Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

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

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Himalayan Blackberry is all over the place in these parts. Public officials classify it as a noxious weed, and with good reason -- the thorny, tangled canes would serve well to imprison any Sleeping Beauty you might like. I daresay they'd work better than roses.

But, for all that, they produce these:

Delicious. Blackberries have always been one of my favorite fruits. Wikipedia even tells me that botanists would call them an "aggregate fruit," instead of a berry, and of course they're really dark purple instead of black. Whatever. Now I have over two gallons of them, and that's just from yesterday. All along the mult-use trails in the Puget Sound area, the only real limit to the number of these you can collect is how long you'd like to spend, and what your tolerance for thorniness is.

Friday, July 27, 2007

P.S. Dopingskandalerne!!!!

Et tu, Soler?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I keep wanting to post something about the Tour de France, but I have no idea what to post. This is just getting silly.

The first Tour de France I ever watched was a VHS of the 1998 tour. It was in 2005, in the spring, and the nascent Portland State cycling club folks thought I should come do a couple of races, so I grabbed this tape to see what bike racing was all about. Of course, race fans will know this was the year of the Festina Scandal, when a massive, systemic doping program was found among the biggest French team in the Tour -- or teams, I'm not quite sure. Either way, about half of the tour quit in disgrace, protest, or both, and the eventual winner was Marco Pantani, over Jan Ullrich of Germany. Pantani, of course, passed away from a drug-related overdose, and Ullrich forcibly retired from cycling after doping scandals caught up with him.

I was confused and stunned, even watching the tape.

New tests, new protocols, and significantly stiffer penalties were instated after that scandal, but, it seems, doping just got swept under the rug, for a while.

I thought last year's tour would've been the Last Straw about doping tolerance: an odd-on prediction for a potential Tour podium would've been Basso, Ullrich, and Vinokourov, and all of those weren't permitted to start the tour because of doping scandals, along with a pile of others. Then, Floyd Landis picked up the pieces and won the Tour in spectacular fashion, only to be disqualified post hoc for doping; he fervently denies the charge, and the verdict of a May hearing on the matter has yet to be released.

Isn't that enough? Isn't it?

I watched what at first looked like the most exciting, wide-open Tour I'd seen. Epic battles, defeat and lazarus-like resurgence, the whole bit. But it didn't last. Now, the only thing of note to dicuss about the Tour is Le Dopage. I'm sick of it. I watched Alexandre Vinokourov win the first time trial in a spectacular comeback fashion, then falter on the next stage. The -next- stage, he triumphs over everyone, takes the victory, and is promptly disqualified for doping.
Denmark's Michael Rasmussen takes a yellow jersey in the Alps that he's never expected to keep, defends it in the time trial, resoundingly defeats all comers in the Pyrenees, and is promptly disqualified -- preemptively, by his own team -- for suspicion of doping.

The lead now passes to Alberto Contador, who was banned from last year's tour for suspicion of doping. For lack of evidence, that case evanesced away, for the moment.

What next?

What is this?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

All right, you guys win.

Just stop being fucking right, okay? I'm going to concede two points right now:

First of all, overtraining. I didn't really believe that this existed; sure, being tired, getting a day worth of rest, fine, but I tried to blame my poor performance on a bunch of things besides just having fallen off a cliff of overtraining. Well, let me revise, I've heard it said recently that "there's no such thing as overtraining, only underrecovery." I think that sounds right. The net result is, I had a very, very light week of riding last week, and I finally feel that I've crossed the chasm. A little bit of the snap is gone from the legs, but a week isn't long enough to lose more than that, I hope. I felt like I had slugs in my veins for weeks and I kept trying to do the classically stupid cyclist response, which is, "I am riding slowly. I must train harder." Then, I would go out and train harder, only I couldn't really train hard because of the slugs, so I just rode myself into the ground and got more tired.

Good plan, eh? Working on your feet, throwing boxes around and stuff, all night, then going for a bike ride, coming home, taking a nap, and riding for a few hours, then taking another nap, then going back to work and doing it all over again, it seems isn't quite the right answer when I get 4 or 5 fitful hours of sleep in a day. I've got my schedule a bit more sorted now. If I can make myself "waste time" by sleeping more, then I might avoid doing the Same Stupid Thing all over again.

