Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Five Digits

I rode 10,000 miles this year -- a new personal high.

It's been looming out there for a while. The first week of November I noticed that I should be able to pass 2008's total of 9,000 miles, and that I could maybe hit the big 10,000. Five digits. Scary.

All it would take would be 200-mile weeks for the rest of the year.

Early November, that didn't seem too hard. We had great weather then -- sunny, with highs in the 70s or low 80s -- and I felt pretty strong. I even managed to bank some extra miles at first.

Then it got colder and wetter, and I was grabbing every mile I could get. A drizzly morning, with temperatures just above freezing, but a chance that it might clear up later that day -- and off I rode, taking the long way to work so that my daily total would be 30 instead of just 24. Then, on the Saturday after a Snow Day Friday (a classic Southern holiday for the kids), the roads are mostly clear of snow and ice by noon, so I grab a fast 50 miles before jumping into the shower late for the office holiday party.

These were miles for miles sake. If I had a choice between the slow recovery ride that I needed or another fast workout, I choose the latter because it would take me further. If the choice was between a climbing route that would make me strong or a flat 200K, I chose the brevet.

Instead of helping the Randowife and Randodaughter put up the Christmas tree, I was out getting in some miles. The lights did not go up at all outside, because if the weather was good enough to hang lights, it was good enough to ride.

Thank goodness for online shopping, or there would not have been many presents under the tree this year.

In the last couple of weeks, I wouldn't even talk about it for fear that I would jinx it. The Randodaughter told a friend about it, and that scared me. Now, if I failed, I would let her down, too.

But now it's over. I hit the big 10K Sunday, riding on the Trace with Jeff Bauer, Jeff Sammons (no relation), and Kent Kersten. It was the last long ride of the year, and we had planned to do another 200K. But I knew that all I needed was 80 miles to hit my mark, so we cut things short and only rode 104.

Yeah, when you're a randonneur you say things like "... only rode 104."

It was a pretty nice day, with temperatures in the mid-50s and winds fairly light. We stopped at Garrison Creek, and I took a picture to commemorate the milestone.

Monday was nice, too, so I went out at lunch and did a 20-mile recovery ride. And Tuesday was going to be warm in the afternoon, so I biked to work.

I took the long way in, even though I forgot my wool wrap and my ears were freezing. I would like to say that I took the long way just because it felt good to be on a bike. Part of that would be true. But down deep, I was still counting miles. I was running the numbers in my head, thinking, "I'm at 10,046 miles. I could easily hit 10,100. It's a nice round number."

It's a sickness. I hope I get better soon.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We Wish You a Hairy Christmas

Did you ever see that commercial that had this actor who used to be on one of those hospital shows? It was from some pharmaceutical company, and the actor would start by saying, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Then he would go ahead and tell you why you should take this pill that cured male pattern baldness, or excess stomach acid, or fear of iguanas (also known as “reptile dysfunction”). Just because this guy didn't even take inorganic chemistry is no reason that we should not listen to his advice regarding the alleviation of our persistent dyspepsia.

This is the long answer for why I usually shave my legs. I’m not a bicycle racer, and I don’t play one on TV, but I like to at least look fast when I'm standing around in bike shorts.

Sure, I’ve used the other reasons. “When you crash, it’s easier to clean the wound if you don’t have to work around the leg hair.” I haven’t had a crash that resulted in any kind of road rash (knock wood) for the past three years, and the worst of that was on my right hip – which I don’t shave.

(I do shave the left hip, but that’s for theological reasons that I don’t think are appropriate in this venue. If you’ll carefully read the lost Psalms of Bob, which were cut from the King Bruce version in order to make the NFL player limits, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

Anyway, if I was a racer that crashed a lot, then I would change my name to Stuart O’Grady (just kidding, dude … “Harden the F--- Up” right?). No, if I was Stuart I would shave everything. Actually, I would have my soigneur shave everything. I would also have him (the randowife tore up the resume of Ilsa, the retired Victoria’s Secret model turned soigneur) pluck the little hairs from my ears, although I doubt that Stuart has that problem since he’s still young. Although, if anyone could crash in such a way as to get road rash in his ears, it would be Stuart.

Speaking of soigneurs (Ilsa: Call me), another reason given for shaving your legs is that it makes for a better massage. Everyone knows that a good, post-ride massage is critical to break up the lactic acid pooling in your legs. You should also elevate the legs for at least half an hour after a ride, and wear special socks that facilitate better blood flow. And the massage should use special oils for aromatherapy rejuvenation. And don’t forget the embrocations that you must apply during the pre-ride massage.


Can you imagine having to do all of this crap with a bunch of stinking hair all over your legs? It would soak up those expensive oils, and your soigneur would have to have very delicate hands to avoid ripping hairs out daily. A hairy leg massage from Ilsa's callused hands would have been a de facto waxing. Come to think of it, Ilsa's hands were kind of big … and she had an Adam’s apple, too. Doesn’t Victoria’s Secret just sell women’s underwear?


Here’s a better reason to shave your legs: “It keeps the leg/knee warmers up.”

Okay, stick with me now because there’s some science here, and some of you may have only studied acting with Ivana Chubbuck instead of Physics with Dr. Landt. Basically, you know the little bit of exposed rubber band stuff at the top of leg- and knee-warmers? Well, that stuff is designed to grab onto your skin to keep the warmers up. Smooth skin has more surface tension than hair, which is round and tends to roll. If you shave your legs, the rubbery stuff has a smoother, more-sure surface to grab, and your leg- and knee-warmers stay up better.

And this was the reason that I used to shave my legs throughout the winter, because you could usually count on one or two days a month when the temperature would hit 70 and you would need to expose at least some of your legs. But we haven’t had any of those days in six weeks now in Tennessee, so my legs are unshorn and, as a result, hideous. And I now live in fear of a warm spell, for it means that I will either need to ride with my tights on and overheat, or pop a new head on my Schick Intuition and start scraping. And razor cuts hurt … especially when the soapy water hits them.

Still, I hope it warms soon. And when it does I will go ahead and shave, and take the pain like a man. Pretend that I’m a tough guy like Stuart O’Grady. Or Ilsa.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When I Am The Hero ...

I've long been a fan of Peter's Evil Overlord List. Next time you have an hour or two to kill on the web go over and read these 200+ hints and tips for how to become -- and remain -- ruler of the universe. It includes such gems as, "If I were an evil overlord, one of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation."

Some day, someone is going to follow these rules -- thereafter, we will all be in thrall to an evil master. The jury is still out as to whether this would be a better world. Some of us think it has already come to pass.

Be that as it may, the Randowife and the Randodaughter and I were watching TV the other night and decided that there needs to be a set of rules for intelligent heroes, because most of the doofuses (doofi?) that save the world in books, movies, and TV today are total morons. Such a hero would have no chance against an evil overlord armed with Peter's List.

So, this is the start of our list of tips for successful heroes. Feel free to post more rules as you think of them -- good guys need all the help they can get.

(Parenthetical Remark (hence the parentheses): Yes, this has nothing to do with cycling, much less long-distance cycling. As Lance tells us, It is not always about the bike.)

When I Am The Hero ...
  1. After I have defeated the inordinately tough chief henchman and he sits dazed before me, I will take a couple of extra seconds and kill him before moving on to confront the evil overlord. If I am a "good" hero, I may only shoot him in the knee.

  2. As soon as I defeat the evil overlord in the Temple, thwarting him in his effort to procure the Artifact that will enable him to control the Universe, I will grab the girl and head for the door. This is necessary because the Temple always explodes at this point. If possible, I will also grab some gold and jewels on the way out, since this hero gig does not pay well.

  3. I will not drink a toast with my enemy. I don't care if it hurts his/her feelings.

  4. If I am a cop acting on a tip that the bad guy is hiding out somewhere, I will not go there by myself to "check it out." That's what SWAT teams are for.

  5. If I fail to abide by the above rule, I will tell everyone where I am going and when to expect me back.

  6. When someone that I suspect is a bad guy hands me a gun, I will consider that it may not have any bullets. Rather than try to shoot the bad guy with the unloaded gun, I will immediately hit him/her over the head with it. If the gun goes off at this time, I will apologize later.

  7. When I find my best friend near death after being caught sneaking into the enemy headquarters to learn the enemy's secrets, I will not tell him, "Don't try to talk. An ambulance/medic/Gandalf is coming." If he's going to die, then it ought to count, so he better talk. If he wants to talk about how he's sorry for this or that or how much he really loves my girlfriend, I will slap him to keep him on topic.

  8. I will not sleep after sex.

  9. I will not have any romantic moments at inappropriate times. Actually, just cut out all of the romantic crap -- that's better left to chick flicks.

  10. When bad guys are better armed than I am, I will upgrade as soon as possible. There is no reason that I cannot take the submachine gun from them after I kill them with a stick.

  11. When I burst into the evil overlord's stronghold with my newly acquired submachine gun, if the evil overlord launches into a long windy speech as he moves towards the control panel, I will shoot him. He should only be allowed to make long windy speeches while I am tied up on the laser table, thus giving me time to slip my bonds and save the day.

