Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The mongrel

Cyclists wave to each other. That’s what we do. Doesn’t matter if we know each other or not. It’s usually not. But if you see another cyclist coming towards you on the road, you take your left hand off the bar and open it in a friendly gesture. Perhaps this little civility is why when we race, we call each other “brother.”

When this rhythm is disrupted, it’s sort of like when a Westy driver doesn’t give his compatriot the peace sign, or a Yotavan driver doesn’t give his fellow the bird. Certainly not high treason, but it reflects poorly on whomever failed to participate.

Sometimes, though, you see it coming. Like on Saturday, when I was casually pedaling through Alpine on my way back home. Two cyclists were riding towards me with the look, if not the pace, of riders on a Very Important training ride.

As I approached, I opened my left hand to bid them hello and happy riding. But instead of waving back or outright ignoring me, the lead cyclist looked at me long enough to see if I was friend or foe, evidently determined foe, then turned his gaze back to the white line and kept riding.

Now there are situations when it’s OK not to wave back, such as 50 mph descents, negotiating tight switchbacks, or alley-catting through traffic. But rolling at 19 mph on the quietest road in the most bike-friendly town in the state is not one of them.

And yet, the failure to wave was exactly what I expected. Looking at me first inquisitively and then disdainfully was somewhat surprising, but I knew the guy wasn’t going to wave. The sleeveless jersey was the giveaway. Obviously one of that mongrel breed of loners who call themselves “triathaletes.”

Monday, June 29, 2009

No glory in choking

About ten minutes into church on Sunday, I got a text from Aaron: “Are you watching this?”

“This,” of course, was the Confederations Cup final, where the US were playing Brazil.

“No, I’m at church. Recording it. Will watch when I get home.”

Once home, though, we had my family over for dinner. I was the only one who didn’t know the outcome, but everyone dutifully kept quiet. When we were done eating, my brother-in-law Charlie came downstairs and watched the first half with me.

I was flabbergasted at the first goal and dumbfounded by the second. With a two-nil lead, the US would surely hold on. In the back of my mind, though, were Dug’s words during the semifinal: “they’ll find a way to lose.”

Charlie didn’t stick around for the second half. I should have taken that as a sign. I watched, disappointed, as the lead shrank to one goal, then level, then a deficit.

Some fans are saying “well at least they made it to the final.” Or “at least they got an early lead.”

Bull crap. Both of those things are commendable. But choking and blowing a two goal lead is pathetic.

Good for the US for taking it to Brazil from the opening whistle and getting the lead. Once up two goals, though, they should have done what everyone else in that situation does: sit back and defend. Brazil have a hard time breaking that down or getting any flow when all the action is in one half. Foul Kaka—take him off his rhythm. Just don’t let them get any momentum.

Instead, the US continued attacking. A noble thing to do, sure, and certainly what led to the early lead. But not the way to win a game when you already have an advantage and are playing a team of superior talent. It would have been an ugly way to win, but unlike Brazil, the US are under no obligation to win pretty. They need to just win first.

Friday, June 26, 2009

On bird bones, irrational assumptions about physics, and bunch sprints

There’s always a sorting out, or actually two sortings out, on the Friday morning Alpine Loop ride. The first typically occurs at the turnoff for Tibble where the road gets a little steeper. Generally at this point it’s every man for himself, but sometimes the group stays together until the famous mile marker 18 when someone inevitably makes a move.

Brad claims that he tries to break free of Rick because he can’t beat Rick in a sprint to the top. We all know that’s a load of crap, though, and Brad is just that fast up the hill. I looked at his corn cob cassette when we got to the top this morning and asked him what his biggest cog was. He didn’t even know. I guess if you never use it, there’s no point in knowing. In fairness, I should point out that Rick doesn’t use any of his three biggest cogs, but he does run a compact crank.

Rick is a freak in his own right. I’m convinced he has bird bones, because he’s eight inches taller than me and weighs about the same. Not that I’m skinny or anything. But he’s not a gaunt, emaciated chicken like Michael Rasmussen or Juan Mauricio Soler, either.

Since Adam, Aaron, and Brandon were absent from this morning’s ride and Steve had tired legs from riding yesterday while I rested, I was able to claw my way to a podium finish. I kept Rick in sight for as long as I could, but once I lost visual contact, the rubberband snapped, and I never saw him again. Elden, helmet cam and all, was right on my wheel all the way to the top.

The contest that really matters, though, is the bunch sprint at the bottom. I’ve mentioned before that I’m kind of a pansy descender, which has heretofore kept me from being there to contest the bunch sprints. I’ve recently, however, adopted a new descending philosophy: if the person ahead of me can stay upright at a given speed through a corner, so can I. So I just pick someone to follow down the hill and try to hold his wheel. This may not be the safest or most rational approach, but it’s worked so far.

Today that person happened to be Dug, whose descending prowess and record in the sprint to the guard shack are both the stuff of legend. I kept him in sight most of the way down, but in the final couple of swithbacks where the road was a bit wet I lost some nerve and let him go.

Steve was right with me, though, and I knew with two against one on the lower section where you actually have to pedal, we could catch him. Dug knew this, too, and sat up to let us catch. Elden was right behind, and we decided that four was enough for a bunch sprint and didn’t wait for the rest.

At the top, Steve and I had agreed that keeping Dug from winning was as good as a victory. I wish I could say that all of the crits we’ve done this year proved valuable. My inexperience in the AF sprint resulted in being stuck on the front when the sprint began. Elden started coming around. I stood up to go, but at 40 mph, there wasn’t much more accelerating I could do. I thought Elden was going to take it when Dug pipped him at the end.

