Friday, October 30, 2009

Nobody to blame but myself

Well it's the last day of Official Rant Week, and I have to say it's a real disappointment. Not a disappointment that it's over, but a disappointment in how pathetic I was. I mean, I started out OK with the drivers. Then I actually hit my stride with the pronunciation rant--it takes a truly bitter person, after all, to rip a ten-year-old for mispronouncing a six syllable word.

But the next day, when I gave Roxy Lo a B for designing a pretty bike with no useful bottle cages, that was really soft. She should have had a straight F. After all, what business does a non-cyclist have designing a bike anyway? And spending two paragraphs ripping on the French for designing a bike with no conceivable reason not to have bottle cages was downright pathetic. The French should have been ripped for two solid paragraphs just for being French, and then I should have mustered a lot more vitriol in the two paragraphs more where I did rip on their stupid bike design. Opportunity squandered.

Then there's yesterday's post about sharing trails with horses. Well yesterday's post was very nearly conciliatory. What did equestrians ever do to deserve such polite treatment? Especially from the same guy who has been known to try and spit in the open windows of their trucks as they pass him on the way up American Fork canyon. Where is the requisite hatred these unpredictable scatterers of feces deserve?

If I were to do Official Rant Week justice, I'd be taking advantage of opportunities to go off wherever they present themselves. For instance, I'd use the book I'm presently reading, The Innocent Man, a non-fiction work about men wrongfully convicted of some murders in small-town Oklahoma. The state is full of NASCAR-loving, bible-thumping hillbillies who proclaim to love Jesus and espouse his word and follow it literally. Except that even though Jesus teaches forgiveness, whenever a murder is committed, they want nothing more than to convict and execute someone in return, regardless of whether or not there's a shred of evidence against the accused.

The pathetic ignorance of these inbred wideloads isn't limited to the lower socio-economic strata, either. Cops, crime lab techs, prosecutors, defense attorneys, juries, and judges all the way up to the appellate level are all equally inept and unperturbed by constitutional violations, a lack of proof, and prosecution cases built on perjury and laughable circumstantial evidence. And of course Oklahomans aren't alone in their appalling, blood-thirsty cheers when someone is actually executed. If I were truly venemous, as befitting Official Rant Week, I would somehow express in words my nearly uncontrollable urge to vomit repeatedly as the book unfolds.

If anything I've said this week deserved the label of "rant," I would have of course included the teenagers in American Fork (the town, not the canyon) being cited for being disorderly in public after they rapped their order at a McDonald's drive-thru. Again, it's a case of room temperature IQ's at all levels, starting with the night manager, who claimed to feel "her safety was at risk;" extending to the cops who felt like anything had been done wrong in the first place; and finally with McDonald's corporation for standing behind the stupid night manager who had clearly blown things out of proportion. There's simply no excuse on my part for not finding and taking advantage of these truly rant-worthy current events.

Even had these opportunities not presented themselves, were I a ranter worth my salt, I could have of course ridiculed the single most prevalent example of stupidity rampant in urban areas worldwide: wannabe bike messengers riding old, crappy bikes around town with no helmets. Do these idiots really think urban riding is that safe? Have they not noticed the cars, buses, and garbage trucks they're sharing the road with? Or are they just so stupid as to think they, because of the phenomenal bike handling skills they've developed in the three months since they started riding, won't be hurt by any of these?

And then, as if these imbeciles needed encouragement, along comes Rapha, a company founded on stupid ideas sold to stupider people for way more money than a reasonable person would ever pay for a practical, well-designed version of the product. I mean really, who wants to wear a suit jacket on the bike anyway? People dumb enough to ride without helmets, that's who. But really, even if you did want to wear one, just to be ironic (if that floats your boat), why wouldn't you get one at a thrift store since it's just going to get trashed anyway? Had I been paying attention, I would have picked up on this and made it the subject of a blog post.

I won't ask you to forgive these oversights. I won't take a mulligan on rant week and try again later. I have nobody to blame but myself. Because there was more than enough to rant about this week, and the subjects I did actually select were worthy topics. I just failed to give them a worthy rant. I mean, I could have outdone yesterday's rant with a rant about the smelliness of my own gas yesterday afternoon. And about the nauseating toxicity of the air inside my car as I was running errands on my lunch break. Or I could have done a third-person rant from the perspective of the finance manager at work talking about the disgusting pig she works with who fouled the air of his own cubicle right before she walked over to ask him a question. And how it made her eyes water as she stoically stood there and absorbed it. But I failed to pick up on any of these topics and undoubtedly disappointed my readers, all six who remain, as a result.

At this point, all I can do is apologize. I am truly sorry.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Do unto others

I admit that I am probably not the best person to share a trail with. On more than one occasion, I’ve come around a blind corner only to encounter someone else coming up and been going too fast to politely stop and let the other person by.

I hope other trail users will forgive these instances, as they are neither malicious nor intentional. I hope they will forgive them just as I am willing to overlook the many, many instances when I encounter dogs off leash, even when the signage clearly states that dogs must be on leash.

And while I’ll admit that I’m not willing to go off trail or risk crashing for the sake of avoiding a dog that’s supposed to be on a leash but isn’t, I have never intentionally hit one. I’ve hit them by accident, but it’s always been slow speed, and they’ve always jumped in front of me at the most inopportune moments. (Why is it that the owners of the stupidest dogs, i.e., those most prone to jumping in front of cyclists at the last possible moment, seem also to be those most likely to let their dogs off leash when they’re not supposed to be?)

I’m willing to overlook these off-leash dogs and the bags of poop left trailside that may or may not actually be picked up by the owner on the way out, because I’m generally a pretty tolerant person out on the trail. My mood is almost always good, because being active outdoors is my drug, and I am an addict. It is an upper like no other.

Sometimes, in my exuberance, I’ve been known to ride a trail or two that I’m maybe not supposed to be on. Like Pinebrook, or ducking into upper Millcreek on an odd day, or the little spur that turns Shoreline into a lollipop instead of an out and back. (Thinking about this, Alex has been with me on most of these occasions. And when I haven’t been with Alex, I’ve been with Ed. Are they bad influences on me? Or is it the other way around? Hmm.) But when I do so, I’m extra, extra polite, always stopping and letting other trail users by, and very conscious of the fact I’m not really supposed to be there.

I hope my politeness will lead others to forgive these indiscretions. My experience is that it’s quite easy to get along with people who are polite and considerate. Getting along with other trail users really isn’t that hard, because in general, we don’t get into each other’s way, and we try to be nice when we do.

There’s one huge, glaring exception, though: horses. I understand some people are really into horses, but frankly, they take way more than their share.

The trucks hauling horse trailers take more than their share of road going up American Fork canyon. I’ve seen them run cyclists off the road and pass others way too close. And then they act like the cyclist is at fault for being there in the first place. The horses themselves take more than their share of trail—they are too big to get around, and encountering one is an ordeal for all involved.

Encountering a horse on the trail is scary. They’re scared by my bike, I understand that. But my bike weighs 25 pounds, is easy to control, and doesn’t do anything under its own power. On the other side of the equation, though, horses are massive creatures that weigh 1,000 pounds or more, they spook easily, and despite the riders’ best efforts, it’s impossible to know for sure what they’ll do. It’s a lopsided affair in the horse’s favor.

