Monthly Archives: October 2018

A passion project

When I take an interest in something, I learn about it.  When I’m fascinated by a topic, I research. I become a student of history simply because there is always a story that goes deeper than what you can see. I also see art in everyday things. I appreciate aesthetics and craftsmanship, and I find beauty in many things. At this point in my life, I have started looking backward as well as forward. I often write about cycling; it’s a passion in my life that has defined my freedom as a child and my healthy lifestyle as an adult. Recently, as a result of my passion and my love of art and history and all that I enjoy about cycling, I have been consumed with a passion project. I’m having a new bicycle built.

The project began before I realized that it was forming.  It started on rainy weekends and quiet evenings when my free time led me to read a book about cycling, or watch a race on television, or search the internet for video and information on random cycling topics. It grew at event rides when talking to other riders. It was fed by childhood memories, by the excitement I shared with others. It found purchase in my mind when reading about restoring bikes, classic bikes, racing and training, and the care I take in cleaning and maintaining my bicycle. It took shape from of an understanding of how I ride, why I ride, and where I ride. What I wanted was a modern classic.

It would have to be a bike to ride every day.  A bike that I can feel comfortable on no matter where I ride. I don’t want something to put on a wall or hang from the ceiling to admire; I wanted to ride it when the road called me. I wanted it to be with me on adventures.

It would also have to be beautiful. It would have to speak to me. It would have to announce itself to others like me. It would have to blend art and history with passion and craftsmanship and joy.

What I wanted was a lugged steel frame. My first bike was steel. My first “racing” bike was steel, and even though I have never been a racer, steel bikes were raced by legends like Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Sean Kelly, Roger De Vlaeminck, Francesco Moser, Johan Museeuw and many others. Steel has history.

Steel also has comfort. Steel is renowned for a ride quality that is unlike any other material. I have a carbon fiber bike and an aluminum bike.  They are fit to me, and fit is a major component of comfort.  Most riders choose carbon or aluminum based on weight, with a secondary consideration of price.  Steel is heaver than carbon and aluminum are. Lighter is an advantage.  Carbon Frames are the flagship of any bike line because of weight and the ability to easily form it into lightweight, compliant and aerodynamic shapes.  It’s made in a mold with layers of carbon fabric and epoxy.  Aluminum is great for riders on a budget. It has the ability to be shaped, and is more comfortable now than the early aluminum bikes were.  Aluminum was once considered a very harsh ride. It isn’t any longer. Excellent bikes are built of these materials.  Then, there is steel.  Steel may be heavy, but it is also elastic; meaning it will return to its original shape when deformed slightly by stress.  It flexes. That is what leads to the forgiving ride quality of steel. It also lasts a very long time if maintained.

Steel is making a strong comeback in the cycling community.  A “vintage” cycling community has popped up. “L’ Eroica” or “heroic” cycling events, where old steel masterpieces are ridden, remind us of cycling’s classic roots. I find the Eroica events to be inspiring. They look like fun. However, I’m not going for “vintage”. “Vintage” suggests original.  What I’m going for is more accurately called “Retro” instead, where the look of vintage is blended with the advantages of modern features.

Custom frame builders are keeping steel relevant, too. A frame fit to your body will always be a good ride. If weight is the only factor, steel is at a disadvantage.  If you’re not racing, weight means less, but it can tell on a climb. A rider can get a steel bike to weigh the same as a carbon bike by carrying one water bottle instead of two.  Riders often forget that the difference in weight isn’t a lot. In any case, I don’t think of bike weight as an issue when I’m so large myself!

Apart from getting a custom built bike, there are two other ways to make a purchase.  What most people do is buy a bike offered by a manufacturer.  The manufacturer chooses the parts specification, the customer chooses a size, and the bike is fitted to them.  That is the way most bikes are purchased now. There is an almost infinite variety to choose from. As I mentioned above, you can have a custom bike built.  You choose the builder, get a custom frame built to your measurements and specification, and you choose parts like wheels and drivetrain, and what you get back is unique.  This is expensive, but often the results are extreme works of art.  The third way, the one I’ve chosen, is to get measured carefully for a frame size to order, then choose components and build the bike yourself or have a trusted bike technician do it for you.  This is also expensive, but it can take less time than custom, and the results are also artistic, since many of these steel frames are made by artisans, too.

My choice is a frame by an Italian brand named Wilier. The frame is a Wilier Superleggera. This is a brand that has been building bikes since 1906, and has been raced in the Pro peloton.  They’re known for their copper finishes, like the example below.

