Saturday, July 31, 2010

hype of the week: 2008 phantom regiment

Sometimes it's not about fast tempi or insanely technical snare licks. Sometimes the energy of a hype has to come from way down deep inside and move you at the roots. But it's still a hype, even if it doesn't look like one on the surface.

I sang an SATB version of Franz Biebl's Ave Maria over twenty years ago in a large, semi-professional choir. I never thought I'd be so moved again by any arrangement of this piece -- until I heard the Phantom Regiment play it several years ago and found myself blinking back tears.

This is Phantom in "concert" formation at the end of a show in 2008. The piece became such a popular part of their repertoire that it is now featured regularly whenever the corps plays an encore "standstill" after a show. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

life can be tough for jewish jocks

The date for Starcrossed, Seattle's biggest cyclocross race, has been announced.
Starcrossed attracts cyclocross racers from all over the country, including national and international stars who compete for UCI points (earn enough of these and you might get invited to Worlds).

This year, Starcrossed is on Saturday, September 18. This also happens to be Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. So if you're a dedicated cyclocross racer and you're also an observant Jew, well, you're kinda screwed this year.

For observant Jewish athletes, this is nothing new. Hank Greenberg is probably the most famous Jewish athlete who had to choose between his profession and his faith. In 1934, the Detroit Tigers were very close to winning the American league pennant, and Hank was a star hitter for the team. But he felt torn about having to play during the High Holy Days. After talking with his rabbi and thinking hard about it, he reached a compromise: he played on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) and helped his team clinch the pennant, but he did not play ten days later on Yom Kippur. The Tigers won the pennant, and Greenberg was lauded by the press for both his outstanding play and his decision to stay away from the ballpark on the holiest day of the year.

But that's baseball, a sport loved by and populated by no small number of American Jews for generations; and this is bike racing, a sport populated historically by working-class European Gentiles in which observant Jews figure almost not at all at the professional level. Put it in the Pacific Northwest, the most UN-religious part of the country, and you have a calendar conflict that is pretty much a non-issue, a yawner, nothing to be concerned about.

Still, if I were a professional cyclocross racer and I had to choose between my faith and my job, it would be tough. And I know I wouldn't -- couldn't -- compromise like Hank Greenberg did.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Tonight I went to PIR intending to race. Sort of.

I'd told myself all week that I wanted to race tonight, that I wanted to be able to say I'd raced every week no matter what.
-- yesterday I led a group ride and put 20 miles in on a hot day;
--this morning I sat through a meeting at work that felt futile and interminable;
--today's high reached 90F;
--and tonight when I got to PIR and saw the course that Tad had laid out, any remaining enthusiasm sort of went out the window. It was ridiculous. Tad races Cat I and designed a course for his level. Anyone else out there would just have to suck it up and truly suffer. And I could already tell I wasn't in the mood to suffer.

Still, I told myself to get out there and do a pre-ride. I made it around about a third of the course and knew that I would not have enough to do more than a lap or two. By then, I was looking for any excuse to get out of racing -- the idea that simply deciding not to race was somehow not sufficient.
Around the next turn, into what seemed like a tenth set of rollers, I got what I'd asked for. Dropping down off a steep embankment, my front wheel hit a small boulder/rock/dirt clod -- and the shock wave of the jolt moved through the bike and jammed my left wrist. I stopped, winced, pulled off the course, waited a few minutes for the pain to subside and then rode around to the back side, out on the "Back Forty", to see if the hard, bumpy ground would aggravate it or if I could keep riding.
It hurt enough for me to notice and I decided I'd rather save it all for the last race of the series next week. So I scratched, told Kris I was DNS ("Did Not Start"), feeling a combination of shame and relief.
I stayed awhile, helping out here and there and taking some pictures, but not feeling terribly thrilled. I left a little after 7:30 and called it a night.