  12. I will not put the evidence that will prove my innocence on a videotape or floppy disk or thumb drive, but will put it on YouTube and label it "Naked Women."

I'm sure that I've missed some, but it's not my job to save the universe. Think of some yourself and post them, or be prepared to greet your new evil masters.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Plan for Failure

As most of you in the southeastern United States know, it's been a really cold Fall. Normally, the average high in Tennessee in November is 60 -- this past November, we started in the 70s, and then only hit 60 five times after November 7.

This past weekend was the first weekend in December, and I'm going for another R-12. If you don't know what that is, it's an award that Randonneurs USA offers to members who ride 12 consecutive months of brevets. I did an R-12 in 2007, and will win another if I can ride at least one brevet a month thru April of 2009.

The key to the R-12 is to try and get your monthly brevet in as soon as possible. Basically, if it ain't snowing really hard and/or the roads are covered in black ice, do it the first weekend of the month, because it will probably be worse weather every remaining weekend.

So, Sunday we did Alan Gosart's Natchez Trace Northern Terminus 200K Permanent. It is one of the simplest permanents around, since you basically just take the Trace down to Hohenwald and back. It's also pretty and has fairly little traffic, since that part of the Trace is way out in the country.

The "we" above is the Tennessee randonneurs with whom I typically ride: Jeff Sammons (the middle Tennessee Regional Brevet Administrator), Jeff Bauer (no relation), and Peter Lee (no relation). Alan (the permanent owner mentioned above -- also no relation) was going to ride with us, but a family obligation (relation) cropped up. He still drove all the way over to Belle Meade from his home in Murfreesboro at 6:30 am to give us cards, which is more than anyone should expect from a permanent owner.

It was 21 degrees and breezy when we started. The wind was out of the north, so it was pushing us south once we got on the Trace, but I couldn't stop thinking about how we would be fighting that headwind for 65 miles on the way back. I also couldn't stop thinking about how cold I was, and how dreadful the clouds skudding across the sky looked, and how there wasn't any green left on the trees.

I was not a cheerful guy.

This is usually the time that I start thinking bad things. The "D" word starts bouncing around my head. No, not that D word -- I mean "DNF."

The problem with the D word was this: How could I bail out and still maintain any semblance of dignity?

This is not easy, particularly riding with the crowd that I was in. Jeff Sammons (no relation) has done a 200K every weekend for the past nine weeks! Remember I mentioned above what a crappy Fall it had been? Well, Jeff has nontheless come out and ridden at least 125 miles on either Saturday or Sunday on each of those weekends.

Jeff Bauer (no relation) and Peter Lee (no relation) are just behind him. Each of them has done 200Ks eight out of those nine weekends. Jeff Bauer (no relation) was still coughing from the cold that kept him from doing the Turkey Trot the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and Peter (no relation) only missed a ride because he was in California.

Thus, nothing short of disembowelment would have been sufficient cause for DNFing Sunday. And I couldn't think of a way of disemboweling myself that would have 1) not hurt, 2) not ruined my Assos winter riding gear, and 3) still made it possible for me to go to the party that night with the Randowife. Because the Randowife would have made the pain of disembowelment seem trivial had a I tried to bail on a holiday party with her.

So, I'm pedaling along trying to consider non-invasive and easily repairable methods of disembowelment. The skies start to clear, and I finally start to warm up, and then I get into a fascinating conversation about Cascading Style Sheets and AJAX with Jeff Bauer (no relation), and next thing I know we're making the turn for Hohenwald.

And I'm realizing that if I disembowel myself now, I'll have to get the Randowife or the Randodaughter to drive all the way down to Hohenwald and get me, my bike, and my entrails. Neither of them is going to want to mess up her car toting my greasy bike and greasier entrails, so all disembowelment plans are discarded. Which is too bad, since I just about had the details worked out.

In Hohenwald we stop at the control and grab a quick lunch. Speaking of which, the McRibb sandwich is back. Alert the media.

We are then quickly back on the bikes and heading for the Trace, and I'm bracing for that nasty headwind. But when we start north, there is no headwind. Somehow, the Powers That Be (as opposed to the Powers That Booth ... no relation) have seen fit to quell the malignant mistral. We cruise north as easily as we had come south, and the sun remains bright, the birds are singing, and a copse of cedars near Highway 50 brings a swath of emerald to the otherwise bleak landscape. We finish in just under nine hours, with minimal pain, rolling into Starbuck's for a hot chocolate long before sunset.

It was a really nice ride, and as I sipped my exorbitantly priced reward, I was really glad that I stuck it out.

We've all had rides that we started with grave misgivings. Almost always, at the finish, you're glad that you went ahead and did the ride. Sunday, a full 40 miles from the end, I was glad that I didn't wimp out. I was happy to be riding with a great bunch of guys (even if they aren't related), on a day that turned out to be better than expected, on my favorite bicycle on a really nice road.

And my internal organs were still internal. Does it get any better than that?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

No Revenge for the Nerds

I always liked Team CSC, mostly because it was putatively run ... or maybe rolled is the right word ... by computer nerds, or at least it was back when it was still Team CSC. For those that don't know, CSC was Computer Sciences Corporation, who do consulting, systems integration, and stuff like that. While probably very few of the riders on Team CSC were software jockeys themselves, or would even know how to declare a public variable, they at least got some money from programmers, even if they were just system integrators who mostly configure things and write middleware.

But, I digress.

My point is that CSC had appeal to nerds. Discovery had appeal to nerds, too, of course, since it's a cable channel about science, but CSC was a team named after a whole company of computer nerds.

In case you haven't noticed, cycling gets more computer nerds than most sports. Maybe because it's not usually dangerous (except crits or riding with idiots), or because it's fairly clean (except mountain biking and cyclocross and Paris-Roubaix). Probably, though, because it's a direct application of basic physics to human physiology. You apply power to the lever and you get movement. As inertia is overcome resistance changes, so you change the gear ratio and resistance returns, and now the application of power at the original level yields even more movement.

It is beautiful in its complex simplicity.

Don't get me started on wind tunnels and ultra-light materials and crank arm length and rolling resistance. Golf may have carbon shafts and very complex dimple patterns on the ball, so it comes pretty close, but cycling is the sport of nerds.

And randonneuring, since it is populated by the outermost fringe of the cycling universe, is a sport for uber-nerds. Almost every member of my regular riding group here in Tennessee is in the computer business. One recently sold his business selling computer stuff, three others are programmers, and the last is an accountant -- and if you can't do a pivot table in Excel nowadays, you cannot be an accountant.

IT Factory to the Rescue

Anyway, when CSC became Saxo Bank, we nerds were kind of adrift. And then, when we heard that IT Factory -- a Danish reseller for IBM -- was taking over sponsorship, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe even a Schmidt E6 ... or better yet a Edelux, powered with a SON20R hub. OK, probably not that bright of a light, but you get my drift. Or you would if you were a randonneuring nerd like I am.

But Monday, that light went out faster than it would with an old Schmidt SON going up a 17% hill at 3 mph in a rainstorm. Okay, again, you had to be there.

Apparently, Stein Bagger, the director of IT Factory, has disappeared in Dubai under the classic "mysterious circumstances," and the folks at IT Factory say that they are now missing about 85 million bucks. This not only puts their support of the team in jeopardy, but has resulted in the company applying for bankruptcy.

It gets weirder. The police are investigating an attack on a reported business partner of Herr Bagger's just before the director departed for Dubai. Disturbing? Definitely.

This from the Channel Register, in the UK (obviously, as you can tell from their mis-spelling of "hospitalized"):

"... on Monday last week, a man who claimed to own 50 per cent of Agios United SA, a Bagger company registered in Polynesia, was assaulted outside his home. 'He was beaten with a blunt instrument, but we do not know what it exactly was,' Nordsjællands police spokesman Henning Svendsen told the local newspaper.

Danish news sources are not reporting the identity of the victim, who was hospitalised and received 25 stitches. Bagger flew to Dubai the day following the assault."

A Schmidt SON could be a blunt instrument, but would be hard to wield. I'm going to go out on a limb here and bet that this was not the assault weapon.

News Flash! Here's a fun little game that I found researching this. Minutes of fun for the whole family!

Killer Instinct

As if this weren't enough weirdness from the former Team CSC and now former Team IT Factory (damn, but I wish I had an IT Factory kit -- that would be so cool to wear at a Tuesday night ride this summer), the riders recently completed survival camp. And it's not the kind of cycling camp that you might think. Instead of, say, I don't know ... riding bikes? ... the racers were doing night maneuvers, shooting guns, and swimming out to rubber rafts like they were Demi Moore trying to become a Navy Seal. Better yet, they were doing this in Denmark! In November!

If you want to see if Andy Schleck does that scarey smile thing when he's popping a cap in some target's chamois, go see the photos on Cycling News.com. There are no pictures of Demi Moore there, however. You'll have to settle for Liz Hatch.

Hello, glad you could rejoin us.