Next up is helmets. Now, I -almost- always wear my helmet, but I've been a No Big Deal helmet guy before. See, I figured the chances that a helmet would prevent my sudden demise were pretty minimal, and I still recognize that a Sudden Impact with a car or telephone pole at thirty miles an hour would be game over, styrofoam hat or not. But, I think it would've prevented Fatty's friend Kenny from getting his head split open. Hey, I mean it, though, don't look at the link if you don't feel like seeing a split-open head. I think my hair would probably give me DR 1, but the No.6 would probably be worth another 3 or 4. I'd really rather not have the 1d+1 end up 7 without it.

Points if you understood that.

The point, though, is that I'm going to keep on wearing mine. And I will promise that I will at least continue the hunt for another Bell Sweep at a steal of a deal.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Update error -- eh?

I can't seem to see my last coupla posts.
Tour de France: SPOLIER ALERT

Today's demolition derby Time Trial showed everyone a lesson in how to crash on wet roads. It didn't seem like anyone got seriously hurt, but I'm under the impression that someone oil-slicked a few of the corners, just for sport. Either that, or maybe ripped-up skinsuits are just the fashion these days, I'm not sure. World time trial champ Fabian Cancellara crashed early, nixing his hopes of taking a fourth stage. I guess you can't be too greedy! Two days ago he got pipped at the line by Robbie Hunter, so it looks like he'll be stuck on three for a while. Astana and Discovery channel dominated the top-10, with CSC noticably absent from the top of the leaderboard.

After Cancellara's crash, he didn't continue at full gas, leaving Carlos Sastre as their top finisher in 26th!

Astana's Ripped Jersey party included Andrey Kashechkin and Andreas Klöden, both of whom crashed but continued their hard efforts. For Disco, Vladimir Guzev looked to be on a good ride before belly-sliding on the asphalt, and, for good measure, Yaroslav Popovych crashed near the end of his otherwise good ride. I think he wanted the ripped skinsuit effect, too. Who DIDN'T crash is Michael Rasmussen, who seems to have gotten that out of his system two years ago.
But I got pretty bike geeky watching everybody's fancy equipment crashing all over the place. Here's what I noticed:
  • Astana's BMC Time Machines are the coolest-named TT bike in the peloton. The Kazakh contenders, Vino and Kasheckin, sported some spiffy blue and yellow disc-and-trispoke wheels that just looked cool.
  • Klöden, though, had black wheels, and he used a spoked front wheel instead of a trispoke.
  • Also, Klöden didn't have the whacky time trial crankset that I've seen on Astana's bike's before, but the Kazakh riders did.
  • Both of the Rabobank riders on camera, Denis Mencov and Rasmussen, elected to use shallow-profile front wheels, I think the custom dura-ace ones we've seen on previous stages. Everything I read about time trials suggests that front wheel aerodynamics are pretty important, but I can only assume that they figured the shallow wheel would aid control on the touchy course, and as far as I know, neither crashed.
  • Rasmussen didn't use shoe covers, which have become de rigeur in time trials, and are supposed to be worth at least a handful of seconds. In the biggest bike race in the world, I wonder what prompted that call?
  • Moreau's weak time trial performance blew him out of the water. He also did that "this is not a time trial bike" handlebar setup, with no shifters on the extension, and, instead, normal Campy ergopower levers, flipped down, on the outer wings of the bars. What, can Moreau not operate barends?

Shock of the Race was Rasmussen catching Alejandro Valverde for three minutes. Considering that "El Imbatido" was considered one of the pre-race favorites for the overall, what happened there? I didn't see a crash, and he just sucked it at every checkpoint. Forty-seventh?

What now?

Rasmussen hangs onto yellow by a minute exactly, with Cadel Evans breathing down his neck. With two more mountaintop finishes to go, Razzy had better, drop evans, or else he's going to lose that minute and more in the last TT. He should be able to hold off Contador for the 2:30 he's got now, since the two were separated by only 37 seconds today.

And, of course, the big question, how friggin' crazy is Vino going to go to make up those five minutes?

This is going to be interesting.

Friday, July 20, 2007

You all remember how I've been complaining about my headset being impossible to adjust, ja?