Next week, Dug. Next week.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A remarkable turn of events

“They scored again.” I heard UTRider say from his office. I couldn’t believe it and checked the gamecast. Sure enough, the US were up 2-0 over the top-ranked team in the world and European champions in the 74th minute.

After the 3-1 defeat to Italy, I had written them off for dead in the group stage of the Confederations Cup. The 3-0 loss to Brazil more or less sealed the deal in my mind, given they would need a six goal swing in the final group stage round to keep the defending world champions from advancing.

Then on Sunday, I got a text from my brother telling me that the hardly probable had happened—the US had defeated Eqypt 3-0, and Brazil had defeated Italy 3-0. The US and Italy were level on points at 3 each, level on goal differential, so it came to the second tie-breaker: goals scored. Advantage USA. Only problem is that meant playing Spain in the semi final.

Spain hadn’t lost a match since 2006 and were on a run of 35 games without a loss and 15 wins in a row in International play, both records. When I texted Dug to tell him of the 2-0 advantage, his response was pretty typical of football fans long accustomed to disappointing performances in international play: “they’ll find a way to lose.”

They didn’t. It’s not the world cup, but it’s the finals of an international tournament. Cheering for the US in football is like cheering for French riders in Le Tour—take whatever success you can find and pop the bubbly in celebration.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Apparently, I’m still alive. Just a bit tired and hungry. No, I’m not referring to the High Uintas stage race, though it’s understandable how one could be cold, tired, and happy to still be alive after that one. I’m referring to my googleganger who got lost in the mountains in Washington. 

This story was enough to cause brief panic to one of my co-workers, who read the story over the weekend and only found relief when the hiker’s description, aside from the name, didn’t match mine.

Scaring friends with news accounts is nothing new. When a world cup ski racer with whom I share a name crashed in January, the “skier…in coma” and “flown by helicopter to local hospital” parts were enough to cause a friend fleeting panic until further details were revealed.

Not that it makes someone nearly dying any better just because it wasn’t your friend, but if we got all emotional as if it were a loved one every time someone in the news was reported dead or injured, there wouldn’t be much to our lives besides despair and wearing black. I guess we’d at least be able to relate to Goth teenagers that way.

By the way, this is one of only a handful of times that I’ve indirectly referenced my last name on this blog. Not that I’m paranoid or anything. And not that it makes any difference—another employee at my former company was able to figure out who I was before I made any references to my full name just by cross referencing comments from fatty’s blog.

Incidentally, today marks the one-year anniversary of not being employed at the Huge Company. The four month gap was pretty touch-and-go, and we’re still filling in that crater, but on the whole I’m very glad to be gone. Hang in there, 331 miles, your day will come soon enough.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Not what I expected

We’re all familiar with the disproportionately hot girlfriend phenomenon. It’s pervasive enough that the guy who started Hot Chicks with Douchebags has made a career out of it. Usually there’s an explanation for it. Often, though, there’s not.

When Steve was in high school, he worked at a nursery that had among its best patrons a very attractive woman. She usually came in alone, but one time came in with her husband. The alarm bells went off—how did he end up with her? The next time she came in—alone—one of Steve’s colleagues said to her “your husband’s rich, isn’t he.”

She responded without hesitation: “Loaded.”

Sometimes, though, the question isn’t so easy to answer.

I’ve recently reneged on my commitment not to buy diet coke from the 7-eleven two blocks from my office. It’s on the way to the Real Tacos cart on Second South and State, and the siren song of three carne asada tacos—piled high with cabbage and pickled jalapenos and carrots—along with a 44 ounce diet coke, all for less than four dollars and all without getting in my car, is enough to make me almost forget about the pizza incident. It also helps that the pizza eater lady hasn’t been there the last couple times.

Revisiting that 7-eleven of course affords opportunities to watch the clientele, which brings us back to the subject of today’s post. While I was there, I saw a young lady who was attractive, if a bit trashy, and appeared to be in her early 20’s. The guy she was with, though, made me wonder if he was her dad, her pimp, or her long time child molester with whom she’d developed Stockholm syndrome.

This dude had been ridden hard and put away wet for years. He had that spare look of a guy who was accustomed to manual labor but didn’t eat properly. Kind of like an ex-professional wrestler who had swapped steroids for meth and lost a lot of his bulk but not the angry and ring-worn facade.

I couldn’t figure out how they ended up together. Sure, she already looked a little worn for her age, but that’s nothing new in that neighborhood. And her wear and tear was nothing compared to his. The difference could have only been ten years, but he looked to be at least twice her age.

Then it hit me—maybe he looked like a meth user because he was. Maybe she looked a little worn for her age for the same reason. Maybe he’s the dealer and a few months ago she was a college student who ran out of cash to fuel a newly acquired habit.

I started out writing this post intending for it to be funny. Turns out it’s just sad, especially if what I’ve supposed is correct. At this point I don’t even know what else to say, so I won’t.

Monday, June 22, 2009

God’s country

On my way out of town Friday, Steve sent me a text that said “have a good time in God’s country this weekend.”

The “God’s Country” he referred to is, of course, Wayne County, Utah. There’s a chance you’d take issue with me labeling it as God’s country, but chances are good you wouldn’t if you’re among the small portion of the populace that has ever been there.

I’ve been visiting Wayne County for as long as I can remember. My dad grew up there, and two of his brothers still raise cattle there (now as gentleman rather than full-time ranchers).

