I’m always looking for new tips on how to endure pain and hardship on the bike … and in life in general. Here’s a good nugget of wisdom from an Outside magazine article about the Death Race, a sadistic two-day sufferfest in Vermont that involves running, chopping wood, lugging heavy loads and all kinds of other outrageous challenges designed to break you down physically and mentally. The New York Times calls the race: “‘Survivor’ meets ‘Jackass.’” The event’s Web site is: YouMayDie.com. After you sign up, the organizers send you e-mails that say, “It’s not too late. Just quit.” Or they provide training advice: “Check yourself into a state prison and get into as many fights as possible” or “Have some teeth pulled without drugs.”
The writer, Mark Jenkins, describes in colorful detail how he gets his butt royally whalloped by winner Joe Decker and the top woman, Stefanie Bishop, a financier and triathlete from New York. (There’s a wonderful photo of Bishop, dressed in black tights and a jog bra, her strawberry blond hair tied back as she lifts an axe over her head and prepares to whack the hell out of a log.) Warning, Bishop is hot. Here’s the photo she sent in with her Death Race application.
OK, finally the tip: The writer noticed that throughout the race, both Decker and Bishop were always smiling. He said that after the race, Bishop explained, “Even when you’re miserable, smiling lifts your mood. Allowing yourself to get flustered and angry is when you lose focus, then everything falls apart.”
So simple. So true. Too often, when my feet are soaked on a freezing winter ride or I’m pedaling squares up a long, cruel climb, I find myself looking much like Roger Hammond in the picture above (Photo credit: Tim Van Wichelen for www.cyclingnews.com). The long face does seem to compound your misery. Granted, putting on a smile isn’t easy to do. To be fair to Hammond, he was suffering through freezing rain in last year’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, during which much of the field dropped out because the weather was ridiculously awful. But still, smiling through the pain is something that’s now high on my to-practice list.
As with most cycling wisdom, it’s easily transferable to your worklife. One of the first pieces of advice I got from my mentor when I was promoted to management was: “Just keep smiling. Always let them see you smiling.” The grin not only helps you keep control of your emotions, it also calms your staffers. Being upbeat, staying on an even keel is key to keeping your team focusing on the task at hand.
Posted: November 29th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Outside magazine, Pain, Roger Hammond | No Comments »
Welcome to the weekly revisit of “A Sunday in Hell,” a fantastic documentary about the 1976 Paris-Roubaix classic. This week, we see a paceline of cyclists barrelling over a brutal stretch of pave that cuts through a farm field. They’re actually riding on a thin ribbon of packed dirt on the road’s shoulder, sparing themselves the jarring, torturous experience of riding over the medieval stones better suited for ox carts and hooved ungulates than thin bicycle wheels.
The narrator explains that with only about two hours left in the race, the riders are going crazy fast now. It’s hard to hang on to the wheel in front of you. Then he names the leaders. It’s a list that sends a chill up the spine. ”Maertens, Demeyer, Dierickx, Godefroot, De Vlaeminck and Merckx leading,” he says. “Merckx tries to break the others with his tremendous power.” They were all part of a Golden Age in cycling. I planned to say a bit more about these guys, but I’m not. For those who know them, nothing more needs to be said. We just bow our heads and let ourselves be overcome with nostalgia. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about: I can’t help you. Please go off and do your homework.
Posted: November 21st, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: "A Sunday in Hell", De Vlaeminck, Demeyer, Freddy Maertens, Godefroot, Paris-Roubaix | No Comments »
My steel-riding retro grouch days ended about a year ago. Still, I have no plans to buy another carbon frame. Here’s one of my reasons why.
It’s my old riding buddy’s BMC Cross Machine CX01 – a beautiful frame made with super high-module unidirectional carbon fiber tubes. The only problem is that less than a year after he bought the rig, hairline cracks started appearing in the area around the bottom bracket and chain stays. The company’s explanation was that there’s nothing to worry about because it’s just the paint cracking. My friend wisely refused to accept this explanation and demanded a refund, which he got. He has invested the money in a new Moots Psychlo X titanium cross bike. Bravo.
I apologize for these small photos, which don’t provide a good view of the cracks. The pictures I received were huge, and I had difficulty resizing them. Anyway, let’s suppose that the paint, not the carbon, was cracking. Would I keep riding the frame? Certainly not. I would never feel safe on the bike. It’s possible that a new crack could form and this time it would be the carbon. How would you know? Cracking paint simply should not be tolerated on a frame made of carbon - a material that’s famously strong but when it fails, it fails catastrophically, with little obvious warning. Imagine screaming down a mountain descent and worrying about whether it’s really just the paint cracking on your bottom bracket. Should you have such concerns when you fork over about $1,700 on a frameset?
Some background on my friend. Was he some kind of bike-abusing yahoo? Far from it. He’s one of the classiest guys I’ve ever ridden with. True, he’s solidly built, an Ironman and a powerful time trialer. Think of Fabian Cancellara, all muscle and big bones. But most importantly, he takes great care of his equipment. His drivetrain is always immaculate and perfectly lubed. Everything is dialed in to his incredibly exacting standards. His BMC was in a three-bike rotation, with a Focus tri frame and a titanium Bianchi road bike. He bought the BMC because he was worried about deteriorating road conditions and wanted a bike that was a bit more rugged for training.
Like I said earlier, I’m no longer a retro grouch, and I can appreciate the appeal of carbon. Almost every day, I get an e-mail from Competitive Cyclist, Wrench Science or some other outfit tempting me with the latest carbon goodies. Most of them are absolutely beautiful. I realize that carbon can be a strong, reliable frame material. They make planes out of the stuff nowadays, though it’s my understanding the aircraft industry has access to much higher quality carbon.
My concern is that as carbon frames become more of a commodity, quality is going to suffer. Many, if not most, of the frames are made in China now. There’s greater pressure to bring down costs, and there’s an increasing risk of what’s called “quality fade.” The Chinese factory starts cutting corners to make a little bit extra from razor-thin margins. The frame quality starts to fade.
I think carbon is great for pros, who get a new set of frames every season and have skilled wrenches routinely working over their bikes. Carbon is also great for a dentist or someone else who can afford to buy a new frame every year or two. But for someone like me – with kids, wife, mortgage and a job in a shaky industry – my frame needs to serve me well for 5 or 6 years. I just don’t feel comfortable demanding that length of service from the latest carbon frames. That’s why, just like my friend, I’m riding titanium.
Posted: November 15th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: BMC Cross Maching CX01, Carbon frames, Moots | 3 Comments »
We’ll be focusing on two scenes in “A Sunday in Hell” today. One is kind of bizarre and the other is awe inspiring.
The first scene looks like it was created by David Lynch, not Jorgen Leth. It’s a French pub crowded with fans following the race on the radio. Nearly everyone is smoking. The place has the most hideous wallpaper I’ve ever seen – wavy black, brown, white and gold stripes climbing up the wall. I imagine this is what one sees on a bad acid trip or after banging one’s head on the pave. The men – most with long sideburns, floppy collars blooming out of leisure suits – are drinking beer from tall, skinny glasses. The last shot is of a strange guy in his 20s dressed in a black suit with a bright red carnation sticking out of his coat pocket. True, in a Lynch flick, the guy would be a dwarf. Still, it’s weird.
The second scene begins with Roger DeVlaeminck sending two of his Brooklyn riders up the road. Eddy Merckx and Freddy Maertens have finally caught up with DeVlaeminck’s group, so it’s time to shake things up again. “This breakaway is a tactical maneuver,” the narrator says, adding that the two riders aren’t real threats in the race. “They’ve been sent by DeVlaeminck with the intention of forcing his rivals to greater activity. It’s obvious that DeVlaeminck wants to dictate how the race is ridden this year. He’s on the offensive, even with this ploy by his own support riders.”
Next we see the riders rolling into a feed station and many of the domestiques are quitting the race. Some will bum a ride off of spectators, who will take them to Roubaix.
The narrator gets back to the action: “The two Brooklyn attackers still have a slight advantage, but it can’t go on for long because Merckx asusual has assumed the role that all the others are eager to see him in – the lead position. Once in front, he heads the pursuit like a locomotive. It falls into place for DeVlaeminck. Merckx now has to ride after the breakaway that DeVlaeminck has organized. Merckx is causing the group to string out.”
As the narrator describes the action, we see a fantastic aerial shot of Merckx, who looks desperate as he powers over the cobbles pushing a huge gear, his bike bouncing over the bigger chunks of pave. It’s a wonderful shot of one of the greatest athletes ever doing what he does best: hammering down a road, inflicting intense pain on the competition There are about 40 riders behind Merckx, and they seem to be struggling to stay on his wheel. Once when I showed this movie to a small group of my riding mates, everyone was chatty during the first part of the movie. But when we got to this scene, everyone fell silent, put their beers down and just watched in awe.
Posted: November 14th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: "A Sunday in Hell", Eddy Merckx, Jorgen Leth, Paris-Roubaix, Roger DeVlaeminck | No Comments »
“Never too cold to ride” was going to be the new tag line for this Web site. My new theme was going to be describing the challenges of riding – commuting and training – through the long, dark, frigid Michigan winter. But when I finally put this into practice, I lasted 18 minutes. And this was in early October! Since then, I’ve been curled up in a mental ball trying to figure out what kind of cyclist – or person, actually – I really am. My idealism, my belief that the human will can reshape and retool a person got smacked down by a frosty Michigan morning.
I’ve never been a good cold-weather rider. Making matters worse, I’ve spent the past 10 years in subtropical parts of Asia where temperatures would dip down to the lower single digits (celsius) for a week or two each year. Last spring, when I announced to my riding mates in Guangzhou, China, that I was moving to Michigan, there were some chuckles and gentle reminders about how I hate the cold. Although I’m a winter wimp, I am proud that I rarely use the cold as an excuse not to ride. Last “winter” – if you can call it that in Guangzhou – I made sure that I got on the bike on the coldest days of the season. A lot of that riding was done alone. I was trying to condition myself for Michigan. I really wanted to repurpose myself for a new climate challenge.
In Michigan, the first test was that 18-minute ride in early October. It was supposed to be an hourlong spin around Walloon Lake in northern Michigan. I was there on a long weekend retreat with the other journalists in the wonderful Knight-Wallace fellowship program that I am fortunate to be participating in this academic year. We were staying in a ski lodge, and while everyone else was sleeping, I slipped out the door at 7 a.m. to go for a ride around the lake. I knew it would be chilly. The area was hit with the season’s first frost. So I threw on my warmest winter kit. Tights over shorts. Thermal wind booties. Wool socks. A warm base layer with arm warmers under a thermal, long-sleeve jersey. Assos lobster mitt gloves. A wind vest. As I was getting dressed, I started feeling embarrassed. It felt like overkill. I thought for sure that I’d be stripping off the layers after my warm-up.
The second I stepped out of the door, I knew something was different. It felt as if I walked into a wall of icey air. It was a serious, don’t-mess-with-me kind of cold. I realized that my “winter” rides past the palm trees and banana fields of southern China prepared me as much as a wave pool in Kansas would prepare a surfer for the moster breaks in Hawaii. The wind instantly cut through my Lycra tights, which didn’t have any kind of thermal fleece or wind barrier material. They served me well in Guangzhou, but they won’t cut it here. Five minutes down the road, my fingertips and ears started getting cold. My quads weren’t warming up and my knees felt creaky. I went down a gradual 2-kilometer hill and figured that as soon as I got to the bottom of it, I’d turn around and climb back up it. That would warm me up. It didn’t. By the time I got to the top of the hill, I was colder than ever. Things kept getting worse. I finally abandoned the ride, with my bike computer saying I was only on the road for 18 minutes. Talk about a humbling experience.
Since then, I’ve been on and off the bike. But I haven’t done any serious riding. I’m going to give it another crack, though. It’s the romantic idealist inside me that gets me interested in endeavors like riding through the Michigan winter. When I crash and burn with a better appreciation of the difficulty of I what I’m trying to do, the practical idealist inside of me kicks in. My first attempt to learn Mandarin left me frustrated and convinced that I would never be able to learn a second language. But a couple years later, I tried again with a more rational approach and a realistic appreciation of the challenge. After tons of hard work, I succeeded. Let’s hope I’m as successful with my “Never too cold to ride” plan.
Posted: November 9th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Seated at the keyboard with a micro brew from Michigan served up in a tulip-shaped Duvel glass bought at the Metro superstore in Guangzhou of all places, it’s time to do what we usually do at this time of the week: revisit “A Sunday in Hell.”
The riders are powering over a hilly section of pave. Freddy Maertens, one of the great Flemish riders, gets dropped. The film never explains what happened, but Maertens rides like a madman to catch up. There’s a great shot of him riding alone up a long cobbled hill. I can’t imagine how much effort must be expended to catch riders like Eddy Merckx and Roger DeVlaeminck. I’ve been in this situation (but not behind Merckx, of course!) far too many times, and catching the group often seems nearly impossible.
The narrator says, “There’s not much distance between the two leading packs. In other words, Merckx’s section has closed on DeVlaeminck’s group. There are about 15 men in the first group, and Merckx at the head of the second group commands another 18. But Maertens isn’t in either group. He must have had problems. But there he is, hidden behind a motorcyle, a little ahead of the main field. Now, Maertens must catch up, alone with no help from his teammates. A mile later, and the situatin is fairly obvious. They’re still pounding away in the leading groups. Several in that company don’t want to make it easy for Maertens to join on. … Once again, the Flemish riders are dictating the pace.
Only seven seconds separates Merckx’s group with the lead group. “A merging of all the men who matter is imminent,” the narrator says. “How far back does the hapless Maertens lag behind. He’s got to slog away at it in order not to lose his chance. If the main group swallows him, and they’re not far behind, he risks getting stuck with them. Maertens is a strong rider, particularly in time trials, but it’s remarkable that none of his teammates up ahead has come back in order to help him. The gap is 40 seconds between Maertens and the leaders.”
Maertens does finally get help from his team and he catches up on the group. There’s a great scene with DeVlaeminck’s team car roaring up behind him, with the coach yelling at DeVlaeminck that Maertens has caught up. DeVlaeminck first says, “Huh?” He understands when his coach repeats himself and just puts his head down and starts hammering.
Posted: November 6th, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: "A Sunday in Hell", Freddy Maertens, Paris-Roubaix, Roger DeVlaeminck | 1 Comment »