My wife will forgive me, eventually, if I buy a Moots frameset and forget to tell her in advance. But she won’t forgive me if I come home with a tattoo. So I have to enjoy them vicariously through the guys who work at Sunflower Outdoor & Bike.
This is the coolest tattoo I’ve seen in a long time. I realize that I probably don’t need to explain it, but it’s Judy Garland in her famous role as Dorthy in the “Wizard of Oz.” I think it’s fantastic. I love how her face seems a bit flushed.
The tattoo reminded me of the early days of my career when I was covering Kansas for a certain news organization. My editors in New York would snap up any story with a “Wizard of Oz” theme. It just confirmed all their preconceptions about the state. Kansas = “Wizard of Oz.” My colleagues in Berlin couldn’t write enough about the Nazis. For the folks in Hanoi, it’s the Vietnam War – “Apocalypse Now” and tomorrow and the next day…
Posted: July 31st, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Sunflower Outdoor & Bike | No Comments »
Great bike shops have a soul. They have a personality. They exude love and enthusiasm for the sport. They’re often housed in cool buildings. Sunflower Outdoor & Bike is a classic example. I still call it by its old name, Sunflower Surplus. When I first wandered into the shop as a college freshman 27 years ago at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, the store mostly sold high-end hiking gear with some Army-Navy surplus mixed in. Over the years, it has expanded and now has a wing devoted to cycling.
The shop was founded in 1972 in historic downtown Lawrence in the Baker-Ridenour building, once the home of a grocery company. A water heater fire burned the building in 1997, but the structure was lovingly restored and still has the same feel it had when I first walked on its hardwood floors. The store’s front awnings have a nice touch, supported with old steel bike frames. You don’t see this type of thing at the bike shops in bland strip malls and big box stores in nearby Kansas City.
A great bike shop is also a shrine, cathedral and museum for the sport. It gets us thinking about the past, present and future of cycling. It’s just not a showcase for the latest pieces of buffed-up, shiny carbon eye candy. In Sunflower, the new bikes are displayed along a long wall of rough exposed brick and sandstone. On the wall are all kinds of memorabilia. Some of it is on loan. Much of it belongs to store owner Dan Hughes, who started working at the shop in 1989 when he was studying anthropology at KU. He eventually bought the store. (Eddy Merckx didn’t actually ride the below bike. But it was certainly Merckx worthy, after a few seatpost adjustments!)
More great memories, history and cycling lore.
The shop is small and doesn’t have a deep inventory of parts. But it has great suppliers who deliver quickly. I needed some Campy bottom bracket bearings, and the Trek shop in Kansas City said it would take a week in a half to order them. The Sunflower guys got them in three days. (More about this later in a separate post). Needless to say, the service is great. When I needed a front derailleur clamp for my new Moots frame, the guys needed to know the seat tube’s diameter. I wasn’t sure, so they said: “OK, we’ll just call Moots.” Within minutes, they had an answer.
When I recently saw the below parts-storage system, I almost cried. I was fresh out of China, where most of the bike shops were a cramped, chaotic mess of parts. At my neighborhood shop in Taiwan, the mechanics worked on the sidewalk next to a convenience store. The below level of organization blew me away.
I’m still trying to figure out this link to Lawrence Iron Works.
Posted: July 30th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Great bike shops, Lawrence, Sunflower Outdoor & Bike | 1 Comment »
To be sure, Spartacus didn't disappoint me. (Photo by Micki)
OK, I’ll say it. This year’s Tour de France really left me feeling underwhelmed. Sure, we saw an incredible battle between two great riders, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. We saw several heroic stage wins. But I can’t help but feel that the best rider didn’t win. Schleck rode the best race. He was the real hero.
Contador really disappointed me. I’m not really bothered by the fact that he didn’t win a stage. I’m troubled more by how he failed to really stamp his name on the race. There were no monster attacks in the mountains. He didn’t blow away everyone in the time trials. He seemed to be on defense all the time, playing it safe on the back of Schleck’s wheel. He took over the yellow jersey because of Schleck’s misshift or mechanical – whatever you want to call it. Contador won’t be the man we will remember the most in the 2010 Tour. Schleck’s performance will be the most memorable. That doesn’t seem right to me.
