Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Varsity Tech n' Spec:

The Varsity weighs in at 26.5 lbs as delivered, at least from a double-weighing on my bathroom scale. By contrast, my Force-and-Rival mix, Eurus-wheel equipped DBR race bike weighs 16.5.

SIZE: You can get this bike in any size, as long as it is a 56. The top tube C-C is 55 or so, but it's just a bit below the "virtual top tube" of about a 56. It's not a compact. Stem is a 110mm actual length, 100mm or so reach because of a steep rise.

The polished aluminum finish is pretty decent, though the "carbon-fiber-look" stickers are cheezy. Know what else is cheezy? The quick release. Not, quick releases -- the rear wheel is bolt-on. If they're going to make you carry a wrench...

The welds are predictably atrocious. It looks like a 5 year old missed with a hot glue gun, and then that was painted over. Okay, I was wrong, there is another quick release: on the seatpost.

It's got a double crank, which is a funny throwback to the "10-speed" road-racing STYLE bikes of "the day," whenever those were around -- it was before my time. To complete the retro style, I guess, chainrings are 52 / 42.

7-speed shifters are mounted near the stem, and they are large, plastic rocker paddles. It's pretty easy to flick them with your thumb, if you are riding on the flats, but from the drops it is impossible to do.

Other features include:

* 52 / 42 cranks, 170mm alloy crankarms (labeled!), square-taper BB -- no branding on these

* Shimano no-series front and rear derailleurs, 7-speed shifters. I haven't determined if it's got a cassette or freewheel yet -- I've never owned a freewheel bike! Gearing is wide-spaced touring gearing: 14-16-18-20-22-24-28. For reference, 42 / 28 is identical gearing to 39 / 26.

* KMC chain, labeled "Z6-C" narrow. Since 10-speed KMC chains are "DX10", etc, I wonder, is this a "narrow" chain meant for 6-speeds?

* Promax dual-pivot brakes (with non-cartridge pads using non-allen nuts-and-bolts for pad installation)

* Wheels: Joytech hubs have a lot of seal drag. 36 stainless steel spokes on "weinmann" labeled (made in china) low-profile rims. Factory true is okay for machine built wheels. 700 x 25C Inova tires.

* A kickstand!

"It's a modern road bike," at least. When I compared this bike to the "GMC Denali" at Walmart, a few things stood out: The Denali had Schraeder valves, a threaded headset, 28mm tires, and spooky 60's-looking centerpull brakes. The Varsity had 25mm tires, a threadless headset (I think it's 1"), modern sidepull dualpivot brakes, 25 mm tires and presta valves, etc.

Other notes:

The pedal axles are the modern, standard diameter. I will be putting some clipless pedals on it shortly. I may soldier on with the stock saddle for a week or two, but I will probably end up putting my own Concour or the like on there to make things tolerable.

The fork rides like a brick. Ka-thump. Fork has fender eylets, and plenty of space, but the rear triangle is not drilled for racks or fenders. Combined with the lowest gear being pretty sporting -- for a casual recreational rider -- this is definitely a single-purpose road bike, not a great call for all-around touring / commuting / etc. I might consider trying a carbon fork I have in a box, just to see what difference that makes, but the main test is "run what you brung."

Build Quality from the store was not only terrible, but downright dangerous. The rear brake was adjusted fairly close to properly; I'm guessing the builder made this one work. The front brake, though, was funny, because at full squeeze the pads did not even contact the rim. The stem was pointed pretty seriously off-angle from the front wheel; I'd say about 15 degrees. The front wheel QR was barely tight enough to keep the wheel on (I guess that's why there are lawyer tabs,) and both retention springs were installed on one side of the wheel. When you pressed the shifters, rather than shifting, the whole clamp that the shifter assembly was mounted to would instead rotate about the stem -- that's how bad they were. Several scratches in the polished finish from tools during building.

Any other questions?