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The frame I’m ordering will look like this one, but the wheels and components will be different!

The components I’m choosing? Modern Campagnolo. I’m going to have a quill stem and custom wheels, and components and wheels will be silver.  The bike will be proudly Italian, and because so many Italian brands have remained true to their roots and offer steel frames, there are many excellent choices if you want to indulge in a similar passion project. To name a few:

Colnago Arabesque and Colnago Master: Two beautiful steel offerings from Colnago.  Both have a classic look and a racing heritage. The Master has iconic star shaped tubes and incredible paintwork; the Arabesque has artistic lugs and a similar classic look.

DeRosa Nuevo Classico: This bike deserves the name “New Classic”. It is a thing of beauty with traditional geometry and an excellent finish.

Bianchi Tipo Corsa: This is a frameset from Bianchi – a brand building bikes since 1885, and known for a special color – Celeste.  The Tipo Corsa comes in Celeste. For those who want a bike that pays homage to vintage cycling, Bianchi also makes the Eroica, a different blend of modern and vintage.

Masi Gran Criterium: Masi makes several models of the Gran Criterium from affordable entry level steel bikes to bikes that lean from vintage in style to modern.

There are other brands that offer steel road bikes and frames; too many to list here, but the options speak to the appeal of these steel retro bikes.  There is something to be said for the  latest bike tech.  Aerodynamics, advances in materials and technology have made some wonderful bicycles,  but there will always be room for classic design in the cycling community.  As this passion project proceeds, I’ll add more content.

 

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My End of Year Cycling Events

This week I’m working to re-establish my routine.  It’s been a couple of weeks since I last had a full work week – my last two weekends included century rides that I had to travel to.  Usually those events require me to take a day off to travel. Between those vacation days and the Columbus Day federal holiday, I’ve been away from the office a lot. It all comes back, though. The memories of these events make work a little easier, too. It’s easier to be in a good mood after a century ride or two.

The nice part about cycling events is that they’re approachable. I don’t want to give the impression that they’re easy. Centuries are tough and must be taken seriously. You have to train for one. A century isn’t nearly as difficult to do as running a marathon is though. A century is a good challenge, but mere mortals can train well enough in 3-6 months to complete a century, and if you ride regularly in the warm months leading up to September and October when these events are usually held, you can enjoy a century ride every weekend for weeks on end without burning out. Recovery from a century ride doesn’t usually take more than a day or two. I’ve done back-to-back centuries several times (two in the same weekend, one on a Saturday, and the other on Sunday), and that is much more difficult if you want to challenge yourself, but it takes planning. I can be talked into doing back-to-back centuries again, but for now I don’t feel the need to challenge myself in that way. For 2018, I’m out of centuries.  I’ve passed the tests I’ve set for myself. Now is the time to ride for the soul, until the winter chases me indoors. With that in mind, I want to look back over the last two weekends and remember the experience.

Twin Lights

The Twin Lights century is held at the New Jersey shore. It doesn’t have much in the way of climbs, but most of the climbing it offers happens near the end of the ride.  It leaves from a park by a ferry terminal near Sandy Hook and heads south along the shore through communities that include mansions built as getaway homes for rich residents of New York City. Then it heads inland through parkland at the edge of an area called the pine barrens. It goes north into some low hills before dropping down to the start again. There is a climb at mile 99 that challenged a lot of riders. It’s a cruel place to put a climb, but it was part of the ride’s charm. Twin Lights is a scenic ride that was well marked and had good support.

I chose to ride Twin Lights with my nephew. He has gotten into racing criteriums over the last two years, and he wanted to ride an event with me.  Since he doesn’t live too far from the ride, it seemed ideal. The weather was excellent that day, and we were both excited to get started.  As we arrived, they started the ride – they didn’t have a “show and go” start. That meant I didn’t find a que sheet before we got started.  The good news was that we didn’t need a que sheet. The route was well marked with large magenta arrows affixed to utility poles, trees and road signs along the route. Even when there weren’t other riders to follow, I found the signs easy to find and I never felt worried that I was off course.

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Twin Lights – My nephew and I, less than 25 miles to the finish!

