Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

It officially feels like fall - mid 50s, damp and overcast. Plus it's Halloween - now you know it's fall. To celebrate and possibly scare ourselves, a mountain bike ride was in order. I've been off the bike for two weeks, my longest break in at least a year. Forced hiatus due to seemingly endless cold symptoms, work and family festivities, plus a few other excuses. I was riding today no matter what - and so I did.

Well, we did - Ian and I. A nice 'n' easy romp through the local woods. Lots of fallen leaves, tacky wet dirt, occasional spritz of rain, punctuated by the sun peeking through the clouds. Quite refreshing actually. Not bad at all.

Interesting sky and lighting conditions today - as demonstrated over Lake Washington.

Ian in silhouette ponders the view - and the steep climb away from the beach.

For Halloween I dressed up as a pro mountain bike racer. I fooled no one.

Bikes gasp in awe of glowing sunlight off lake. Well, something like that anyway.

Ian rests on comfy log, while bikes mysteriously hold themselves upright. Told you it was Halloween.

Our pumpkin collection on display for neighbors to enjoy and squirrels to gnaw on. Everyone wins.

Ian and Amy's Halloween get ups. Beauty and the beast. See? There's no steroids in baseball.

Post ride steak dinner prepared by lovely wife Lori, followed by neighborhood trick or treating - loads of kids running around with overflowing bags of candy. Over the last 10 years or so, there seems to be a huge increase of kids in our neighborhood. Nothing wrong with that - eh?

As a bonus, an extra hour of sleep tonight by turning the clocks back for daylight savings time - or is that daylight un-savings time? Since starting tomorrow, it'll be dark around 5:00 PM. Time to live like mole people.

Happy fall.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We Might As Well Win

We Might As Well Win - a book by Johan Bruyneel (and Bill Strickland) - I picked this up from the local library. If you're anything of a Tour or Lance fan, or a Bruyneel fan for that matter - worth a read. An inside look at the winning machine behind the Postal and Discovery teams, that propelled Lance to 7 consecutive Tour wins. I don't think we'll see that record broken for quite some time - if ever.

After reading the book, can see how this winning streak was a combo effort, idea wise anyway, between Bruyneel and Lance. The full concentration on only the Tour, the recon rides of the stages, and other strategies that blew up some of the old school thinking of preparing for the Tour. Bruyneel is the most successful Team Director of all time and comes across as a smart guy, driven and full of cycling knowledge and smarts.

Johan Bruyneel was also a pro cyclist himself, before becoming a Team Director. I enjoyed his stories from his own exploits as a rider, as much or more so, then the Lance related stories. Growing up in cycling crazy Belgium, his one Tour stage win, losing his cycling dad and biggest supporter to a heart attack at age 53 (on a ride himself), 5 weeks before seeing his son compete in his first ever Tour, crashing off a 100 foot cliff during a race - and other stories that puts some background to the man.

I thought he skipped over the doping issue of pro cycling a bit - especially the hiring and firing of Ivan Basso for Team Discovery - although it is mentioned. The book was also written before Johan and Lance "came out of retirement" to work with Team Astana in 2009. As we all know, he scored another Tour victory as Team Director with Alberto Contador and Lance finishing in 3rd place. A pretty impressive record - no?

Not a bad read at all. Find a copy and give a read yourself.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Race Across The Sky

A week or two ago, someone in the BBTC email list mentioned a documentary about the Leadville 100 mountain bike race - a one night showing in selected theaters across the U.S. I read plenty of bike related fluff, in print and online, but this was news to me. I clicked on the link and purchased two tickets for the Redmond, Washington location - one for me and the another for son Ian.

In case you live in a cave or know nothing about mountain biking, the Leadville 100 is a well known race in mountain biking circles. Takes place in Leadville, Colorado with an out and back course - 100 miles, lots of climbing, all at altitude. Dave Wiens, ex mountain bike pro, 45 years old and all around nice guy, owns this race - 6 time winner of the event - including beating Floyd Landis in 2007 and somebody named Lance Armstrong in 2008. Reading about nice dude Dave hammering two Tour de France champions was good, clean fun. That ended this year when Lance came back determined to win and set a new course record.

Well, last night was the gig and we attended as planned. Lucky we got there a little early - place was packed. Lots of bike nuts here in the Seattle area, collectively assembled to view Race Across The Sky. A beautiful sight indeed.