Apparently, they brought in a former paratrooper to run this thing, and it's all to build character and team camaraderie yadda-yadda. It's the kind of thing that they usually do with executive teams at some software company, so they can bond and better synergize the company and deep-dive the root causes. And the executives never really get the message, so that most of them just end up with a weekend out of the office, plus the knowledge of how to use a gun, evade an enemy, and disable an opponent with a blunt object.

Oh ...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Rust-Free Belt

Last week, I wrote about belt-driven singlespeeds, having seen Lynskey's new commuter at Gran Fondo (a.k.a., the Greatest Bike Shop in the World). Nortonville Phil then pointed out that I would have to do some cutting on my Salsa Casseroll to retrofit it with a belt drive, and that got me thinking.

And thinking is hard for RandoBoy, although inserting links is (obviously) too easy.

But since it's been so cold around here lately, I have cut down to less than 200 miles per week, and I have a lot of free time. Which means I either ponder things bicycle in nature, or I clean my various bicycles with chemicals that are destroying our beloved Mother Earth, or I take a bicycle completely apart and then have to figure out how to get the spring back in an Ultegra caliper brake, or I take spin classes and sweat all over the YMCA floor. Pondering is the lesser of these evils.

Besides, the allure of that belt drive is more than I can bear. I've been looking forward to Paris-Brest-Paris 2011, thinking it would be wonderful to ride that on my single-speed, and a belt drive would make it even more worry free. No need to lubricate, no grease on the leg, and a quiet drivetrain as I ghost through the French hinterlands ... c'est magnifique!

And then the voices in my head begin naysaying. "What if it breaks? With a normal chain, you can fix it and be back on your way before you say 'Jacque Robinson.' Wouldn't it be easier to just carry a small bottle of chain lube and some GoJo? Go get a Snickers bar from the snack machine ..."

I hate those voices. Particularly the fat one.

So, being the problem-solving Martian that I am, I have been trying to figure out how to retrofit my Casseroll with a belt drive in such a way that would quiet the voices. I like Phil's suggestion regarding cutting the seat stay and installing an S&S coupler, but I don't think they make an S&S coupler that would work for this. Most S&S couplers are pretty beefy, as you typically install them on the top tube and down tube. Since most research has shown that the couplers are at least as strong as the rest of the tube, if there is one that would fit, that would be great.

But it would also be expensive, and I hate to spend money. So, I am challenging the bicycle belt-drive manufacturers of the world (for I know that they are legion): Find a better way. There's got to be some kind of two-part expoxy stuff that you could use to just slap on a fresh belt -- something so easy that even a very sleep-deprived RandoBoy could do it in the French hinterlands at 3:38 am in the rain.

Hear me, oh bicycle belt-drive manufacturers ... and yes I am talking to all of you. Until you find a way to easily install your wares, that lucrative single-speed and fixed gear randonneuring market will continue to elude you, costing you tens of dollars of profit per anum. Can you really afford that in today's market?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sometimes Global Warming Doesn't Sound So Bad ...

It was pretty chilly here in Tennessee this past weekend. Saturday was cold and rainy and windy, and basically too nasty for anybody to ride, so I did a couple of spin classes. Then, I went over to Gran Fondo (a.k.a., The Greatest Bike Shop in the World) and met Mark Lynskey.

Mark is the man who built the new Randoboy, a phenomenal bicycle if ever there was one. Mark was very pleased to pose for the above picture with Randoboy, even with all of the bags and stuff stuck on him (Randoboy - not Mark ... I don't know Mark well enough to hang bags on him). Saturday was Lynskey Day at Gran Fondo, and Mark was there to talk bikes and show off some of Lynskey's wares.

And what cool wares there was. Lynskey puts the "yum" in Titanium, and the collection that he brought was both lovely and fraught with the portent of speed. I was particularly impressed with the Crosstown, a very cool commuter that had a belt-driven singlespeed drivetrain and a righteous retro rack on the back. After Mark explained the pluses to a belt drive - no stretch, longer lasting than chains, and no oiling (which means no cat-two tattoo on your best khakis if you go toodling around town) - I decided that there was an upgrade in the future for my Salsa Casseroll.

The other frames were so freaking beautiful it hurt. Not just the paint jobs, which were incredible, but the attention to detail. Mark was telling us about this super-waterjet that they use to cut the cloverleaf artwork into the dropouts. And, of course, if you've ever seen Vida's new Lynskey, you know how gorgeous titanium can be.

Mark's philosphy of bicycle-building was really refreshing. Primarily, he's not in it to build the most bikes, but to build the bike that best fits the rider. They only do titanium, so these are never going to be the cheapest bikes around. And, best of all, Mark and the other folks at Lynskey are obviously geeks, very into wall thickness and tortion and tapers at the joints and all that other stuff that frame builders know about. I'm sure it equates to a more stable, comfortable ride, but as a rider I just know that it feels good and doesn't break, and that's the important thing to me.

Mark said that frame building is not rocket-science; it's harder. He said that's because what they often do with titanium a scientist would tell them was not possible, "but we're just country boys from Tennessee, so we didn't know any better."

Spanntown Road

I've been riding Spanntown Road a lot in the past month or so. It runs between Nolensville Road and Almaville Road, going the same direction as Hwy 840, so there is no reason for a car to use it as any kind of shortcut. If you're on the road, you probably live on the road, and not many people live on that road. This is one of the things that makes it a Good Biking Road.

What takes it to the next level is that it is pretty.

This is from the weekend before last, so this past weekend's cold and rain and wind may have trashed these leaves. But, as you can tell, Spanntown Road has its moments.

Finally, Spanntown Road has some really nice ups and downs, which makes it a good training road. This almost takes it to the level of a Great Biking Road. What keeps it just off that podium, however, is the fact that it ends at Nolensville Road, which has a lot of traffic. So, once you get to the top (or, getting to Spanntown Road, if you're going to take it towards Almaville Road, which is frankly more fun because you can really bomb the descents), you're stuck on Nolensville Road for about a mile of crud.

Which puts me a little on the soapbox about cars and bikes trying to get along on busy roads, or the need for at least a decent shoulder on those roads (since it's obviously too much to ask for a bike lane). Sunday, a Hickman County deputy car passed within inches of us, obviously breaking the Tennessee three-foot law. He should have pulled himself over.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Have a Cigar ...

My new baby came in today. Actually, it kind of came in Saturday, but I was off in Lexington, TN, riding the Shiloh permanent (more on that later this week), so Lynn and Vida Greer took it home with them that night and I picked it up today.

In case you're curious, my new baby is the new Randoboy, a custom titanium beauty from Lynskey. It's my anniversary present from the Randowife, who is the Official Best Wife in the World.

Here's me with it. You know that I'm thinking, "Can I keep it?"

I was pretty tired from yesterday's ride, so I only took it for a short 25-mile shakeout, but it felt great. No, it was better than that, it felt great! I rode it down Old Natchez, which has a terrible surface, and it soaked up everything. Going up onto the Trace from Hwy 96, it climbed like a dream. Coming down the Trace towards Hwy 100 it descended as if it was on rails.

And it looks as good as it rides! Lynn, who owns Gran Fondo (the Official Best Bike Shop in the World) in Nashville, deserves all of the credit. First off, he knows how I ride and what I like and what my weaknesses are, so he built this bike to work with all of that. Then, he put a perfect mix of components on it, with pewter Deda stem and Chris King headset and Deda handlebars. It's all pewter colored or forest green, as on the bar tape.

Check out the Lynskey signature. Right below that, check out the green cap on the brake cable. That is the Gran Fondo attention to detail.

It's got a straight AlphaQ CS-10 fork that looks and feels totally bitching, and everything else Shimano Ultegra (because the extra for DuraAce is really just not worth it) to go with the triple crank that will get me up any hill. Maybe even Brasstown Bald.

It's got mounts for three water cages, a frame pump, and a rear rack. This will not only get me through almost any brevet or long tour, but the lightness of the bike will get me through it so much faster than before.

Lynn started the ride with me, then called me later to make sure it felt good. And he kept pointing out little things and telling me that I could take the spacers off the headset and lower the handlebars and race the bike, if I wanted to. It was so cool because you could tell that he loves this stuff. He was telling me to bring it in later in the week to put on the trainer and tweak the fit, and I reminded him that I should also bring a check in so I could pay for the thing.

This is the mark of a great bike shop. They do great bikes, tailoring them to fit the people that will be on them, because they love bicycles. Business is secondary.

I showed it to the Randodaughter (the Official Best Daughter in the World) when I got home. She thought it was pretty, but agreed that the coolest thing was the top tube:

'Nuff said!

P.S.: If you want to see more pictures of the bike (yeah, I was like that when the Randodaughter was born, too), go to Snapfish


Jeff Bauer, Alan Gosart, Peter Lee, Jeff Sammons, and I rode the Shiloh Military Park 200K Permanent Saturday. This is a great route, put together by randonneur John Shelso from Memphis. We really enjoyed the great roads and some exceptional weather for the first weekend of November. I'll let the pictures do the talking ...

Here we are at the start, in Lexington. It was still a little chilly, but I'd been starting rides with tights and two jerseys lately and decided to go a little more minimal. I was cold for the first hour or so, but once it warmed up I had less crap to tote. That was good.