This ride showed me the difference between recreational riders like myself, and racers like my nephew. He’s a very strong rider, but he hadn’t been training too much in the weeks before Twin Lights, and that meant he felt fresh while not necessarily being at his best. Every event ride includes some strong riders who have goals related to how fast they’ll ride. Griff was excited at the start, and we fell in with some fast riders. He got in with them because he loves to compete and he’s fast.  I was there because I wanted to keep him in sight. That meant the first 35-40 miles went by at a pace that worried me. I won’t say I wasn’t enjoying myself. (I was.) I just didn’t think I could keep up that kind of pace for very long, and by the second rest stop I was worried that I’d burn out by the end of the ride. I explained my fears to my nephew and I think he understood. After all, I’m middle aged, to use a friendly euphemism. However, about 5 miles from the second rest stop, Griff started to cramp up.  Two things came into play here.  The first is that the average Criterium doesn’t go for more than an hour. His longest ride to date was 72 miles, and while his best efforts are very fast, riding for speed and riding for endurance are two very different things. The second thing was that by his own admission he hadn’t been on the bike much recently. Going out too fast was something that I expected. Starting to slow down was also something that I expected. I just expected that the one slowing down would be me. I went immediately into caring uncle mode. I wanted to make sure he got the rest and water and food needed to avoid the dreaded “bonk”, where your body shuts down on you. We continued at a more sensible century pace, and while the climbs were hard on him, Griff was tough as nails.

There is no such thing as an “easy” century. I found that Twin Lights presented its bill for having me flying along roads near the beach with a tailwind by making us climb more in the final third of the ride. Some of the faster riders were also riding shorter routes, and Twin Lights offered rides of 75, 50, 30 and even a 15 mile option in addition to the century. Griff and I stayed together.  At the 77 mile rest stop, they had pie. I like pie. It helped make Twin Lights memorable.  The climb at mile 99 found me passing a lot of other riders (I think the pie energized me), and in a burst of adrenaline, Griff found my wheel by the top. We cruised to the finish of his first century. It was a special thing. I was proud to ride with my nephew on his first century.

The Seagull Century

My first century ride was the Seagull Century in 2006. I remember it well. Even though century rides have become almost routine for me, that first century means something.  I ride the Seagull every year.  It’s normally my last event of the year, and it’s always memorable. I like the day before, going to the campus for packet pick-up and shopping at the vendors in the gym. I like going to dinner with friends the night before. I like hanging out in their beer garden after the ride, and of course, I like the century. It’s one of the biggest cycling events in the country. This year over 5000 riders were there. In the past, there have been as many as 8000 riders. That means you have a lot of other riders to watch out for, but it also makes the ride interesting for the sheer volume of riders spinning along with you.

We had a small group this year. John, Carol, Tom and I. Tom R wasn’t going to ride the entire century, but he grew up on Maryland’s eastern shore, so the Seagull is his home event. He hadn’t done much riding this year, but he wanted to get out on the course and enjoy it.

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The Seagull Century – At the first rest stop.

As always, the crowd was difficult to navigate at the start, and the difference in speed and approach between fast riders, slow riders and beginners made it important to pay attention and ride smart. It was damp this year. The air was heavy, and in places it was a heavy drizzle, but by the time we reached the water stop at 40 miles, the rain was done with us. There were a lot of flat tires.  Carol had two flats on the ride. There was a bad crash that John had seen; I rode past it because there were plenty of people there to help. John pulled out to join me. For a while on the first half of the ride I was with John, but for much of the ride I was on my own.

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Seagull Century – John and I at Assateague Island rest stop. 

I rode consistently, and my average speed kept going up throughout the ride. At the end, there was pie and ice cream as a reward, and as always there was the beer garden, where you can reconnect with your friends, drink a well-deserved brew, and watch other riders come in while you discuss the experience.

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Seagull Century – Post ride pie!

By the time I was done the weather had improved, and all the smiles on all the riders felt like another reward for a great ride and another great season.

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Seagull Century – After the ride, relaxing in the Beer Garden.

Now it’s time to ride for the soul. It’s the time of year when you start your rides a little later, and don’t go quite as far. It’s cooler, but your fitness is still good. The season is changing and there isn’t any pressure of upcoming events to plan for and train for. This is the time of the year when the scenery matters the most to you. The company you keep as you ride sustains you. It isn’t a matter of pushing yourself. It’s a matter of letting the simple joy of cycling carry you along. This “soul riding” is the way I remind myself that riding my bike has been a lifelong source of joy and peace. It is a reward at the end of a season of cycling that sustains me over the winter until I can comfortably get back on the roads and renew my love of cycling once again.