Before the movie, a featured rap session with Lance, Dave, Matt Shriver and Travis Brown - hired Trek guns for the race, Ken Chlouber - colorful character behind the Leadville 100, and a moderator - who I can't remember the name of. Interesting and informal questions and chatting about the race. Lance mentioned the Leadville 100 is the reason why he came out of retirement. After racing in 2008, realized how much fun racing is - and since Dave beat him - realized you don't have to win everything. This launched his comeback and return to the Tour as well. Cool insight into the mind of Lance.

With that, the movie begins and away it goes. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Bob Roll narrates the action and does a superb job as usual. Being a mountain bike race, it's more about the average Joe and Jane racers hitting the course and testing themselves. Film does a good job balancing the story of the "stars" and the regular racer stories. Some well done race video action - from following motorcycle and helicopter. Cross country mountain bike racing doesn't get the media attention it deserves and this documentary helps put it out there. Sometimes the music was a tad over dramatic - but still good. Being old school XC geek, I dug the whole thing. Man, that area of Colorado is spectacular scenery wise.

As you probably know by now, Lance did win and crushed the course record. Dave Wiens finished 10 minutes back in second place, but is far from being the "loser". I've read about Dave numerous times, but the film shows you what he seems to be - an incredibly down to earth, normal, super nice guy. You can see he truly loves this event and the people surrounding the race love him. Inspiring stuff. Plus, racing at this level at 45 years old is amazing.

A few other highlights of the film include the full on hammer session at the beginning of the race - the Lance factor and a bit of road race strategy. A lot was made of this in the bicycle media as somehow not being fair, since "teammates" were hired to help Lance. While this may be true to an extent, it is fair, and Dave Wiens later said it didn't really affect the outcome. Lance won fair and square. Check out Dave's article in the latest issue of Mountain Flyer for an example.

Watching Lance screw up a flat tire fix a few miles from the finish was amusing. Where's the team car? Sorry, this ain't the Tour. Lance powered 7 miles to the finish on a flat rear tire, the ending to a 60 mile solo breakaway. Before the flat, the shots of Lance powering on his own - he was styling on the black and white Trek Fuel, with matching black and white Mellow Johnny's jersey. The dude is a rock star.

Other interesting scenes are all the "normal" racers suffering through the race - up the climbs, through the rain and hail. Dave Wiens thanking the course support people at the turn around - a class act. Watching Ken Chlouber stopping racers from continuing after they missed the 4 hour cut off point mid-course. Emotional stuff.

After the film, back to the rap session with Lance and the others. Lance making fun of himself with the inability to fix his own flat. He comes across as relaxed and funny - very different from the Tour related quick video interviews you see during the Tour coverage. Very cool. Still, my hero out of all this is Dave Wiens - you just can't help but to like the guy.

Anyway, I'm not spilling all the details - watch it for yourself when you can - on DVD or the encore showing, which is scheduled for November 12th. If you're any kind of mountain bike or Lance fan - you'll be glad you did.

On the way home, 10 year old son Ian said he enjoyed it as well. "It makes me want to race my mountain bike" - his final comment about the movie.

Yeah - me too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cool Bike Hauler

How's this for a cool bike hauler? Being an old air cooled VW fan - think this looks killer. Having a restored van like this to haul bikes around - perhaps with a modified motor, maybe 1835cc with dual Weber carbs, exhaust system, etc - would be styling for sure.

This VW is a rolling advertisement for Vermac USA, the cycling clothes folks. Photo courtesy of Interbike coverage off the Speedgoat blog.

Speedgoat is a fairly well known shop in Pennsylvania with a large Internet and mail order presence. Their site and blog are worth checking out. Take a gander and see if you agree.

Long live old Volkswagens.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quick Release Patrol

I seem to be designated as the "Quick Release Patrol" of the Burke-Gilman Trail. This very used trail is a popular bike commute route into Seattle used by many - me included. Being Bike Geek and former Bike Shop Rat, I can't help but to check out every bike that I pass heading to work and home. A quick glance of the make, model, check out the rider, etc. I'm sick that way.

Occasionally, or more often then you would think - I pass someone with the quick release incorrectly holding the front wheel in place - tightened like a cork screw, lever poking out at the wrong angle. Not to stereotype, but 99.9% of the time it's a woman riding a lower end road bike, hybrid or mountain bike. Usually dressed in street clothes and using the bike as basic transportation. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. We could use, uh - maybe a few thousand more folk doing just the same thing.