I was surprised to see that Pave - which consistently provides some of the best cycling analysis in the English language – called this year’s race “the greatest Tour in over a decade.” I can understand the point of view, but I must respectfully disagree with it. In my mind, the best tour in the past 10 years happened in 2003. That’s when Lance Armstrong – riding for a record-tying fifth win – looked extremely vulnerable. He had a big bunch of great riders gunning for him: Jan Ullrich, Iban Mayo, Aitor Gonzalez, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, Alexander Vinokourov and Joseba Beloki. The blood was in the water and these guys were attacking. There was the feeling that Armstrong was about to crack at any moment and a new era of cycling was upon us. There was the horrific massive pile-up at the end of stage 1 in Meaux that broke the collarbone of Hamilton, who went on to win a stage and finish fourth. There was the crash in the Alps that finished Beloki’s career (OK, he came back but was never a contender again) and sent Armstrong on an off-road adventure through a farm field. Then Armstrong hit the road when the musette snagged his bars. It ended with a wet, slippery time trial, with Ullrich sliding across the pavement. There was much more memorable drama in 2003 than in 2010. (It’s a shame that many of the main characters eventually got busted for doping.)
One of the best things about this year’s Tour was that Schleck really proved to us that he’s the real deal. Last year’s second-place result wasn’t a fluke. He’s truly a contender, a real force who will make next year’s Tour even more thrilling.
Posted: July 26th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Tour de France | 3 Comments »
The Tour ended only a few hours ago, and my withdrawal symptoms are already setting in. Today, after spending two hours on the bike and another five hours at the pool with the kids, I came home, plopped down, popped open a Fat Tire pale ale, grabbed the TV clicker and switched to channel 55 for my daily fix of the Tour on Versus. (I’ve been watching it live in the morning and the rebroadcast later in the day.) But what appeared on the screen was a red Formula One car. No bikes in sight. I sat there dazed, confused and wondering why they wouldn’t rebroadcast the action from the morning. I ended up mindlessly channel surfing. I eventually settled on ESPN, which was showing the U.S. women’s softball team getting their butts kicked by Canada.
I imagine the Tour withdrawal will really hit hard tomorrow morning. I’m a morning person to begin with, but the Tour made me love the early hours even more. The TV coverage usually started at 6:30 or 7:30 a.m. in my time zone. I’d have a nice pot of coffee brewing before then, and a toasted bagel or two before Bob Roll, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen joined me for breakfast. After spending the past 10 years in Greater China without live TV coverage of the Tour, I was so thankful to be able to watch it in realtime now. When I lived in Taiwan, I remember gathering in a bar that had a computer that was linked to Cyclingnews’ live blow-by-blow text coverage of the race. Last summer in Guangzhou, one of my cycling mates rigged up his TV to the Web via a VPN connection that allowed us to watch live coverage of the stage on Mont Ventoux. He invited everyone in our group to his home for a BBQ feast, followed by a Tour viewing. It was great fun until the Web connection started acting buggy, and we ended up huddling around a laptop to watch the rest of the race.
I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be able to watch this year’s race live in the comfort of my home.
Posted: July 25th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Tour de France | 1 Comment »
They put down their wrenches and gathered around the TV in the back of the bike shop. Most were pulling for Thor Hushovd. One rooted for Alessandro Petacchi. No one liked Mark Cavendish. “He’s too cocky,” one of the mechanics said. Another added, “My girlfriend loves him, but I don’t.” I ended up watching the end of the Tour in the bike shop because I had a morning appointment to get my bottom bracket sorted out.
In the final kilometers, the voices of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen sped up and became more impassioned. A Milram rider made an unorthodox move, swinging out of the peloton and soloing in the left lane. Paul remarked, “You put your head in the wind like that and it smack you in the face like a hammer.”
Everyone in the back of the shop seemed to gasp as Cavendish, with just a couple explosive pedal strokes, jumped out and took the sprint. Paul summed it up the best with one line: You can’t control that man when he feels a victory at the end of his fingertips.”
Posted: July 23rd, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Paul Sherwen, Phil Ligget, Tour de France | No Comments »
Describing human misery. That’s what Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen do best. Sure, they’re also masters of describing and analyzing the drama, heroics and fast-changing plots of the final kilometers of a Tour de France stage. But they’re at their best talking about the pain.