Here's a picture looking back as we crossed the Tennessee River. We were sprinting every county line, and I took off a few miles before this because I thought there would be a county line on the river. Of course, there was no sign, and I figured I was wrong. When I got to the other side ... after stopping to take this picture ... there was the sign. No county line for me.

Here a some Emus in a field. They ran alongside us for a while, then stopped when I did to take their picture.

Here we are shucking clothes at the second control, Clifton. It was a really neat town on the Tennessee River, and I should've gotten better pictures. Go there yourself to see more.

On the way out of Clifton, I got a flat tire. This is probably the big downside of this route: You're on the shoulder of some busy roads.

By the time we got to Shiloh it had finally warmed up a bit. Here's Alan, Jeff S., and Jeff B. in front of one of the many monuments there. If you ever go here, you could get cross-eyed reading even half of these monuments. There are also all of these piles of cannonballs with family names on them. If we hadn't been trying to get back before sunset, it might have been fun to find out what that was all about.

The roads on the way back were great: low traffic and good surfaces. Here's a shot of us clipping along, with some of the excellent fall foliage.

A little after this we stopped for lunch at Sonic. These drive-ins are great in that they have no indoors, so we don't have to go inside and stink the place up. Usually they also have tables outside, but the one in Saltillo did not. We sat on the ground and were quite comfortable.

We were sprinting every county line and city limit, and really took the pace up as we got closer to Lexington. Here we are just a few miles out.

All in all, a very nice route. The last 50 miles were the best. I'm not sure how many more days we will have like this for riding before the cold settles in, but this one was nearly perfect.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I haven't written much lately, mostly because I haven't had anything worth saying. But also because every time I think about writing a blog entry I go check out the other cycling-oriented blogs around, and when I read the Fat Cyclist blog I realize that I really don't have anything worth saying.

The Fat Cyclist is Elden Nelsen, and his wife Susan is dying from cancer now. She's had cancer for a while - beat it once a couple of years back - but it came back, and this time it's winning. She's in hospice now, which is a nice way of saying that they are keeping her comfortable until she dies.

My brother was in hospice before he died, and I can tell you from experience that it is truly surreal. You try to stay upbeat, and you keep saying goodbye. Then the person dies, and you think that you said everything that you needed to say and were prepared for it, but it hits you then that you should've said or done this, and it hits you later that you really, really weren't prepared at all. I have no idea how it feels to be the person dying, but I doubt that it's any more fun.

Elden has Fat Cyclist jerseys available, the sales of which have been going to help pay for the huge expense of cancer, and this year's version says "Win, Susan." Now you know what that means. And they've been fighting, and the battle is almost over and they really have to fight harder than ever. So, if you can, focus some positive energy at Elden and Susan and their kids.

Fight, Susan.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I once worked for a company that did revenue management systems, and our biggest customers were airlines. For those of you who don't know (and that is most of you, so don't feel bad), revenue management systems are what reservation-based industries, like airlines and rental car companies and hotel chains, use to figure out what to charge for their product. Basically, it was my company's fault that you had to book that flight to Newark six weeks early or pay another $83.21.

Anyhow, I once ran across a flight cost item labelled "TFOP" and had to find out what it meant. It turns out that it was an expense for various parts of an airplane that get lost during the flight, and stands for "Things Falling Off Plane."

Once you get beyond the initial "What the ...." of realizing that the airlines not only know that things are going to fall off of the plane, but that they budget for it, you find that this acronym works for all kinds of things. With cars, TFOC covers lost hubcaps, coffee cups that you left on the roof, and various nuts and bolts that work their way loose and cause things to shake badly or break. TFOB - Things Falling Off Bike - is probably less prevalent, but there is no roof for a coffee cup and fewer nuts and bolts on a bike, so we more quickly notice when stuff comes loose.

Today's post, however, is about TFOOB - Things Falling Out Of Brain. These are little things that I've got on my mind, and now they are falling out. Of course, they will probably continue to fester in my brain, so it's not like I've got Dumbledore's pensieve (woot - woot - nerd alert!) to dump them in. This is just clutter that I'd like to share with you.

Doesn't that make you feel special?

My Knuckle Tattoo

Get your own knuckles at the knuckle tattoo gun.

If you've ever been to Bike Snob NYC's blog, the above is probably familiar. I just noticed, however, that "Randoboy" has eight letters, so it's perfect for a knuckle tattoo. Not that I would ever get a knuckle tattoo, or any other kind of tattoo, although I have been known to sport a "cat two tattoo" of chainring grease on my right inside calf. That's as much skin adornment as I am likely to get.

I must admit, however, that I like the idea of this knuckle tattoo. It would still allow me to hide my secret identity by wearing cycling gloves, or I could remove the left glove and pretend that Scott Bakula just quantum leaped into me, since my tattoo would read "O Boy."

Movie Music

I recently put the James Bond theme song on my iPod, and it just came on a few minutes ago. Can you listen to that song and not want to kind of crouch down and do the finger-gun thing? I know that nobody can see me doing this, however, as I am hidden behind the credits scrolling over a background of the silhouettes of naked women.

I also have "Man With a Harmonica" from the Sergio Leone western "Once Upon a Time in the West" - or "C'era una volta il West" if you want to look it up on IMDB. It was the music for the hero, played by Charles Bronson, and they play it during the big gunfight at the end.

My point here is that movie music is really fun on your iPod because it can recapture key moments from the movie. Would you still get this feeling from the music, however, if you'd never seen the movie? Further research is warranted ...

If Ever I Stop Biking ...

How could it be in Fall? Okay, Robert Goulet I ain't, but I do love riding a bicycling in October. If only the days weren't getting shorter, it would be perfect. I've biked in and out from work for the past four days straight, and enjoyed an almost perfect 200K Saturday. It's just warm enough in the morning that I might need a light jacket and knee warmers, and not so hot in the afternoon that I have to hurry home.

Something that helps is this new commuter pannier I got from Arkel last week. It almost looks like a messenger bag, with a padded sleeve for my laptop, but it's really a pannier so it hooks onto my rear rack. This keeps the weight of my stuff lower than carrying everything in the backpack did, which makes the bike more stable. Also, when I carried the laptop in my backpack it would strain my lower back, and who needs that? The new pannier also looks really cool, and it's made by Arkel, who just about make the best bags in the world.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My New Favorite Permanent

Saturday, some of us rode a new RUSA 200K permanent, Green Acres. It starts in Baxter, TN, goes south to Smithville, then passes thru Rock Island and Fall Creek Falls state parks before heading back. It's my new favorite permanent.

Now, a lot of things make up a good route. You must have good roads, with mostly light traffic and a good surface. It's nice to have a couple of climbs, mostly because you then get great views and fun descents. I always like for there to be one shady road that goes along some water, since that gives you a nice cool break during the summer. If possible, throw in a control with really good food, and you're golden.

Green Acres has just enough of all of that to make it a really fun 200K. We had an easy long descent down to Center Hill Lake, then a fast level ride to the Smithville control. Going thru Rock Island State park is always great, although you should stop for a break to see the falls and all of the other neat stuff there. The control at Rock Island Market makes a great milkshake, or you can get a good sit-down breakfast or lunch.

A few miles after this, the route turns onto Laurel Cove Road. This was on the Edgar Soto Race course in 2007, and is one of those great rolling roads that you can really let rip on a bicycle, pushing yourself just a little harder than you should, or just sit back and enjoy the view. We did not see any cars on this road.

Then, you climb up Baker Mountain. This road is also on the spring Tennessee 600K, which has over 26,000 feet of climbing, but it is the only long climb on this permanent. Again, you can push yourself and go up fast, or sit back and spin.

A few miles later, you head into Fall Creek Falls State Park. There are a few short climbs and little descents going through here, but it's very pleasant riding under a canopy of hardwoods. Saturday, the trees were just starting to turn -- late October on this ride should be excellent.

We all stopped for lunch at the A&H Market, which does a nice cheeseburger. From there, we started back north, with a great descent down Hwy 285, followed by a level meander along Cane Creek. The next 30 miles are gently rolling countryside, very empty, so there are few cars and no stores. Since you're back down off the plateau at this point, it also gets warmer -- we were happy to stop for cold drinks at the Central View Market at mile 103.

The eight of us formed a fast paceline for the last 22 miles to Baxter. Since the ride begins at the Love's Truck Stop there, we were able to change into clean clothes and eat some recovery fuel at Subway and McDonald's there.

If you're interested in doing this permanent, you can get information from the Harpeth Bike Club's Ultracycling page. If you want to see pictures and a track of the ride, I've posted it to Bicycling.com's GPS Rides page.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Randoboy in the News

Although I sound like an elitist smart-a$$, Randoboy's alter-ego, the mild-mannered Robert Hendry, is on the cover of the Williamson AM Sunday section of the Nashville Tennessean:


Just in case you're wondering, I do not recall saying that "I felt a sense of glee" about watching them change the price at the gas station. It sounds like the kind of thing that I might say, but having said it and seeing it in print, I regret saying it because it makes me sound like a dork. Normal people don't say "glee." It's one of those words that you would not want to say in a bar full of ex-Marine biker construction workers, particularly if you were wearing spandex. Although in many southern states the spandex alone is enough to make it justifiable homicide.