We stayed at my uncle’s house, which is at the edge of the foothills below Thousand Lake Mountain and has a Piñon-Juniper woodland out the back door and expansive views of the Fremont River valley out the front. It’s a cool place—literally. Because much of Wayne County sits around 7,000 feet or more, while Moab and most of Utah’s red rock country is scorching hot, Wayne County is still quite pleasant.

Yet hardly anyone seems to visit. Unlike the sometimes Disneyesque feel of Arches or Zions, Capitol Reef National Park and the adjoining Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are uncrowded. When we arrived at the Capitol Reef visitor’s center on Saturday, many of the 15 or so parking spaces in the lot were full, but that was likely just because it was raining.

While at the visitor’s center, I indulged my inner nerd by purchasing a poster that provides a timeline and labels for the rock layers at all of the national parks in Utah. At some point I’ll know my navajo from my wingate from my kayenta and will be able to thoroughly bore anyone who hikes or bikes with me with unsolicited geology lectures.

From the visitor’s center, we drove south on a dirt road, into the rarely-visited heart of the park, and stopped at the trailhead to Surprise Canyon, a gorgeous slot canyon that winds its way into the waterpocket fold. We encountered exactly one other hiker.

Sadly, in our rush to get out of town following the gauntlet on Friday, the camera was among the things left behind. This was a real bummer, because there were all kinds of plants and flowers I wanted to take pictures of for Alex to identify. Not to mention all the rock formations. (Incidentally, the visitor’s center in Capitol Reef has an awesome catalogue of native plants—you just thumb through it like you would LP’s in a record store back when those existed, but instead of album art, you look at plant samples encased in plastic with the names, both proper and common, on the card.)

After the hike, we backtracked a little to the Burr Trail, followed it up and over “the reef” and into Grand Staircase-Escalante. If you’re wondering how Capitol Reef got its name, many of the early explorers were seamen who were accustomed to describing any barrier or obstacle as a reef, including the waterpocket fold. Since some of the white sandstone formations bear some resemblance to the Capitol dome, it was given the name Capitol Reef.

Someday I’m going to ride the loop we drove from Torrey to the Burr Trail to Boulder and back to Torrey on a bike. It is some of the most amazing country anywhere and ranges from red rock canyons to alpine forests, summiting at 9,600 feet before dropping back into the Fremont River valley.

I have to admit that my motivation for making this trip wasn’t all sightseeing and family time. I also wanted to check out the course for the Capitol Reef Classic stage race coming up next month. All I can say is I can’t imagine a better course. The time trial is in Loa near the airport, likely because it’s the only flat stretch in the entire county.

In the road race, tactics are going to be critical—the big climb going up to Fish Lake comes early enough that it won’t be decisive. If you make a break on the climb, you better have enough of a motor to solo for 40 miles. It will be my first real test as a Cat. 4, and the anticipation/anxiety is already killing me four weeks out.

If you’re looking for an awesome race in an amazing location for July, you should consider this one. Unless you’re a strong Cat. 4 that climbs well, in which case I recommend skipping the race and sitting on the couch and eating as many bowls of Reese’s Puffs as you can.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Birthday rides rule

I think every cyclist should be able to celebrate his or her birthday with an epic ride. Apparently Elden is of a similar mind and he has lots of friends who agree, because this morning about fifteen of us met at the mouth of American Fork canyon to ride some or all of The Gauntlet.

Since it's a weekday, most of the group just rode to the top of American Fork canyon. A smaller group did the Cascade Springs portion (we decided to skip the superfluous minor spurs of Granite Flats and South Fork). By the time we got to Squaw Peak, it was just Elden, Kenny, and me.

On the way up Squaw Peak, we saw large numbers of BYU football players pushing their bikes up the hill. Most of them were on crappy mountain bikes, but we thought they still should have been able to drop to the granny gear and spin. We reveled in the fact that this was one athletic endeavor in which we could totally clean their clocks. I dished some good-natured crap to a few of the walking players, asking them "aren't you supposed to be pedaling?"

When one responded "if I had a bike like yours, I would be."

So I hit the brakes and said "OK, let's trade then." He made some lame excuse about how they HAD to be on mountain bikes, so I rode on. Knowingly.

At the end of the ride, Rachel met us at the park in Alpine with sandwiches, melon, and a delicious birthday cake. Every ride should end this way.

We were pondering how much vertical we'd climbed on the day. Before we consulted the altimeter, Elden made an estimation: "10,300 feet."

I asked each of my kids whether they thought it was over or under. They all chose under.

The actual result: 10,351. I think Elden could make a career as a Las Vegas oddsmaker.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Great expectations

I love phở. I usually pack a lunch to work, but when I go out, I like to have things I can’t get at home, so phở is usually at the top of my list. Naturally, I assumed my foodie wife would be all over it, too.

We met at Phở Hoa for lunch today. All three kids came along. I just assumed that the younger two would have no interest, so we ordered egg rolls for them. I also assumed that my ten-year-old, whose favorite food is sushi, would like the phở.

I gave the waitress our order. When I got done, I looked over at my daughter, and she had tears in her eyes. I asked what was wrong. “I saw the picture in the menu and it just didn’t look that good to me.” I gave her a little pep talk and told her we’d order more egg rolls if she didn’t like it.

My wife and daughter started out fine, perhaps in response to my own enthusiasm, which always seems to leave a splatter or two of chili-laced broth on my shirt. As the meal went on, though, both were just fishing out the rice noodles and leaving everything else.