Many times as I cruise past, I'll mention the quick release and how they could lose their front wheel. Usually this is followed by the woman quickly pulling off the trail and me showing them how to correctly use the quick release. I think some get this 30 second demo and others don't.

In any case, I feel better seeing them ride off with the wheel now securely in place. Having nice people like this arrive at work or home sporting road rash (or worse) from losing a front wheel - not cool at all.

Not often, but it happens - I'll spot a guy buzzing along with his quick release screwed up. I remember one guy last year riding a Fuji road bike at a nice clip, with corkscrew style release action in full swing. As I slowly passed him, said something like, "Dude, you're gonna lose your front wheel - quick release is wrong." He snarls back annoyed, "Its fine!!" Okay then, have a nice ride. Wacky enough, I spotted this dude a few mornings in a row to witness it again. Yikes.

On some of the bikes I've checked, the quick release was barely tightened corkscrew style - scary. Others are so tight, but wrong, probably pretty safe anyway. All modern forks have safety tabs now, sometimes called "Lawyers Lips", that keep the wheel in place despite a loose quick release (you hope). Old school forks were truly quick release, no tabs - wheel pops right out - as intended. The good old days. I've read the number one law suit in the bicycle industry is loosing the front wheel due to incorrect quick release use. I don't doubt that. Maybe I saved a few scrapes and possible lawyer involvement. Who knows.

If I'm late for work or cranking at nice clip - I will blow past some folks, ignoring my duty as "Quick Release Patrol". I'm not a saint or psycho over this. Commuting one morning this week - late - passed a woman as described above. I blew past in a rush to work. She caught up to me however, while I was stopped at a light where the trail cuts through the U District, taking the time to pull off my jacket.

While she sat there waiting for light to change, I tapped her on the shoulder - "Hey, your quick release is on wrong." Sometimes I just can't help myself.

Ride safe.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tolt McDonald Park

Number 1 son Ian and I took a trip to Tolt McDonald Park today, while mom and number 1 daughter Amy hit Nordstrom for new shoes. I'll take the woods over the mall every time. When it comes down to it, I'd probably take a root canal over the mall.

We've never ridden at Tolt McDonald, though we've talked about checking it out. Super nice fall day, so we loaded up and headed towards Carnation. After our usual late start and Mexican food lunch to fuel up, rolled into the park late in the afternoon. Plan was to just explore a bit and check out the trails.

That's exactly what we did.......

As we rolled into the woods, after a fairly steep climb, another father and son riding combo was heading out. I asked them for some trail pointers and they handed over their map. Nice. It helped a bit, but since none of the trails are marked, just gives you a general sense of direction by following the main trails - named "roads" on the map.

In-between the main trails are a pinball maze of singletrack, some of it pretty technical. It would take awhile to learn this maze to put together a ride that flowed. Since we had no idea, just hit trails as we saw them - occasionally popping back out on a main road. The singletrack maze area is fairly flat, full of rooted out trails, log crossings and other fun sections. A few small wooden bridges here and there to cross muddy areas - though today everything was totally dry. We ran into a few other riders as well, this place seems to be pretty popular.

After an hour or so of singletrack cruising, including one longer, straight fast section - full of horse crap (why this is considered okay, is beyond me) - the sun was getting low in the sky. Time to head back. Even with the semi-useful map, we're lost. We ride around a bit, backtracking some. I crash twice at low speed, banging my knee in the handlebar and hurting my wrist as well. Minor stuff, no big deal. We run into some guy walking dogs and he gives us the info needed to head out of the woods. On the way out, I confirm our correct exit with some fellow mountain bike riders. One lends me a 6mm allen wrench to straighten out my crash twisted saddle. Thanks.

After some exploring of the campground and Tolt River, we're back at the car in no time. We need to hit this place again - next time earlier in the day. The singletrack maze is worth riding again. This 575 acre park is plenty big enough to have a good time, especially with a 10 year old involved. Mental note to keep this place in mind for an easy summer getaway. Rent a yurt, play by the river, ride bikes, cook outside, etc. Cheap fun and only 45 minutes from the house.

A few pictures from the day.....

The Tolt River cuts right through the park. Pretty scenic, eh?