The article also makes it sound like I'm a man on a mission -- a rolling billboard pushing the "bike there" lifestyle. Although I do tend to proselytize (hence this blog), it's really secondary to the fact that I like riding my bike. I could probably use my commute time to send the cycling message in more effective ways, but that would not be as much fun.

And Randoboy is all about the fun.

Finally, a couple of other points about the picture:
  1. Yes, that is a Baggins bar bag on the front.
  2. Yes, I'm wearing sandals.
  3. Although I'm wearing a Gran Fondo Fixies jersey, the Salsa Casseroll that I'm riding is actually a singlespeed right now. It's just still too hot in the afternoon to go fixed.

So Randoboy commutes as a Retrogrouch.

I love those bar bags. I don't use them on the Bianchi, of course, because that's my light fast bike, but for everything else it's very handy. You can put food in there, the camera, cell phone, wallet, brevet cards -- basically anything small that you might want to be able to get to fast. The laptop is in the backpack (you can see the straps). And there's a big bag on the rack for other stuff, like a frame pump and tools and change of clothing, or groceries if I need to pick up something on the way home.

As to the sandals, I wear those unless it's freezing outside. Again, for the Bianchi I have some nice light stiff Shimano shoes for my Speedplay Zero pedals, but for everything else it's Shimano A520 pedals, and I wear shoes (or sandals) that I can walk around in.

I wore those sandals yesterday riding Six Gaps in Dahlonega, GA, with the Randowife. I was on the Masi, complete with the big Nigel Smythe seat bag on the back stuffed full of spare tubes, my jacket, and my wife's wind vest and arm warmers, and a bar bag on the front full of gels and drink mix and whatnot. A guy rode by and couldn't believe I was doing that ride -- which now has over 11,000 feet of climbing -- with sandals and all that stuff on the bike, so I explained that the Randowife and I were taking our time and just enjoying it. Maybe I would have been faster on a light bike with stiff-sole shoes, but then it wouldn't have been as much fun.

By the way, this was the Randowife's first Six Gaps, and she did great. She's been training for it during the last six months, and I was very proud of her.

Finally, why do I ride singlespeed (or fixed in the winter) to and from work? Because I have two really steep hills and they hurt more when you can't downshift.

And Randoboy is all about the pain.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Abandoned Bicycles of New York

I stumbled across a really cool blog this morning:


The pictures capture a feeling of lost potential, but maybe that's a cyclist's perspective. Most of the bikes are beaters -- what a friend of mine in Tampa used to call "DUI Bikes" -- but they deserved better.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Six Things I Hate About Bike Lanes

So, I know that there are a lot of cyclists out there that love bicycle lanes and that they may disagree with me on this. If you are amongst this group, please feel free to comment. Keep in mind, of course, that if you do so in a rude manner, I may delete your post. I may also delete your post if your argument shows me to be the simple-minded short-sighted knave that I am.

Just kidding.


Reason One: They Make Us Separate And, Thus, Unequal

By riding in a bike lane, I put myself in a separate class from other vehicles on the street. I won't say that it is even marginally close to having separate water fountains marked "Colored" and "Racist Nazi," as were common in the South 50 years ago, because that would minimalize a grave injustice. Having drivers pass me too close and blow their horns in my ear is one thing, but I haven't yet heard of any cyclist lynchings.

It's more like having to sit at the "children's" table at a wedding when you're 49 years old, just because you didn't bring a date. In the nuptials of life, cars get the smoked salmon and twice-baked potato, while you get a hot dog and tater tots.

Reason Two: They're Stupid

Most bike lanes are little more than a road shoulder with some extra paint and an occasional sign. They may paint a diamond or "Bike Lane" or the vague icon of a bicycle riding across the lane (And how confusing is that? If I'm illiterate to the point that I don't understand the diamond of the words "Bike Lane," isn't it possible that I'm going to think that I should be going sideways down this lane?! I'm just saying.).

Meanwhile, the "car lane" has two or more lanes, with even more lanes for right and left turns. How am I supposed to turn left from my bike lane in this world? Well, I have to go across two of the "car" lanes and into "their" left-turn lane. And the cars don't like it, because I have now left the cyclist ghetto that they deigned carve out of their precious roadway for me, and encroached on "their" space. They know that I will perform that cardinal sin of cyclists: I will slow them down.

Reason Three: They're Full of Crap

There is a bike lane on Davidson Street in downtown Nashville, but no cyclist will ride in this lane because of the broken glass, nails, retread chunks, and other detritus of the four-wheeled world. We have street-sweeping vehicles - do they not think the bike lane is worthy of their ministrations? Or is this all some kind of plot, where they actually shove the refuse of the road into the bike lane because they don't like cyclists, or at least don't like having this other lane that they have to clean.

And it's not just a Nashville thing - the bike lane on Morris Bridge Road in Tampa was just as bad. When I rode that regularly, I got so used to avoiding the same piece of metal strapping that, when it was finally removed, it took me two weeks to stop jinking right at that spot in the road. One summer, a dead wild pig lay in the northbound lane for two weeks until something finally dragged the last of it into the bushes. The state put up an historical marker for it.

Reason Four: They Aren't Enforced

When was the last time you saw a car ticketed for parking in a bike lane? Probably just about the time you saw a driver ticketed for not obeying the "three-feet law" now on the books in Tennessee and a few other states. Cars park and drive in the bike lanes with impunity in most states. They act like they own the road ... probably because they do.

Reason Five: They Are Also Sidewalks

Look, I run, too. It's great cross-training. And, yes, I know that there aren't a lot of sidewalks some places, or parks with decent paths, and you don't want to run on the road. But it's a bike lane - not a running lane - and I'm just trying to get to and from the office/store/friend's house/whatever. If you want more places to run, you can go fight with your local government to put in sidewalks. But I've been fighting for 10 years to get the few bike lanes that we have, and the least you can do is move over and let me have some of it.

Reason Six: They Are Designed in a Vacuum

Trousdale, near Crieve Hall, is on my daily commute. There's a bike lane there. It starts about half a mile from where Trousdale "begins" on Broadwell Drive, and ends after about one mile.

Could you get on this bike lane and go somewhere? Well, if you lived in any of the houses on this stretch of road, yes ... although if you stayed on the bike lane you could only go to another house on this little piece of Trousdale. If you were going to Crieve Hall Elementary from one of these houses, it would almost get you there. It ends only half a mile from the school, but I guess it's better than nothing. Of course, I've never seen any of the neighborhood kids biking to this school, but it could happen.

The point is this: If you go to the trouble of putting in a bike lane, put the bike lane on a road that needs it - not a fairly quiet residential street like Trousdale just north of Broadwell - and make it connect to something worthwhile. At least take it all the way to Crieve Hall Elementary, so the kids can have this foolish perception that their government actually wants them to ride their bikes to school.

A bike lane should go to a bus stop - preferably one serviced by a bus that has a bike rack on the front. Or it should go to a train station or office building or shopping center or a park. But creating a bike lane that starts in the middle of nowhere and ends in the middle of nowhere does nobody any good.

So, How Do We Fix This?

Everything except the first reason could be fixed by getting everybody on board regarding what bike lanes are supposed to do. Designing them right, taking care of them, and enforcing them as bike lanes would go a long way. Maybe, then, people in cars would see bike lanes as options for alternative modes of travel ... like car pool lanes. Aren't we all supposed to be puttering along, stuck in traffic, and look over at the folks zipping by in the car pool lane and think: "Maybe I should ride in to work with Mick and Shirley, and then we could take the car pool lane." Maybe people will see us biking to work and think: "Hey, I could do that!"

Right ...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oh, Titanium Temptress ...

The conversation began simply enough, as do most conversations that eventually lead to world-shattering moral dilemmas. Lynn said:

"Mark Lynskey was here last week."

Lynn is Lynn Greer, one of the owners of my Local Bike Shop, Gran Fondo. These are the people who feed my sick need for bicycles - the pushers for the more healthy but expensive form of crack cocaine to which I am hopelessly addicted. When I break it, they fix it. When I need new stuff, they get it for me. When I think that I can ride, they go out with me on a Sunday morning and show me the folly of pushing the pace on a hill.

(Actually, Lynn and Vida Greer are good friends of mine who often refuse to sell me crap that I don't need. They do this with lots of people, mostly because they are good folks who want everyone to love bicycles they way they do, which is a noble effort. But back to the story ...)

"Oh," I replied. "Those Lynskeys are nice."

In case you didn't know, the Lynskey family used to make Litespeed bikes in Chattanooga, but sold the company a few years ago. They are back, making high-end titanium bicycles. My friend, Bill Glass, had a Litespeed that he loved. As only a randonneur can, he eventually broke it (yes, you can break even titanium).

"They've got this new Helix technology that might make a great distance bike," Lynn said. "Vida's going to get one. Titanium, of course."

I must have flinched then, because I immediately had two thoughts: 1) My Salsa Casseroll isn't even a year old, and 2) I really want a new randonneuring bike.

