Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Crit Groupie

I wish I'd started cycling at 15. This week in the ever exciting world of facebook where wonders never cease, I received a friend request that hurtled me back into the volatile hormone land of my adolescence. Back when I was 15, I worked in Kenora for a summer and was very enamoured with a "boy" who loved bikes. He also raced bikes and I didn't know what that really meant at the time except that people told me he was really really good. But he was my first introduction to boys who wore Lycra and shaved their legs and there was nothing weird about this because he was damn cute and had the nicest "eyes" I'd ever seen and the best body a guy can have at 16 and he made me laugh.

And since I know you are reading this, Dean, stop blushing and get back on your bike.

Dean inspired me once to attempt to hop on my 30 pound ten speed and try and ride from my parents cottage North of the Kenora Airport all the way to the Husky station near the harbour front of Kenora (I'll estimate this to be 20 km) just to pick up my pay cheque, and, truth be told, to see him. Problem was that back in 1986, the road to the airport (which was the start of the pavement to the town) was made of lose gravel and I didn't have a clue about changing gears so I probably rode single speed my entire teenage life regardless of the impressive number of gears a 10 speed had (for the 1980s). I made it as far as what would now be the Kenora bypass (or about 2 km) before giving up and turning back. Not a small feat on a bike of that nature. There is a 14% gradient on that section of road.

I was pretty good on that 10 speed. I used to ride it to school with my trumpet case on top of the handle bars and my school bag on one shoulder and steer with one hand. When I didn't have to bring the trumpet, I rode no hands the whole way to school. I used to go out biking with my friends and ride up and down the bike paths behind the swimming pool and the big Superstore near my house. I had my first and (hopefully only) bike crash on that bike. I came hurtling down the bike path and somehow took a curve too wide coming off a bridge and went flying into the brush down a path to the edge of the Seine River. So it wasn't really a road crash, it was a pseudo mountain bike crash -- slash -- cyclocross crash -- except it was neither because I was on a skinny-tired ten speed and I was 12 and mountain bikes were barely invented in 1983 if they even existed at all (its cousin, the BMX did, though), and no one wore helmets so I wasn't wearing one in that crash which might explain some of my recent moments of utter stupidity.

Tonight I went to watch my friend Andrea race in a Criterium bike race at the park. I had thought that maybe one day I might consider trying that type of bike racing but all I can say to that now, to save you the suspense, is NO BLOODY WAY. It is fast, and there is tight cornering and I was misled to believe that the first 20 minutes of the race before the final two laps was "slow" and it is, if you consider 36 km/hr slow. I would get killed. But Andrea did awesome and she inspires me. She came in 4th out of a field of 12 riders in her Cat 5 race and she stayed with the lead pack the whole way while I empathized with the two riders who got dropped early and were lapped a couple times because I knew that would have been me.

On the advice of another cycling friend, Jason, who was there because his son was also racing the Category 5 race with Andrea, I stuck around and watched the Cat 4 and Cat 3 races and got to see one of my triathlon teammates Marc, take the Cat 3 race and win both the mid race "Primes" which are kinda like mid race sprints and there are prizes involved. I don't know if I can even begin to describe a Crit race except that it is fast pack riding with lots of sprinting and is full of head games. I wormed my way over to where the timers stood during the Cat 4 and Cat 3 races and started asking questions of the timers (between laps). I felt like the bat boy for the big team getting my only shot to hang out with the pros. I had a gazillion questions and I only got out about one tenth of what I wanted to ask. But the timers and the lap counters had to read every racer's number at each lap and write them down and record a lap time and I didn't want to be a pest.

Except I really really wanted to be a pest. Just not as pesty as the idiot people who kept wandering onto the race road without any regard for the fact that there were 10 riders doing 50 km per hour or higher.

And I know, without question, that I am not ready for a crit race. I'm training for a half ironman which means I've done nothing involving speed for the last 3 months or so. And while I'm posting faster bike split times than ever in the duathlons and the triathlon I did recently, I have no extra speed above and beyond. I feel like I get killed on road sprints. But then again, I am probably more built to wear the polka dot jersey for climbing than the green jersey for sprinting. I had a conversation with one of my fellow early morning riders just today. He told me that when he dies on the sprint it is because his legs give out. For me it is the opposite. My legs are happy and fine, it is my entire cardiovascular system that is failing me. 

Not to mention the fact that I have only emerging bike handling skills. I spent last evening practicing cornering and mounting and dismounting. While I used to be able to ride hands free for blocks, now I can barely take one hand (my right) off the handle bars. I blame this on my 16 pound bike (shucks!). No stability. I rode home with the coach of the evening from my triathlon club last night and he was teaching me bump and touch drills (brush hands, elbows, one hand on another rider's shoulder) the whole way back. As he inched closer to me with the intention that I was supposed to let him brush up against me while I was riding, I instead squirmed further away not allowing him to get close. I felt like a teenage girl out on my first date and the guy's hand was creeping further and further up my shirt. My instinct was to move away from this strange new experience.

Except.... wellll.... you know....

And I don't want to play head games on a bike. I want to get on my bike to forget about head games because I appear to be losing all the real life ones that are being thrown at me. Life is kicking me enough in the ass right now. I want to ride fast and long and strong and I want to climb. I don't have the self-confidence at this moment to risk the possible humiliation of a crit. Maybe next year. I'm not bad for a girl on a bike who only came back to the game after a 20-odd year hiatus (with the occasional relapse) just 2 years ago. And, yes, I now at least know how to switch gears. But I have a lot to learn still.