I will hope for a better, less stressful week next week.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

hype of the week: 1982 bridgemen

In 1982 and 1983 the Bridgemen of Bayonne, NJ hit the competition field with the coolest and most forward-looking drum solo of the era: Dennis DeLucia's Black Market Juggler. I was looking around for the '83 version (in which the snare line dons blindfolds before playing the drum-to-drum part of the feature!) but the "owner" of that video had disabled embedding. The '82 version doesn't incorporate the blindfolds and spends too much time showing the color guard drill; but the overall visual and sound quality is better and frankly the drumline played it cleaner. Watch closely when the camera goes in close on the snare line!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

race report: PIR short-track xc # 5, 7-19-10

The owners of Portland International Raceway, who allow us to use their infield for short-track racing every summer, move piles of dirt around as they need to in order to mantain their motocross course. Last year, they left some dirt in the "singletrack" area, arranged in neat little berms that made for a delicious, off-camber rhythm section through the trees, or, depending on how you went at it, a stack of baby whoopdees. Lots of fun. There was also an enormous mountain of sand and pea gravel mixed together out on the Back Forty that we sometimes got routed over as well. This year, there had been the tabletop -- presumably, what was left of the larger mountain of stuff with most of the pea gravel removed, and shoveled over to a spot closer to the moto course -- and it had been the source of endless challenges and fun for me and just about everyone else during the first four weeks of racing.

When I arrived at PIR, I noticed two things: First, a fresh layer of fine, sandy dirt had been laid over the moto course that made for very mushy going if you picked a bad line (which I did through most of my practice lap). Secondly, the tabletop was gone. I mean it pretty much disappeared; what was left was a sad little bumpy pile with the course run through it, and more telltale tire ruts dug deep into the sandy leftovers wherever someone rode a bad line.

I was sad. I loved the tabletop, had called it my friend, had forgiven it for last week's crash, and now it was gone without so much as a goodbye.

In its place, course designer Tad B. had dreamed up a wicked -- and long -- twisty, back-and-forth head trip through the moto track, turning it into the main feature of the race instead of just a part of it. The worst/best part: in the middle of the moto course, a steep, sudden drop sent you downhill into a hard right where you hoped you wouldn't go off the course and hit the ribbon; as soon as you managed to stay on course you had to immediately accelerate so you could ascend the backside of the drop and turn hard left, almost off-camber, to get out of the little "hole" and back onto a straighter, flatter section. A surprising number of riders had difficulty managing this section without having to dismount -- or at least stop and change direction astride their bikes. The rest of the course wasn't much easier. Even the Cat I/Pro racers were finishing their practice laps and rolling their eyes at me while telling me it was the hardest course of the series. Pal Ron S., grinning as I rode past him, told me it was possibly the "best" course he'd ever seen at PIR short-track (Ron is basically a 61-year-old whippet, and regularly finishes ahead of much younger men who've just aged up into the Master 45's category in which they race. If he didn't race -- and welcome other people to the activity -- with such unfailing cheerfulness and encouragement we might all hate him; but in fact we all adore him and some of us secretly wish he was OUR dad or grandpa.)

I hoped I would be able to manage two laps when the actual racing began. I'd done a 20-mile pre-ride of the Garden Tour route the day before and I felt tired. Still, I was happy to be there, happy to be out playing in the dirt on Stompy. I ran several warmup laps in the parking lot, enjoying conversation with a few singlespeed riders who'd all come back from Mt. Bike Oregon (formerly the Fat Tire Festival) in Oakridge the night before. If I was tired, they had to be fried after four days of mountain biking in central Oregon.

While lined up waiting to start, I suggested to Kristin that the singlespeed women somehow meet up after the race to try and have a picture taken together. She thought that was an excellent idea and immediately began yelling at the other women singlespeeders to meet after our race.