Today’s coverage of Stage 17 on Versus featured a nice mini profile of Cadel Evans, a rider I’ve grown to admire. Footage was shown of Evans in severe difficulty, losing huge chunks of time in the yellow jersey as he raced with a fractured left elbow wrapped in physio tape on Stage 9. The clip includes a comment by Phil, who said, “He doesn’t have much power in the engine room. He really is suffering.”
The agony continued today on the Tourmalet, the last monster climb in this year’s Tour. Andy Schleck needed to drop Alberto Contador to gain time and win back the yellow jersey. But he was unable to do so with an explosive jump off the front, and trying to set a high tempo also didn’t work, as Phil noted. “Andy Schleck is dishing out as much pain as he can, but you can’t ride a man like Alberto Contador off your wheel,” he said.
“Schleck grits his teeth and all Contador has to do is follow,” Phil added.
At one point, Contador went on the attack with a powerful surge, which Schleck quickly matched. Phil said, “This is the killer blow by Alberto Contador, but you can’t kill Andy Schleck.”
It was a classy finish, with Contador apparently gifting the win to Schleck, who worked the hardest on the stage. “He gave him the victory and rightly so today,” Phil said.
As the other riders roll into the finish, Phil said, “They’ve dug so deep into their souls to get over the top.”
It wasn’t all about pain, though. There was a funny moment high up on the misty Tourmalet when three guys wearing Borat-style neon green sling shot thong swimsuits began running with the riders. The silly scene just begged for some type of comment, but Phil and Paul are often too buttoned-down and proper to remark on such things. They don’t do zaniness well. But Paul finally said, “I’m not so sure about the guys on the right side of the road.”
Posted: July 22nd, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Paul Sherwen, Phil Ligget, Uncategorized | No Comments »
It’s East vs. West. Who can build a better bike trap? On one side is American ingenuity. On the other is China, the world’s new manufacturing powerhouse.
First up, America. It’s going with something that’s low-tech, easy to create but highly effective. Let’s call it the gravel sprawl. It’s created by taking several shovel loads of gravel – the chunkier the better – and just spreading the rocks across the street. It’s best to do it on the bottom of a downhill or after a sharp curve in the road. The cyclist rips around the blind corner and must find a way through it. This trap’s inspiration is the Hoth asteroid field in “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.” When I encountered the below gravel sprawl on yesterday’s ride, I thought I heard CP-30 say: “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.” Like Hans Solo, I replied, “Never tell me the odds.” It bounced my bike around. I had to dodge some of the bigger bits that could stop my wheel or throw me to the ground like a well-executed judo move. I got through it safely after uttering a quick prayer to Madonna del Ghisallo.
Here’s a closer look at the trap, found on a four-mile loop around a lake at a gated community outside of Kansas City. Notice the fine design. The smaller rocks are in the front, making you think the trap isn’t that bad. They lure you into the middle, where the big chunks start messing with you, challenging your bike-handling skills, testing your cool head.
I’m not sure China can match the simplicity and effectiveness of the gravel sprawl. But let’s take a look at what’s on offer. Oh no, what do we have here? China is going deep, really deep, into the mountains of a rugged southwestern region. The bike trap documentation comes from intrepid Beijing-based cyclist Anthony Paglino of Ride2Freedom who tells Waffles & Steel:
“I wanted to share one such experience with you about a 150km stretch of road that we did in western Sichuan over 3 days, and countless mountains above 4000 meters. One of the most interesting things I saw, among many, was the manner in which the road authority handled road ‘disrepair.’ If any section of the road faltered, caved in, disappeared, rather than fixing the problem, large concrete cylinders with red stripes where placed around the defunct area. If no cylinders were available then large rocks where placed to quarantine the zone.”
I’m sure those rocks and posts light up at night so vehicles don’t plow into them.
Those pieces of wood in the pot hole are designed to launch you into the air after you ride into the hole. That red paint makes the rocks really easy to see.
OK, both sides have argued their cases. The judging must begin…
Posted: July 22nd, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: bike traps, China cycling, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »
Since I’m officially back on the bike and training like a maniac again, my inner coach has instructed me to cut back on the beer. I’m only allowed one bottle a week until I drop two kilos and get back to my climbing weight. I’ve already selected which bottle I’ll be drinking.
Posted: July 21st, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Beer | 1 Comment »
Lance Armstrong gets treated with great respect by our favorite English-language commentators, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, at the Tour de France. Today’s Stage 16 was a classic example.