Friday, June 29, 2007

I’m really cold. It’s 55 degrees out, and the rain’s getting harder, nevermind the fact that it’s Friday afternoon on the second-to-last day of June. This is supposed to be officially summer, but we haven’t gotten the memo in Seattle. I never would’ve thought of thin lycra cycling shorts as “warm” before, but right now I’m pedaling along wearing Nike running shorts, and they let the wind and cold water run right up the inside of my legs. I decided not to wear cycling shorts on this first ride of the Schwinn Varsity, because I figure most of it’s target audience wouldn’t be spandex-clad, and maybe that would be an excuse for the cushier seat.

I’m on the way home now. I decided to take Monta Vista drive home to see how this sucker climbs, regardless of the fact that it’s ten pounds heavier than my normal race bike. It’s about two miles long, with 550 feet of total climbing in two stretches, the first at about six per cent, the second at ten with pitches of up to fourteen, so I can get a good test of it’s performance in all sorts of conditions. The pavement turns upward, and I reflexively flick my right index finger to downshift. Oops – there’s nothing there to shift with. I look at the bars, find the rocker arm near the stem, and click it away from me a few times, from “6” to “3” on the dial. The bike clicks and shifts, but two pedal strokes later the chain hops and jumps all over the gear. I try going back from “3’ to “4,” but the result is the same. I can almost get “2” to work, but it still skips a bit, so I’ve got to bailout to “1.” At least the limit screws are set right. This is far too easy a gear for me on this part of the hill, but I pause to think that most recreational riders would find it about right.

I get to the flat bit in the middle of the climb, fumble around for an upshift for a moment (it works,) and resolve to sort out the rear shifting when I get home. It seemed fine when it wasn’t under load. The rain is still coming down, both from the sky, and from the top of the hill, running in miniature rivers over the broken concrete. It’s not so cold going up, at least. Crap, I can’t see very much, but I’m getting to the steep bit. I go ahead and shift straight back to the easiest gear I’ve got – that’d be 42 x 28, for bike lingo speakers – and try to negotiate this hill. I wrap my fingers around the brake hoods stand up out of the saddle, but quickly give up on that option. The hoods are tiny and placed too low on the handlebars, which are digging into my wrists. The stem is too high, so my shoulders are cramped up. I instead do my best Pantani impression and climb the final bit in the drops. Hrm. I think I still would have upshifted.

Getting to the big ring at the summit is a quick flick of my hand, once I remember where I’m supposed to flick it, and I barrel down the road, the cold wind and spray whipping about me. To think, this would’ve been warm back in February, but, then, I’d have worn more clothes. The descent here isn’t very technical, but it is steep and fast. Experimentally, I squeeze the brake levers. At first, I feel a slight tightening in my gut as absolutely nothing happens, but once the pads heat up the bike begins to slow. It’s not nearly fast enough, and it produces a terrible squeal. Do I get to put cartridge pads on this thing? The “Promax” brakes it’s got are pretty okay, for a random off-brand, but the pads are pathetic.

At least I didn’t NEED to brake. The three more miles to home are nearly flat, and as long as I stay in the drops I don’t notice anything constantly about the bike, and that’s a good thing. I’ve still got to adjust the front derailleur a bit more, it rubs when it flexes under load. Well, next ride perhaps it’ll be dry, and I’ll have adjusted the kinks out of it.

Ride time: 1:15:00
Miles: ~20.
A Pause for Reflection --

So, lately I've been feeling a little down about racing my bike. A little burned out is probably more appropriate, and I hear it's a pretty common affliction among bike racers. Fitness, or "form," which Hunter Allen defines as the combination of fitness and freshness, is a fleeting thing, ebbing and flowing daily. But it's an addiction, too: once we've felt the peak of form, which by definition cannot be sustained, we're always striving to return there, to reach higher, not just go faster but feel faster. Fatigue took the edge off of my form several weeks ago, and it's just now coming round that bend and turning back upwards. It's pretty discouraging to try to stomp on the pedals like you did before, but have no fire in the engine room, no juice in the bottle. O my legs, why have you forsaken me?