The race itself, was ridiculously hard. The race organizer who'd talked with me last week (about catting down to Beginner Women) was following the racers, and got ahead of me as I fell totally and completely behind the pack within a minute of starting. He fell behind me and began shouting suggestions to me about how to find a good line and handle the especially touch terrain of the course. I found his coaching simultaneously annoying and helpful. I appreciated his help but also just wanted to be left alone to ride my personal race. Eventually he left me to watch the race from a high berm on the moto track. I told him I was fine and just wanted to keep going. But the course was SO difficult that every tracky turn slowed me down more; I simply did not have the strength or endurance to stay on my bike over the tallest berms or through the nasty middle section; and I kept having to get off and run with my bike in those spots. On a positive note: I didn't need to suck my inhaler at all and I only stopped to catch my breath twice in the entire race.

(Photo by Mathhew Haughey)

Still, when the bell began ringing to signal the final lap, I was not positioned well. I was about three quarters through my third full lap and knew that I would not be allowed to finish a fourth; I'd most likely be pulled from the race before I had a chance to even leave the singletrack and get back onto the moto course. So I made the decision to leave the course after my third lap. As I crossed the line, the announcer said there was about two minutes of official time left, and I knew my choice had been correct; I could not have completed a full fourth lap without getting pulled in two or three minutes' time. I crossed the line, pulled off the course, stopped to catch my breath, and slowly rolled to the officials' table to let Candi know I was done. She smiled, asked how I was, and I told her my body was done but my brain wanted more. She told me I'd get credit for my three laps and that she was glad to see me out racing.

Before long, Kristin found me at the finish area and we hugged. "We won!" she said. Kristin's philosophy is that, just by doing it, she's a winner, no matter what her official placing ends up being. It's a good philosophy; and I've adopted it for myself. I came, I raced, I finished; therefore I won.

After posing with several other women in my category for photos I had a wonderful discussion with Susan from the Showers Pass team. A Cat I racer who decided to try singlespeed this year, She'd been forced to "cat up" a couple of seasons ago when, as a Cat II, she'd been beating other women in her age group fairly consistently. The difference between Cat II and Cat I was huge, though; and she was "treading water" just to hang with the pack. In Womens' Singlespeed, however, she thought she actually had a chance of making the podium at the end of the series -- a first for her. She thanked me for helping to get the category started. I thanked her for racing it each week, and we both smiled. This was exactly what I had hoped for -- by separating the Singlespeed category by gender, a woman could race singlespeed, get credit for it, and have a chance to make the podium for her efforts. Even if it would never be me, who cared? It would be sweet for me to see the three women stand atop the podium on August 2 and know that my agitation played in role in helping that come about. I found myself looking forward to the last two races of the series. I want to see how it all ends, like the end of an exciting action movie.

Final results were posted this morning. I got 7th Place -- out of 7, of course -- and was given full credit for my three laps. How the other women managed four and five laps I will never know. Moving up two places from last week means that we only had seven women racing this week instead of the nine we saw last week, so I'm a little disappointed.

Odd as it sounds I would kill to place 15th in the category on Closing Night.
That would mean some serious growth.

This morning I am not terribly sore, but feeling VERY tired, tired enough that I am considering skipping my race next week if the Garden Tour takes a lot out of me. I will probably just not sign up until Monday at the race so I can decide either way.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

how to proceed? on two wheels

Yesterday I shared this article with Sweetie:

Mostly I wanted to let her know there were other non-bikey spouses out there, and I thought it was a good essay for that. I especially liked the part -- and Sweetie did, too -- where NBS (non-bikey spouse) says to BCS (bike-crazed spouse) after watching him race cyclocross the first time, "That's just sick and wrong." We both laughed about that.

The rest of the day went by in a lovely manner. I mowed the lawn, we watched the rebroadcast of part of Ken Burns' Baseball, and in the evening we walked to the park for some live theatre and enjoyed dinner at a new pub in our neighborhood. Over dinner, the subject came around to bikes and racing. Sweetie asked me if I felt that upgrading my bike would be helpful. It was as if I had been given an opening on a silver platter, and so I responded that actually, my money and time would be better spent learning how to upgrade myself -- learning how to train properly -- and maybe that could mean finding a coach or a gym where I could learn how to do this. More importantly, racing is a hobby for me and I want to find someone who can help me not only how to train safely, but how to fit it into an already varied, interesting and busy life. Professional racers live, breathe eat and sleep this stuff, and while I am certainly enjoying my trip through Racingland a lot, I don't want it to become my entire life -- and neither does Sweetie.