Why do I want a new rando bike? Well, the components on the Masi are from my old Cannondale, and are pretty banged up. And the Masi frame is a little banged up, having picked up a big dent in the top tube either in route to or from Canada, or maybe in Canada. Sleep deprivation makes you forget things. And it's aluminum.

If you've never ridden aluminum, you probably don't know this, but it doesn't soak up much from the road. It's very light and all that, but it ain't plush.

Also, there is almost no way you can mount racks on the Masi, since the seat stays and front fork are carbon fiber and there are no braze-ons. I decided in Canada that the next bike would have a rack that didn't rock when I did. Plus, you need a rack if you're going to do loaded touring with panniers, which I'd like to do this year.

And me like titanium. It hard. Never rusts. Feels so solid with every stroke. Mmmm, titanium.

Lynn was still talking: "They're offering us this huge discount."

You had me at titanium ...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Not Pollutiful

With Hurricane Ike thrashing Houston and the gulf coast, gasoline has gotten scarce in the southeastern United States. The principles of supply and demand have kicked in, so that gas stations are charging over $4 and $5 a gallon, and limiting sales to 10 gallons or less.

I think this is why cars were giving me more crap than usual on my commute in today.

First there was the Lexus on Walnut Hills who zipped around me just before the stop sign at Holt. Never mind the fact that I was able to pull out right behind him - he seemed to think that some dumb bicycle would slow him down.

Next was the Range Rover on Trousdale as we entered the 15-mph school zone at the intersection with Hogan. I'm doing 17 mph (so technically I'm speeding) and I'm almost on the bumper of the car in front of me, but he feels the need to try to pass me. I slid to the left a bit and made him get back in line.

Maybe it's the nature of the drivers of these vehicles. Both probably cost 50 times what my Salsa Casseroll did, so the drivers of these cars probably take the same point of view that many affluent people have, and feel that they are entitled to the road. Goodness knows, they pay more for their car tags and tax on their automobile than what I do for the tags and tax on my bicycle (i.e., zero). Add to that the amount they are now paying to feed these plush palanquins, and it is no wonder that they might get irritated that this little man on his little bicycle, which doesn't even have to pay for gas!, might slow them down on their way to work.

My Old Fantasy

I used to fantasize about a world running completely out of oil, but that would be apocalyptic. We need trucks to be able to get food to stores and cement to building sites and all of the other things that the world needs to get moved so that business can go on. We need fuel for emergency vehicles and trains and buses, and we need oil for all of the things that we make out of it, like milk cartons and bicycle tires.

So, rather than we run completely out of fuel and end up living with Mad Max in Thunderdome ("Two go in ... one comes out!"), my fantasy changed to a gasoline tax on fuel for passenger vehicles - say, two dollars per gallon. This would still allow business to go on and firetrucks to save homes and stuff, but would make it sufficiently unpleasant for people to drive their cars. Maybe then they would be willing to use alternative forms of transportation. They don't all have to ride bicycles, but people could walk more or take the bus or just be smarter about the trips that they take. And we could take the $2 per gallon and spend it on more mass transit, bike lanes, and research on alternative fuel sources.

But, after this morning, I'm thinking that's not going to do it either. The Lexus and Range Rover that tried to edge me off the road get lousy gas mileage, but they were still out there. A gas tax might force more low- and middle-income folks out of their cars, but rich Americans are not going to give up their big cars. They worked hard for them - or their parents did - and these are big symbols of their status. Being able to afford the gasoline for them is probably just another way to show the world how much better off they are. Instead of beeping, their horns should go, "Nya-nyah-na-nyay-nyah."

Act Locally, Think Globally

But might does not make right, and I'm not getting out of their way. Probably, someday, one of these huge mothers is not going to back down when I assert my rights to the road, and I'm going to end up dead or hurt. But I consider it un-American - in the worst sense of the word - to cede any right out of fear. That sounds like the kind of thing that would look good on my headstone, although I hope nobody has to carve it for a few decades.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Hardest Ride in America

This past Saturday I did the hardest ride in America.

Now, this is probably going to garner a few arguments because "hard" is subjective. There are days when you go out and do three sets of intervals and find a new max heart rate, and that might be the hardest ride. And there are 1200Ks and 1400Ks and RAAM, where you have to factor in sleep deprivation, and those are really hard. And, although I don't mountain bike, there are things like the Leadville 100 and that one where you ride the whole continental divide from Alaska down to Land's End, and I would imagine that those are hard.

So, I'll add some qualifiers: This past Saturday I rode the hardest ACP 200K route in America.

What? You're still going to argue with me?! You say that the 200K in Magma in late July is harder because of the melting asphalt? Or that the 200K in Bluetoe in February is harder because of all the black ice that is only occasionally relieved by the 15-foot snowdrifts?

Pah, I say. Phooey. Heat and cold are just temperatures. Climbing is the true battle, for there you fight the essence of Earth, which any physicist will tell you is just mass. And where there is mass there is gravity, and where there is gravity and hills there is pain. So again I say: Pah!


Okay, I'll stop saying Pah! It’s not funny after the fourth time, anyhow.

The hardest ACP 200K route in America – and the hardest one-day ride that I’ve ever done – is the North GA Fall 200K, also known as Ten Gaps.

If you’ve biked much in the American Southeast, you’ve probably heard of Six Gaps. It’s a century that the Dahlonega Chamber of Commerce runs the last weekend of September, crossing six gaps of the Appalachian Trail. It has over 10,600 feet of climbing.

That’s a pretty tough ride. By contrast, Triple Bypass in Colorado has 120 miles and just over 10,000 feet of climbing.

The North GA Fall 200K, however, is 127.8 miles and has anywhere from 16,000 to 23,000 feet of climbing, depending upon whether you believe the results of your Polar HRM or GPS (which usually report between 16,000-17,000 feet) or the Topo map (which insists 23,000). I usually go with the Polar/GPS results, since Topo maps still tell me that I don’t live on a road. It looks like a road to me, but it just ain't on the map. Go figure.

So, Ten Gaps is worse than Triple Bypass, but what about Death Ride? Oh, sorry, they don’t call it Death Ride any more, since somebody actually died on it. It’s now formally called the Tour of the California Alps, to be politically correct.

I did Death Ride last summer, so I can compare these two. Death Ride is 129 miles with over 16,000 feet of climbing. Sounds pretty close to Ten Gaps, right?

Wrong! And the reason is … and this is the kind of thing that could start a war, but I’m going to say it … the reason is because Death Ride is west of the Mississippi and Ten Gaps is east, and the world east of the Mississippi is generally steeper that it is west of the Missippi.

It’s all a matter of Old vs. New. New mountains, such as the California Alps, are bigger. The tectonic plates that formed them are still slowly pushing them up and they haven’t eroded down yet to silt up the rivers and fill in the bays and gulfs. Old mountains, such as the Appalachians, have had their sides washed away by millennia of rain, so that they aren’t nearly as tall, but they are steep. And steep is harder to climb than long.

For example, Death Ride has Ebbets Pass, which climbs to 8, 730 feet. It’s the tallest of the passes on that ride, and probably the hardest climb (Carson seems harder, but that’s because it’s later and you often have a head wind). It has a couple of sections that are 15%.

Ten Gaps has Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia at 4,784 feet. (The new picture on the right shows the Masi looking up at the tower on top of Brasstown). The pros climb Brasstown at the end of the hardest stage on the Tour de Georgia. If you watched that, you may remember Phil and the boys talking about “The Wall.” That section is 25%. Have you ever climbed a road that is 25%?

Well, sure, you say, but it’s only 2.5 miles. Ebbett’s Pass is 10 miles long. Yes, I reply, but you can spin your way up Ebbett’s Pass with a compact crankset and 12-27 cassette. Unless you are Superman and have gears pilfered from a tandem and a mountain bike, there is no way that you can go all the way up Brasstown Bald without standing up and gutting at least part of it out.

But what about the elevation, you ask? The air is thinner 4,000 feet up, like on Death Ride.

Maybe for some folks, but I didn't really notice it much on Death Ride. And thinner air is less humid, which would have been nicer this past Saturday.

Okay, you say. Brasstown is pretty tough. But the Brasstown Bald Buster climbs it, and it’s a century with 14,000 feet of climbing.

Yeah, I reply, it is. And it also goes over Hogpen before hitting Brasstown Bald. But Ten Gaps goes over Hogpen before Brasstown, then it goes back over Hogpen on the way back to Dahlonega. And the way that it goes over Hogpen on the way to Brasstown is actually the tough way, with long stretches at 15%, as opposed to the longer but gentler route that the Brasstown Bald Buster and Six Gaps uses. And, of course, there’s that other 2,000 or more feet of climbing and 27.8 miles.

Geez, Randoboy, you now say, maybe you’re right. (This is why I love arguing with myself – I almost always win). So, how’d you do on the ride?

Well, I finished.

Yeah, but what was your time?

This is randonneuring. We don’t really think in terms of times. There's no winner or loser or ...