But, I read this update on Ryan Mcknab's weblog today that Kenji also posted about. It started like this: "I tied both shoes today..." For those who don't know, Ryan is an Oregon-based bike racer who sustained a serious head injury in a bike racing crash not too long ago. In a fashion similar to Saul Raisin, it was feared for a time he wouldn't make it, but he pulled through.

There's always suffering in the world greater than yours, like I've said before, and there's no way to be healthy and let it all in.

Yet still -- when I'm moping about not quite having the race results I strive for, and I read "today I tied my shoes," I can't help but take a step back and pause for breath.

What the hell would I do in THOSE shoes?

Tie them, I guess.

Would I be happy about it? Would I be able to smile and think, "wow, this is great, I achieved something that I couldn't do yesterday?" People show all kinds of strength and adversity, and it sometimes leaves me to wonder about my own character. I've never experienced that sort of adversity. There's simply no way for me to process it. But in admiring the strength of a stranger in times more trying than my own, I can at least look down at my legs and think a little differently about them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wal-Mart bikes: A PLAN!!!


I have a great idea. Or, a very bad idea. Anyway, it is some charity, and a lot of hillarity.

Wal-Mart has recently started selling road bikes. Yep, they did. They only come in one size, and the website still lists them as "26 inch" bikes, a reference to mountain bike-sized wheels. I think that's because they can't even comprehend metric-sized "700C" road bike wheels. There's even a lovely bit of cross-marketing -- one of these beauties is the GMC Denali road bike. I don't really understand this one. The Denali is like, the GMC-badged Suburban, right? It's a big, supposedly off-road capable, tank of a vehicle. If you're going to cross-market a road bike with a car, wouldn't you pick one with similar capabilities? Heck, I don't know.

But here's my plan: I am going to buy one. I want your help. I will ride it for 1,000 miles or more -- this is more than I think most of these machines will be ridden, ever, in their lifetimes. I will post reviews, detailed photos, and ride reports. You'll learn if it's a reasonable, cheap entry-level roadbike, or if it is your head a splode waiting to happen. Does it actually weigh in at 32 lbs?

If it is safe enough, I will take it to the Tuesday Night Worlds and the like. I will judge the reactions of other Cat 1/2 racers to this shiny new steed.

Then, after I've shaken it out for the 1,000 miles, if I still decide it's safe enough to ride, I will tune it up and donate it to the Cascade Bike Club, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, or another group that will hopefully pass it on gratis to someone who can make use of it.

So, what I want from you folks, is two things: first of all, tell me if I should test out the GMC DENALI, with its "Shimano Revo Megarange gripshifters," or the Schwinn Varsity, with a "Schwinn steel road forl"? A tough choice. Second, I want your hard-earned cash. Like, five or ten bucks of it. These suckers cost about $150-200, plus taxes, so if I can gather half the price or so, I'll put up the other half.

Or, tell me if this is the silliest idea evar.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I'm off to Baker City for the Elkhorn Classic stage race. I'll be back on either Sunday evening or Monday morning, depending upon my carpool.

It's one of the very few races that I'm doing for a second time, as I actually did this race last year, back in What Seems Like Forever Ago Cat Four days.

One thing that strikes me doing all of these multi-day races in the northwestern US is how enamored I am with another artifact of a bygone day: downtown. I've seen a lot of historic downtowns this year, and they've all got certain similarities, but a certain unique character. Wenatchee, Hood River, Waitsburg, and Walla Walla join Baker City as places for the races so far this year. Florence was last week, though that wasn't for bike racing.

I love pacing the sidewalks, checking out old city halls and clocktowers, the old storefronts with new contents alongside Family Owned and Operated Since 1904. Of course, as something of a cafe nut, for the atmosphere as well as the coffee, I'm looking forward to sitting down at Mad Matilda's for a cuppa and a scone.