Look close to see salmon. There were quite a few to witness swimming upstream or spawning in this section of the river. Welcome to the Pacific Northwest.

Washed up salmon eggs and pieces of salmon. Spawning is a tough business.

Suspension bridge crosses the Tolt River and leads to the maze of singletrack.

We stop mid-span to watch salmon and take in the view. There are worse ways to spend a sunny afternoon - no?

Here kitty kitty.....

Ian keeps an eye out for cougars, while my Cannondale cowers against nearby log.

Coast is clear of large felines. We plow ahead. Actually seeing a cougar would be a one in a million shot - and memorable. And hopefully harmless.....

Evil tree spotted on singletrack section - where I crashed twice. I'm blaming the tree.

World Cup downhill action - or Ian headed back to the car? You decide.

Further proof as to why my modeling career never took off.

Official support vehicle - complete with cracked windshield and clacking CV joints - loaded for trip home.

Ride over, Tolt McDonald adventure complete. We'll be back for further exploration - no doubt. Thanks for reading. Now go out and do your own little adventure.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

You Got Me Going On This

I commute to work via bike most days, though some days I must drive - like today. After work, heading to my car - parked a few blocks away for cheaper parking - spotted a coworker, Rory, who I haven't seen in months, stopped at a red light, headed in the opposite direction. She was riding a nice Cannondale, outfitted in bike clothes, looking like the experienced commuter. Awesome.

When the light turned green, I blurted out "And I'm driving today" pointing to her. She smiles as she takes off and yells "You got me going on this!!", then heads down the busy street like pro commuter.

"You got me going on this." Wow, that hit me as a big compliment and put a smile on my face. I was grinning all the way to my car. I recruited Rory for the corporate commuter challenge a few times, and she was on my team last May. I answered some bike questions and provided some advice as well. Now she appears to be the full-on bike commuter. That's pretty damn cool.

Over the years, I've always been "Bike Guy" at every place I've worked. I've put together social rides, formed teams for various events, provided info, loan out magazines, yapped about bikes, took people mountain biking, etc. I'm not trying to be "Mr. Know it All", I just honestly enjoy getting people out there.

At some work places, I wasn't the only "Bike Guy" - but will take some credit for creating new "Bike Guys" and "Bike Girls". A year or so ago, another coworker, Jay, was interested in bikes. Same deal, I answered a few questions, gave some advice and now a year later, Jay is 60+ pounds lighter and is just plain bike loopy - along with his significant other, Jamie. They've since become the commuting couple and now own multiple bikes each. Just thinking maybe I played a part in this, I find super cool. I have a few other examples where I could be suspect in getting people started on their own two wheeled adventure - but won't bore you with more details.

I'm not looking for a medal, but I get a big kick out of seeing people get psyched on riding. It can truly be a life changing event - sounds corny, but true. People who are hooked on this know what I speak. I think Rory, Jay and Jamie - as well anyone reading this goofy blog would probably agree.

Ride on.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Starbucks Grand Prix of Cyclocross

Race number three of the MFG Cyclocross series went down today. This one officially titled Starbucks Grand Prix of Cyclocross. Guess who the sponsor was? Uh....that's right - Starbucks - and a few other sponsors as well. Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah was the location for this little 'cross throw down. As I mentioned in a previous post, I planned to enter this race on my old Ibis Hakkalugi. Well, I could list off a bunch of excuses as to why I didn't race today - but won't need to to - 'caused I raced. Oh yes, race I did.

After a late night session of converting the old Ibis from commuter mobile to certified 'cross weapon - removed fenders, bottle cages, and changed tires - I was ready to roll. Alarm went off dark and early to make the 9:30 AM start time. Woke up son Ian and he popped right outta bed to roll also. How come that doesn't happen on school days?

Arrived with just enough time to sign up and pre-ride the course. I signed on for the Cat 4 Masters Men 45+ race and Ian for Junior Boys 10 - 12. My race scheduled to run 30 minutes and Ian for 20 minutes. The course pre-ride revealed lots of grass sections, some a little bumpy, a few tight turns, one set of barriers, a dash of pavement - all flat as a pancake. Piece of cake - right? Wrong Bunky. Included at no extra charge - long, deep sand section on the lake beachfront. Sand too deep to ride in, so it would be running all the way. If you took a bit of longer route, along the sea wall (lake wall?), you could ride about half the distance - then run though the sand. I planned on that option.