As if that weren’t enough, cyclists have poured hundreds and hundreds of hours into building new mountain bike trails in Corner Canyon. Now that one of them, after a full season of effort, is almost done, one of the equestrians on the trails council had the audacity to propose that, since the mountain bikers had their own trail, Clark’s trail should be made equestrian only. As if. Here’s a better idea: why not organize yourselves and build your own trail. Preferably in Herriman. Or better yet, Delta.

Really, though, for all the problems they create, I’m almost willing to have a quid-pro-quo with horses and mountain bikers on the trail—you tolerate us, we’ll tolerate you, we’ll all do our best to get along.

I say almost because there is one thing that decidedly tips the scales in favor of the mountain bikers in this equation: I have never, ever, not even once, pooped in the middle of the trail. And even if I did, and especially if mine were 86 times its normal size like a horse’s is, I certainly wouldn’t leave it there.

(Photo courtesy of Brandon, who has to deal with more horses than I do.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Form before function

I recently built a new mountain bike. I’ve been wanting this frame for some time and was planning to order one from Revolution until I came across a used one. I bought the used one for a handful of reasons:

  1. I’m a dirtbag, and it was cheaper than buying new.
  2. It came in a sexy black color.
  3. Since it already had some dings, I knew I wouldn’t baby it.
  4. It had bottle cage mounts on the seat tube.

Of those four reasons, the first and last were most important. Niner is currently making all their size small frames without a bottle cage mount on the seat tube. They say it’s so that you can drop your saddle for descending.

I used to drop my saddle for descending. But that was back when I rode a six inch travel bike and actually jumped off of things. I’ve become a ninny in recent years and don’t jump off anything bigger than a curb anymore. I don’t need to drop my saddle to do that.

Most of the guys I ride with are also on 29er hardtails. None of them drop their saddles either. I really can’t figure out why Niner product managers decided that dropping your saddle was so important on a XC frame. Yet they got rid of bottle cage mounts on the seat tube for precisely that reason. Have you ever seen anyone drop their saddle on a XC bike? Didn’t think so.

Another excellent XC bike that used to have bottle cage mounts on the down and seat tubes was the Specialized Epic. I thought it was great how they figured out how to put all the suspension linkage behind the seat tube so that the front triangle was open like a hardtail. It looked like a race bike, and it had the practical benefit of two bottle cages. Sadly, they’ve scratched that design and on current models put the shock in the main triangle—no more room for a seat tube cage.

Niner put a bottle cage on the underside of the down tube as if that would make up for taking it off the seat tube. But really, that’s a long reach, and it’s also in direct line of fire for any mud or horse poop splatter. Sticking a bottle that’s spent the last several minutes getting coated with dirt and fecal matter in my mouth is not exactly appealing.

But here’s the thing: as much as it sucks not having a bottle cage on the seat tube, it’s nowhere near as bad as not having a bottle cage at all. Check out the Ibis Mojo:

Beautiful bike. Frame only retails for north of two grand. Yet if you had one, every time you rode it, you’d have to strap on a backpack. Or go thirsty and not bring any tools or spare tubes. Sure, there’s a mount underneath the downtube, but check the location—it’s right where the big ring would make hamburger of your hand. Even if I weren’t worried about the chainring, I don’t think I can reach that far.

I’m almost willing to give Ibis a pass here. Even though the lack of a bottle cage is a dealbreaker for me, the Mojo is positioned as an all-mountain trail bike. And it’s not the only trail bike with nowhere to put a bottle. Moreover, the designer, Roxy Lo, isn’t a cyclist. She was hired to make it look pretty. Scott Nicol should have said something about bottle cages, but how was Roxy to know? Roxy gets a B for making it pretty, if impractical. Scott still gets an F for failing to think like a cyclist when reviewing the drawings.

Giant, on the other hand, deserves no leniency. They’re the biggest bike maker in the world. So why on earth did they design the Anthem, they’re flagship XC race bike, with a shock that extends from the seat tube to the downtube, right in the prime real estate for bottle cages?

You can see some bosses right above the shock, but they’re useless on anything but the largest frames. You couldn’t actually fit a bottle in there.

To their credit, Giant has changed their shock placement on current models (Anthem X series), but I wonder what that little design gaffe cost them? Giant and Trek used to be the two dominant players in the US bike industry. Specialized has supplanted Giant in recent years and relegated them to a second tier status. I imagine losing market share due to bad design choices was not among Giant’s objectives when they released their 2009 lineup.

In all of these instances, though, the designers had what they thought was a logical reason not to put bottle cage mounts in a given location, be it dropping a saddle, needing the space for a shock, whatever. Leave it to the French, however, to leave off bottle cage mounts strictly for the je ne sais quoi factor.

LaPierre cyclocross bikes have no mounts for bottle cages.

I get that ‘cross races are short, racers don’t usually carry water, and cages get in the way if you’re carrying your bike up a run up. So take the cage off on race day.

But to assume the bike will never be used in training, never be used on a commute, or never be ridden when it’s raining and you don’t want to get out the road bike puts form before function in a way that’s absolutely ridiculous. And characteristically French.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The long “I”

I don’t care if you say “creek” with a long e, or if you prefer to say it as Shakespeare did, “crick.” Likewise, “either” can be with a long e or a long i. Either way is fine. Tomato with a long a is how I like it, but the other way is OK too.

But if you say NevAHda or OregAHn or ALLta, I’ll think you’re a stuffy easterner who has never been to any of those places for more than five days but likes to talk about them because for some reason you think having been west of the I-95 corridor is cool.

Nevertheless, the mispronunciation of Western US place names is not the subject of today’s rant. Today I am focusing specifically on the misuse of the long I in two words, one of which is rarely used at all and almost never outside of mormon churches.

Let’s start with Ītalian. I know Rocky was introduced as the “Ītalian Stallion,” but that was a reflection of the lack of education in working-class Philadelphia from which he and his boxing cohorts came. That doesn’t make it correct.

Do you go on a vacation to Ītaly? No. You go to Italy, where the first syllable, for English speakers at least, is pronounced like the word “it.” If you’re an Italian (or Spanish or French) speaker, you’d say it more like “eat.” But it’s never “ite.”

So why would you claim to put Ītalian dressing on your salad? Or eat at an Ītalian restaurant? You wouldn’t. Because there’s no such place as Ītaly. See, wasn’t that easy? Good. Now teach your tongue to do it.

Next let’s move on to the word “paradisiacal.” This is a word that every mormon who’s gone to church consistently for at least a year has heard. And 99% of them have heard it incorrectly. In fact, our very first Sunday in our present ward, the bishop used this word and pronounced it correctly. I knew I would like him at that point, and even if he had a host of other shortcomings, I could overlook them because he was setting the right example with his pronunciation of this one, not-so-simple word.

Most people mispronounce the word by saying the fourth and fifth syllables as a single syllable, a long i. But astute readers will observe that it’s not just an “i,” but “ia.” And “a” makes a sound too. Sure there are silent a’s in the English language, but this is not one of them.

