Tuesday, April 27, 2010

more than meets the eye.

bicycles are magical.

take, for instance, my current inability to feel most of my extremities. the once mundane/routine/underdistanced task of tapping out thoughts in coherent words and sentences has become a work of effort, requiring extreme concentration and a new consideration of my fine motor skills. consider, also, the wonderful warming of my facial dermis, and the rekindling of sensation in each and every square millimeter just under my chin. i never think about these parts of myself. and now, after some time on the bicycle, here they are, apparent and wonderful and decidedly me. i like bikes.

i also like how bikes make people better.

i leave the door open at my workplace, dump a bunch of donated bikes and parts all over the room, pop open my personal toolbox, and start getting my hands dirty. inevitably, within ten minutes or fewer (i'm usually still downing my lunch when it happens), someone will come wandering in with a question, a broken bike, or some hands just itching to touch something greasy. it's fantastic. oftentimes, these persons are 'the youth', and they are refreshingly curious, even if reluctantly so, and it makes them better people. they ask questions. they tease each other. they admit that they know little of bikes, or they admit how much they know of bikes and it's enough to make me excited. the same people i would just as soon have left for jail or hard service are now transformed and being worthwhile and all about a pile of rusted bike junk. and the guy they would just as soon have thrown out the window or laughed at while he gets crushed by a fly-by SUV is now someone who might know something and might even be a little bit cool because he likes bikes too, and can fix them at no charge. hm. bikes make me better. every damn time.

i like how bicycles make loblaws a destination that has nothing to do with food. (see redway road, toronto.) i like how bicycles make me go faster than 42mph without even trying, and then make me go 3mph giving it everything i've got. i like how bicycles can be metaphors for the hardest and best parts of life. i like how i know a lot about bicycles, and still so very little. i like how bicycles bring the world to me. i like how bicycles are something in common with many different people, everywhere.

i was walking back from my sister's house the other night, heading down pape street, and carrying a couple of campagnolo wheelbags. (more on the ridiculously awesome scirocco's later.) two gentlemen were standing outside the barber shop, and as i passed by, one called out. i had no idea what he was saying, but he was definitely talking to me, and talking about the wheels, it seemed. he apologized after the third time i said, 'what?', and said that he would slow himself down. turns out he is from jamaica. he saw my wheelbags and wanted to see the wheels, wondered if they were really campagnolo wheels inside. we opened one and he took it out (my daughters and partner waiting patiently throughout this inter-walk-home-meeting), marveling and asking if it was for sale. i told him no, that i had just gotten them myself. he asked for how much, and said it was a great deal. that they were really nice wheels. he told me he used to race in jamaica. i told him that meant he must be crazy fast. he just smiled and looked wistful and spry and fast. i smiled and told him to have a great night. it was the highlight of my weekend. a guy from jamaica talks to a guy from nowhere about italian bike parts on a street in toronto and they both get excited about one thing: bikes.

bicycles are magical. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

there is much to learn.

racing is tough.

to provide a complete and total spoiler to the nail-biting suspense i'm sure you're barely enduring: i finished the race last weekend.

i was dead last.

there are a few things that need explaining.

i'll start first with some excuses/justifications for my placing. i raced in the U17/Elite Men 4 start, which is essentially a smackdown of old men who've never raced before by young whippersnappers with lots of energy and more to prove. they have more time to train. they don't have kids. they probably don't do their homework (neither do i). they spent the winter on the rollers they got for christmas. they're simply a lot faster. and then these other old men in my category - they've raced before. i have no idea why they are in category 4, for slow asses like myself who've never raced before, but they were there, and they owned it. jerks. finally, at least 4 people in my category DNF'd, and four more were DNS. that means, had those quitters not backed out and kept on going, i'd have been somewhere in the lineup that wasn't last. maybe i would have been 4 places ahead of last. maybe. either way, all those other old guys got dropped, flatted, or just plain quit. in refusing to quit, i took up the last place position, and held it for 5 painful laps. 

it was a beautiful day to get dropped.

the course was 70% 'gravel' road and 30% paved and about 98% windy. it was gorgeous. and sunny. and well-marshaled.  and fun. i had a blast. i got dropped somewhere toward the end of the first lap, because i forgot that i would never be able to catch back on, and i forgot that without the draft factor of the pack, i'd die in my own time trial against the wind. nevertheless, i took it a little too easy during one acceleration, lost the wheel in front of me, and 'got put into difficulty', started 'going backwards now', and no amount of 'digging deep into the suitcase of courage' could save me. 