So I will focus on the fun for the remainder of my short-track season, and in the two-month break between that and the start of cyclocross season I will begin to make inquiries and see what I can find out. It may be I can't afford either of these things but it's worth researching.

Today I will take the A-R out for a pre-ride of a route I'm leading a group ride along next weekend, a mellow and casual affair that will include stops at home edible gardens and a picnic lunch in a neighborhood park. My job today is to make sure the route I've laid out has no surprises, and to get a very rough idea of how long it will take to get to each planned stop along the way. The morning is cool, with cloud cover and a light breeze; it will warm up to the mid 70's this afternoon, making for a near-perfect morning for a ride.

water tower

Saturday, July 17, 2010

hype of the week: 1988 madison scouts

I've decided that, during the weeks in which I am actually preparing for a bicycle race, it might be a fun thing to offer this up as a pre-race hype. ("Legend" was actually in my head moments before my race start last Monday.)
So to continue, here's another fave: 1988 Madison Scouts (one of only two all-male corps still competing!), doing their signature piece Maleguena. It's ridiculously big and loud so maybe turn down the speakers a little if you're listening after bedtime...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

rapha makes me slap my forehead

Yes, I know, I rag on Rapha from time to time.

But sometimes, man, they just have it coming.
Like today, when someone brought my attention to their new shop apron.
(Yes, it really costs 45 pounds, or $60.00US.)

When you spend $60.00 on a bike shop apron, are you less inclined to let it get greasy? I don't know but it just seems excessive to me. Most standard shop aprons cost less than $25.00 each; and if you get them at a generic industrial supply rather than a bike distributor they cost less than ten bucks.


I am obviously playing in a Different League.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

one f*cking speed

Thanks to everyone who contacted me after my race on Monday and urged me to stay in the Singlespeed category for the remainder of the short-track series.

Thanks also to the race organizer who suggested I cat down to beginners for the final three races. Your comments were offered in a helpful and good spirit and they were taken that way.

I am bruised and a little stiff and sore after my crash on Monday but feeling good and looking forward to the next race. I will stay in the Womens' Singlespeed category. There are only three races left and frankly it would feel weird to cat down at this point, even if it meant I finished a few places ahead of last as a result.

My placement is not the issue here.
Finishing my race each week and growing my bike-handling skills is.
Growing the new category is also the point, and perhaps the biggest one. Not only for this series, but in anticipation of advocating the creation of a Womens' Singlespeed category at Cross Crusade this fall. We had nine women on Monday, the largest field yet. I want at least a dozen by the end of the series, and fifteen would make me positively giddy.
Singlespeed ROCKS. If you're reading this and want to know more, come find me at PIR next Monday. I will be there around 5 pm, and would be happy to explain my enthusiasm for the freedom, beauty and flow of One Speed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

race report: PIR short-track xc # 4, 7-12-10

This morning I am sore and bruised, and feeling a little down.

Last night I seemed fine. I was looking forward to another fun race. I'd done a practice lap to see how the course was laid out, and it was going to be challenging: more flat this week, with tight turns thrown in all over the place and a sharp, off-camber ascent up the tabletop that gave me pause. I determined that I would try to ride up it in the race. After my practice lap, I informed the officials that I was using a prescribed inhaler. They thanked me for informing them and said that would be sufficient. Apparently, OBRA does not use a medical exclusion form the way USA Cycling does.

