Saturday, March 31, 2012

Velivre: A Dog in a Hat

In the spring, a cycling fan’s fancy turns to thoughts of . . . Belgium. That’s right, the land of grey skies, waffles, white beer—and the Spring Classics, the one-day events that mark the start of the European racing season. (Not that I, a mere semi-serious racing fan, actually follow these races, but I have seen enough pictures of the cobbles and mud to get the significance and mystique.)  That makes this the perfect time to read Joe Parkin’s A Dog in a Hat: An American Bike Racer’s Story of Mud, Drugs, Blood, Betrayal, and Beauty in Belgium (2008). It’s an engaging memoir of Parkin’s experiences in the mostly minor leagues of the Euro pro bike racing scene in the late 1980s. The book also has the feel of an exposé at times too, capturing the gritty, behind-the-scenes details of what really went on in the peloton. Parkin’s prose may be more workmanlike than winning, but the fascinating details of his story and the compelling account of his identity crisis won me over in the end. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fat Bottom Bicycle

Sunday, Val and I went for a spring-time ride.  The weather hovered around 0 degrees, and we bundled to accommodate.  He rode his Surly Pugsley, that beast of a bike, that ready for anything brute, that big tired beauty. I rode my trusty Cannondale T800 with winter studded tires.    Towards the end of the ride, we switched bikes.  Val took a picture.

Monday, March 26, 2012


It's rare that you find yourself sitting around hoping you've fractured a bone. Yet that's the position I found myself in awhile back, sitting in my local ER after parting ways with my bike while traversing a patch of ice. The fall itself was nothing spectacular, nothing noteworthy even. Just a simple sitting down in the middle of the street, accompanied by the sound of some velcro straps tearing open. The problem, though, was that I didn't have much velcro on me and the noise was coming from inside my shoulder.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Code of the Semi-Serious Cyclist: Part 4 (Spandex)

The Semi-Serious Cyclist has a complicated relationship with spandex.

When it comes to shorts, the SSC acknowledges that the wonder fabric has its practical advantages: it’s light, form-fitting, aerodynamic, and virtually chafe-proof. And when worn by the svelte athlete, spandex can look terrific, emphasizing the best features of a lean physique. Serious cyclists almost always wear spandex. Nothing complicated about it. Spandex shorts and serious cyclists are BFF’s.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bicycletiquette #4: Smoking

Dear Jasper,

I saw this stoner-cyclist-dude puffing away on a cigarette the other day, something I haven’t seen in years. He looked pretty ridiculous. These days, is it ever appropriate to smoke while cycling?
Wondering about Smoking

Dear WAS,

You are right. A cyclist smoking a cigarette is a most unbecoming sight. The cigarette, as everyone knows, is a vulgar and unmanly tobacco product. Yet it is all too often the choice of the uncouth and ignorant cyclist. This misguided (and, alas, often, young) wheelman fails to understand that there are much healthier, more robust, and civilized smoking options available for cyclists at your friendly tobacconist’s shoppe.

Friday, March 9, 2012


During my stay in Austin, TX, a few weeks ago, I stayed at a VRBO that came with a bike. I figured this had to be a plus. Even though I had no idea what the bike would look like or even how big it would be, I just figured, hey, I will make it work. It will be nice to have some wheels—any wheels—to help me get around the city. I imagined a utilitarian department-store mountain bike, maybe even some version of the dreaded “comfort bike.” It would probably have a squeaky chain, a kickstand, lots of reflectors, and under-inflated tires. No worries. When you borrow a bike, and sometimes even when you rent one, you take what you can get. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Vélivre: Pilgrims on Wheels

F.W. Bockett’s Some Literary Landmarks for Pilgrims on Wheels (1901) is one of my all-time fave cycling books. It’s an obscure gem, from a different age, and full of poetry, wisdom, curious tangents, eccentric advice, and a touch of sentiment. Each chapter tells of one of the author’s pilgrimages by bicycle in southern England to the birthplace or gravesite of one or more (mostly) famous authors whom  Bockett admires, such as Jane Austen, Percy Shelley, John Milton, George Eliot, and Charles Lamb. Bockett provides the expected meditations on the authors` lives and literature, but along the way he offers up some insightful and occasionally bizarre commentary about cycling, all presented in the genial, old-timey voice of the “gentle cyclist.” As quaint and dated as this book feels in some ways (“Whatever you do, do not drink water [while cycling]!”), a surprising amount of what it has to say is just as relevant today as it was over a hundred years ago. Plus Bockett makes some extraordinary (and quite convincing) claims about the ways in which cycling improves one’s life.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Musings on a Bike Race

It’s 1:30 a.m. I am tired but dogged determined: I am riding a rented BMC mountain bike in the middle of the Sonaran Desert, just outside of Tucson, Arizona.  With the outline of the Catalina Mountains in the horizon in front of me, I stop and turn off the headlight to look at the unobstructed sky.  I revel in the moment and think,” This is one amazing sensation.”  Among the celestial constellations, the big dipper is vivid and clear; the air is crisp and I can see my breath.   Life is good.  But then, someone shouts from behind, pulling me out from my solitary musing, “on your right, buddy.”    The cyclist blasts by, then another, and another—I am in a competitive race, after all, even if  I am going at my own pace trying to enjoy the experience  and the surrounding. 

 My first mountain bike race: I decided to fly to Tucson Arizona and participate in a 24 hour contest, riding on a single track in the Sonaran Desert.  Located outside of Tucson on an old farm, now turned in to state owned property, the race was a loop.  Val talked about the event and convinced me the experience would be remarkable—and it was 16 miles of sinuous desert pleasure.   I thoroughly enjoyed my experience.  The objective of the race was to ride as many loops as possible.  If top riders did the same amount of laps, then time was factored into the outcome.  The winning rider in my category did 18 laps.  I didn’t enter to compete.  I didn’t ride many loops, but I didn’t come in last place.

The first event of the race was the requisite captains’ meeting, a preamble citing the rules and  giving a friendly message  to the contestants—to be kind—to look out for each other out on the track: sensible advice for riding in the desert with hazards such as cacti thorns and sharp rocks inches away from the trails.  In the corner of my eye, I see a toddler lying in the dirt.   A woman in a vibrant blue, puffy down filled coat, holding in one hand a cork wrapped, paper coffee cup, and in the other hand a dog leash, turns to chastise her crying toddler and says, “That’s what you get for trying to ride the dog.”  A comment that aptly describes my participation in the race.  Like the indomitable dusty toddler trying to ride the dog, I was on the ground three times:  I was run off the trail twice by aggressive riders trying to pass and fell off once all on my own. 

The night was my favorite time to ride, but the day loops had highpoints too.  Fueled with jelly beans, pretzels, and coffee, coffee, coffee, I made several daylight rides—each time accommodating the changing weather conditions.   Mid afternoon in February the weather is pleasingly warm; sunless and dark, the temperature is cool.  Riding during the day was amusing for the oddities encountered in the loop.  At one point a banjo player was sitting on a rock, playing a tune; at another turn someone put a gnome at a table; rumor had it that women were also dancing near naked around a whiskey tree.  The singular feature of riding during the day, however, was the numerous dead rodents on the trail.   Packrats, perhaps, but nonetheless, they were plentiful.   And, they would be mysteriously gone the next round.  The desert is not static.