i was alone.

for about 25 miles, i rode steadily, enjoying the hammering of my legs and the whir of wheels on all surfaces, enjoying my saddle, enjoying the sunshine and the complete lack of mechanical issues from the bike. nothing other than my muscles hurt. the saddle sore i so worried about beforehand never made mention of itself. i didn't cough too much. it was just a great day for a hard pace, and i should have tried to hold on a little longer. i did have one satisfying moment though, carving through an S-turn at the beginning of the gravel section, i accelerated out of the turn and dropped the only other guy still riding lap 3 or 4 with me. he was in last place. then i dropped him. and it seems he gave up or flatted after that. so i was in last place. it really was a beautiful day.

i learned things at the race.

i learned that all those excuses/justifications that you tell yourself before the race to get yourself signed up, they will dissolve and turn into the opposite of themselves as soon as the timer goes off. the only purpose they serve is to make you feel okay enough about your prospects to sign up and then actually toe the start line. 'it's april; no one's in shape'. (this is a fantasy. it's april and everyone's been training for this flat, belgian style race all winter on their dorky cylceops trainers, and they're more than ready to kick ass riding outside.) elite men 4 is a category for old guys who've never raced before and won't have too much to prove; i'll probably be a little younger and maybe a little faster. (yeah right. yeah RIGHT. this category is just as bad as the masters category - these guys train all the time, eat well, work hard, and are dedicated to doing this one sport really, really well. they know more about riding than i do because they do it instead of watching or fantasizing or writing about it.) i have good handling skills, so gravel sections might be a bonus for someone like me. (gravel is the least of anyone's worries in a flat race like this - pedaling hard will get anyone through it, and it's not hard to handle a road bike on wide sweeping curves and well-packed dirt.) it's my first race; results don't matter. (true, until you have to go find a marshal and tell him that you are not DNF like he thought when he marked you down, and you proudly take up the last place spot on the results list, a full lap behind first place (got passed in the finishing straight, right before i turned around for one more lap, and he bolted for the line).) 

racing is great. one thing calmed me down the night before - i realized that no matter how i do in this racing thing, it will likely just make me faster for my rides with friends and family, and in a race i'm anonymous, so there's really no pressure. learn. train. ride faster. try to last longer before getting dropped next time. and always enjoy it. 

upon finishing in absolute last place, i had the distinct and conflicting desires to never race again, and to race again as soon as possible. i think i'll stick with the latter.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


so, i'm racing tomorrow.

with all of the pre-race jitters and preparation and hoping and analyzing and over-thinking and everything else, there is ample time to do a whole lot of one completely unnecessary thing: self-awareness. for example, i am currently sitting on what may or may not be the significant beginnings of my ultimate undoing, an unholy saddle sore. usually, i don't really get them much. usually, if i did get one, i'd generally shower and ignore it and it would be gone. usually, that would only happen after i noticed it. usually, i wouldn't.

now, i've entered into this state of hyper-awareness of my body, and my habits, and i'm beginning to act like even more of a weirdo, as i overanalyze all of the nit-picky little things that make up my weirdo routine just so that i don't interrupt them the night before this all important "bike race". do i eat cereal before bed? drink tea? definitely won't shave my legs..but they're soooo itchy after the inaugural shave of two days ago... what should i eat for dinner? should i drink some hydration drink? maybe i should have some wine to make sure that i sleep well. maybe i'll have weird dreams like the last time i had some wine and...SHUT UP.

this morning, while on the first ride i've been on in exactly a week, i was contemplating all this pre-race crap and i figured out something that made me at peace with the entire silly endeavor. although i hold myself and my colleagues to some vague notion of unconditionally striving for one's absolute best, i realized that tomorrow is but one race, in april, half on gravel and half on the road, i've barely trained for it, i live in a freezing winter place of the world, i have no experience with road racing, and basically: it's my first time. no expectations. none. just want to finish, without any mechanicals or major crashes, and come out having tried my best and probably learned something. i know. sounds like a cop-out, or a beleaguered dad giving his loser son a pre-race pep talk. no worries. it's true. i want to try hard. i want to learn something. and maybe after this race, i can get into a little more fast-paced training and kick mullin's ass on our next hill ride...

that's all. just pre-race jitters. i look forward to it. never raced a road bike before, not in a road race anyway. now it's time to see what all the fuss is about. i'll keep you posted.