The start went well, though the dust from the tires of the racers in front of me was hard on my thorat and eyes. Then we got to the tabletop. I decided to try a different strategy this week: I hung back and waited until the other women had all shouldered their bikes and clambered up the slope on foot. When the last one was clear, I poured it on and tried to pedal up it the way I'd seen the men do. I almost made it to the top, and felt that I could make it all the way next time. I stopped a couple of times on the course to use my inhaler, but otherwise I was slow and steady. Two of the tallest berms on the moto track were simply too steep for me to ride up all the way so I climbed the last third, remounted and kept pedaling. The rest of the moto track was actually pretty fun to ride, with smaller, off-camber stuff I could handle and a couple of steeper, straight-on berms that I fought my way up, leaning far forward into my bars to avoid toppling backwards.

On my second lap, and with more room to gather momentum, I really went for the tabletop -- and made it to the top. Unfortunately, so did another rider at the same time. We collided sideways at the top and I did a slow-motion endo over my bars, landing in the dirt with a hard thud. The other rider's handlebar went into my hip and my own handlebar and stem went into my abdomen, knocking the wind out of me. The other rider helped untangle our bikes, we apologized to each other and asked if the other was okay. I urged him to go on, and stood atop the tabletop to catch my breath a moment. Finally, I swung a leg over my bike and pedaled on. Out on the flat, grassy "back forty", falling farther and farther behind, I heard a male voice bellow, "Don't you dare quit, Velo Bella!" I smiled in spite of my pain, and answered back, "No sirree! Not an option!" And I meant it. No matter how ridiculously far behind I might fall I would finish.

It got harder. It took more effort to go over the berms. I stopped again to take a breath, and pushed my bike to the top of the highest berm on the moto track, and I saw Sweetie out of the corner of my eye. She walked alongside the course yelling encouragement, and I took heart and went on.

On my third lap I had to stop one more time to take a breath, and that final stop pretty much did it for me. I was so far behind that by the time I had made it out of the back forty everyone else had finished their race, and I was out on the moto track all alone. I became aware that my continued presence on th course was slowing up the evening's schedule: the Cat II under-35's were waiting to start their race and could not until I was off the course. Finally, with about half the moto track done and about 1/4 of my third lap to go, one of the OBRA officials waved for me to leave the course. I was upset. I would have finished! I wouldn't have quit for anything! Still, I didn't get to prove that to myself, and I didn't get to have that feeling that comes when you actually cross the finish line. So I was really, really sad. I nodded and left the course, and walked around to the back of the grandstands where Sweetie was waiting. "I wanted to finish my lap so badly!" I said, and then I broke down and just cried. My own slowness had robbed me of crossing the line before time was called, and I hated myself, my body, my age, and how impossibly hard it was to play against type -- which is what I do every time I race. I wondered why on earth I was doing this. It was fun to handle my bike in the dirt, but omigod it just kept being hard, and never got easier! And to be pulled, and not even allowed to finish, that was the most humiliating of all.

I sobbed on Sweetie's shoulder for a couple of minutes, and then I calmed down and felt better. Pal Edwin was there, his hand on my shoulder, telling me how happy he'd been that I was there and racing. I introduced Sweetie to Edwin, swigged from my water bottle, and told Sweetie I'd meet her on the grass after taking a short cool-down lap. My hip stung, my knee hurt in two places, and there was a small growing knot on my forearm where I'd hit the deck on the tabletop. But it felt good to take a slow circle of the parking lot and calm everything down.

Later, on the grass, Sweetie and I talked a little about my race. She admitted that she kept thinking I'd DNF, because I looked like I was really working hard. "But every time you'd stop to take a breath, you get back on your bike and keep going. And it blew me away, both how hard this is, and how determined you were." She gave me a little hug. "You're a rock star." I ate the sandwich she'd brought and we watched some of the Cat II's, marveling at their speed and skill. Then, she left to deliver a composter to someone (it was in her car or she would've given me a lift home). I said I'd leave in a little while and meet her at home.

I rolled slowly over to the registration table, just to say hi to the organizers and thank them for a good race. One of them gently took me aside and, with obvious warmth and concern in his manner, suggested that I consider racing with the Beginner Women for the rest of the series. "The whole point is for you to race with people you can actually be, you know, competitive with. You should really think about it. And, you know, it's obvious you know how to ride in the dirt, you've got bike-handling skills, you just need speed. Maybe over the winter you can get yourself a coach and learn how to train more specifically so you can get faster." I thanked him for his honesty, and proceeded to the officials' table, mostly to see if I'd been DNF'd.