So instead of saying paradicicle, with the last part sounding like icicle or bicycle, let’s not forget that lowly “a” and make the appropriate schwa sound after the long “i.” Pear ih dih SIGH uh cull. Next time you’re reciting the tenth article of faith, remember that.

And to the little boy in my daughter’s primary class who wasn’t there when my wife coached them on how to say that word and who said “paradicicle” so loud that you couldn’t hear the other kids say pear ih dih SIGH uh cull during the primary program on Sunday: I’m disgusted with you. You ruined the whole thing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Unbelievably annoying

Last Thursday, I declared last week to be Rant Week. Alex, from whom I stole the idea of theme weeks, informed me that you can't declare a theme after the fact, and that the best I could do was declare last week a prequel to the Official Rant Week, which would then have to be this week. Since I'm new to the whole theme week thing, I guess I have no choice but to comply. Besides, even though I'm not feeling as grumpy as I did last week, I don't have any better ideas for what to blog about, plus I got a few more ideas for some rants.

Before I get into Official Rant Week, however, I was admonished by my wife to include a disclaimer, which I will do by recounting what we did Friday evening. (No, not that. But I bet if I blogged about that it would be way more popular than this blog, not because the content would be particularly interesting, but just because perverts outnumber people obsessed with cycling and backcountry skiing on the interwebs.)

Friday evening, Rachel and I went on a walk in City Creek Canyon. While we were walking I told her about how this week was going to be Official Rant Week. She said nothing but drifted a little further away from me. Now I'm usually a butcher paper and crayons kind of guy and need things spelled out explicitly and in the simplest way possible. But we've been married long enough that I picked up this little body language cue and knew it meant she wasn't happy with me (I know, I'm brilliant, huh?).

What it came down to was that when I go off on these rants, if they include things I don't like about other people, that makes her think I don't like other people. And when she thinks I don't like other people, she thinks that means I don't like her either. Honestly, there were a few logical gaps in there I was having trouble getting over, but I figured I'd not argue rhetoric with her and just listen for once.

The discussion lasted a good fifteen minutes, but what it comes down to is this: I genuinely like people. And I like pretty much everyone I know. Put another way, I can't think of anyone I know that I don't like. That doesn't mean I want to invite everyone I know over for dinner, but there's not really anyone about whom I think "Oh crap. Him. I do not want to have to spend the duration of [fill in the blank] with him."

So if I happen to say something in one of my rants that you think may refer to you, don't worry about it. Perhaps you're right. But it doesn't mean I don't like you. And in most cases--the exceptions should be obvious, such as pretty much everything in today's post--it doesn't mean that changing your behavior should become your utmost priority. It just means that I get bugged by this particular thing and it may be that you happen to do it.

Whether the wrong is in the act itself or my being bugged by it is a question of perspective. I'm sure I do plenty of things that bug other people--including ranting in my blog--that I have no intention of changing. That's just life. In aggregate, I like pretty much everyone. But I think we'd all be lying if we said we like every single thing about every single person we've met.

Okay, if you're still here, let's get on with today's rant, which is actually a multi-rant with numerous items under the general topic of things automobile drivers do that warrant being punched in the throat even if they are never actually punched in the throat, ticketed, or even notified in any way that such behavior is unacceptable.

On Saturday I was driving home from the bike shop when I saw another driver signal to make a right turn when there was a cyclist right alongside him. The driver was looking at his iPhone and not the cyclist. It was a classic right hook. Fortunately the cyclist saw it coming and was safely able to slow and avoid smacking the side of the SUV. I decided the clueless driver needed a lesson, so I followed him.

Turns out he was on his way to the temple. I figured this was either going to be the most ironic fistfight in the history of ever, or, if the guy really was in a temple frame of mind, he would just take whatever I said. Because the meek shall inherit the earth and all that.

I followed him into the parking lot, and when he parked, I pulled up behind him. I rolled down the window and politely told him that he nearly took out a cyclist back there because he was paying attention to his iPhone rather than the road.

He said, "I'm sorry. I didn't even see him." At which point I should have just said something conciliatory about being more careful or whatever.

But being somewhat of a blunt instrument, I said "I know you didn't see him. Because you were paying attention to your phone. Pay attention to what you should be doing next time."

Should I have held back on the last bit? Probably. But really, how stupid do you have to be to not see a cyclist on the road that has more cyclists than perhaps any other in that end of the valley? Still, it's not nearly as bad as "I wanted to teach them a lesson."

While taking out or nearly taking out a cyclist or pedestrian is as bad as it gets for driver stupidity, these next two moves, while not dangerous, are unbelievably annoying. The first is when you're driving along in the left lane, traffic is light, and then there's a car in the left lane going slower than any of the other cars in any of the other lanes. This is bad, right? But then it gets worse. As soon as the car gets to the dotted line for the carpool lane, the driver changes lanes and goes there. 55 mph. In the carpool lane. Everyone else is doing at least 70. The only redeeming thing about this is that traffic is light so you can go faster if you're not in the carpool lane.

But that doesn't answer the question of why? Why were these people in the left lane to begin with? And then why did they go to the carpool lane? Are they just that stupid, or are they so rude that they are willfully trying to aggravate everyone else on the road? I don't get it.

Perhaps only slightly less annoying than using the left lane when you don't need it is not using the left turn lane when you do. Outside of residential streets and rarely-traveled country roads, most streets have a left turn lane in the middle. These lanes make a two-lane road half again wider and therefore make its construction half again more expensive. Why did urban planners design the lane? Why did the DOT agree to fund it? Why do we as taxpayers pay tax for it? Because it's in the public interest to keep non-turning traffic flowing, that's why. Which means that turning traffic should pull into the lane and then slow down rather than slowing down in the traffic lane and only pulling into the left turn lane just before making the turn.

I'm sure in some jurisdictions if you rear-ended one of these idiots that slows down in the traffic lane rather than the left turn lane, you could be acquitted by using the "driver is too stupid to be on the road" defense. A good attorney would explain that "the only way my client could punch the driver in the throat was if he was out of his car. And that was the only way to get him to stop." But it's a long shot case to begin with, not to mention a huge pain getting your own car repaired. So the rest of us suffer through it, even when, if traffic is bad, the butterfly effect of such a move is a 15 minute delay five miles back on the road.

So please, when you turn your car on, don't turn your brain off. And if your iPhone does most of your thinking for you, please try thinking for yourself when you're behind the wheel.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Alex is fond of doing theme weeks on his blog, themes on useful, educational topics like monocots and star-gazing. Themes that require research and actual knowledge. But since my research budget for the life of this project is five dollars and that has to cover time and materials, it was exhausted and then some with my post on phở.

Speaking of phở. As much as I love the stuff, I gain three pounds whenever I eat it. The weight usually comes off in a day or two, but I don’t get why it’s there in the first place. Sure, the bowls, even the “small bowl,” which would be large enough for salad for six, are massive. But it’s mostly a lot of broth and veggies. At most a quarter pound of meat and then some rice noodles. No way that’s 10,500 calories, which is the excess you’d have to eat to actually gain three pounds.

The only thing I can come up with is that the broth is really salty and causes water retention. If you have a better idea, please share.