The word "downtown" to me still conjures an image of a bustling center of population and commerce, but more than a quick glance around any of the above cities reveals that it's no so simple any more. The "town and country" divide has given way to "city and suburb," and business that once clustered together -- like schools of fish, for protection and cooperation -- are now all but swallowed by a handful of sharks.

This presentation may perhaps be overly grim and biased, but the essence of it is true. In days past, every town had a down, and it was sought-after space, since it amounted to loads of free advertising. You walked from shop to shop, and if you were heading from Shop A to Shop Z, you'd have to pass B, C, and all the rest to get there. Two-level building was also the norm, the stereotype being the owner-proprietors living upstairs and working below.

This, though, this is the era of the all-in-wonder supermarket. "Downtown" is confined to the lands of skyscrapers in large, six-through-eight figure population center large, and single local business and nationwide franchises have fallen to big-box retailers. It's a color, a logo, a generation-spanning ad campaign.

Rock beats scissors, Home Depot defeats Ace hardware, Walgreen's and Safeway put paid to grocers and drugstores alike, and of course, there's the big blue giant with a smile on its face.

I think the real reasons for this are SUV's and air conditioning.

(that's half-sarcastic, but half-serious, too. You'll get it if you think for a moment.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

As you problably inferred, I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this.

You probably see why I haven’t done very well at academia in – well, my whole life, actually. Updating this thing in some aspects became like another homework assignment, and took on the same pattern: once you’ve missed it, then it builds upon itself, and I want to make up for all the ground I’ve lost, and then some. I’ve got 32,768 things to write about, and only one space.

When I reflect on a lot of things, I find songs coming to my head. This one is an old White Zombie song, if you can believe that, that I listened to in high school. One little trademark of the band was to have a random little introduction to each song, just a voice, a quotable that didn’t have much to do with anything. In “Supercharger Heaven,” a deep, accented man’s voice says, “Perhaps we’d better start from the beginning.”


I started this weblog over two years ago, which seems like both just yesterday and forever ago. As I get older, I thought time would seem shorter. Instead, it just loses track of itself. I can think back to a certain point in the past, and when I focus on it, it seems like it's just happened. Then I think, "holy crap, that was a decade ago," and I feel old.

But when I started this, I was definitely in a "different place in my life," whatever that is worth. I certainly hadn't started cycling, which is probably the single biggest difference, biggest directed change, anyway, that I've made in my life. It's not "just" a hobby, which is all the more reason I feel up in the air with life, along with the same feeling about the bike.

So what gives?

I'm going to tell you, in a roundabout way, on one condition: that I never, ever hear the word "Emo" again. It's fucking done, all right?

"Tossing and Tortured 'till Dawn" started at about four in the morning. The title is from another song. The band’s called From Autumn to Ashes that struck me at that point -- I'd just picked up the album "The Fiction We Live," and it's mostly full of intense, overdrive-and-growling rock. There's probably a specific name for the genre, but I'm no good with identifying that stuff. Good music, but not something you'd go to sleep to, that's for sure. Then along comes track seven, called "Autumn's Monologue." It's a simple, soft ballad, with a female vocalist and a few basic guitar chords. Where'd that come from? A few tracks later comes the album's eponymous track, a short, male vocalist echo of "Monologue," with slightly different lyrics but “mirrored” lyrics.

Both tracks, and their presence in this otherwise hard as nails album struck me as representative of the duality of life that's forever chasing my mind in circles. And so, when I woke up suddenly at four in the morning, they were the first words on my mind.

When pressed, most doctors seem to agree that "regular aerobic exercise" is good for just about everything that ails you, even those supposedly "mental" illnesses. The concept of psychological "versus" physical problems always confounded me. Isn't the biochemistry of the brain a part of physiology? Don't hormones influence everything we do? But in any case, it's supposed to be as or more effective than commonly prescribed medications for symptoms of depression, for ADHD, and a bucket of other things.

At that point, I didn't do any physical exercise, and my head, oh dear, was a mess. It was once suggested to me (by an anonymous contributor to an online forum, of course) that I failed out of college by riding my bike too much. If only he knew.