I was given credit for finishing, though I didn't know how many laps. The official who'd pulled me apologized, and explained: "You know, in hindsight there was probably more than enough time for me to let you finish your lap. You were pretty close to being done anyway. But I have to err on the side of caution." I thanked him and said there were no hard feelings. 'You have a hard job," I told him, "and I aprpeciate your being here to do it." Kristin, another of the singlespeed women, said she thought she had only completed two laps. (Official results would prover her wrong, as she not only completed three but finished ahead of me.) One of the race volunteers standing nearby learned my age, and was surprised. "You're forty-seven?" He asked in disbelief. He shook his head. "Damn. Definitely hard-ass, to be racing singlespeed with all these younger women." I smiled in spite of my lingering sadness. It was sort of hard-ass, in a crazy way, even if it felt futile.

I guess that, because I feel reasonably comfortable on a mountain bike, I forget sometimes that singlespeed is really, really hard. It just doesn't occur to me while I'm doing it.

Kristin and the race officials both felt I should stay with the singlespeed women -- both to help continue to grow the category, and because there were only three races left in the series. "Stay with the Singlespeeds", the race official said. "If you had been perhaps another fourth of the way along on your second lap you would've finished the third full lap in time, anyway. It's just where you happened to be when the bell lap began." We watched the Cat II's finish up, and as I turned to go another racer saw me and said, "Way to hang in there, Beth." I thanked him.

I went home, feeling torn. I wasn't sure how well I'd do if I went back to beginners, though results this morning show I might have been somewhere other than last place. On the plus side, there were nine women racing singlespeed this week and that is growth. If we can get a dozen women racing singlespeed by the final race in the series I'll be happy.

I sort of don't want to switch categories, but I also understand why it might be a good idea. The reality is that I am pretty damned good at handling a bike, but also pretty damned slow, and it's unlikely I'll get faster in the next three weeks. I have until Friday morning to decide.

This morning, preliminary results indicate I was given credit for completing three laps on what was a very hard course. I don't know how I feel about that; it seems I should only be given credit for two, since that's what I completed in the allotted time. I don't understand how it works, I guess. I feel glad that I raced, and hung in there until they pulled me, but I am still sad that I had to be pulled from the race. I wanted to finish it for real.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

hype of the week: 1976 blue devils

When I need to energize myself -- for an event, for a hard effort, for whatever -- when I need a dose of confidence, when I need to get "hyped", I often turn to drum corps.

I marched for more than half a season in my local drum and bugle corps -- the Spartans of Vancouver, WA -- until my father lost his job, got blackballed by his union (loooong story), and we suddenly were eating a lot of macaroni and cheese and tuna casserole and my folks could no longer come up with the balance of the money needed for me to go on second [national] tour. I came home from first [Pacific NW] tour to the news that my folks had to pull me out of the corps. I was heartbroken. I went on to march in my high school band, but as anyone who has marched in both can tell you, school band is not the same. I collected drum corps recordings after that, and whenever a show came to town I would try to scrape up money for tickets, but the spring and summer of 1978 was the beginning -- and the end -- of my experience as a marching member of a corps.

Still, I hear drum corps in my head whenever I need to boost myself a little.
In anticipation of my next race tomorrow night, I went skipping around and found this delightful flashback, to what drum corps looked and sounded like when I marched.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, I'll go out on a limb and say this is the way real drum corps was, and ought to be. Enjoy.

Friday, July 9, 2010

in which i learn i have asthma

I was supposed to stop needing my inhaler back in early to mid May.