Well, I sorted out the problem. More accurately, Chris at Sunset Cycles in Beaverton / Portland sorted it out. The solution makes me pretty frustrated, because it means that the south-sound area bike shop I'd come to like is a total screwup. Lame! There needs to be something like the ASE for bicycle mechanics.

Here's how it worked: I needed to swap out the heavy fork that came on my pre-production bike, since the nice full-carbon ones weren't available when the frame came out. So, since I had no idea how to do a swap like that, nor did I have the appropriate crown-race removal and installation tools, I took it to my LBS to get it taken care of. I left it there for the day, came back, and it was "done."

It seemed like it worked okay, but after a few hundred miles, it started squeaking and creaking some while out of the saddle. I tightened the headset down, and it shut up, but it came back in another few weeks or so. I took it back to the shop, he examined and adjusted it, re-greased the bearings, and it was better again, but I was always fighting with it. Recently, it got worse, and no amount of headset regreasing could solve it. So, after the 200-mile ride to Portland made the creaking unbearable, I took it to a shop near my father's place where I was staying -- Sunset Cycles.

It takes Chris all of twenty minutes to solve the problem. "Hey, dude. Did you get this fork off of another bike?"

"Uh, yeah, it was on my old bike..."

"Well, see, you've got two crown races on here."

Oh, I SEE.

When LBS Number One, whose name I shan't name at the moment, swapped forks, they didn't take off the old crown race, they just slammed the new one down atop it. Furthermore, from the scoring on the fork and race, LBS#1 used a screwdriver and hammer to remove / attempt to remove both races, not the proper crown race removal tool. I guess that tool is expensive, and the shop didn't have it. "It looks like this compression plug was installed with a BFH, too."

That would be Big Fucking Hammer.

Now I need a New Headset. Not a huge expense, but an annoying one, and a delay. But the biggest pain, of course, is that I am pretty angry at LBS#1 for doing a bunch of shoddy work, not being able to actually fix a problem, but just covering it up. They're either very incompetent, or just shady.

Either way, it's no good.

Friday, July 13, 2007

That's more like it: Today was a beautiful July day in Seattle. This stuff reminds me of why I love the Pacific Northwest, as much as the two preceding days reminded me of the very same thing. The day starts out with a light cloud cover, allowing my morning recovery ride to be cool, relaxing, and glare-free. Mister Sun eventually burns those away, but not before being lulled into passivity, only bringing up the heat to about 80. Then, I can head out to Seward Park, be just a bit too warm on the trip out, and perfectly comfortable again on the way back. Excellent.

I'm likewise relieved to read that the 300-odd-km I'll be riding on Saturday won't be in triple-digit weather.

In other news, I just ate 4 ice cream sandwiches, and a bag of skittles. I'm not normally about the ice creamy stuff, but these ones had cookies n' cream instead of vanilla, which is a plus, and my overly sensitive stomach was bothering me and normal dinner didn't really seem like a possibility. So, leave it to me to "settle my stomach" thus. But it seems to have worked.

VARSITY UPDATE: 150 miles so far. The front shifting is a ton and a half better with the Sora front derailleur. It's quick and snappy, and since the shifter is friction and there are only two chainrings from which to choose, as long as the limit screws do their thing, there's not much to go wrong. I can't say as much for the rear D, though, and really just have to presume that I'll never get it to -stop- making noise in nearly every gear. Likewise, out of the 7 cogs, I can only use 4 or 5 at any given time -- the cross-chain gear is out, and one or two get skipped. Maybe it'll break, and then I can upgrade the rear to Sora, too!

PruDog, you need to turn on the History Channel pronto: they're showing the History of Sunglasses (okay, among other things). I must say, the optics of these unnamed glasses are the spiffiest I've tried. They are definitely going to become my top off-the-bike sunnies, since I don't think I'm hipster enough to pull off the Raptors in a t-shirt. The Raptors have that all-important full-eye shielding goggle effect, though, which is nice. Is it impossible to do a photochromatic + polarization lens?

Fiction warning: if you read something on here in the near future that doesn't make any sense whatsoever, that's probably what it is.