When I was finished, they were both sitting with at least half a bowl left. Rachel’s verdict? “I think I’ll let you just go out for phở with your friends.” At least they both like sushi.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone-it, people like me

I’ve tried to convince myself over and over that I could have dug a little deeper and avoided being dropped on the last climb at the state championships.

But the reality is that I barely hung on to the leaders on the second lap, and I knew I was blown on the last one before the climb even started. It was just a question of how big the gap would be. Sure, it’s possible I could have kept it from getting as large as it was, thus enabling myself to bridge, but there was going to be a gap that no amount of affirmation or will could prevent.

We’ve probably all heard life coaches, Tony Robbins, or someone on open mic day at church declare without the least hint of sarcasm or doubt “you can do anything you really want to.” What a load of crap. I will never win the Tour of Flanders. Ever. Not even possible. Winning a race as a Cat. 3 is a stretch. No amount of training will ever change my DNA.

So when I hear people profess the virtues of self-affirmation and how empowering it is and the doors that are opened as a result, my response is to either roll my eyes and laugh under my breath or to disregard all pretense and mock them openly.

Turns out I’m not the only who feels this way, and now there’s some science to back me up:

When positive self-statements strongly conflict with self-perception…there is not mere resistance but a reinforcing of self-perception. People who view themselves as unlovable find saying that they are so unbelievable that it strengthens their own negative view rather than reversing it. Given that many readers of self-help books that encourage positive self-statements are likely to suffer from low self-esteem, they may be worse than useless.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Me, nervous?

Dear [SkiBikeJunkie],
The following request to change your USCF category has been approved and processed by USA Cycling:
******* - 2009-06-16 16:48
Member: [SkiBikeJunkie]
License: Road Racer
Request to change category from Cat 5 to Cat 4

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How not to taper

On Friday while riding Alpine Loop with Elden, after the incident with the camaro, but before we began contemplating snot volume, he asked me what my plans were for the weekend. I told him I planned to race the state championship road race.

"Now I don't know much about training*, but isn't climbing 4,500 feet the day before a race the wrong way to taper?"

*Elden claiming not to know much about training is a classic example of how cyclists are the inverse of fisherman. If a fisherman catches a 12 inch trout, to his friends, it's 15 inches. If a bass weighs three pounds, the story will be that it was four and a half. If you ask a cyclist, on the other hand, if he's going to have a good day, he'll go on and on about how he hasn't been feeling well, has been eating poorly, and feels generally weak when in fact he may feel as though he has the best legs of his life.

The pros are perhaps more guilty of this than anyone--they'll never state their ambition is to win a particular race, going only so far as to express ambitions to be on the podium and immediately naming several other racers who are the "true favorites." One look at Di Luca's face when
Menchov went down, though, and it was obvious he wanted to win badly and under any circumstances through which he could take the victory. I'm frankly quite shocked that more retired cyclists don't become professional poker players for all the bluffing they've done throughout their careers.

I'm sure Elden was right and it was a poor decision, but that Alpine Loop ride is like a siren song to me, and with all the rain, I'd only spent 30 minutes on the bike all week.

Once at the race, Steve and I very nearly missed our start. We thought we were going off at 9:20, but at 9:15 we broke from our warmup to see which group they were sending off. Turns out it was ours, so we quickly fell in, at the very back of the pack.

I prefer starting at the front, but I knew we'd all stay together until we got to the climb towards the end of the first of three 16 mile laps. The ride until the climb was unbelievably easy. I think I was on the brakes more often than I pedaled and just let the mass of riders in front pull me along at 23-25 mph.*

*If you've never ridden in a large peleton, it can be quite an experience. Whereas getting behind a single rider can help shield one from the wind, riding behind 30-40 riders is another matter entirely, as the slipstream is so large, it virtually sucks you along, with little opposing forces to overcome save rolling resistance.

As I was cruising along in the peleton, I came upon a racer on a Bianchi 928, Bianchi's Pro Tour model, equipped with Campy Super Record gruppo. Including the carbon tubular race wheels, it was about $12,000 worth of bike--quite a setup for a Cat. 5. As if that weren't enough, though, he had on black socks that said "Your Bike Sucks" in celeste green text. By comparison, that may be the case, but bikes don't win races, riders do. I suspected he'd not make the selection after the climb. I was right. I never saw him again.

He wasn't the only one to fall off when the road turned up. The climb was steep at 7-10%, but it was short at only a mile or so. Just long enough that I was able to hang onto the leaders but drop a lot of contenders.

Among those dropped was Spin Cycle's Alex K., the Mark Cavendish of Utah's Cat. 5 peleton. Surprisingly, Alex was alone and didn't have his usual, well-organized entourage. The twenty or so of us on the front organized ourselves to try and widen the gap, but about halfway through the lap, Alex, along with Rick's Omniture teammate Ben and another rider, bridged. I wasn't concerned because I knew they'd used a lot of energy to catch us and that we still had to climb that hill two more times.

Steve and I chatted at this point about race strategy. We decided we'd try to stay with the climbers on the hill but not try to make any breaks and hope for the best in the sprint. We knew the field would thin further the next time up the hill, and as all-arounders, we thought we'd fare well against the climbers in a sprint. I said to Steve "this assumes we're in that lead group."

"Of course," he said. Which made it clear he was feeling stronger than I was.

Sure enough, second time up the hill, we lost more riders. I was the tenth and last person to make the lead break. This lap we organized ourselves even better and made a more concerted effort to stay away, as Alex K. and company were only about 30 meters behind when we got to the summit. Our organization paid off, and we were able to put enough of a gap on the chasers that we never worried about them again.

