--Better color choices than the old Club (that neon orange HAD to go; and if you don't like the neon yellow now offered, the jacket also comes in a deep sea blue in mens' cut and a pastel blue in womens' cut).
--Good reflective striping and accents all around (however, the rear horizontal stripe tends to get lost when the rider is wearing a shoulder bag or backpack, so perhaps a little more reflectivity on neck and/or sleeve is in order).
--Best of all, the fit was changed to be a little boxier and roomier, allowing for more layering options in cold weather and also fitting wider-hipped bike commuters who aren't necessarily "athletes". At the time we ordered our jackets for stock we chose to carry only the mens' cut, and I was pleased to find that a mens' medium fits me without any trouble. The front side pockets are also a more commuter-oriented feature that I appreciate, yet they don't make the jacket appear especially bulky. (We have since added a small number of the womens' size to accommodate our more petite riders.)
--Overall this is a good-looking, bicycle-specific garment that could just as easily be worn around town as a windbreaker or rain shell.

The jacket retails for $100.00, which is now considered the more affordable end of the range for a bike-specific jacket. Based on all the features offered in this attractive package, I think it's a good buy for the money.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

how big is too big? questions for OBRA and USA Cycling

A discussion has come up on the OBRA mailing list that speaks to the incredible growth of cyclocross participation. OBRA officials do an incredible job of keeping track of the largest start fields in US Cyclocross, sometimes under ridiculous conditions (racers at Hillsboro were hosed down as they completed their final lap to remove mud from their numbers). But it's only going to get harder to manage so many racers at a one-day event, and current discussions are focusing on electronic timing chips as a way to more easily process a rider's final placement in a field where there could easily be over 300 people on the course in any given hour.

I think the larger issue is a question of how much OBRA really wants to grow the sport, and in what way.

If we are seeing 1,700 racers at Alpenrose on opening day of Cross Crusade, that's an overwhelming number of racers to handle in one day -- and not only from a tracking standpoint, but from a safety standpoint as well. Can you imagine what PIR [road] crits would look like if there were 200 women in your race, and there were three womens' fields running simultaneously on the oval at any given time?

Last week, the Juniors got their own race slot, without adults on the course. They liked it more, and so did the adults who didn't have to race with them. But there are only so many hours of daylight for a race day, and I fear that we will approach a crtical mass with the sport -- especially with 'cross -- that will require OBRA to take steps to stem growth. I kicked these ideas around with a friend and am putting them out here:

--offer online pre-reg ONLY with a strict deadline, after which no one can sign up to race. NO on-course or day-of-race registration. Limited numbers of racers on the course for each start time. This is harsh but may prove necessary; USA Cycling is already enforcing something like this for Cross Nats (apparently, Cat 4's can't race for a jersey anymore) and I think it will catch on at the regional level. (USA Cycling recently added a national champion's jersey for Singlespeed cyclocross at the 2010 Cross Nats, meaning that even the grass-roots, homegrown discipline of singlespeed racing will now have rules and regulations to limit and control participation at the elite level.)

--limited numbers of racers being allowed to upgrade at a time, to avoid overfilling a category (I see this mostly as an issue with talented Beginners moving quickly to B's or A's, rather than Master C's moving to Master B's, but it's still an idea).

--Novice-only events where skill-building is the focus and then skills testing allows you to sign up for other races (similar to pro baseball's Rookie League in the minors). This would require more folks to stop up as event organizers and/or sponsors and may not be practical from either a logistical or financial standpoint, but the need is certainly there.

--A careful and nuanced discussion of exactly whom the target group is as far as attracting new participants to bike racing. If we restrict registration at races we run the risk of discouraging potential new participants. If we don't restrict registration then we will see larger and larger start fields at Alpenrose and elsewhere, until the start fields become completely unmanageable and unsafe.

So I think the tech thing matters, but I also think OBRA needs to ask itself how big they want to be. Certainly, I was taken aback at my first cyclocross race. I adapted, dealt with it and survived. I went on to love participating in the sport. But I will never make a podium or set the world on fire; at what point does participation by someone like me need to be sacrificed (or at least severely limited) in the name of safety and/or common sense?

This begs the stickier question about USA Cycling, the national organization that sanctions bike racing in most regions of the US (except for Oregon and a couple of other place which have their own independent organizations).
What is USA Cycling FOR? Is it to encourage participation in bike racing as a fun, healthy sport with friendly competition between racers of all ages and skill levels; or is it to find and groom the very best racers for international competition where large purses and possibly endorsements are at stake? Is it possible -- or, admittedly, desirable -- for USA Cycling to do both?

We certainly can make room for everyone to participate in bicycle racing who wants to -- there are millions of kids playing Youth Soccer, Pop Warner football and Little League baseball across the country and somehow we seem to make room for all of them. How can we best manage the mere thousands (by comparison) who want to participate in bicycle racing and create a system that is fair, equitable and continues to welcome new people to the sport?