The Albuterol inhaler has been part of my early spring every year for a dozen or more. Its purpose was to help me over the worst of the "acclimation" period of early allergy season. After 2 to 4 weeks I wouldn't need it anymore and I'd put it away for the year. This year, I've continued to need it. I'd been to the doctor's office a few times about it and finally they gave me an expanded breath test. This would measure my lung capacity and show whether or not there was something else besides allergies at work.

Turns out that I have something called Allergy Asthma.

(This is not to be confused with Exercise Induced Asthma, which usually occurs in more serious athletes who put their bodies through the wringer every day and end up not being able to breathe during hard efforts. I can still ride a bike, and even race -- sort of, and there seems to be a correlation between my allerigies and the asthma, so it's Allergy Asthma.)

Yes, I still have allergies to pollen, and yes, they are unusually bad for everyone this year. But I also have constriction of my bronchial tubes, meaning that my lungs aren't getting enough air, meaning that I have asthma too.

Doctors still don't know exactly why some people get asthma and get over it, while others get it and have it for always. It is unclear whether I will have asthma forever. But I have it for now, and that changes a few things.

I am now on two inhalers, a non-steroidal one to treat symptoms as they arise and another steroidal one actually reduce the bronchial obstruction. I am to return to the doctor's office in six weeks to see if this regimen has improved things. I am still allowed to race, and my doctor is preparing a formal letter to race officials explaining that my inhalers are not "performance enhancing" devices, but prescribed medications that simply allow me to breathe (and to participate in racing without, well, collapsing). I'm waiting to hear back from OBRA about it but I am hopeful that there will be no problem.

If anyone among my regular readers has ever dealt with asthma and physical activity, please feel free to chime in.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

tech talk: how many lubricants do we really need?

At work, my desk is cluttered with samples from various companies, all hoping that our shop will find their products appealing enough to add to our line.
Lately I'm surrounded by samples of chain lube. The ad copy for each claims that this product is the "best" at lubing your chain. Some also add that your chain will slough off dirt and grit while in use; others simply say that their product will seep into the tiny cracks better and faster than other oils.

Purple Extreme is, well, purple. It says it's synthetic and biodegradable.
A co-worker infors me it smells odd, a little "chemically".

"A.T.B. *Absolutely The Best)" is red and contains "anti-friction additives". There are many mentions of this on the Web but the company doesn't seem to maintain its own web site.

Phil Wood's Tenacious Oil has been a gold-standard for years -- I also use it to prep spokes for wheel builds and as an emergency lube for bearings in new, cheap pedals. They came out with something called Bio-Lube a couple years back but lately it's on closeout at the distros, which tells me it's not selling well.

Of course, there's Tri-Flow, another tried-and-true oil with Teflon in it. The original compound smells, according to just about everyone, like bananas.
Last year they began selling their own "green" version called Soy Oil; when I contacted the company to find out if the new product still contained Teflon, they admitted that yes, it did. "Then it's not 'green'", I said. End of discussion. Soy is mostly a product of Big Agra and monoculture nowadays, and Teflon is so bad for the environment I can't begin to discuss it.

Finally, there's a small sample on my desk of something called Chain-L (a nice play on Chanel, the perfume; the label's design plays this up even further). On the plus side, this company claims that their product doesn't do anything but lube your chain, and yes, it's just straight-up oil -- petroleum, dead dinosaurs and all that. However, they swear that their thicker, goopier recipe is a better lube.

Bottom line is that all of these products have at least some petroleum derivative in them -- otherwise the bottles would not say things like, "Flammable". There are hundreds of chain lubes on the market. Hundreds.

And in the end, how many chain lubes does one bike industry need? It feels vaguely ridiculous to me, especially when friends are now experimenting with things like olive oil and hemp oil as alternatives to mass-produced, petroleum-based products. One friend has even gone back to the old-school method of carefully waxing his brand-new chains in parraffin before installing them. It takes forever, he says, and you have to be careful; but it works "better than oil".

I dunno. It just seems like overkill to me.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

race report: PIR short-track xc # 3, 7-5-10: meh.

That summed up my race last night.