OK, so the idea of a theme week is still appealing. And if the little bit about the phở didn’t already give it away, I decided this week should have the theme of Rant Week. Today I’m going to do what I hope to be my last consecutive rant for a while about the words we use to describe things, though I may still throw a few other rant nuggets out from time to time. If you like the rants, enjoy. If you don’t, come back next week when I’ll try to be in a better mood.

Before I get to the rant, though, I’ll mention that my stitches are out. Hallelujah. I thought about taking them out myself but figured I’d let the hospital do it. Just in case. When I got there and they said the wound looks good and started snipping the sutures, I asked if I could give it a try. So I cut one of my fifteen stitches out. And given I could barely see it to get the scissors underneath, one was enough.


They put some steri-strips on to hold it all together, as it’s still pretty weak and could just pop open if I hit it wrong. I was also encouraged to use my elbow pads as an added precaution. If you see a dorky-looking guy riding easy trails with elbow pads on a cross-country bike, that will be me. I won’t turn this into a rant on the incongruity of wearing freeride armor with XC clothing, because I’ve already covered that here and here.

Anyway, on to the real ranting.

Regional differences in the names for the same object are kind of fascinating. For instance, Spanish-speaking people in one region might say choclo, while in another they’d say elote. In both cases, it would be a corncob, but use the wrong word in a given place and they may not know what you’re talking about. How these differences develop is a cool aspect of linguistics, and I’m enough of a language nerd that I can read about etymology and actually be entertained, though I’m not going to get into that here.

In cycling circles, the approval needed from a spouse, often referred to as senior management, to go on a ride might variously but in either case rightly be called a hall pass or a kitchen pass. Both suggest a master and supplicant relationship between grantor and requestor, which in most cases is a massive exaggeration. The wife of a cyclist is the kindest, most generous, least domineering species known. Yet every cyclist stretches the long leash he has already been given almost to the breaking point and only seeks “passes” to go on a ride because he’s not a particularly intuitive creature and can only know how far the leash will stretch by first obtaining concrete evidence.

Still in cycling circles, there’s another word usage that’s just plain wrong and ignorantly misapplied with undue regularity. It has to do with the anatomy of a mountain bike.

Here’s the anatomy lesson: Full suspension bikes have a shock. It’s the device connected to the rear suspension linkage that holds the rear wheel in suspension and allows it to travel up and down in the vertical plane. Technically, it’s both a spring, which compresses and rebounds, allowing the rear wheel movement, and a shock absorber, which controls the rebound and compression damping of the spring. But picking at those nits and distinguishing a shock from a spring when they’re integrated is not the point of this linguistic rant. It’s fine to just call it a shock.

The focus of my ire is instead at the other end of the bike. The front wheel is mounted to a fork. That fork can be of the suspension variety or of the rigid variety, but in either case it’s a fork. It’s never a shock. It’s never a front shock. Easy enough? I thought so.

So don’t call it a shock. Even though a suspension fork has a shock absorber, usually in one leg, and a spring, usually in the other. Though in some cases both shock and spring are in one leg and the other leg is a dummy. In other cases, the rebound damping function of the shock is in one leg and the compression damping function in the other. Or in the case of the Cannondale Lefty (which is still a fork, though not fork-shaped), both shock and spring are in the same, only, leg. In all cases, it’s a fork. If you want to be precise, call it a suspension fork.

There. I’m glad we had this discussion. Not that this one particularly bothered me (if you called a fork a shock or front shock in my presence, I’d probably just have a tick but wouldn’t actually say something; I certainly wouldn't hit you). Nevertheless, I’ve found when I’m ranting that it’s best to empty the tank completely before starting again from scratch. We’re almost down to the dregs now. I think.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Brand preference

I drink a lot of diet coke. I don’t drink diet pepsi. Except in emergencies, which are rare. Because as much as I like diet coke, with the exception of halfway through church when I can’t have it, I rarely need diet coke.

I’m pretty sure, however, that I won’t even drink diet pepsi in emergencies anymore. Because the thought of drinking the remains of a frog really grosses me out. It’s sort of like in Strange Brew when they try to get free beer by claiming a mouse was in the beer bottle.

Of course the buyers of this diet pepsi can are trying to recover damages. Because apparently pepsi has caused them negative publicity. And irrevocably damaged the DeNegri family brand (which last I heard was valued in the trillions).

The problem here is that I doubt the DeNegris and their brand are worth as much as Pepsico. So if this turns out anything like the chili incident, and pepsi wants to sue the DeNegris for damage to an actual brand with actual value, they’re not going to be able to recover anything near what they’ve lost.

Apparently pepsi isn’t the only diet soda maker putting foreign objects in their cans, as a Pennsylvania family recently found a bag of marijuana—but no diet soda—in their diet soda can. Unlike the frog family, though, the pot family hasn’t threatened action against the bottler. I wonder why.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Funny pants

Not that I’m complaining or anything, but it’s been eight weeks since I felt “good.” And by good, I just mean healthy and normal. I realize this is no big deal compared with people suffering from disease or chronic illness or being pregnant, but it’s not what I’m used to.

First it was a cold, then it was the back spasms. Then, when the back spasms were finally starting to calm down and I was feeling almost normal and it didn’t hurt to sleep or ride my bike or just sit at my desk at work, I tore my arm open and saw one of my own bones for the first time in my life. Somewhere in there was another crash that was a bit on the painful side as well.

Those who know me only through this blog may not have noticed a difference in my mood or demeanor through all of this. After all, nasty, cynical, critical posts are de rigueur around here and perhaps are the reason some of you read in the first place. My dear wife describes some of these posts as being a bit harsh.

But since I don’t mind being a bit harsh and even enjoy it and find it humorous more often than not, I’ve let the moments, such as happened to me on Saturday, when observing something as mundane as a woman walking around rocky terrain in high heels set off a cascade of ideas so staggering that I had to interrupt my ride to make notes for the blog post, just write themselves into lengthy, wild-eyed rants sure to offend at least someone, if not a close friend or family member. (How was that for a sentence? Seriously, I tried to break it down, but if you define a sentence as a complete thought, putting a period in there, even if just to break things up and give the reader a rest, would have been superfluous.)

Anyway, my point in all this is that me being harsh in the blog is nothing out of the ordinary. But I’ve noticed that not feeling so hot for eight weeks straight has affected my non-blogging mood as well. As a result I’m feeling harsh in other venues where I otherwise wouldn’t. Perhaps not so much around people I’m familiar with, but certainly in public places and with total strangers.

Case in point: yesterday as I was walking to the dealer for a fix, I heard the sound of someone running behind me, in my direction. Ordinarily, I’d think “someone’s late for the bus—don’t hog the sidewalk.” But yesterday I thought “is it a mugger in downtown SLC? What do I have that this person wants?” Fight or flight was about to kick in when the woman caught me, bus schedule in hand, on her way to the stop.

Then, on the way back to the office, I saw a guy in funny-looking pants with a counter-culture hairstyle and facial hair. Clearly, he was just an urbanite, perhaps a musician, who can dress like that every day and not laugh at himself when he looks in the mirror. Someone dressed like that would typically not even register, and I may even perhaps be a bit jealous that he had the confidence and sense of style to pull it off.