I line up for the 9:30 race, it's a big field - Cat 4 Masters Men 45+, Cat 4 Masters Men 35+, Cat 4 Women, Junior Boys and Girls 13 - 14. I'm guessing 100 racers total. We take off in waves, but are out on the course at the same time. I push it and ride hard, think I did okay on the grass sections, actually pulled off a few running dismounts and remounts without tripping over the barriers - but died on the sand section every lap. Runner, I am not. On one lap, I did pull off my sea wall plan, otherwise ran pitifully slow pushing bike through sand. We wound up doing 3 laps total.

On the last lap, I was fading some and also had a front derailleur problem. The derailleur spun around on the seat tube a bit, screwing up my shifting. I was afraid to shift into the big ring, fearing a jammed or thrown chain, so finished the lap in the small ring. Pretty bizarre, been riding this bike since '97 and that's never happened. Maybe I wacked it with my foot during a remount.

Overall, a fun race and I had a blast. Racing 'cross totally rocks (dude). I felt and did better then expected. I have no idea what place I came in. It gets confusing with all the people circulating the course. I passed people, people passed me. When I left a few hours later, the results were yet to be posted for my race - a little lame. Folks mentioned things were being sorted out and check the web later. Ian who watched the race, said I did okay. 10th place, 50th? Who knows? I'll find out soon enough. Whatever the case, I gave it a real effort and had fun - that's what counts.

My beloved Hakkalugi rests against rest room wall, dappled in early morning sunlight. Dreamy, huh? The old Ibis felt great, even with cheap, crappy commuter tires. Being the old school steel Ibis, received a little attention as well - one dude took pictures of it. A few comments of "sweet bike". Other people on the course cheered me on - "Go Hakkalugi !!". I may be slow, but I'm old school stylin' for sure. When I got home, swapped tires and reinstalled fenders - ready for the commute week. How cool is that?

Ibis points me towards Rider Registration. Unidentified racer ignores the important secret message. Bikes talk in their own language you know.....

Faster group of racers hit the course. I left the camera in the car most of the day - so not many shots.

A touch of Belgium in Issaquah. Lake Sammamish in background. There was some sort of boat racing taking place at the same time. Insanely loud boats. Almost drowned out the cowbells.

Unintentional 'cross lesson pictured. Ride towards barrier at speed, swing leg over, hop off, run and jump over barriers, hop back on - then pedal like mad. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Girl racers rock. Really, they do. We need more of 'em.

Another example of the course. Fast, nice, fun.

Ian lines up for the Junior Boys 10 - 12 race. Mixed in the field was kids under 10 as well. Quite a few kids showed up - always great to see. Race was scheduled for 20 minutes, but at the start line everyone was informed race would be 2 laps on a shortened course - no sand section. Ian thought the race was too short and wanted to hit the sand. It's tough to judge races for kids this age. Some kids are super inexperienced, others are fast with many races under their belts. Always best to lean towards the easier aspect, so its all fun at this stage - I guess.

Kids hit one of the tighter turns on the course. Ian demonstrates.

The barriers are always a challenge to these young racers. For an adult, imagine lifting a 50 pound cruiser over your kitchen table. You get the picture.

Ian post barriers, ready to hop back on. After finishing the required two laps, he continued for a third lap, not realizing he was done. He lost his chain half way around the third lap, then ran with bike full tilt through to the finish (again). Not needed, but pretty impressive anyway. Race results were yet to be posted when we left - so no idea what place he scored. We'll check the race website later.

Awesome fall day, great course, cool people, fun racing, father/son time bonus - all good. Bikes, bike racing, and associated sub-culture - cool little world to be a member of. Sign up now, operators are standing by.

Cyclocross racing is huge fun, glad I took the plunge and will do so again - no doubt. I suggest you do the same.

Update: Results finally posted on race website. I officially got shelled. Out of 43 people in my class, scored 40th place - and that's counting the 1 person who DNF'd. So, at least 3 people rolled across the line behind me. Yup, I may give two weeks notice at work to start my pro cyclocross career soon. In any case, I still had a great time and can only improve from here - I hope.

Ian faired slightly better then dad. Out of 20 kids in his class (with 2 DNFs) - came in 14th place. At 10 years old, still a great learning experience.