I had hoped to go to bed by ten on Sunday and get a good night's sleep. I had also hoped I'd finally be shed of my stupid inhaler. Wrong on both counts. Pollen flew through the air all day and all night. Plus, I'd forgotten all about Independence Day; everyone else in northeast Portland besides us had fireworks. So between the cracking and booming of our neighbor's Ladyfingers, M-80's and Cherry Bombs and my wheezing every couple of hours and needing another puff of Albuterol, I got maybe five hours' sleep. Maybe.

I went to PIR and truly did not feel like racing at all. However, I'd already paid for the race (I opted out of volunteering this week to give myself more prep and recovery time) and decided that I would do as much as I could force myself to. I'd feel worse if I didn't even start.

The course was harder than last week, if you can imagine. A couple of truly tricky bits on the moto track (nice, steep re-route over the tabletop, Tad!) and a long start lap out on the "back 40" meant that I was just about out of gas by the time I'd completed half a lap. Approaching the end of the lap, I ran out of breath as well, and knew I was done. (I suppose I could've pulled out the inhaler and sucked it right there on the course but that would've been, well, bad form.)

I pulled off after one lap, informed the officials I was DNF'g (yes, in racing that is a verb) and quickly ducked behind the grandstand to discreetly take a couple of puffs of my inhaler, cursing my body, the circumstances of my life and the dismal, illness- and allergy-plagued spring that made it impossible for me to improve my fitness at all. As it turned out, I was the only person in all categories who did not finish her race the whole night. I spent about five minutes feeling sorry for myself, then was invited by Kris to staff the food table for a little while: "I'll comp you next week's race," he offered. I stayed for an hour, watching some of the Mens' Cat II under-35's and talking with racers who came to assemble a peanut-butter sandwich or refill their water bottles.

Finally, I went over into the single-track area and hung out with some friends. We all agreed that parts of the course were hard, and I worked up the courage to ask a couple of folks if they train. They both laughed, and said: no, not really; just ride a lot, and build up a base of miles. Try adding distance to your commute a few times a week so that one way is something like 90 minutes to two hours, they suggested. Then on the weekends go longer, maybe 30 to 50 miles. Every weekend.

I contemplated this and knew that, for a variety of reasons, I would probably not be able to train that way. The best I could hope for would be to keep commuting by bike, avoid serious illness next winter and find a way to live with my allergies better, and maybe tack on some interval training at shorter distances. As for the rest of this summer, I had to accept that I wouldn't get any stronger or fitter in the remaining four weeks and that the best I could do was go out, get dirty and have as much fun as I could at any speed, in spite of catting up too soon and dealing with everything else. So far, the person who seems to have the hardest time with how slow I'm going and how weak I feel is me. That's worth remembering, especially when other racers are so encouraging and helpful.

I'm disappointed that I DNF'd, but that's still better than not starting at all. Hopefully, I'll have enough in the tank to race better next week (when Sweetie and some of my friends are coming to watch).

Photo taken by bikey pal Cyclotourist near the end of my one and only lap (it was Casual Night and racer were encouraged to skip the lycra kits for something cooler):

Thursday, July 1, 2010

it can be done: pro racing with Crohn's

Today I was finishing up my breakfast and scanning the pages of my latest edition of Velo News when I spotted something incredible: a report of an American racing professionally while living with Crohn's disease. My jaw dropped. Really? An elite racer with Crohn's who's still racing? Successfully?

Intrigued, I went online and looked up his team, and read his rider profile.
And there is it. Phil Zajicek is an Elite level racer on the mostly-Australian Fly V club, and he has Crohn's disease -- and it hasn't stopped him from racking up some palmares (wins) in the sport.

Damn. How cool.

Of course, he's younger -- way younger -- and fitter than me, and his Crohn's appears to be in official remission (which mine is not). But still, that's pretty damned cool. It made me smile so hard I thought my face would fall off. In the absence of local racers with Crohn's besides myself, this is some much-needed encouragement, even if I never finish out of last place.

Rock on, Phil. Have a great season.