The effort of staying away left me hurting on the last lap, and I was glad we had enough of a gap to effectively guarantee I'd get a top ten finish. On the final climb, I knew I'd lose ground, I just hoped it wasn't too much to overcome.

In hindsight, I wish I'd have given everything on that last hill rather than letting a gap open and trying to chase back. One other rider had been dropped, and once I caught him, the two of us worked together to reel in the rest.

With one kilometer to go, we were within 20 meters of the lead group--close enough that the support vehicle moved over so we could bridge. Unfortunately, some of the leaders took the 1K to go marker as their cue to begin the sprint, and we never closed the gap.

Steve was positioned well, mid-bunch with room to go up the right. He timed his sprint perfectly. When I crossed the line, he was giving the tell-tale high-fives to his fellow competitors. State Champion.

We had to wait for nearly two hours after the race before they finally got around to giving him his state champion's jersey, but it's his to wear at every road race for the year. As if he will--it just doesn't go with the bluffing ethic, to say nothing of the target it puts on his back.

Congratulations to Steve. Our nephew's soccer team won the Utah Summer Games tournament, so as a family we have two gold medal winners and a ninth-place finish in a single weekend. Not a bad haul.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I love this country

This morning while Elden and I were riding up the Alpine Loop, I was more than once awestruck at the beauty that surrounded me. Massive peaks, still cloaked with snow, gave way to lush, green forests laced with waterfalls and streams, bursting with whitewater from the massive spring runoff.

And then some jackass in a 1995 camaro gunned his motor, once to let us know he was there, once more to get around us, and then a third time, once around, to show us that cars do, in fact, go uphill faster than bicycles. I think we may have delayed him for all of three seconds from his important date with the handful of twenty-something single men, all of whom live with their parents and don’t have girlfriends, that he rides ATV’s with on Friday mornings.

Judging by the Jiffy Lube shop shirt he was wearing, he’s a high-powered corporate type whose time is precious, so naturally I felt horrible about keeping him, however briefly, from his rare and precious free time. Perhaps the half gallon of gasoline he burned in his display of importance as he went around made up the three lost seconds. I genuinely hope so.

Here’s the thing, though. I love that road. And no matter how many of these jerks I encounter, I’m not going to stop riding it. I love that the road is even there. Because it’s not a thoroughfare to anywhere—that road exists for the sole purpose of providing recreation opportunities for the American people on publicly-owned land. That’s pretty awesome if you ask me.

The not awesome part is that hillbilly douchebags are in such a hurry to do whatever it is that they want to do that they can’t be bothered to share the road with bicycles.

Of course as the bitchin’ camaro went around, I gave him a friendly wave. Elden saw that I gestured but didn’t see what it was and asked if I flipped him off. “No, I said. I just waved. I’m pretty passive-aggressive about this stuff. I always wave when they’re around, but if I see his car parked later in the ride, I’ll stop and pee on it.”

When we got buzzed again on our way up the hill going home, I also decided to add a valve core remover to my underseat bag.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Half a hundred

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows I’m a box ticker and perhaps a bit obsessive. Yet somehow finishing my ski season with 49 days didn’t really bother me. Despite my obsessive nature, round numbers are just numbers to me, so the only difference between reaching 50 and 49 was one more day on snow.

But since the weather in Utah has pretty much sucked for the last week and getting workouts on the bike has proved difficult, Tyler and I decided to ski this morning. That’s right, on June 11.

One might ask what sort of skiing could be had on June 11. Some damn fine skiing, actually. I skied worse conditions mid-winter. The rain in the valley has actually been snow, albeit moist and grainy, in the mountains. Which left a soft, creamy layer on top, with the snow underneath warm enough to be carveable and not grabby.

The objective of the day was the Main Baldy Chute at Alta, an in-bounds line that’s usually closed during the season, and the first truly steep, technical line I ever skied back in 1993 but hadn’t been back to since.

We were able to skin all the way up to the base of the chute before we started booting.

What is it that Watcher says, if someone takes a good shot of your ass, you should post it to the Internet? Not sure this counts, but here it is anyway.

I’ll admit it seemed a bit ominous staring up into this thing with clouds shrouding the top.

Tyler practicing the rest step.

Looking back down at what we’d come up. The first 2,000 feet of climbing were the easiest. The next 500 as hard as the first 2,000, and the last 500 as hard as everything before.

About 100 vertical feet from the summit, the snow was getting harder, our footholds were less secure, and fatigue was setting in. Rather than risk taking a ride all the way back to the bottom, we decided to just descend from there. Here I am, wishing I could ski like Tyler.

Tyler, showing me how it’s done.

At the bottom of the chute where it widened enough that we could let our skis run, the skiing was incredible. It was like that all the way down the apron.

We skied all the way back to the car. Considering our expectation was to slog through the mud for a while before reaching snow, and then to hike and ski crappy snow with no expectation other than getting some exercise, today was a fantastic day. Good enough that Rick, who transitioned from skis to bikes way back in March, is making noises about getting out next week. I have a feeling it will be a group comparable to a mid-winter powder day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The frugal cyclist’s guide to upgrading your road bike

I’m a self-proclaimed dirtbag. I hate paying full price for anything, and when I do, I want to make sure that I’m spending my money intelligently. But like every other leg-shaving roadie, when I fondle someone else’s lightweight bits and pieces, I get jealous. Since I have a limited budget for upgrades, pretty good spreadsheet skills, and a warped sense of what constitutes “entertainment” on a Sunday morning, I decided to figure out exactly how to best spend upgrade dollars on my bike.