TOUR DE FRANCE: That was a really nifty stage. Watch for the bit in the finale, when THIS ONE GUY and THIS OTHER GUY run it straight off the road. I fully expect a Jan Ullrich style into-the-ditch manoeuvre, but, no, both of them somehow brake / unclip / turn all at once, stay upright, and go straight on racing. That's some serious bike handling. I feel pretty sorry for THIS THIRD DUDE and A FOURTH, who crashed pretty hard at inopportune times. One more stage of boredom, and then the real racing starts. On the plus side, I'm getting those stages DVR'd by the 'rents, and I can watch them when I'm back in ptown on a nice plasma TV instead of my little monitor.

I should take my digital camera on rides more, so I have something to break up this monotony.



First comes from Dave Zabriskie, in an interview in Procycling: "I think everyone has a switch. A switch of anger. I don't think you can be happy and win."

Second, from Christian-not-Christopher, about my skinny bike racer arms: "You couldn't kick your own ass in a barfight."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Personal to a bunch of people:

Stoked - I'm not exactly sure what city in ory-gun you were in this week, but was it triple-digit degrees? I hear it was a vicious one.

Kman - and I think I spend too much time blogging. Do you HTML at 173 WPM? How's the heart-crazy-machine?

PruDog - Hey thanks, I got to ride home with 2 pairs of shades on my head, which looked pretty nifty. No logo's, all stealth-proto-like.

My DBR - Stop creaking, I mean it.

JNSP - The red works.

Josh - I ought to add you in here. The lemonade stand thing made me laugh. There aren't any lemons 'round these Seattle parts, though, so it's always coolaid stands. Fortunately, there are like, cherry and berry stands, but, those don't work so well on the bike. But SRSLY, lemonade stands with CLIF bars? Woah.
Tour de France (spoiler warning &c):

(Lack of) Speed Racers :

Sign me up for the Tour de France! I can hang! Well, maybe not all the way to Paris, or even over the first mountain, for that matter. But for today, I can do it. With about half the stage done, the peloton is averaging just on 30 kilometers per hour, or some 19 miles an hour. I can do that! There's a zillion and one factors that could affect this, of course, like the fact that the pack's speed is influenced by the speed of the break, since the field doesn't want to catch them too early, and today's break is only two riders. I have to ask, though, could we be seeing signs of the more pro-active fight against le dopage? Yesterday's average was 44.2 km / hr, and stage 1 rolled off at 43.65. Compare that to two years ago, when the first three road stages were 47, 46.2, and 48.6 kilometers per hour.

Again, there are hundreds of things that influence the average speed, and the peloton could end its social hour here at any moment. But the point is that they want this social hour, even in a race as big as the Tour de France. When I've heard those on the inside talk about the suble effects of doping on cycling, they don't speak so much of individual superhuman performances, but the uptick in the relentless average speeds of the peloton, day in, day out. 200 kilometers per day rolled off in just over four hours, over and over and over. However fit these guys are, that has to take its toll on you!
Has the tide turned? //

"Le Course en Tete," leading from the front, whatever you want to call it, Mister Cancellara, that took guts and power. Bravo! It made the finale to one of the interminable flat stages exciting to watch, and I predict lots of useless attacks off the front at the ends of amateur races in the weeks to come in attempted emulation.

On a personal note, it looks like the Cascade Classic isn't going to work out, so I'm going to ride on down to Portland with something like 10,000 other cyclists on Saturday, July 14th. I've already got the week off of work, so I'll probably stay down for a few days. Every time I go to Portland, I think of The Decemberists' recent song "Yankee Bayonet," and the chorus lyric, "I will be home then..."


Monday, July 09, 2007

Varsity 2.24 update -

It broke!

Well, I fixed it.

125 miles to date on the varsity. Last week, I'm JRA, and I shift to the small ring before a hill. The bike makes a horrible grinding noise, and I stop to figure out what all the racket is about. It sounds like the chain rubbing the derailleur, only a lot worse. I realize that it's the actual derailleur cage, scraping along the big chainring.

Upon further examination of the front derailleur, the thing is not worth 5 cents. You know how the Varsity sports a "shimano drivetrain?" Well, the shifters and rear derailleur (only) are Shimano. The front derailleur is labelled "FALCON." It's made entirely of cheap stamped steel, held together by pop rivets, I think they are called. The black one you see. It didn't fully BREAK, but it worked its way loose enough to scrape along like I mentioned. You can see the PAINT off of the non-stainless steel rubbed off where stuff like that happened. Since it was a rivet, not a screw, I was SOL. Part broken. Also note the cheap, garbage mounting bolts.