Yeah, yeah, but isn’t there, like, a cutoff for controls? Don’t you have to do a 200K in 13 hours and 30 minutes or it’s not official? Doesn’t somebody write down the time when you pull into the last control?

Well, yeah. Sure.

So, what was the time?

(This is why I hate arguing with myself. Self knows too much, and loves to embarrass me).

About 12 hours and 30 minutes, I mumble.


But, hey, that’s within the time limit. I was official. And it was a really hard ride. I was cramping up before I even started up Brasstown, so that I was having to walk even on some sections of Woody’s Gap on the way back. And you know how easy that gap is.

Gee. That sounds tough. What went wrong?

Well, I probably went out too hard at the start. And it was really humid, so that I probably got dehydrated. And I’m still 10 pounds over a good climbing weight. And I should probably go ahead and bite the bullet and get a triple crankset, because I could not spin in the compact crank. I definitely won’t do this ride again without a triple.

Wait a minute! Do this ride again? Weren’t you the one that promised yourself that if you ever got back to Dahlonega you would 1) never do this ride again, and 2) find David Bundrick, who designed this ride, and punch him in the mouth?

Hey, that was the pain talking. Now that I know what I did wrong, it will be better next time.

Next time! There’s no reasoning with you! You’re an idiot! I’m out of here.

Fine! Walk away! I don’t need you anyway!


P.S. to David Bundrick, my friend and crewmate on RAAM: I am not going to punch you in the mouth. Thanks for designing a truly challenging route.

P.P.S. to Andy Akard: Thanks for running this route. It was … fun?

P.P.P.S. to Alan Gosart and Kevin Warren: Thanks for sticking with me for far too much of this ride, and driving down and back with me. I’m almost looking forward to next year.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Heavy subject, eh? I'll try to keep it light, though.

In my blog entry about the Rocky Mountain 1200k, "Survival of the Fattest," I mentioned my friend Josh. I do all of my really hard rides wearing a blue bracelet, similar to the infamous yellow "Livestrong" ones. The bracelet says: "Josh: But I get up again."

Josh would have been 15 yesterday.

When he was nine months old, Josh was diagnosed with cancer - rhabdomyasarcoma - and they had to remove his bladder, prostrate, and seminal vesicles. Can you imagine that? Being a kid that young and having stuff cut out? I don't even like to try to imagine being the parent of that kid. It gives me the willies.

But Josh survived it. The doctors built him a new bladder, somehow, and he went through all the things that most every other kid goes through - crawling, walking, running, falling down, and getting back up again. He started school and did homework (usually) and got crushes and climbed trees and fell out of them, and got back up again. And, although he didn't have cancer any more, he got sick a little more often than others and would have to hassle with stuff that most other kids didn't - such as spending weeks at a time in a hospital bed and having tubes running into places that tubes aren't supposed to go and sometimes getting infections from all of this stuff and those tubes and getting sick all over. There were lots of things he couldn't eat and some stuff that he had to eat that tasted horrible - yes, even worse than steamed squash - and times that he couldn't eat anything at all. But he kept on being a kid and ignoring the hassles as best as he could and doing all the usual kid stuff like playing hide-and-seek and video games and running around and around and around.

We first met Josh when we lived in Tampa in 2001. I never thought of him as a sick kid. Like most people, when you met him you thought of him as just a kid, usually running around and around and around. When you talked to him you thought he was a really mature kid, because you probably thought he was younger than he was because he was a little small for his age. And sometimes you might notice that he had a small messenger bag - probably a book bag, right? - and you later found out that it wasn't a messenger bag. But you definitely did not think of him as sick.

And then you would hear that he was the Honorary Chairman for the Relay for Life for two years in Tampa, and you would be surprised when you found out he was a cancer survivor. Then you might hear the whole story and be really stunned. Josh, the little kid with all the energy? They removed what?!

The randodaughter attended one of the Relay for Lifes (Lives?), and she and Josh and some other kids spent the entire night running around a high school football field with people walking on the track all night to raise money for cancer research and bring awareness to the disease. I came to pick the randodaughter up about 9 am the next morning and she looked much more tired than Josh did. We couldn't leave for another hour because she and Josh and I had to beat some students from University of South Florida in a "mini-Olympics" event ... you know, where you see who can jump up and down on one foot longer and that kind of thing. We won.

Josh passed away in late 2005, right after the randowife and randodaughter and I moved to Tennessee. University Community Hospital, where the randowife and I worked with Josh's mom and dad, Liz and James, still hosts a Caring Bridge site for Josh. There, you can read hundreds of comments from the people that knew and loved Josh. It is, literally, stunning just how much of an impact that a kid - who only spent 12 years on this planet - could have made in the lives of so many people.

Which brings us back to the topic of mortality.

Our time here is short - shorter than it should be for some people - so it's what we do with that time that matters. If we do things that make the world a better place - even if it's just living life as large as you can in spite of being small - then we inspire others. Josh inspired me to finish a 1200K. Someday, hopefully, the randodaughter will tell her grandchildren about me, and how I used to ride these ridiculously long distances on a bicycle, and maybe they will be inspired to do something hard just for the challenge of it. She may not remember that it was Josh that inspired me to do these things, but the effect will be there and Josh will continue to live on.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Paying for Long Distance

I like my bike. I like to ride my bike. I am usually happy when I ride my bike.

This brings up one of the strange dichotomies of ultra-distance cycling. You would think that it is the ultimate opportunity to ride your bike ... a lot. But I have recently found that the ultra-distance event itself may force you to ride your bike less. Worse, it makes some of that riding unpleasant.

Here's what I mean. To do the Rocky Mountain 1200K in July, I tapered in the weeks preceding the event. Ordinarily, at this time of year, I ride between 200 and 250 miles per week; two weeks before the RM1200 I did just over 150 miles, and the week immediately before I only rode about 90 miles.

Now, sure, the week of the ride I did 775 miles, which should more than make up for my loss of riding bliss during the preceding weeks. But did I enjoy all 775 of those miles? Alas, I must admit that I did not. Times arose during the course of that ride that I was not having a heck of a lot of fun. To be honest, times arose during the course of that ride that, had the opportunity presented itself, I would have sold my bicycle for $20 (Canadian) and caught the next Greyhound bus back to Kamloops.

These are the times when you think, "I just want this ride to be over." So you lean into the wind and keep turning the pedals over, and eventually the ride is over. Or sometimes you stop and take a picture of something, or get an ice cream, or just sit in the grass for a few minutes. But, as my friend Jeff Bauer once said, "the control isn't moving towards us," so you might as well get back to work.

And eventually the ride ends and you get to sleep for more than five hours ... in a bed, even! ... and then you drive to the airport and fly home and catch up on all of the stuff that you have to catch up on while you were very indisposed in the middle of nowhere without a computer, cell phone, lights, motorcar, or a single luxury. By this time it's been four or five days since the 1200K ended and you think you might like to get on a bike again because (remember?) you like to ride your bike.

Well, I got back on the bike and some things hurt. Not just the things that you would think hurt, because a lot of that had pretty much healed and other things were still numb, but my knees hurt. They had hurt during the RM 1200 after the first 500K, but I figured that was normal. However, they still hurt the weekend before last, and they hurt riding to and from work last week, and they hurt on the hard 115-miler that I did Sunday, and they hurt right now just sitting here writing this blog entry.

When your knees hurt if you ride your bike, you may find that you don't want to ride your bike as much. Which is probably a good thing, since pain is your body's way of saying, "Hey, buttwad, cut it out." So I am listening to my body and not riding this week. At all.

Well, until Saturday, when I'm doing an Arrow to Huntsville, Alabama. That's a 230-mile ride that I'm supposed to do with three other Nashville randonneurs - Jeff Sammons, Kent Kersten, and David Bauer - starting at 7 am Saturday and ending at 7 am Sunday. Hopefully, my knees will cooperate, or at least be placatable with massive doses of ibuprofen. If they still hurt just sitting around ... well, that's why I said "supposed to do" above.

Anyway, back to my point about 1200Ks keeping you from riding your bike. As I said, the two weeks after the 1200K I barely rode 200 miles, and I'll probably only do 230 miles this week. And if my knees are still hurting me I may even take a week or two completely off the bike (agh!). So, if you add it all up (hmmm, carry the two ...) you'll see that, during an eight-week period when I would normally ride 1600 to 2000 miles at this time of year, I will barely get to ride 1600 miles. And I really only enjoyed about 800 of those. Well, maybe 900.

The part that is really irritating is missing out on my little rides to and from work. In spite of the traffic and all the junk I have to carry, ordinarily biking into the office just cheers me up so much. It's like eating cake before the steamed squash (don't ask my mom about me and steamed squash - she will go into the longest story). Even though it's just a little 12-mile ride, as long as red pickup trucks don't try to sideswipe me, the ride really brightens things up and makes the day much more palatable, and I miss it.