Friday, June 11, 2010

On Being a Bike Snob

I've been reading the Bike Snob NYC's illustrious book this week, Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling. I thought about writing a review of the book but I don't much care for book reviews as, in my opinion, they tend to do one of two things: 1) Gush about the book in an annoying way, or 2) Deliver nothing but negativity about the book and tell me how it imitates every other book out there and how completely unoriginal it is.

The Bike Snob, for all you non-biking-types out there is a pop cycling "culture" blogger who has been going strong with his week-daily blog since sometime in 2007. The other thing you need to know about The Bike Snob is that until this March, he wrote his blog anonymously. Then his publishing contract thrust him out in the sunlight to fizzle up and fry like any blood-sucking vampire (he talks about the double life of "vampire" cyclists in his book -- p. 50, complete with diagram).

Now my introduction to the Bike Snob occurred almost exactly two years ago in a casual conversation with my friend Colin at work. We were having a conversation about particular people we knew who were riding in a particular charity ride that I've mentioned before in this very forum. We were talking about how those particular-individual(s)-that-we-know-and-love like to race this charity ride. Colin suggested I check out this blog by this "New York City Bike Snob" guy who wrote this "hilarious" blog post making fun of guys who race charity rides. Well, I checked it out and it was as hilarious as he said and the rest is history.

(Now as an aside I must tell you that the link I direct you to is the post that I think Colin was referring to. It isn't really making fun of the guys who race charity rides, it is actually making fun of all the non-cyclists who call charity rides races. Which means, really, that just Colin and I were making fun of our friends who race charity rides.)

Except now, of course, for fear of being called a hypocrite, I have to acknowledge that I too have been sucked into the racing of charity rides. Guilty as charged. But, in my defence, during my conversation with Colin, I was a baby cyclist (still AM , really). I didn't KNOW at the time that I could turn into one of THOSE.

Now I haven't followed the Bike Snob religiously for two years. I've just poked my nose into his blog once and a while. I tend to gravitate towards writing that connects the soul of the person writing it to content, which, of course, if you are trying to stay anonymous, you can't really inject yourself and who you are in what you are writing. He has a few shticks: his ubiquitous love of the "quotation mark" (as well as bracketed items, which is kind of the one stylistic thing we have in common), his continual political incorrectness, his disdain for the fixed gear rider (especially the brake-less fixed gear rider) and hipsters, and his string of lists that play the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other game.

Given that I know that publishing a book, unless you are Stephen King or Dan Brown or Tom Clancy and have gained a little power, is little more than indentured servitude to the "chain ring" of a publishing editor's wishes and some marketing agent's crystal-ball like prediction of what "the people" want to buy, some of that edginess of the blog is lost in the book. Your market value will grow if the cleanliness factor is increased and the raunch factor is dampened. I know this well because the one agent who LOVED my book that I wrote didn't think she could market it. It fell too much between genres -- too adult for teens and too young for adults. She told me to contact her again if I wrote something "younger." My raunch rating did me in.

One part of The Snob's shtick that survives is the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other game which I illustrate by example as my friend "The Snob" talks about bicycle obsessed riders (of whom all us riders can name a few):

For them it is not about the riding; it's about the bike, and the riding part is simply their way of fondling their possession. They keep their bicycles clean all the time, they fear scratches like they're herpes, and they don't ever ride in the rain (or as they call it, "water herpes") so their bikes won't get dirty or rusty. They're like the people who collect toys but don't remove them from the package so as not to diminish their value, or who swish wine around in their mouths without swallowing it, or who never get around to having actual sex because they're too into sniffing high-heeled shoes while dressed as Darth Vader. These are not cyclists, they're bicycle fetishists. (pp. 46-47)

Anyways, the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other game is that whammy moment that takes you by surprise when the commentary (or in most Snob cases, a list) seems to stray away from the expected direction. It's kind of the pinnacle moment of written comedy. What the hell do high-heeled shoe sniffers have to do people who love their bicycles too much? 

But I do have to say that while I recognize immediately when he uses this shtick on first reading, it is very difficult to go back and find an example because it doesn't take you quite by surprise on a second reading. The connection between the sexual fetish and the bicycle fetish is a little more obvious.  This, of course, coming from a woman who was married to her bike.

But my most favourite part of the whole book is the fact that he talks about himself and who he is and his history as a cyclist. In Chapter 4, he uses the Footsteps in the Sand metaphor to describe his life path as a cyclist, except in it, he is tire treads instead of a second set of footprints. In the original, The Snob presumes that the man (or woman's) footprints disappear when bad things such as "addiction, sickness and sunburn" (See! See! There is "the game" again) happen in one's life. In The Snob's version, the tire treads disappear during all his bad cycling moments in life.

Up until this point, the book has been pretty bland. I missed the unrelenting political incorrectness and show-off-y vocabulary. It is too clean, it's stripped of the raunch factor. But here the book becomes nothing but laugh out loud bike snobbery goodness.

At this point I have to point out that this blog entry has, indeed, started to sound like a review. Shame on me. But I do have to say that when I start these posts I rarely know where I'm going with them until I get there. Kinda like life, I suppose. I thought I was going somewhere else but I've ended up here. So this is where I will end. Where I originally intended to go will come next as I cycle my way back to my original goal.

As always, stay tuned.