I actually had to buy this Sora front derailleur from the used parts bin at an LBS. Cost me $4.50. I am shocked to say that a front derailleur alters the shifting a lot, but it does. Maybe it is because I carefully placed and adjusted it, maybe it is because the cage flexes less as the chain takes it up, but it's much quicker now. I might look and see if they have the matching rear derailleur, and if it would fit.

But, the coolest part of this is that I can say that I UPGRADED TO SORA And, hey, if this was a Bikesdirect dot com bike, I could say it was "Sora-Equipped!"

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Le Tour is ON!

Okay, now, wake me when we get to the mountains. These flat stages are about as exciting as watching Phil and Paul narrate paint drying.

More interesting than the stages to me at this point, though, are the commercials. Say what? Well, I've got the Tour in the background, and I hear a kinda familiar accent talking about a really fast bike. Afirst I think they've got some kind of interview going on, but then the guy says, "I am Tom Boonen, and I am Specialized." It's a Specialized commercial. There's another one featuring World / Olympic / Italian champ Paolo Bettini, and some Cervelo commercials featuring Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O'Grady. I think I heard some other commercials for cycling-type products, too.

Why is this interesting? You target television commercials towards the audiences likely to be watching those programs, right? Well, that's the idea, but I watched the tour in 2005 and 2006 on Versus (nee OLN), and all I saw was that "Saab, born from jets*, (production of saab aircraft and vehicles are no longer related)" crap. Two years of tour viewing, not one bicycle commerical. I mean, you'd think with carbon-fiber repli-racers costing as much as a cheap car, you'd think you'd want to target some advertising in the direction of the one per cent of the population that might actually drop the scratch for one. Of all television programs that potential expensive-bicycle buyers are likely to be watching, I mean, come on. What's the one program they are all likely to watch? Tour. De. France.

Heck, I even tried to stream the thing on RAI.IT, and it blocks me out. I guess I have to be in Italia...

Speaking of the Tour, I wanted to talk about something I noticed about climbers, sprinters, and victory salutes. When you win race, it's become tradition to celebrate your victory with a little show. Auto racers do big burnous and donuts, and bike racers take their hands off the bars and salute. Sprinters tend to get a lot of practice doing this, check out some pictures I nabbed from Alessandro Petacchi, who'd be fighting it out right now in the tour if he hadn't huffed down too many asthma meds:

Most sprinter salutes look like this: arms in the air, eyes forward, palms outward or fists clenched. You can usually see the adrenaline pumping through them; they look intense, angry, sometimes elated.

Here's Danilo Napolitano:

When you see climbers win races, though, it's entirely different. They look like they're coming out of a trance. They look to the heavens, they cover their faces with their hands. They drop their arms loosely to the side, or they spread them, palms down, like wings. Alejandro Valverde's now-famous beating of Lance Armstrong in 2005. I hadn't heard of this guy when I watched the Tour for the first time, and I was all set for big Tex to take 'em all down. No dice:

And, last year, Polka-Dot Rasmussen

Bike racing -- especially in the Grand Tours -- is unique in the way it caters to different types of athlete, different body types and talents, and tosses them all into the same race, even if they are competing for different prizes. It'd be like taking a race track and putting Top Fuel dragsters alongside NASCAR stock cars against Formula One cars. It's funny that the way that victory is celebrated is as distinct as the way they ride.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Some Unrelated Things

Okay, chemistry question for the day: I have a little travel toiletries bag for all my bike race journeying, with little plastic squeeze bottles for soap, shampoo, et cetera. Well, I thought I'd save space by pouring some shampoo and some conditioner into the same bottle. Shampoo, of course, is a fairly viscous liquid, and conditioner is more like a thin grease. So, I didn't quite expect the solvent-type reaction that the two would have with one another. When I got to the hotel, the bottle's contents were a thin liquid, about the consistency of milk. What just happened?