Hopefully, though, the time off will put everything right and I will be able to mount up again and do normal distance in a few weeks. September will be almost upon us, then, and that means warm days and cooler evenings, and soon the leaves will start to change. Wool jerseys and fresh knees ... yes!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What Cracking Sounds Like

A few weeks ago, a friend was telling me what to listen for when you've cracked the rider behind you on a long climb. She said that if the rider behinds you coughs or spits, it's usually a good indicator that he/she is redlining, and that this is the time to attack. I immediately thought of an evil trick, and have since been getting behind someone going up a long hill and trying to fake them out with a cough or a spit. I want to see if they will go early, so I can hang on and swoop them at the top for those precious group ride KOM points.

"Hooray for me," I will shout. "I won the Tuesday Night Ride." Alert VeloNews.

(By the way, nobody has fallen for this yet. Which is probably good because hefty old farts like me don't have enough oomph left to swoop anybody on a long hill.)

Anyway, the other night I thought of some other sounds you could listen for on a long climb to know when to attack:
  • Water-bottle shake. This is the sloshy rattle of somebody pulling out their water bottle and trying to unclump the Cytomax from the bottom. This is either your cue to drink something because the Shaker behind you will attack when they put their bottle back, or attack now while their mouth is full of drink.
  • Shifter clunk. Even better, if you have super-hearing, is if you could hear the sound of aborted shifter clunk. This is what happens when you push the lever over to get into the 25-tooth cog, and find that you're already in the 25-tooth cog.

Now, these are both obvious ones. Here's some less-well-known-but-good-sounds-to-key-an-attack-off-of-(pardon-my-dangling-participle):

  • Ring ... ring ... "Hey, what's up?" When somebody answers their cell phone behind you on a long steep hill, you either need to attack or tap out and go do the Beginner's Ride.
  • Chain-drop rattle. You probably don't really need to attack at this point, but I wanted to throw this in. We've all had it happen, and most of us have had it happen when we're going so slow that we can't unclip and we fall over and take out a couple of other riders (sorry about that Janet and Mike). Or maybe that was just me.
  • "Charging paddles ... clear!" I mean, if the guy's having a heart attack anyway, he probably won't even be in contention to win the Tuesday Night Ride. And ambulances tend to slow up the pack behind you.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tandem-Sucking: A Primer

Sunday I was finally healed up enough from the Rocky Mountain 1200K to join a group ride with my friends at the Harpeth Bicycle Club. This was their infamous "Pancake Ride" - a gentle 25-mile meander out-and-back to Puckett's Grocery in Leiper's Fork for buckwheat pancakes washed down with Gatorade. I rode over to the start in Franklin from my house to stretch the mileage up to Randoboy levels.

The Pancake Ride is so popular because a lot of folks use it for recovery from harder efforts on Saturday. It's a pretty flat route, with one semi-harsh-but-short bump in the middle, and the roads are pretty lightly travelled at that time of day. Some folks do it hard, but if you feel like doing a nice 15-mph spin you will not be alone at the tail of the pack. We had about 40 riders at the start Sunday morning - pretty good considering it was almost 80 degrees then and promised to go over 90 before the day was out.

Any time you get a "fairly flat" route, the odds are good that you'll get at least one tandem. For those that don't know what a tandem is, it's a bicycle built for two ... you know, "Daisy, Daisy" yadda-yadda. Speaking of which, am I the only one nowadays that always thinks of "2001: A Space Oddysey" when I hear that song? I hear HAL singing it, then slowing down, and slowing down, before he dies and the guy in the nehru jacket suit (which we are ALL supposed to be wearing now, according to Stanley Kubrick, plus we should be taking vacations on the moon) explains to us the real meaning of all the stuff that happened earlier in the movie. Except the thing with the monkey-men. He never explains that. Or the creepy space baby at the end.

But, anyhow, a tandem. It's usually two riders - the guy up front is the captain and the person in back is the stoker. Once you start noticing them you will eventually see some built for three and four riders. There are some made for even more riders, but at that point you're approaching clown-car kind of stuff. The bottom line is, however, this: The power-to-weight potential for a tandem is Huge.

"Oh come on," you say. "It's usually a couple of geezers in matching jerseys from some week-long tour. Sure, they're cute, especially with that little bell. But why talk about power-to-weight ratio when it comes to Captain HAL and Stoker Daisy on their big clunky bike with the high-spoke count wheels?"

Yes, you'll say that. Until you're zipping along a flat stretch of the local charity century with the "elite" peloton, thinking that you are Hincapie as you hold a steady 27-mph on this flat stretch into the wind, strung out two-abreast. Then you hear the little bell -- ching-ching ... ching-ching -- as three tandems cruise past, the stoker on the back of each nodding a polite "good morning" to everybody as she tucks behind the captain's back and churns the pedals like Lance. I think Daisy just gave you your answer, true, and that answer is "Buh-bye."

And, yes, normally you'll get to the signature climb of the event and pass those tandems back as they churn up a 10% grade at 6 mph, renewing your self-respect as the hairy-chested (but not hairy-legged) bike stud you know that you are. You smile a little to yourself, and maybe your compadres, but you keep pouring it on all the way up because you know, damned good and well, that gravity works and that if you are not way the hell ahead of those two-headed beasts before they start down the mountain they will boom past you like an overloaded semi with overheated brakes and you will not see them until the next rest stop, where they will be topping off bottles and mounting back up while you queue up for water behind the metric rider who is already wearing the event jersey.

Or, you can be smart and suck that big wheel. "Horrors!" you say, and recoil. Yet, why is that that you are willing to let the local cat 2's sit up front and swap off pulls for you, but you refuse to glom onto the wheel of the tandem train? If you must, you can still zip around them when you get to Mount Ridiculous and pretend to be Pantani as you head for the top. When they pass you later on the way to Brokeback Ridge you can even still grab back on and sit in that huge tandem vortex for the next six miles, recovering for the next attack.

As a sometime tandem captain, I can tell you this: We expect it. We know that there ain't no hole like a tandem hole, and that only a fool or a masochist lets us glide by without grabbing that easy draft in the late morning heat.

So, since Sunday was hot and the Pancake Route is a good tandem route, I was a tandem wheel-sucker. As I was cruising along in the draft, barely having to turn the pedals, I noticed a number of mistakes being made by my fellow "single" riders in the pack. Therefore, I decided that it was time for me to finally write this blog entry to explain to my readers the guidelines for ...

Riding the Tandem Train
  1. Don't get between tandems. If you've got a string of tandems up front, leave them up front. Just like "real" bicycles, they will tap out and fall back and let the next tandem pull. When they do, let them back into the paceline behind the last tandem. Also, if you see one of the tandems let a gap open, don't assume that somebody is cracking. Tandems do not stop like "real" bikes, so we often let small gaps open up while we eat, drink, corner, and so forth. If we really crack, we will usually holler something like "We're off," or "Goodbye, Bill -- We'll see you at the rest stop" before we pull out of the line. Yes, this can make things tough on those behind us as they close the gap, but usually the tandems up front will slow down a bit as they decide what to do ("Robert and Carol are off." "Should we slow down?" "Nah, it's only three miles to the rest stop" "Yeah, I gotta pee. Let's keep going."). Singles wouldn't do this, but would instead put the hammer down and laugh at the poor souls on the wrong end of the gap. Tandems are (usually) less mean.
  2. Don't pull for us. Yes, you probably could give us a bit of a break, but the dynamic of a single versus a tandem is such that it's not worth the trouble - you don't make enough of a hole and your pacing is just off enough to make us less efficient. I know that your Puritan work ethic demands that you give rather than just receive, but this is that rare situation where no payment is required. You can let Daisy cut in line for the port-a-potty at the rest stop if you really want to contribute something.
  3. Get out of our way, particularly on the downhills. Like you, we hate to use our brakes, particularly since we just worked very hard getting up Heart-Attack Hill and need to stretch out our cramping quads. That cute little bell is our nice way of saying, "Fast-mover coming through, Clyde, so get your little carbon fiber toy all the way to the freaking right!" Some of us don't have a bell or a horn, and must instead yell "On your left!" The "putz" at the end is implied.
  4. Don't do dumb stuff in front of us. You can do dumb stuff behind us, since it rarely affects us, but do not start through the intersection and then loop back because you decide to return to the rest stop for one more chocolate-covered Oreo. Tandems, obviously, do not turn like singles. We're bigger, in case you didn't notice. And there is a lot of coordination involved, since we have two riders who are both spinning away. When the captain has to quickly stop spinning and hit the brakes the stoker gets jerked around. And if you do something stupid that makes the tandem fall down, when Daisy gets up she will kick your skinny little a$$.
  5. Don't entertain us. Telling the captain that "she's not pedaling" may have been funny. Once. Probably millenium ago, like when the monkey men were jumping around the black obelisk. And then the joke got told again and the Daisy monkey stoker picked up a big bone and Blammo! You can tell us how cute we are in the matching jersey/helmet/shoes/socks, or how you just love the little bell (so long as you are heeding the above warning of the little bell), but leave the comedy to the professionals.

Follow these rules and you, too, can start doing sub-five hour centuries without redlining the heartrate. Break the rules, though, and you may find HAL and Daisy flicking snot-rockets at you before they ratchet up the pace and drop you on the side of the road in a swirl of dust, with a forlorn "ching ... ching" vanishing into the distance.