Cycling is the purest thing in my life. When I’m riding, there I am. It’s Zen, Taoist, or what have you. Now, as long-time friends may recall, I said once that “I am the anti-zen.”. That’s still true. I googled that phrase, and my own weblog still popped up, below a few other utterances of the quirky, on-the-spot phrase in question by someone called Suburban Lesbian.

I don’t think I’ve read that post in two years. Look out, though, kids: it is the penultimate three-letter word, and I don’t want to hear it.

It’s still me, with one big change: at that point, I’d just bought my road bike, and I certainly couldn’t say I was “actively training” at that point. At that point, I said that, when I woke up, “there is nothing to soften the edges of the razor I walk on.”

If you can get yourself past the cheesiness of that for a moment, I can tell you the difference between then and now. The bike is an escape from madness for a few hours. It brings me a sense of peace that nothing else does, but maybe not in the same way that it does for you, dear reader, if indeed a cyclist you are.

A lot of people say that cycling is, in of itself, a peaceful activity. They enjoy looking at the countryside, the views, the solitude, the calm. Fuck that. That, ladies and gents, is why I’m a climber. Not because my skinny legs can drag me over the mountains faster than they could if they were less skinny, but because mountains hurt.

At that moment, on that climb, there is nothing else. I’m not searching for the passion any more: at that moment, I’ve found it. Cycling gives me peace because it ends the search for that day’s high. When I come back from a hard ride, take a shower and lie down, I don’t move. This is the only time that I actually just rest.

Until the next day, at least.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Watch this space!

2-week sabbatical ends Monday, 18 June.

yes, it is. got in pretty late. off to work, and stuff. I'll kick through some kind of update in the morning...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Thank you post:

I geek out on RBR's forums more than I should, probably, and when I got back I had a glance in the "Racing and Training" forum. I was shocked to find 2 threads about my attempts at NRC racing -- lots of "Good luck" and "Allez!" all around.

Aw, gee, thanks guys and gals. That was really cool.

Also, Hood River is kinda sorta close to Portland, and a big bucket of thanks goes out to my mother, who drove a whole bunch of miles just to stand in the 95-degree heat and pass out a few bottles of gatorade! They were a lifesaver, by the way. Thanks so much.

And, also, thanks to the corps of hardcore, experienced racers who've given me a bunch of encouragement, advice, and most especially perspective on this stuff. Here are acronyms and nicknames! OAD and stoked, Chris (quick, someone must have a nickname for him), Mister O.K., CYCA, JMM, etc.

Finally, one more person needs a whole lot of appreciation, but I'll leave that off of the weblogs, eh?

Pet Peeves of the Day that I Learned at Mt Hood :

* Littering -- what the crap, guys? I know you are all cool and pro racers and stuff, but we have 4 feed zones plus caravan cars, what are you doing throwing your bottles and powerbar wrappers and shit all over the road? As I was soloing the last 25 miles of stage 2, I was shocked at the number of bidons and the volume of trash on the ground. It looked like a baseball game.

* Integrated Headsets -- I have had three experienced, professional mechanics fiddling with the headset on my race bike, and I have personally removed and regreased the thing half a dozen times. It's not very exciting to get out of the saddle up a climb and hear "creak, creakity, creak!" with every pedal stroke. I know that they're cheaper and lighter than the traditional kind, but, seriously. As an aside, one of the mechanics said the problem with many integrated headsets is that they have a 36 degree bearing angle, whereas the Campagnolo-style unit had a a 45-degree bearing, making things seat that much better. Apparently those don't suck so much. I don't know, though, I'm not an engineer...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ouch. So, what now?

Mt Hood is over -- at least for Yours Truly. DNF = Did Not Finish, kids. I could say "that was a hard race," but that's both obvious and irrelevant.

I made it through a couple of hard days, but even though this stage seemed the most exciting to me on paper, the legs didn't have it in them...

PS, Estone (EDIT: not cruzer!) et al, I am not on Facebook...