After days of riding in the pack, Armstrong attacked today on a climb and was quickly joined by a few other riders. Paul noted, “This man still has a fine pair of legs when racing in the Pyrenees.” Then Phil added that Armstrong was expected to try to distinguish himself with a major attack or stage win in his last Tour. “We’re watching the death throes of one of the greatest riders in the Tour de France,” he said.
But Phil and Paul are professionals, not cheerleaders. When the younger riders in the breakaway accelerate and it appears that Armstrong is in difficulty and ready to be dropped, Paul said, “I think the man with the hammer smacked Armstrong in the face.”
Posted: July 20th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Paul Sherwen, Phil Ligget, Tour de France | 3 Comments »
Five minutes into my ride yesterday, the hunger knocks began banging. Thoughts of food started gripping my brain. All I could think about was the black cherry almond Clif Bar in my back jersey pocket. But my cravings were mixed with thoughts of self loathing and disgust. For the past few weeks, I’ve been gaining weight when I should be shedding it during one of the best training periods of the year. I feel like a portly Jan Ullrich in April, stuffed with schnitzel and strudel, when I should be approaching the bird-like physique of Andy Schleck. I’ve stopped laughing at the Radio Shack commercials because the chubby Alphonse guy is starting to remind me of myself. While drifting into workout fantasy mode, I too say things like, “They’re raising French babies and throwing soft cheeses, as is the custom here!”
I can still say with a straight face that life pressures have truly kept me off the bike. I’ve been busy buying a car, closing a real estate deal and doing all the other things you do when you start a new life. Indeed, I’ve strayed far from my “eating plan.” There have been too many tacos, ice cream sandwiches, bagels with cream cheese, Italian sausages with peppers along with hours and hours spent in an easy chair watching the Tour de France, sipping beers and munching on those Chesapeake-seasoned peanuts that I just can’t resist. I’ve rationalized the indulgence by telling myself I’m just enjoying all the things I couldn’t get during my years in China. But it can’t go on forever…but I want it to. I feel like St. Augustine during his early years of debauchery when he said, “Oh Lord, make me chaste, but not yet!” And I say, “Oh Lord make me resist that huge chunk of smoked gouda cheese, but not yet!”
So as I pedaled down the road with my stomach growling, I heard a voice: “Go ahead. Eat that Clif bar. It’s tasty and will make you feel good!” But the voice was quickly drowned out by my inner coach. He said, “You don’t deserve a snack, ya fat slob. Here’s your chance to burn that fat off. You’ve got plenty of it. Burn, baby, burn. Suffer, pay for your lack of discipline, your drive-through sins. Only a pathetic fool stops five minutes into a ride for a snack break.” Well, I ignored him. I fished out the Clif bar from my pocket and sank my teeth into the black cherry almond wonderfulness. It was soooo good.
To be fair, I should mention that yesterday I was riding at 4 p.m. and my last meal was four hours ago. It was a light lunch: vegetable juice with a turkey sandwich on wheat. Ok, ok, I did slip a slice of pepper jack cheese into the sandwich to give it some extra rib-sticking staying power. And yes, I did have a snack at Dean & DeLuca when I had second helpings at all the free sample trays. (The red velvet moomoo cream pies were fantastic). But my tank was empty and I was heading out into rush hour traffic, so it wasn’t wise to be on the roads, unsteady with hunger. Yes, I ate for safety’s sake. Right, that’s what I did.
I’m not sure how much weight I’ve gained. It’s probably not as serious as I’ve made it out to be. I’m still several kilos lighter than the average American male. There’s no point stressing out about it too much because I know what will happen. As soon as I can start training regularly again, the kilos will start melting off. I’ve been doing this so long that I know what works for me. My exercise program leads my eating plan. My training shapes and dictates my diet. As soon as I start riding seriously again, I’ll lose my taste for burgers, fries and brownies. Once I start seriously investing in my fitness, I won’t want to blow it, set myself back, eating junk. But I’m far from that point now. Yesterday, I rode past the backside of a Long John Silvers restaurant. A strong breeze gave me a good whiff of the fish being deep friend in tanks of grease. Then I heard the sound of someone going: “Mmmmmmm.” Then I realized it was me! A week later, if my training stays consistent, I’ll ride by the fish-frying joint and think: “Why would anyone want to eat that stuff?”
Posted: July 20th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Food, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »