An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What is the most important part of the bike?

After spending the weekend in Portland at least partially immersing myself in bike culture (the Hopworks Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival), and talking with several custom builders from the area, and then a long drive home listening to The Guardians of Ga'Hoole (yep, the one about the owls... book on CD), I lay in bed unable to get to sleep, and thinking...

Every once in a while, a philosophical question will drill its way into my brain and fester there.

So this particular night, it was the question of the importance of the parts on the bike, or, more properly, what is THE most important part on the bike?

Could it be the wheels? I mean, really, the entire meaning behind the moniker "bicycle" means "two wheels". That kind of defines what a bike is, right?

Or maybe it's the frame. The supporting structure of the thing, which defines its manners, handling, weight balance, and comfort.

Possibly the saddle. The weight-bearing interface between the rider and the machine, where a most-intimate contact can become something that you never think about, or a misery that you can't NOT think about.

Or the pedals and cranks, where the efforts of the rider are transferred into the machine to provide forward progress, the most efficient form of transportation yet conceived-of by man.

Maybe it would be the handlebar, the interface to the wishes of the rider as to where that machine goes.

Well, all those things are important and make the collection of "things" into a bike. Much is made of how that collection of things should look, what are proper proportions, and largely that is what we were celebrating, discussing, and drooling over through the entire show.

But without the most important part of the bike, all that could be nothing more than "art", a lawn sculpture or showpiece. Without the most important part of the bike, the bike is just "a bike". It doesn't do anything. It doesn't go anywhere.

No, the most important part of the bike, to me, is the rider.

I believe that "the bike" is a dynamic thing, and that in order for it to truly be what it was meant to be, it needs to move. And that requires the rider.

Riders come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, and races. Speed does not make the rider. Being on a bike makes the rider. And likewise, the rider makes the bike. It's a synergy of human and machine -- a cybernetic melding that creates efficient movement.

And if you really get infected with the notion of two-wheeled transport, you become like me -- a rider even when you're not on a bike.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Hopworks Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival, Portland, OR

This past Saturday I spent the larger part of the afternoon at the Hopworks Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival, a celebration/expo of local custom framebuilders and craft brewers.

I'm not much of a beer drinker, so after a couple tastes, my wife got the rest of the drink tickets, and I headed off to lose myself in fillets and lugs.

The expo was a little different this time around, not just in how it was configured, but also in my mindset going in. After a year putting torch to metal in my spare time, I was looking at more fine details, processes and configurations, and less pie-eyed about being around some of the builders who've made it in the business.

I was also drumming up some interest in a 2-day ride I'm planning for next summer, kind of a builder's secret ball, if you will, of riding around Capital Forest and surrounds. More to follow about that one in the coming months. Routes are set, location, mostly I just haven't set a date yet.

Anyway, I cruised mostly, letting things catch my eye.

Like the paint on the Machine mountain bike that was a repetition of their logo and had the effect of looking like tire tread. And the TIGHT welds on their stainless steel frame.

The narrow seat tube slot on the Breadwinner road bike.

The segmented fork crown on the Igleheart road bike. Chris had been in a bad crash not long after last year's show, so it was good to see him back in full swing again.

Likewise the segmented fork on the Ahearne rigid MTB.

And the Best-in-Show Winter Cycles.

There were also things like a Huffy Huck, which my wife participated in (and being the bad husband I am, I totally missed getting any of that on film), and adult-sized tricycle slalom races. A break dancing demo provided a break (haha) from staring at tubes as well.

And Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwiches. Good call!

While I was there, I saw a lady getting really up-close-and-personal to the bikes with her camera. I figured she was with a cycling magazine or something. Well, turns out it was Amy Sakurai, who goes by the handle LovelyAngel on Velocipede Salon, and she posted the link to her album from the day's photography and blog post. Great shots!

I'd been invited by Dave Levy of TiCycles Fabrication to bring my bikes down to the show. Being as I really only had one ready, and several more in-process, I decided that I'd pass on it this year. But I'll make my public announcement now -- I'll be there next year, even though I'm not an Oregon builder, and join in the fun from the other side of the booth.

Makes me excited and nervous at the same time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summer's Last Gasp Ride

Last year in July, Steve Hampsten, NW Framebuilder extraordinaire, organized a ride from North Bend, WA, to the top of Snoqualmie Pass and back mostly on gravel roads and a rail-trail conversion (also gravel). Called the Trofeo Strada Bianca, it was a great ride, with about 30-35 people showing up for a gentlemanly assault of the pass.

Inquiries into a repeat performance this year made it clear that Steve was too busy to make it happen. I enjoyed it so much last year that I decided to just throw it together and see where it went.

Using the same route, I created the Summer’s Last Gasp Ride on Facebook, to be run on September 20th, sent out invites to Steve and every other rider I knew, posted updates on a couple of the cycling boards I frequent, and then anticipated the approaching day.

Picking a date in late-ish September is a complete crap-shoot -- we might get summer-like sun and warm temperatures, or we might be calling in the Coast Guard for a flood rescue. Pretty much even money either way.

Well, with a few days to go before the event, the forecast showed some rain mid-week and then sunny and warm for the weekend. Perfect! And indeed it was a perfect weather day for this ride. Fog in the low lands, but we rose above it by the time we drove into North Bend, and it was sunny throughout. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Response on Facebook for the ride was meager, and Steve had to cancel the day before because of a project that came up last  minute. I knew I'd be getting into the local cyclocross season, so that ate into the potential attendees as well.

It ended up with three of us showing up, one of which flew in from New York just to make this ride and do a ride up to Paradise (on Mt Rainier) the next day. I asked him if this was a work trip. "Nope, just wanted to fly out and ride somewhere I've never ridden before." Something about turning 40...

We shoved off just after 9:30, and headed out at a sedate pace towards the first section of gravel. Several miles in, the first uphill brought us to the Iron Horse Trail, a converted railroad grade that travels over Snoqualmie Pass and all the way to Idaho (so I hear) and beyond. We wouldn't take this all the way to the summit, but it provided a nice easy gain in elevation.

Dropping back down to the highway level (Interstate 90, for those keeping score), some more pavement and a couple miles on the shoulder of the highway brought us to Tinkham Road, the next section of gravel.

A surprise left at the Denny Creek exit took us over the highway and up the final few miles UP to the summit (on pavement). Another downhill on the other side, and we were at the half-way point and our rest/food stop.

I recruited my wife (well, she volunteered really, but I think she was doing it as a birthday gift for me) to bring food and water up for us, and she, along with my thirteen-month-old daughter greeted us with smiles and nutrition. Perfect.

After loading up the carbs and a little more for the pockets, we got going again. The stop backed right up to the Iron Horse Trail again, and within a half-mile we were at the entrance to the tunnel...

Two miles of total darkness. Yes, we had lights. The provide what I consider to be barely enough illumination to make it navigable. I've ridden during some very dark parts of the night with no street lights, and even some night off-road riding, and none of that is anywhere near as disorienting as going through this tunnel. I was glad to be following. Not even a quarter of the way through, our New Yorker stated, "I've ridden in some unique places, but this takes the cake."

Finally through the chill air and back into (very bright) daylight, we doffed the arm warmers and vests, made sure the lights were extinguished, and hit the trail again. The Iron Horse Trail is deceptive in that it doesn't really feel like you're going uphill until you turn around and head back down. Twenty miles per hour was easy all the way back, and we only had to slow down for hikers, other slower riders, and a gaggle of rock climbers. And a photo op here and there. It probably took us barely more than half the time to get back as it did to make the ascent.

Cruising in the last few paved miles back to our destination, my thoughts turned to... FOOD!

Beers and burgers at The Pour House were the order of the day, while we regaled with tales of rides, trips, and other life

Yes, the day turned out to be perfect. The ride was not so long as to garner wishes that it were over, and not so short as to leave one wishing for more. Hard to top a riding day like this.

Will I do the ride again? Sure. Probably not in September, though. The odds just aren't there for another perfect weather day.

Hopefully we can have a few more riders along next time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Getting old-ER

As I close in on the last days of my 51st trip around the burning ball we call The Sun, I'm often reminded that "I'm getting old."

No, it's not just my 13-year-old daughter who constantly tells me (in so many ways, from my preferred music to my usage of certain phrases).

And it's not just how I reach for the reading glasses more often.

In fact, more mornings that not I feel creaky and slow when I get out of bed. Fortunately that feeling subsides fairly quickly and I'm back to "normal".

My younger daughter (just turned one early last month) keeps my energy up, mostly out of necessity.

I don't have any epic day-long endurance journeys planned for this birthday (like last year's half-Ironman-ish plus triathlon), but the day after I'll be hosting a ride going up Snoqualmie Pass and back to North Bend. There was a good crowd for this ride last year (in July), so I'm hoping at least a few people will show up. It should be a good time.

On the frame building front, I've got one bike complete and on the road, another about 85% of the way there (and I was almost thinking it was ready for paint, then remembered the braze-ons...), and I "finished" the fork for the 'cross bike. Of course, now that it's painted, I remember the cable guides... At least that was just a rattle-can paint job, easily replicated. Another sign I'm getting old? I'm going to just say that's a sign of being new at the game and not necessarily having the processes down 100%.

Yeah, that's it.

The weather is changing. I can feel it. We're likely done with days over 80 degrees until next July. Leaves are falling. Signs that another "riding season" * is coming to a close. And with it comes, for me and other Virgos, that tick-over of the age digit.

That's okay though. I'm glad to be around to see it. Plenty of adventures ahead.

I recently mentioned to my wife that I was "getting old." She replied with, "Honey, you ARE old." (With an 18 year difference between us, I guess I can see her point.)

"Then I guess I'm getting old-ER," I said.

Older than old...

* What is this "riding season" of which you speak? Yes, I ride year-round. I just don't do events in the winter.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Triathlon season closer

This was the 2014 edition of the Bonney Lake Labor of Love Triathlon, promoted by BuDu Racing, LLC. It wasn't the wettest triathlon I've ever done, but it was close. Animals were queuing up by 2's...

I've done this event 6 times now -- every year it's been put on -- and this was the first time I've done it in the rain. Add to that the fact that I haven't trained my swim at all, and barely more than that for the run, and it was looking to be another fine hour of suffering. I've done the long course (close to Olympic/International distance) once, but find the sprint distance (800m/12mi/5K) to be more to my liking. That was my (wise) choice this year as well.

The forecast said the chance of rain was increasing, but it didn't get into the "pretty much assured" range until late in the morning. Well, it started about the time I left my house at 5:30am, and kept on in fits and starts until my race was starting (held up a few minutes to allow the rescue boat to deliver one of the Oly swimmers who was having difficulty). After that point, we were already wet, do it didn't matter too much.

Did I mention I hadn't been doing any swim training? That came back to bite me about 200m into the swim. My arms loaded up in a big way, and I had to just ease up the pressure and glide through it. I emerged from the water with the 35th fastest swim time (out of 177 finishers), and feeling only a little dizzy.

Now I was in my element. I managed to not count the aisles after I got my gear on and bike in hand and started heading back towards the entrance. Okay, another 15 seconds added to my transition time... I found the exit, then got going, passing several people who were trying the flying mount or shoes-on-the-pedals, apparently for the first time. I spent the first mile threading through people before it finally thinned out enough to fly. It was funny seeing the bubbled wake on the road from riders in front of me...

I kept the pressure on throughout the bike, and avoided the dead zone that I've experienced the last couple years on that course. Maybe because I had given myself a little break by taking it really easy in the corners (didn't want to slide out).

I had decided to leave the glasses behind at transition, and there were times that the rain felt like hail on my face. I was flying "blind", not just because of not having glasses. I went with no cyclocomputer -- I had no idea how fast I was going, like Greg Lemond in the '89 Tour, "I just rode". One thing I did differently was to add toe covers to my shoes. It really made a big difference in foot warmth, especially with the constant spray not just from the sky but from my front wheel. Coming in at 22.5mph average, I was just slightly slower than last year.

And now the real suffering begins. This run course is brutal. The hills come steep and often, testing your ability to get your rhythm going time after time. My shoes were sloshing well before I hit the first mile. I managed to only walk one short stretch near the top of a hill just past the half-way mark. There was a water station at the point where the short and long course split, but I passed it by. If I wanted a drink, all I had to do was open my mouth...

Finishing the 5K in an average of 7:30/mile (last year was 6:41), my final time was 1:09:39, 13th overall (2nd in my age group), over seven minutes slower than last year (in beautiful weather), but only 2 places farther back.

And the best part? Two of the girls on the youth triathlon team that I help coach beat me! Kudos to them!

The team had their end-of-the-season party after the race at the home of one of the athletes who lives on the same lake. It was a little sad to think of the season being over, that these kids are all headed off to school, and that fall really is just around the corner.

Anyway, the race is in the books for another year. I hobbled around for a couple days after, soreness being the theme of the day. My ankles recovered from the run fairly quickly, though. 

It's a fun race that I would recommend to anyone. Just be ready for those hills on the run.