Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Race #1: KW Classic, June 2

Finally sucked it up and entered a race. Paid and everything.

This Sunday, an O-Cup race in Kitchener. 13 laps on a 4.6 km circuit; one fairly big hill, but judging by the positively frightening times from last year's race, pretty fast. Last year's winner in the Master's 3 Category did it with a average speed of 39.2 km/h and a lap time average of about 7 minutes. The slowest finisher came in about 25 minutes after that. So I'm looking at the lap times and I realize that unless you come in 7 minutes slower overall or less, you will be lapped. Of the 65 finishers, 19 got lapped.

I don't want to get lapped.

Well, actually, that's more like a best-case scenario.
My goals for the race are, in order of priority:

1. Don't die. (Crucial.)
2. Don't crash out. (Worrisome; could screw up, having never done this before.)
3. Don't get pulled off the course for being too slow. (I bring shame and dishonour upon my team.)
4. Don't get lapped. (OK that's just kinda annoying.)
5. Anything after that is gravy.

But good Lord, the not-get-lapped pace is 36.4 km/h! The best I can manage time trialing alone on similar terrain is 30 km/hr. So I'm hoping that "the peloton effect" will make up for a few km/hr. I've heard that riding in a group counts for a 30% reduction in effort, and certainly the club rides with the Flyers go a pretty good clip. I just have no idea what that will add up to.

Quite probably being lapped twice.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Wonder that is Bib Shorts

OK, this may sound fully stupid but in decades of cycling I have never worn bib shorts. Just the regular short-type shorts.

Until this year.

When I joined the Dark Horse Flyers with the intention to race I needed to order the club kit, which included bib shorts.


Why didn't somebody tell me how much better they were? They stay snug up on the hips, they don't shift around, everything stays in place, the chamois does its job and everybody is much happier at the end of the ride.

OK, taking a leak is a bit more complicated, requiring a bit of stretching & contortion (I feel sorry for women when it comes to bibs), but they look and feel really pro.

Now I'm wondering what to do with a bunch of regular shorts that I can't bear to wear any more. Maybe do some kinda folk art thing where I fashion them into pot holders and sell them on Etsy.

The Flyers' kit, by the way, is pretty sharp looking, something that cannot be said for many of the clubs around town. For some reason there is a strong tendency to an aesthetic that might best be described as "Microsoft clip-art". I don't care how great the club is, that's a deal-breaker for me. Sorry, Mid-Week Cycling Club, Beaches Cycling Club, D'Ornellas, Mississauga BC...
Dark Horse Flyers: Now that's a nice lookin jersey!
So which clubs in theses parts have good ones? Jet Fuel is great. Lapdogs is pretty good. Cafe Domestique in Dundas is awesome.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Four Lessons from a Kilometre Century

I've never ridden a Century. 

Here in Ontario the Centurion organization puts together some great events, including the a mile century in Collingwood in September. Giancarlo did that one last year and said it was great, and this year they are also doing a kilometre century north of Barrie, around Horseshoe Valley, in June.
Here's a nice video from Centurion founder Graham Fraser, with all the details.

As a promo for Horseshoe, they did an informal training ride of the course last Saturday.
It's a beautiful ride – there was one section through forest that was lined with more trilliums than I have ever seen. Almost enough to forgive the climb they were on. (Below is video from the 2012 Horseshoe ride.)

Almost like this
The challenge here was riding farther than I had ever ridden before.

What I didn't know was how damned hilly the course was.

So lots of opportunities to put my personal vendetta against hills to the test.

And I learned a few things:

1. Speed is easy, endurance is hard. I can stick with the faster riders – sort of. I was able to hang on to the front-end group for about the first 65-70 km, then they decisively dropped my ass – on a hill. So speed is less of an issue than endurance. And being able to kick it up a notch when necessary.

2. That body-mind thing is no joke. It's remarkable how the physical collapse and the psychological collapse go hand in hand. When shit gets real, and you start to fade a bit, and the group starts to inch away, there's a moment when it feels like your will and your body give in together.
And boom: you're dropped. Like a rock.

3. Don't let the group dictate your climb. When riding in the middle of the pack and approaching a hill, over and over I would let myself get sucked in to trying to ride with the wheel in front of me. I like to gear up and accelerate a bit to get some momentum and have a few gears in reserve to climb with. Inevitably the group would slow at the base of the hill and accordion, and I would get my whole rhythm blown, wrong gears, wrong cadence and struggling to keep my act together. It was doubly dumb because the group always broke up on the hills anyway.