First, though, a few assumptions:

  1. The objective of the upgrade is to reduce weight. I don’t have a wind tunnel, and I live on top of a mountain, so my concern is reducing weight in the most cost-effective way possible. I can’t help you with aero.
  2. You’re starting with a frame you’re happy with—these are upgrades to an existing bike rather than a new bike entirely, even though in many cases a new bike may actually be the better value.
  3. You have an enthusiast-level part spec (Shimano 105, Ultegra, Ultegra SL), with a wheelset typical of a bike at that price point, approximately 1800 grams (think Bontrager Race, Mavic Ksyrim Equipe or Aksium Race, or Shimano RS20). I used Ultegra drivetrain and Bontrager Race wheels as the baseline since that’s what I have. If you have Dura Ace 7800 or Force and roll on Ksyrium SL’s, I’m really not sure why you’d be “upgrading.”
  4. You’re already eating right and have about 10% or less body fat. If not, stop reading right here and start limiting yourself to portions that would leave a supermodel hungry. Spend the upgrade money on a nutritionist and/or coach if you need to. You’re only going to shave two, maybe three pounds by spending more money, so shed the weight for free if there’s more than that around your midsection.
  5. You aren’t concerned about brand names or things that match, you just want quality parts that work.
  6. Priority is determined by cost per gram of weight reduced, regardless of how much weight it will save (sort of like Net Present Value for you finance geeks). Cost per gram is calculated as:

price of new part / (weight of old part - weight of new part )

With that in mind, here’s how to spend your money:

Get new wheels

If you’re going to do just one thing, you should get new wheels. Not because rotational weight matters more than non-rotational weight, either. Wheels are a smart upgrade based on nothing more than dollars versus grams. And the weight savings are enough to be truly noticeable, too. Just make sure you get the right wheels—you can spend a ton of money on wheels and get no benefit whatsoever.

Revolution Wheelworks Rev22 wheels are the best thing going here. The Rev22’s will save you about a pound (450 grams) for a mere $480 or $1.07 per gram. I could probably get away with the Rev22L for even more weight reduction at the same price (510 grams at $0.94 per gram), but since I’m hard on wheels, I’ll stick with the slightly heavier Rev22.

Other good choices in this category are the Neuvation R28 SL5 ($1.15/gram); Williams System 19 ($1.38/gram); and Easton EA90 SLX ($1.55/gram).

Change your tubes

Lightweight tubes only save 60 grams, but it’s the cheapest 60 grams you can find at about $0.30/gram versus standard tubes. Superlight tubes, like Continental Supersonics, save even more weight at 100 grams for two tubes or $0.48/gram. Technically both tube options are cheaper than the wheels, but since you’ll throw them away every time you get a puncture, the wheels have the advantage after your third or fourth flat tire.

Pedals, really?

You probably can’t wait to get to the drivetrain, but pedals come first. Specifically Speedplay. If you know anyone who rides with Zero pedals, they probably love them. Turns out they’re a great weight-reduction value, too. The Cro-Mo version is $125 and weighs 107 grams less than Ultegra (50 grams less than Dura Ace), and offers a lot more adjustability. Why didn’t I learn about these sooner?

Shifting gears

After changing out wheels, tubes, and pedals, it’s finally time to change gears. Or at least gear changers. Shift/brake levers are the next most cost-effective place to reduce weight, but it has to be done in combination of shifters + rear derailleur, since you’ll need to switch brands, too.

SRAM has a clear edge over Shimano in weight, but the interesting thing is that the best weight reduction value is found in the Rival group rather than the higher-end Force or Red gruppos. New Rival shifters and rear derailleur (Shimano front derailleur is compatible, but the rear is not) will set you back $355 and save you 191 grams over Ultegra for a cost of $1.85 per gram saved. Force will save a bit more weight at 218 grams for $490, but a greater benefit at a lower cost can be had by spending money on...


Rival is again the value winner, as Rival brakes will shave 43 grams off of Ultegra for $100. Considering Force shifters and rear derailleur are only 27 grams lighter than Rival but cost $135 more, spending another Ben Franklin on brake calipers is the way to go.

Force brakes are only seven grams lighter but $65 more than Rival (which are lighter than Dura Ace), while Red are 22 grams lighter than Rival but cost nearly three times as much.


Rival’s value streak ends with the chain. Here the smart money is on Dura Ace. The weight savings aren’t that great at only 28 grams, but my own experience with Dura Ace chains has been that they’re worthwhile for the durability alone. The one currently on my bike has over 4,000 miles on it and isn’t even 0.75% worn according to my Park Tool chain gauge. Those 28 saved grams will cost you $2.42 each. But since you have to replace chains periodically it’s only $1.08 per gram over buying Ultegra if you’re due for a new one anyway. In case you’re concerned, Shimano chains and SRAM drivetrain parts play together just fine. Same is true the other way around.

Steel cassettes?

Steel is dense, so it doesn’t take very much of it to make a strong part. Which is why SRAM machines much of its Red cassette out of a single piece of steel. At $230 it’s not the cheapest piece on the market, but at 75 grams lighter than Ultegra, it’s the next best place to spend upgrade dollars. Cassettes and chains as well as front derailleurs are instances where the absolute lightest part is also the best value.

Compatible cranks

The last two places to think about spending upgrade money are the crankset and front derailleur. There’s 123 grams between the lightest (Dura Ace) and heaviest (Ultegra) crank, but Force is the best value at 71 grams lighter than Ultegra for $275. Front derailleurs are separated by 30 grams from lightest (Red) to heaviest (Rival/Force). Red is the best value at 27 grams lighter than Ultegra for $105.

I’m just glad that SRAM and Shimano shifters are both cross-compatible with SRAM or Shimano cranks and front derailleurs. Don’t spend money here unless it’s the last thing left.

But is it worth it?

Upgrading your drivetrain as suggested will result in parts that weigh about the same as Dura Ace 7900 for about half the cost of buying Dura Ace at retail. You’ll be right around the magic 2 kilograms (which is only magic because it’s an even number). And your weight savings over Ultegra will be right about one pound or 450 grams.

Better deals can sometimes be had by purchasing complete gruppos. If you’re not buying piece-by-piece, the best bang for the buck is Rival, but Force is 156g lighter and not far behind in dollars per gram saved. However, if you already have Rival and want to upgrade, Red saves more grams per dollar than Force just because Rival and Force are already so close in weight.

For less than half the cost of upgrading your drivetrain, you can take the same amount of weight or more out of your wheels. My next upgrade will without a doubt be a set of Revolution Rev22’s. The drivetrain can wait for wheels and pedals. Especially since drivetrain upgrades would cost $1000 to net half a water bottle worth of weight savings.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Team (time trial)

Elden asked me earlier in the week if I'd ride Nebo Loop with him. When a friend needs a break and wants it to be on a ride that awesome, how can you possibly say no?

As the week unfolded, my only concern about the ride was whether it would conflict with Brad's funeral. The funeral was scheduled for 2:00 on Saturday, and we planned to start the ride at 6:00. I figured we could ride 106 miles in six hours or so and get me back in plenty of time, ideally around noon, worst case scenario by 1:00.

We stopped at Wendy's in Nephi to refuel and got back on our bikes at 11:37. We were still 45 miles from Racer's shop. Not good. I figured if we all worked together and rode hard, we could still make it in less than two hours. Less than a mile from Wendy's, though, it was evident that wasn't going to happen.

So I asked Steve if he'd come with me and took off the front. We had a tailwind, so we were moving quickly and figured we'd seen the last of the group behind us. When I rotated off the front, I looked back and Jon J. and his brother Paul had bridged and were right behind us.

The four of us went as hard as we could go. We already had 60+ miles and over 6,000 feet of climbing in our legs, but evidently someone forgot to tell Jon, Steve, and Paul that. There were several times when I was barely holding the wheel in front of me and trying to figure out how the guy on the front was maintaining that pace. And then he'd stay there two or three more minutes.

We covered the 45 miles in an hour and 45 minutes. Every one of us left it all out on the road and had nothing left. Steve's my brother and Jon lives across the street from me. Maybe they felt like they were obligated to help. But today was the first time I'd ridden with Paul, yet there he was hurting himself to help me squeeze two days worth of commitments into one.

I'll admit it hasn't been the best week for me. But it's hard to lose hope when I've got a team like I do helping me along. Thanks, guys.

Friday, June 5, 2009

How to be fast

First let me say that fast is a relative thing. Compared to some, such as small children, three-toed sloths, or a two-legged dog, I am fast. Compared to many others, I am not.

Allow me to illustrate. A couple weeks ago on the weekly Friday morning Alpine Loop ride, Jon J set a blistering pace all the way up the canyon. At least it felt blistering to me. Then we got to the top and everyone starts talking about how slow the time was. I just sat there quietly, because it was a personal best.

This morning we rode again. We didn’t even try to stay together. I got to the top five or so minutes faster than two weeks ago even though I’d been dropped by Brad, Rick, Brandon, Adam, and Aaron pretty early on. Another new personal best.

Which leads me to the simple conclusion of my post. And it’s no secret either. If you want to be fast, ride with fast people. If you keep waiting until you’re faster before venturing out with the fast people, you’ll never get there. Join the ride and don’t worry about embarrassing yourself. Nobody cares. If you get dropped, vomit, or just suffer until your eyeballs pop out and your ears bleed, so be it. But you will get faster.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Review of the Rudy Project Noyz

A few weeks ago I mentioned I was in the market for a new pair of cycling sunglasses. I made a not-so-subtle hint that I’d love a sponsor to step up to the plate. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear this, but the manufacturers simply weren’t falling all over themselves to sponsor a Cat. 5/Sport-class racer who’s only claim to fame is winning a MTB race in which he would not have even been on the podium were he one year younger and racing in another age group of the same division.

Since the unsolicited sponsorships didn’t come to me, I went out and solicited one. And since I was doing the soliciting, I went to the company I was most interested in: Rudy Project.

Rudy is an Italian brand that has a loyal following among cyclists in the US, but is much lesser known in other activities than say, the big “O” brand. But their products are awesome. The optics are up there with anyone else’s, and they have the best lens guarantee in the business.

Rudy products are almost all available for use with prescription lenses, so if you need prescription sunglasses, these are a great bet. Ask your optician about them—many of them are Rudy dealers.

Rudy was also kind enough to offer to sponsor team Revolution and offered us pro deals on their products. Here’s what I was looking for:

  1. Crystal-clear optics: I like to see where I’m going and see it really well.
  2. Photochromic lenses: I wanted one lens that would change tint for all conditions.
  3. Hydrophobic coating: Didn’t want to be blinded by a rainstorm or my own sweat.
  4. Frames that stay in place: I hate pushing my glasses back up on my face all the time.

The model I ordered was the Noyz. Fans of the Giro may have noticed the bright yellow glasses Ivan Basso and several other riders were wearing during the race. I wasn’t quite ready to make a statement like that with brightly colored eyewear, so I got the same model with the matte black frame and photochromic red lenses.

So far they’ve been great. I’ve worn them early in the morning and late in the evening and didn’t feel like the lenses were too dark, nor were they not dark enough in full sun. They stay in place well—once they’re on, I didn’t have to touch them. The adjustable nose and ear pieces make for a nice fit.

It rained a bit on Tuesday, and the water dripped right off the lenses without leaving anything behind. Sweat leaves some salty residue, but cleanup is easy. I’m not sure a lens exists that you can sweat on continuously without dirtying.

And the optics are great—the red tint creates a nice sharpening contrast that works well on trail or asphalt.

The photochromic lenses are activated by UV rays, so they don’t really darken in the car where the UV is blocked by the glass, and the styling is a bit much for casual use, so my Smiths will stay in the rotation for driving and casual wear. But then again, that’s not what I bought them for. For the intended application, I couldn’t be happier.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Telling a story for the last time

Provo, Utah is home to Johnny B's comedy club, which is somewhat of an anomaly for comedy clubs in that the performers eschew foul language and dirty jokes, and the club doesn't serve alcohol. But given that the clientele is mostly BYU students, the business model seems to work.

Years ago when I was a student at BYU, some high school friends and I went to Johnny B's one evening. We were all freshly returned from serving as LDS missionaries, many having served in far away and exotic places such as Russia and Colombia. My friend Brad was along as well. Brad went to Pittsburgh.

The headliner for the evening was none other than the club's namesake, Johnny Biscuit. Watching Johnny perform is a hoot because he has mormon humor dialed. Well at least it's a hoot if you're mormon or have been and can relate.

One of the things he talked about in his routine was LDS missions and how there's somewhat of a status associated with where one goes--the more exotic the better.

"But," Johnny said, "when all these former missionaries get talking, you really gotta feel for the guy who went to Pittsburgh." Brad smiled. The rest of us were rolling on the floor laughing.

About this same time I decided it would be fun to climb Mt. Timpanogos, a nearly 12,000 foot massif that dominates northern Utah County. As is often the case, there were many who expressed interest, but one by one work, dates, and other obligations narrowed the field until it was just Brad and me.

Our plan was to start Friday evening, hike up as far as we could before dark, make camp, and then attempt the summit Saturday morning. I should also mention that although it was September, it snowed about two feet on Thursday, and the mountain was covered in white.

Before embarking, we barbecued brats at my apartment. This was the first time Brad had eaten a bratwurst, and let's just say that although he enjoyed them going down, they gave him a little trouble afterward. No involuntary expulsions of debris, just a lot of noise and smell.

There was no bare ground to camp on, just snow. And the only flat place we could find was just below a waterfall and quite wet. Nevertheless, we crawled into the two-man tent together and settled down for the night. Or at least tried. More than once, I had to unzip the door of the tent and gasp for fresh air.

Once that either subsided or I got used to it, we still had the cold to deal with. Brad hadn't brought a sleeping pad, so since I had the warmer sleeping bag, I gave him mine. The sleeping bag alone was inadequate insulation from the cold below, while Brad's bag was inadequate insulation from the cold above. We both shivered and suffered through the night and were out of the tent and ready to hike as soon as there was enough daylight to see the trail.

As we hiked, we talked about how cold the night had been. I mentioned that I didn't sleep much because I was so cold and was on the cusp much of the night of asking Brad if he were cold to the point of getting in my sleeping bag with me.

"Well why didn't you say something?!" Brad asked. "I was thinking the same thing, but thought you'd think I was gay if I asked."

Perhaps this way is better, as I can retell the story without embarrassment, whereas the other way we'd have likely kept it to ourselves for the duration. Sure was cold though.

In the succeeding years Brad and I kept in touch, at times intermittently, and I was pleased to see him enjoy professional success that far exceeded that of most of the rest of the crowd I grew up with. He had his challenges like anyone else but seemed to overcome them with his trademark smile and enthusiasm.

I found out this afternoon that Brad passed away. I'll miss you, my friend. I'll likely not be able to tell your stories ever again. But I will never forget.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Granting wishes

When my mom was a little girl and people asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said “a cowboy.”

If they responded “don’t you mean a cowgirl?” She would say,

“No, a cowboy.”

Her commitment to this career path was such that she even tried to pee standing up. I’m not sure if she kept her boots on or not.

Neither the “peeing standing up” part nor the “cowboy” part of her childhood plans worked out. After the last of her seven kids started school, she followed him there and has been teaching ever since.

Her retirement party is this Friday. Being the thoughtful and eminently practical son that I am, I am going to simultaneously solve a persistent problem and fulfill a lifelong dream.

You see, my mom never really got over the “peeing standing up”  thing. And now, when she rides her bike, she envies the men who can duck behind a tree. She has more than once been dehydrated, sometimes severely, for fear of over-hydrating and having no place to go.

So last night I took the youngest two and went to Cabela’s. Incidentally, Cabela’s is just like going to the zoo for little kids. Except the animals are all dead. Well except for the fish. Kids five and under don’t seem to care, though, and think it’s the coolest place ever. I’m going to start taking them there more often since it’s free and just down the hill from my house.

At Cabela’s I got my mom a Lady J. Should be small and light enough to fit in a jersey pocket. Maybe not quite as convenient as it is for the men to duck behind a tree, but still possible.

My embarrassment at checkout was on par with buying tampons for my wife, but it was worth it to fulfill a dream my mom has had since childhood.

Congratulations on your retirement, Mom!