Why in the world does broccoli get a bad rap? I mean, this stuff has to be one of my favorite food items. Is it because the only thing you've had is frozen, re-heated, and boiled to a limp pulp boroccoli, or what? It should still have just a bit of firmness, and a little butter and lemon pepper goes a long way. Or, mitzithra cheese, which even cheapie italian-like chain the Old Spaghetti Factory has sorted out. When I was younger, my mother makde sure to instill reasonably good table manners in all of us, including not taking too much of any one dish. However, she could never really get too mad at me for taking all of the brocolli, and just resolved to make more next time. I mean, who tells an eight-year-old boy to eat less vegetables, right? But, seriously, the stuff is good.

Confidential to a ride leader: if you are going to publicly list a ride, it would be helpful to know well in advance that the thing is going to end 30 miles from where it starts. Just, you know, a thought... it was a really beautiful ride, nonetheless.

This was also the first Independence Day in recent memory that I fired mortars by placing the tube "on a hard level surface, light fuse, and get away." I usually get pretty sooty from shoulder-firing the things, because they're so much fun! I did manage to mistake one really big mortar for like a fountain or something, and light it on the ground. Bang! The State of Washington did not burn down, however.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Stem swapped, bars rotated, new saddle and post.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Varsity Day 2 --

I spend most of my time in the drops, even climbing, thanks to the traditional-bend handlebars and riser stem. Flipping that over seems like a good idea, though it'll take some extra effort, because I'll have to loosen the shifters to get off the faceplate. It's a 4-bolt stem, surprisingly enough, and it looks like it weighs a ton. Flipping it over might make it a sort of ridiculous drop. I THINK I have a 110mm stem in regular old diameter, and a 1" shim, hiding around here somewhere.

Most of the time has also been in the 42 x 18 gear; I'm comfortable there because that's how my fixie is set up. Plenty of times, as I'm about to go down a slight hill, I'd upshift on my normal road bike, but I don't on the Varsity, because it'd take too much time to make things shift properly. Twice already today I've fouled a shift, making things bang and jam before the bike finally found a gear. Of course, both of those times I was going uphill, out of the saddle. Apparently, shifting at that time is Not Supposed to be Done then. My fancy SRAM-equipped race bike, what with 1-gear jumps, shift ramps, pins, even "open-glide" missing teeth, is too forgiving.

Right now, I'm going up McMurray in Tacoma, another of the plethora of 500-foot-gain climbs I can find, and at the steepest bit I shift down to 42 x 24. Back off a bit, click, then hit the gas again -- okay, that worked. I think. I get back out of the saddle and reflexively cringe, but there's no sudden jump of gears. Okay, then. I crest the hill, cruise through the little neighborhood, and then swing back down the descent to the harbor. Heading down, the Varsity feels a whole lot slower than my race bike, but I'm really not sure if it's the resistance, or the feedback. Steering is slow and predictable; the 25mm tires are cushier than race rubber.

This is the first time I've had the chance to really descend with the Varsity, since my first ride was pretty wet. The brakes aren't spectacular, but in the dry they're okay. I think with some better pads and holders they would be as okay as on most entry-level bikes. I am going to try and dig out my backup mount for my Garmin Edge, as well, since this is one of the only places where average speed might be interesting.

Other notes:

* The saddle that the bike came with is surprisingly not so uncomfortable, though it's heavily padded. From what I can tell, I'm not the most discerning rider in this area, though. One concern I'd have about it's long-term viability is that it's got a bunch of simple foam padding. That'd probably break down pretty quickly, and then things would be bad. Fortunately, saddles are cheap. Or, at least CAN be, holy crap, $240? Anyway, this one feels all cushy and comfy for the first few miles, but doesn't lend itself to performance-style riding. I'm replacing it tonight with a more normal road saddle, for my anatomy's sake.

* Nuts and Bolts and Screws: the bike is full of them. Regular nuts bolts, the kind that take a box wrench, and phillips-head screws. I don't think most actual modern road bikes have anything on them that isn't allen key, except for derailleur limit screws and the like.

* Finally, I just checked out the stem closer, and two things stood out: it is 1 1/8", and it is steel. Tonight I am going to replace it with a zero-rise stem, change out the saddle, and make the bars make a little more sense. Next thing to try is tires.

Ride time: 1:25
Miles : 23
Total miles : 43