4. Stay fuelled. I'm not sure I totally got this right, but I tried to be consuming calories from the very start, and kept at it steadily throughout. (Thanks to the Powerbar guys for the chews, BTW, they were great.) In the end I was very tired, but not wiped right out. Bearing in mind that on a ride of that length, most people will be burning somewhere between 3500 & 4000 Calories. (My HR monitor watch estimated 4127 cal, but I'm not convinced of its accuracy.) And I think pounding back the protein-laden recovery bar along with all the carbs I could get my hands on as soon as I stopped helped make the next day pretty painless.

Friday, May 10, 2013

All About the Bikes: 2

My new(er) ride.

Argon 18 Gallium. A revelation.

Bought it last season. I had been intending to upgrade from the beloved Bianchi for a while; my riding pals were all getting into new carbon fibre jobs and I was clearly losing the arms race.

Which was also a birthday present from my wife. How excellent is that?
Of course, having ridden the same bike for 25 years, I figured the next one had to last that long too; for which the only option was titanium.

And I figured if I'm was gonna go whole hog with titanium and make it the last bike I ever buy, I might as well get it custom made.

Fate intervened. I was just getting set to tee up a custom titanium Marinoni through my local bike shop, Hello Vélo, when it suddenly (and sadly) shut down.

While looking around for other options I happened to come across a great deal on the above Argon 18. I loved it on the test ride, and all the indications from reviews online were positive. (And, as an added bonus, the company was Canadian.) OK, carbon fibre simply is not going to last like titanium. But in the meantime it's a light, sweet ride, springy and tight on climbs, and rock solid on fast descents. (The Bianchi would get a bit rattly over 50 km/hr and made me think "road crayon", but on the Argon I'd barely notice how fast I was going.) And it had a really cool, understated paint job which shouldn't matter, but we all know it does.

The SRAM Force set-up took a little geting used to; I love the pivoting shift levers (great in the drops), and the ergonomics of the hoods are terrific. The upshift is is crisp; the "double-tap" downshift, however, is definitely a learned skill. For a long time I tended to go up two sprockets on the downshift. The Ultegras on my Bianchi are smoother and quieter, and simpler on the downshift, but moving the whole brake lever to do it now feels kinda... inelegant. Overall, between the two, I'd say it's a wash. But if I had to buy today, I'd go with the SRAM.

After riding it for a year, I recently got a new fitting by Ian Smith at Gears; slightly more aggressive position and a better fitting saddle. Huge improvement. Probably the best 100 bucks or so you can spend on your bike is to get it fit by somebody who really knows what they're doing. Suddenly the bike starts to feel like it's part of you, and that feels awesome.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Humiliation Hill

I've been humiliated by a hill.

I'm not a great climber. At the Niagara Duathlon, which I did a couple of years ago, there was one big steep hill that the organizers called "The Beast of the East".
Not exactly like this.

In preparation for the race I checked out maps & elevations, and though it was bigger than anything convenient to where I ride, I figured I could prep for it by doing repeats of my local hills.

Not actually riding the real thing, however, was a big mistake. I didn't really know what I was in for, and if I had, I would have done a lot more hill work than I did. Which was not much. And is it turned out, it was absolutely not enough.

It was a long hill, about 2 km – that got steeper in the last 400m or so. About halfway up, it started to get hard. Really hard. Before long, I started having Doubts.

When that steeper section hit I had to stand and grind, mostly trying to use my body weight to keep the pedals moving. Looking up that hill I started to think: I'm not going to make it. I could see other people walking their bikes up it. I can't be one of those losers! I am gonna be one of those losers!

Snap – it was over.
Or this.

In shame and despair I swung one of my dead, lactic-soaked legs over the bar and walked – walked! – the bike up the last 200m or so. The tik-tik-tik of my slippy cleats on the road was the sound of Pure Humiliation.

And here's the really lame thing: according to Map My Ride, that hill is just a Cat 5. Wow, dude. Weak.

Now I'm motivated by Humiliation Hill every time I come up to a climb, like every time I go up a hill I'm looking for some kind of personal revenge on hills generally.

I think that there is a really big mental component to climbing. You have to beat the hill at the bottom of it. Doubt, concern, trepidation, fear: any of that as you approach a big climb and you've lost before you've started.

Anyway, it was clear that if I was going to do Real Bike Racing I was gonna have to start taking hills seriously. So now I try to get in at least one or two hard hill-repeat rides every week. I'm not sure how much stronger my legs are, but my mind is definitely having an easier time getting to the top of those climbs.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I was thinking of making this race my first one. The Springbank Criterium in London Ontario.

However, one of the most experienced guys on the Flyers, Jorge, warned me that crits can be a bit crazy and crash-ridden so maybe not the best idea for your first race.

Still: seeing this cool video made we want to do it even more. (Thanks Yellow MegaMan!)

(Nice soundtrack & editing, too.)

But there always has to be a first one.
Interested in anyone's first crit experience. Comments?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

All About the Bikes: 1

My beloved steel Bianchi.
Bought it new in 1985, still gorgeous, still riding it today.

Lots of upgrades over the years, but the front wheel is original, as are the Shimano 600 cranks, chainrings, front derailleur, and brakes. (That stuff is indestructible.)

Now that it has been retired as my primary race bike (commuter/utility now) I'm thinking of getting it re-painted by Noah Rosen at VeloColour.

Thank you, unknown tourist from 1985!

The back story:
One night in March, 1985, I was staggering back to my flat near the U of T after some term-end party or other. It was around 3 am, and I was with my then-girlfriend (who shall remain nameless) and my pal Phil Kremer.

As we crossed a street, I happened to spot a wallet lying in the gutter. (Right about here, I think.) It had $400 US in it, and no identification except for a card that said something in German.

As somebody who loses wallets on a regular basis and invariably has them returned intact by kindly strangers, there was no way I could keep it.
Way bad karma.

So the next day I sadly turned it in to the local police station, which was just a couple of blocks away. (An obvious place for a tourist to go to find a lost wallet.) I figured there was also a chance nobody would claim it, & if they didn't, I'd get it back in a week or so.  

Sorry, kid, not so fast.
The cop rule was they had to hold it for 3 months. Oh well. So much for that, I thought. At least I got the karma.

As it turned out, nobody did claim it, and 3 months later I got it back. Back then the US dollar was running about $1.20 Canadian so it was worth almost $500. I sunk it all into the bike pictured above.

28 years and thousands of joyful kilometres later I sometimes wonder about the guy who lost that wallet.

Wherever you are, man, I owe you one.

Monday, May 6, 2013

David Atkinson: Cycling Artist

Road bikes are beautiful objects. Bicycle racing is incredibly dramatic.

 David Atkinson does terrific paintings and prints that focus specifically on racing.

I recently bought one of his prints (Mark Cavendish in full flight) after seeing an exhibition of his work in my local coffee shop, Mercury Espresso.

Check out David's work at Hearts and Champions.

I've never asked him what he thinks of Greg Curnoe. But I think he has a lot of Curnoe's spirit in his work.

Any other cycling artists I should know about?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Greg Curnoe: Cycling Artist

Road bikes are beautiful objects.

Curnoe: self portrait

The late, great Canadian artist Greg Curnoe understood this deeply.  A  dedicated cyclist, he made them a key focus of his art. He did some spectacularly beautiful, life-size paintings of his custom-built Mariposa.

Greg Curnoe was killed in 1992 while on a club ride, hit by a guy in pickup truck.

One of Curnoe's Mariposa paintings.

Check out his work if you ever get the chance. The lovely Museum London in London, Ontario, has a great collection. London, by the way, has a huge cycling culture, and has the only velodrome in eastern Canada, the Forest City Velodrome.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Badass Weather

In Toronto, the bike season is short. Winter, that's another story.

One of the great things about riding with the Flyers is they start early (March), and, once you're in a group, you're a lot less likely to wuss out when the weather is sketchy.

Like two weeks ago: it was 2°C and overcast, and 20 minutes into the ride is started to rain. Steady, near-freezing rain. 50 km in that, and I don't think I've ever been so cold in my life.

Sorta like this. But colder.
The week after that we had alternating sleet and snow and a pretty good headwind that made it look like we were riding in a wind tunnel.

But at a certain point that kind of weather just becomes funny, and then you start to feel good about not being stopped by it.

And you get to feel some kinship with Velominati Rule #9
· If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.
Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work.*


*More on this here
Professor Fignon, being badass

Dark Horse Flyers: A Major Endorphin Hit

On Saturday April 6th I took my fist real ride with the Dark Horse Flyers, a roughly 60 km route from downtown out to the Zoo on the outer edge of the suburbs and back.

There were about 14 of us, and it was early in the season, so I was hoping that the group would be going easy. My biggest concern was that I wouldn't be able to keep up. As it turned out, I  had nothing to worry about. A bit of nerves around not not screwing things up.

But the real revelation as what what it was like to ride in a group.
Wow. Un-be-lievable.

Usually I'm riding with 2 or 3 other guys, and generally without much organization around pulling. But rolling along at in a big double paceline at 35 km/hr was amazing.

It was such a buzz my brain was floating in endorphins for the rest of the day.

Lots of this stuff.
Now I can't wait for Saturday mornings.

Zoo ride again today, with perfect weather: sunny, cool, just a little wind. Awesome.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Giancarlo's throw-down

One my weekend riding pals, Giancarlo, is a pretty strong rider, and always willing to take a long pull in the wind or push the pace a bit. Traditionally, he & I will close out the Sunday ride with a sprint of a few hundred metres along Villiers St beside the Keating Channel on Toronto's waterfront. 9 out of 10 times he kicks my ass, but it's fun to see how fast we can go on a jump. (I'm happy if my max speed hits 50 km/h.)

Anyway, last year he started riding with a local club in our neighbourhood, the Dark Horse Flyers, and was bugging the rest of us to join too. I wanted to, but it got late in the season & it felt a bit intimidating. Though Giancarlo assured us we would be fine. But I never got around to it.

Then last February Giancarlo emails me to tell me there was a meeting for the Flyers racing team, and he was going.

OK, that was a throw-down. I had to go, or forever be a wuss.

So I went. And once you're there, you can't exactly back down. But the whole thing just jacked me up & made me want to race. The Flyers are a great bunch of people, well organized, friendly & welcoming. It all looked pretty cool to me.

The next day I bought my race license. Can't wait to use it.

Favourite Bike Books: Inside Stories

When I get obsessive with something, I start reading everything I can find about it.
Here are a few of my favourite bike books. (I'm always looking for recommendations.)

The Rider, by Tim Krabbé
Find it here.
Beautifully written story of a single-day race in 1977, told from inside the head of an aging amateur racer. I read it once to find out who wins, and then immediately re-read it to savour the writing.
And the cover is beautiful. Always a bonus for me.

Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France
by Richard Moore
Find it here.
Man, that Bernard Hinault: he could ride a bike, but jeez – he was a bastard. A blow-by-blow account of the 1986 Tour de France, in which the patron  Hinault and upstart Greg Lemond duked it out for the win.
While on the same team.

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs
by Tyler Hamilton
Find it here.
If you don't like Lance now, this book sure won't help. Tyler Hamilton takes you right inside the belly of the doping beast at its height in the late 90s and early 2000s, and delves deep into the psychology of denial that made it possible. He doesn't let himself off the hook, either. Not fantastic writing, but an incredible story. And it it's guaranteed to make you think about your hemocrit levels in a whole new way.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Real Bike Racing vs. Triathlons

I’ve always loved bikes, and started tearing down and re-building racing bikes when I was a teenager. But there was no a real bike racing culture in Toronto when I was young; it has only started to be a thing here relatively recently. So while I loved to ride, I was just as likely to get into hai alai as competitive cycling. Sure, In Canada there actually was a kind of deep, Europhilic, underground roadie scene that produced riders like Jocelyn Lovell and Steve Bauer, but it was a very exotic, niche sport. Unlike say, in Belgium, where bike racing is like junior hockey* here.

I didn’t do anything remotely like bike racing until I got into triathlons & duathlons in the early 90s. That was a Turning 30 Project, and triathlons appealed to me because of the biking part. And I'm an OK swimmer. And while it got me into a more focused type of training on the bike, triathlons aren't real bike racing. A mass time trial is a pain in the ass, and you spend half your energy trying not to draft because you’re worried about being DQ’d for it.

Anyway, I did one last duathlon about a year ago, & while it was a good time, I came to the conclusion that really, I don't like running very much. But I love the bike bit.

Real Bike Racing (RBR) looked like a lot more fun. But a helluva lot more scary. If I was going to get into it, I was going to need some help.

* Like most Canadian kids, I played organized hockey, which was no-holding-back full-contact back then. (And this was a church league.) I quit at 13 because I was a defenseman, and was starting to get wiped out by guys who hit puberty way before I did. No scouts tried to talk me out of my decision. (Though I went back to playing beer league hockey in my 30s for The Mighty Pirates.)

Who’s the Newb?

I’m 50 and I live in Toronto, a city that has an uneasy relationship with bicycles.

Married, a parent, overeducated and comfortably employed.

I'm a dramatically ungifted athlete, but I love riding my bike.

Mostly I’m genetically lucky, because I’ve been able to maintain a modest level of fitness without really working too hard. (For the record, I'm 182 cm, +/-74 kilos / 5’11”, 165 lbs.)

The last few years I've been riding weekends with a few neighbourhood guys, and this year I decided it was time to kick it up a notch. So I've joined a local club, impulsively bought a racing license, and now I'm gonna learn to race.

Or as one of my riding buddies put it, I've gone over to the Dark Side.

That means starting with the oldest, slowest category available, which in Canada is Masters 3. Unfortunately, it's not that old (35+), and not that slow, judging by the winning (and losing) times in some of the races I'm thinking about entering.

I have no idea how this will work out; but I thought my experience might be useful to somebody else out there who might be thinking about doing something similarly goofy. God knows I have benefited endlessly from other people freely giving of their expertise & experience online.