(Speaking of confidence, have you ever noticed the confidence with which some black men walk in an urban setting? I saw a guy, right before the encounter with late-for-the-bus lady, that had such an air about him as he walked that I was jealous. There was nothing exaggerated or pretentious about it, he just walked down the sidewalk as if he belonged and the whole city had been built for the sole purpose of him walking through it early that afternoon.)

Apparently, however, my mood was such that I wore disdain for this stranger on my face. He looked at me, in no doubt responding to me looking at him, longer than I was comfortable with. I thought about hitting him. 

At that point I knew something was wrong. Perhaps Dug was right, and I am off my meds. Perhaps the pain medication that ties my stomach and brain in knots would do wonders for my mood. Perhaps I just need to ride more and work some of this out of my system. Regardless, I’m glad I didn’t hit the guy. Even though I’m pretty sure I could have taken him, wearing funny pants is not a crime.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sense and sensibility

Saturday afternoon as I was riding up American Fork canyon, I noticed two things: 1) there were a lot of cars driving up and down the canyon; and 2) a much higher-than-normal portion of these cars had families in matching outfits who were occasionally stopping at the roadside to have their pictures taken.

One of these matching outfit families was having its picture taken by a woman in a fashionable print blouse, $200 jeans, and some high-heel sandals that would have been difficult to walk in if one were just going to the end of the catwalk and back. Except she was walking along the side of the creek. Over round river rock. I actually slowed down to watch, expecting her to fall and/or break an ankle at any moment.

Now I know these semi-pro photographers (semi-pro because they don't make a living at it, but they actually charge you for their work) think of themselves as artists. But seriously, you're that committed to looking the part that you couldn't put on sensible shoes for two hours when you were, you know, going to be walking around in the mountains for an afternoon? I don't get it.

I think Utah has to have the highest concentration of these semi-pro photographers in the world. Because pretty much every single mommy blog (not that I read mommy blogs, except for my sisters') is either written by a woman who thinks she's good enough to charge people to take their picture or has a friend that she pimps for who thinks she's good enough to charge people to take their picture. The only qualification any of them have is that they own a DSLR, most of them purchased at Costco.

But guess what--just because you have a nice camera, it doesn't make you a pro. I'm no Ansel Adams or anything, but I've taken a few photos in my lifetime that turned out good enough that we hung them up in our house. That's out of thousands and thousands of frames, most of which sucked. A blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. The difference between me and these mommy blog semi-pros is that when I got those good shots, I didn't think "hey this one turned out great, I should try and make a living at this." I just thought "cool, I got lucky. I wonder what the heck I did to make this one turn out when the thousands of others didn't?"

Who am I to complain though. Live and let live, I guess. If someone wants to try and make a buck, good for them. I'm not above trying to make a buck or two, which is why I'm going to go to law school. Not right away or anything--I've got 15 years at least before the field I want to practice in really starts booming. And since there's going to be so much business that it would keep an army of litigators busy, I'm not going to try and hide my intentions: I plan to be counsel for what will doubtless be thousands and thousands of cases of children suing their parents.

What for? Let's look at an only-slightly-exaggerated fake mommy blog entry to find out.

I can't tell you how ExCiTeD! I am about our little Omaha McDonalds Mortenson. He rolled over for the first time today! He's three months, 26 days old (as of today), and when we took him in for his three month checkup, the pediatrician said he should be able to roll over soon. When it didn't happen that week, I got nervous and started looking into developmental specialists we could call to help make sure he doesn't fall behind. We want to send him to this new preschool that offers AP courses, not some remedial preschool where the other kids don't even know how to read or do trigonometry yet.

And guess what else we got to do this week? OK, you probably figured this out on your own, but we filed our taxes with him as a dependent for the first time! So cute, I know! Here's a picture of his little social security card!

My husband started calling him our little tax deduction. I think that's just AdOrAbLe!

BFF Commenter1: I just LoVe your blog posts! They're so cute, and the new layout with your family picture that I took at the top and the plaid background and the soundtrack of your L&D mix is the sweetest thing ever. It makes me feel so good about being a mom. When I'm overwhelmed and out of meth and not sure I can make it through another day of just being a mom, your sweet posts remind me just how wonderful my little Topeka is and how much I just love love love being a mom. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! BTW, we're still on to do four-month-old portraits Tuesday morning, right?

I know most of these moms are just really proud of their kids and want to share, in excruciating detail, every aspect of their lives as sort of an online scrapbook. But how many of these kids already have mortgages, auto loans, and credit cards in their names that neither they nor their parents know about simply because mom has absolutely no sense of what kind of information should and should not be shared on the Internet?

I'm predicting that when these kids get to their mid-20's to early 30's, there's going to be a great deal of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Because they're going to be buying their first car or their first home or their first whatever-that-requires-credit and will discover that before they even took out a loan, their FICO score was in the basement thanks to identity thieves taking advantage of all the personal information mommy posted on the Internet.

And when that time comes, and these kids are livid with their parents, they're going to sue.

If in 20 years today's children are not suing their parents over identity theft, they are going to be legally changing their names. Rachel's brother and his wife are trying to come up with a baby name right now. So last night, as a joke, I made a list of baby names to give them some ideas. I wasn't serious about any of the suggestions. But here's the funny thing--the names they found most humorous were names I've actually heard, most of the time being shouted by Alpine/Highland stripper moms at the soccer field or as they bid their kids farewell when dropping them off at school.

I'm sure people think my kids' names are common and pedestrian and traditional and boring, but in my defense they are 1) names the average person can spell, 2) names that a substitute teacher will know what gender the kid is, and 3) names that are not also given to part of a rooster's anatomy.

I don't pretend to be a good parent. In fact, I feel like a slacker parent most of the time. But I am willing to dole out two helpings of parenting advice. First, before you name your kid, rewind to sixth grade and think about all the derogatory derivatives of that name you could come up with if you were an 11-year-old making fun of another kid. If you can come up with three in less than a minute, or if any of them rhymes with a four-letter-word, you should probably come up with another name. Second, if you're going to share everything under the sun on a blog about your kids, make it private. Because the identity thieves and child molesters and voyeurs and kidnappers are, in fact, looking. Maybe not at you, maybe not right now, but they're looking.

Oh, and as some bonus advice, if you're getting a family photo taken, make sure you're wearing something you'll enjoy making fun of in 15 years. You're going to make fun of it no matter what, so may as well make it easy.

Friday, October 16, 2009

With friends like these

Today’s post is short and sweet and nothing more than wishing everyone a happy fall weekend. Weather is decent here in the 801, so get out and enjoy it. It’s not really ‘cross weather, but I’m sure those heading up to Heber will have fun anyway.

I’ll try, but my hopes of putting together a Saturday morning AF ride aren’t going that great. Best excuse not to go so far: “I’ll be cleaning the garage.” Thanks, Eber.

Road riding is obviously back on the agenda. I tried riding the MTB last night with Alex and his crew. Fun times, but even the “smooth” trails of Round Valley don’t feel so smooth with a 3.5” gash.

I forwarded the wound photos to my friend Tommy, an ER doc back in Boise. His response:

I hope they took good care of you.  I would have thrown a few staples in your sorry bacon just to make the scar a little more impressive when it healed (better material for your next blog).

Truth be told, I’d rather have had Tommy do staples than the blue stitches for two reasons: 1) scars are cool; 2) last time I took my kid to Tommy’s ER, I never got a bill.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On the joys of being a hater

Before I get into today’s post, an update on the crash:

UTRider and I hiked up to the crash site. I’m pretty sure this is where it happened:

I got a little too far to the right where the trail slopes off, and my wheel washed out. I think that rock is what I landed on.

The arm is doing OK. It’s uncomfortable, but not painful. I’ve for the most part been able to avoid taking the Lortab, which is nice, because that stuff makes me sick.

Here’s a shot of the stitches and road rash:

Now on to today’s post:

Being a sports fan sucks. If you’re a fan of team sports, mathematically your team has no more than a 5% chance of winning the title in any given year. Realistically, if you’re a fan of Manchester United or the New York Yankees, it’s greater than 5% (ever wonder why those teams have so many “fans”). If you’re a fan of anyone else, your chances are quite a bit less than that.

My brother Adam, whose life pretty much revolves around being a sports fan, is content that the Denver Broncos won two Super Bowls in his lifetime. He figures his quota has been filled, and if they ever win another one, it’s just a bonus.

While this Zen attitude may work for him, I find it’s much easier to be a hater. Sure, I have my teams, but I also hate the rivals of my teams, and watching the rivals lose is almost as satisfying as seeing my team win. For instance, if the Dodgers get knocked out of the NLCS, I can just cheer against the Yankees. And I don’t even need the Dodgers to get knocked out to cheer against the Yankees—I can do it anytime.

Even though the Dodgers are more likely not to win the World Series than to win it, since the Yankees are also more likely not to win the World Series than win it, I usually finish the season happy. In fact, it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve been disappointed with the World Series winner.

The other great thing about being a hater is that you also become a secondary fan of the other rivals of your team’s rival. For instance, I hate the New England Patriots (which is weird, because they’re not really a rival of the Broncos, and their quarterback is a Michigan guy, but I hate them anyway). So I’m a secondary fan of the Indianapolis Colts. When the Broncos lose, I can take solace in either a Patriots loss or a Colts victory. It’s a great hedging strategy.

As a cycling fan, being a hater is even more rewarding. Because with close to 200 guys in any given race, the chances of anyone not named Mark Cavendish winning are pretty slim. So being a Cavendish fan and a Boonen hater is immensely rewarding.

Moreover, even if a hated rider, such as in my case, Contadoper or Evans, happens to win, one can always cheer for the guys wearing white coats in the doping control labs. And those guys aren’t constrained by the duration of the race to come up with their results. Sure, Contadoper and Evans won the two biggest road races this year, but I’m still cheering for the doping control guys to provide me with a victory, and I can continue cheering for them until another season’s winners are crowned and beyond. I never have to give up hope that my hated riders will lose. See how nice that is?

Being a hater isn’t just limited to the field of competition, either. As a blogger, I can hate on anyone and anything anytime without having to come up with anything constructive or better.

For instance, I recently read about the 2010 Specialized S-works Stumpjumper. This bike has 5.5 inches of travel and weighs 23 pounds. I’d be happy if my hardtail weighed 23 pounds—the engineers that built a full-suspension bike that light are geniuses.

Problem is, their product manager is an idiot. He spec’d the bike with SRAM XX in the rear. Way cool, right? The desirability factor of this bike just went up past where it was already. And then he ruined it—he spec’d a Specialized-brand triple crank on the front end.

Are you kidding me? 90% of the coolness of XX is that it’s a 2x10 drivetrain. It doesn’t have quite the range of a triple, but the shifting is cleaner and crisper. It’s a leaner, lighter setup that won’t let you sit down and spin on that steep move. It’s geared for racers who would rather go fast than be comfortable. And that’s what makes it so awesome.

But to water it down with a triple? It’s like the Dura-Ace triple crank that thankfully no longer exists. If you need a triple to get up the hill, you certainly don’t need Dura-Ace. The new Stumpjumper is spec’d with the XX 11-36 cassette. If you can’t get up the hill in 22x34, you’re not going to make it in 22x36 either. So what’s the point of putting XX on the bike if you’re just going to bastardize it with a triple crank?

I hope someone from Specialized reads this, because I’ll say what the magazines relying on their ad dollars won’t: your parts spec ruined a cool bike. If the buyer of this thing needs a triple then he’d be better off buying something a few steps down from the S-works model and spending the rest of his money at Jenny Craig.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tire recommendations, anyone?

So remember how a few weeks ago while riding with Elden, my front tire washed out in some gravel and I crashed, taking him down with me? Well yesterday at lunch, on my second ride on my new bike, I was coming down Bobsled, a somewhat technical trail in the foothills above my office. I had made it through all the “hard” parts and was just rolling along, thinking about tweaking the air pressure in my fork to get the ride just right.

I came through an off-camber section that was covered with gravel, and with no warning whatsoever, my front tire washed out, and I hit the ground pretty hard on my left side.

My arm hurt pretty bad, so I decided to look and see how badly it was cut up. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. I didn’t think it was possible to be cut that bad in those circumstances. Unless, you know, someone took a hack at my forearm with a machete as I went down. I’m pretty sure the white part was bone.

After screaming in pain and frustration, teetering on the brink of panic and being rational, I was able to force myself to be rational and called Mark N. and asked him to meet me at the bottom of the trail and take me to the hospital. I mentioned he should probably bring some paper towels or something, because I was bleeding. Heavily.

Once at the hospital, they cleaned the blood around the exterior of the wound. The nurse doing the cleaning removed my glove, which was full of blood, and started wrapping it up to save it for me. I told her she could just throw it away. She said “I ride bikes—I know how expensive biking gloves are. You can wash it.”

They also hooked me to an I.V. and gave me some pain medication but denied my request for a coke, or anything to drink for that matter. Apparently they didn’t want to clean up anything but blood if they could help it.

I then went in for X-rays to make sure there wasn’t a fracture and there wasn’t any debris deep in the cut that they’d need to dig out.

X-ray turned up negative for fractures and deeply embedded debris, so they numbed things up and the real fun began—scrubbing the wound out with a brush. For the first time this fall, I was not happy about the leaves changing color, as apparently a good number of leaf bits had stuck to the inside of my arm.

Did I mention how grateful I am for local anesthetic? Because just cleaning around the wound was almost more than I could bear. I can’t imagine what the scrubbing would have been like had I actually been able to really feel it.

Once things were clean, the doctor stitched it back together. I asked him how many. “Fifteen,” he said. But that was an estimate, as I don’t think he was interested in going back and counting to be sure.

Through it all, Mark N. was really calm, the hospital staff pretended like it was no big deal, but I’d seen it, and I knew what it looked like. When my dad got to the hospital, he was the only one to have a proper reaction. If you want to have your own look, Mark was kind enough to snap a picture after they cleaned around the wound but before they cleaned the inside and stitched it up.

Best not to look at this if you’re eating lunch.

Or if you get squeamish around blood.

Or if small children are present.

Or if your wife is present and you’d like to be allowed to ride your mountain bike anytime soon.

See how I’m making sure you actually have to scroll to see the picture and it doesn’t show up right away?

That’s because I would never, ever want to see this photo if it weren’t of me, and I hadn’t already seen it.

I made it through an entire road racing season, which included about 20 crits, without going down. At Leadville, I had the 53rd fastest time out of over 1,000 racers descending Columbine mine, faster even than Chris Holley (if only by less than a second). And while there’s always room to improve, I don’t think my bike handling skills are all that bad.

Yet in the last few weeks, I have had two wrecks, both from my front tire washing out in gravel. I’m blaming the tire and will be getting a new one forthwith. It couldn’t possibly be my skills.

I’m just glad the doctor is better at doing stitches than I am at riding my mountain bike. But you want to know the worst part of this injury? I’m going to have to use those disgusting floss picks for the next two days.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The frugal cyclist's guide to upgrading your mountain bike

The most common workers compensation claim for bike shops is hands cut on chainrings. The fact that pro mechanics do it makes me feel better about the hole I put in my knuckle Friday night when a chainring punctured my finger while I was removing a pedal.

A less frequent injury but one I can claim nonetheless is a blackened thumbnail. The thumbnail was smashed when I had my finger stuck in the gap in a brake rotor, didn't think about what I was doing, and spun the wheel. The thumb definitely looks worse (the cut was about three times as deep as it was long), but I don't know which one hurt worse.

In addition to the injuries, I managed to get all of two and a half hours of sleep that night. Fortunately, I have more to show for the sleepless night than just the injuries (notice it isn't completely clean; per Rick's rule, I had to get it dirty on Saturday before unveiling it):

This bike came about as a result of a massive cleaning of my garage wherein I sold a bunch of bike stuff I was no longer using. I know, when you're getting rid of stuff, you're supposed to end up with less stuff, not more. But in the process of selling stuff, I just happened to come across this frame. And it was my size. I've been wanting to swap my steel frame for something lighter for a while. This was perfect.

I also wanted to lighten up the fork a bit, as the Marzocchi I've been running, while functional, was heavy enough to use as ballast on an oil tanker. Fortunately, Elden prefers rigid forks, so he had a Reba literally sitting on the floor of his garage. He let it go for a song. And maybe some pie was involved. And perhaps a small sum of cash traded hands. The Reba rides great. I had always poo-pooed anything but Fox and Marzocchi, but Rockshox has got things pretty dialed with that fork.

Everything else, save the headset and seatpost, was swapped over from the other frameset.

The completed package is lighter than what I had before. Just not quite as light as I'd like it to eventually be. So I decided to do another dirtbag guide to upgrading a bicycle, this time the MTB version, to help me decide what to upgrade to as opportunities arise. Since I'm a bit obsessive, I weighed every part of my predominately XT drivetrain before putting it on the new frame. This serves as the baseline for my upgrade guide, with the formula being the same: most weight-reduction bang for the buck. Of course, assumptions are the same: you're working with a frame you like; you're not fat; and you don't care what brand a part is so long as it works.

One more assumption unique to MTB: I'm going to run a Thomson seatpost no matter what. One of my neighbors in Boise had a post break and badly cut the inside of his thigh. That's a really vascular area, and he's lucky he didn't bleed to death. Thomson posts are light enough for cross country use and strong enough for freeride. And they cost $100. I don't know why you'd use anything else. If you've got the post, may as well get a Thomson stem to match.
  • Wheels: I didn't even need to do the math to figure out the first place to start. Not coincidentally, it's the same as on the road bike. Unfortunately, since Revolution Wheelworks doesn't make a MTB wheelset, at least not yet, I can't recommend theirs. What I can recommend is the Stan's 355 wheelset with Stan's ZTR hubs. With the Stan's yellow rim tape, they'll be ready to run tubeless. These wheels would save me about a pound over my 29" Bontrager Race wheelset--400 grams, at a cost of $440, or $1.10/gram. With the yellow tape and valve stem rather than rim strips or tubes, they'll save even more weight.
  • Bars: The weight differences from one bar to another can be surprising. And when you can get a 140 gram bar for $70 or so, that might be the next best place to spend upgrade dollars. Unless you already have a 140 gram bar. My FSA bar is 180 grams, cost me $20, and it's staying put.
  • Brakes: With MTB brakes, the absolute lightest product presents the best value. SRAM XX brakes, at 576 grams (297 less than my Shimanos) for $746 for the pair end up costing $2.51 per gram saved. But since Hayes Stroker Gram and Avid Juicy Ultimate can presently be found at closeout prices, both of those could present a better value, albeit not as much weight savings--they weigh 130 and 100 grams more, respectively, than the XX.
  • Shifters: The next best value is in shifters, with SRAM X.9 being the winner here. Unless, that is, you prefer twist shifters, in which case X.0 twist shifters are the best upgrade value after wheels. Since some of us like triggers better, I didn't list them at the top, but it's worth noting. Another thing worth noting is that if you're running Shimano and you switch to SRAM shifters, you also have to switch your rear derailleur.
  • Rear derailleur: XTR shadow is the best value here, at $3.29 per gram saved. But if you're running SRAM shifters, X.9 or X.0 are the way to go. X.0 saves more weight but costs more. X.9 costs quite a bit less. Total difference between X.0 and X.9 is 34 grams--not a huge difference, though shifting on X.0 is a bit crisper.
  • Cassettes: XT cassettes present the best weight saving bang for the buck, but they're only 19 grams lighter than the SRAM PC980. If you're running SRAM everything else, I'd stick with the SRAM since it's designed to work together. Otherwise, XT is a lightweight and very durable choice.
Things I wouldn't worry too much about switching until they're worn out are chains, cranksets, and front derailleurs. Of note on front derailleurs and cranksets is that SRAM XX presents the best value, but, unlike the brakes, has to be done as a system of at a minimum front shifter, front derailleur, and crankset. And really, if you're doing that much, you may as well reap the full benefit of the 2x10 system.

In case you're wondering, a complete XX group costs about $2300 and would save me about 650 grams, or a pound and a half. That works out to about $3.54 per gram saved, at least on my bike. It's sexy, it's super functional, it's all anyone can talk about on mountain bikes right now, but it's more than I'm willing to spend.

If I were buying a complete gruppo, however, and wanted the most weight-saving bang for the buck, regardless of the number of bucks, XX is the way to go. X.0 is nearly as good a value, but only costs about half as much (and only saves about half as much weight). XTR 970 weighs about the same as X.0, but costs about 80% more (almost as much as XX). XT weighs about the same as X.9, but costs about 60% more. If you want value and weight savings, SRAM is the way to go. And you don't have to have the top-shelf group to get it, either.

What I've just said notwithstanding, the reality is that on the mountain bike (and truth be told I do the same on the road bike), I wouldn't switch anything besides wheels unless it was a break/fix situation or I found a deal that was just too good to pass up. The weight savings from enthusiast-level parts to pro-level parts just aren't that great. Aside from brakes, there's not a single upgrade that will save you more than about 100 grams. Moreover, there's so much more to a mountain bike race than just power to weight that minor component upgrades are unlikely to make or break a race for you.

Think of it this way--Elden's bike that I rode at Leadville was about five pounds lighter than my bike at the time. I figured it saved me about seven minutes (and I gave most of that seven minutes back in an unscheduled pit stop at the Pipeline feed zone). That's three times the weight savings of a XX upgrade on a course that's five times as long as a typical XC race. So upgrading to XX might net you 20 seconds or so in a XC race, if that. Only you can decide if those 20 seconds and the extra $5 on your gift certificate if you're one step higher on the podium as a result are worth north of two grand.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Train wreck waiting to happen

I used to be a faithful listener of NPR—it was the source for most of my news and current events, which I typically got caught up on during my commute to and from work.

A few months ago, however, I got sick of hearing yet another story about the financial crisis. I just couldn’t take any more bad news. So I started listening to audiobooks instead. I think I am more educated and better-informed as a result of the change.

I pretty much don’t pay attention to the news, with three exceptions. I subscribe to the RSS feeds for and The Economist. And I have a Google news feed in the sidebar of my computer desktop. For some reason this news feed is littered with stories about Jon & Kate, Paris & Nicky, and the Kardashians.

These people are “celebrities” for one reason and one alone: the media made them famous. Why would the media make them famous? Because they need content (and you’re reading this because now that racing season is over, so do I). And the only thing better than being the first to the scene of a train wreck is being on the train before it wrecks. These pseudo celebrities are all either a train wreck waiting to happen or already underway. And unlike a real train wreck, it’s in slow motion, so we get lots and lots of time to watch it unfold.

The latest story about Jon & Kate is the one that entertains me the most. Jon allegedly drained $230,000 from a mutual bank account. And spent it on what? Probably hookers and blow, but who knows. The amazing thing about this is that a couple in their 30’s that has eight kids managed to squirrel away $230K.

Sure, it doesn’t hurt that they made something like $2 million in the last four years, but this is where it gets really funny. Jon says his share of that was “only” $177,000 a year. The dude’s about my age, has eight kids, and he’s griping about a discretionary allowance of $177K per annum? Um, yeah. This guy’s grounded in reality.

He probably also thinks that money like that is just going to continue pouring in for the rest of his life. Because we’ll never get bored of his charm and good looks. Frankly if they made $2 million over four years and only have $230K to show for it, that’s pretty pathetic.

I’m setting the over/under for how many years until one or both of the Gosselins files for bankruptcy at three years. What side of the bet will you take?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

There’s something out there

Each of the last two days, I’ve had something really strange and unexplainable happen on the way to work.

Yesterday, I was just driving along behind a suburban when suddenly I found myself in a shower of glass. It was like that scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo flies the Millennium Falcon through the asteroid field, and he’s somehow able to navigate the tight spaces between asteroids while the empirical troops giving chase in their TIE fighters are not.

Except I was more like the TIE fighters. Glass was everywhere—over, under, and smashing into my car. No damage, no flat tires, thankfully. OK, there may have been some damage, but my Subaru has 154,000 miles on it. I don’t really care about a few superficial dings in the exterior.

The thing I wonder about is what caused the rear passenger side window of this Suburban to spontaneously explode? Was it road rage and another driver shot out the window? Couldn’t be, because I’d think in that situation it would implode and the glass would end up in the car. But I’m no physicist, so maybe not. Regardless, it was strange.

Today’s weird occurrence happened in about the same spot on I-15. As the season is changing, the air is getting even drier still than it has been. Which means that the skin on my hands is starting to dry and crack, and my nasal cavity is becoming lined with the famous Utah boogers.

If you grew up in Utah, you may not know that Utah boogers are different than boogers elsewhere. But if you moved to Utah from somewhere else, or lived somewhere else and moved back, you know that the dry air dries out everything, including the lining of your nasal cavity. The result: Utah boogers. Bigger, drier, harder to expel than garden variety non-desert state boogers.

To deal with said boogers, I keep a box of kleenexes in my car. I also keep purell in my car and a salted nut roll in the glove box in case I get hungry. And a floor pump. I’m kind of a boy scout that way. But I’m getting off track. Anyway, this morning I grabbed a kleenex to blow my nose and clear out some Utah boogers.

As I mentioned, they can be kind of hard to expel, so I blew pretty hard. Hard enough that I’m pretty sure one that required significant force to dislodge gained enough momentum when it finally broke free that it blew right past the end of the kleenex and onto something else.

Of course I panicked, not wanting to walk into work with a booger on my jacket. I looked everywhere for that thing. Or at least as close to everywhere as one can at 80 mph. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. It was gone. Did it vaporize? Did I only imagine that it cleared the kleenex? I really don’t know. But I couldn’t see it anywhere on my jacket or pants or the upholstery of my car.

If you see me today, and you see a booger anywhere on my person, please discretely let me know.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

3 hikes with kids; 3 cool, non-cycling-related things about my neighborhood; and 3 animal sightings I never expected

Although I promised this post a few days ago, I’ve been putting it off for a while due to two unresolved issues. As the title and my promise hinted, I want to mention some animal sightings, one in particular that I have video footage of. I’ve been waiting to do this post until I could post the video.

Here’s the problem—I took the footage in 2003 with a digital video camera. First issue, now resolved, was that I didn’t know where the videotape was until I found it last night. Second issue, still unresolved, is that for some reason my circa 2001 video camera I used to take the footage doesn’t want to talk with my computer via USB. Go figure.

So until the fire wire cable I ordered this morning arrives, the video will have to wait. Frankly, the story of seeing a bear in the wild while hiking with my four-year-old daughter is worth a post in and of itself, so it will get one. But that was unexpected animal sighting number one.

The second one happened a couple weekends ago when Alex, Junkie Girl, the Trifecta, and I hiked Bald Mountain in the Uintas. If you’re looking for a great hike to do with kids, this is it. You get great vistas and a really fun hike that takes you to nearly 12,000 feet, but the hike only takes about three hours. We timed it just right, as we got there the second last weekend before the first snow of the season. I imagine it’s still hikable, but I probably wouldn’t assume it’s safe for kids right now.

The kids loved hiking around the moonscape on the summit.

Alex and I enjoyed taking in the views of the surrounding peaks.

Twin A seems to have been caught up in the majesty of it all as well.

While on the summit, we saw something we really didn’t expect. At least I didn’t expect it: a wolf. Or more precisely, a wolf hybrid. 3/4 wolf, 1/4 German Shepherd. It was someone’s pet, and he was hiking with it.

I’ll be honest that these things scare me. I’ve heard too many stories of wolf hybrids being a bad combination: killer instinct of wolves, but no fear of humans thanks to the domestic dog DNA. The kids are too young to know this stuff. All they saw was a beautiful animal eager to eat treats from their hands.


The second hike, sorry no pics, was with my two younger kids, “Junkie Boy” and “Keiki.” (I like that Alex uses pseudonyms for his kids. I don’t know if it’s paranoia or what, but I’m apprehensive about putting my kids’ names along with their photos on the Internet. Alex already branded my oldest daughter “Junkie Girl;” hereafter, my son is “Junkie Boy,” and my youngest is “Keiki,” which means “baby” or “youngest” in Hawaiian.)

The hike started and ended in our neighborhood, which make this as good a time as any to mention three cool, non-cycling-related things about my neighborhood.

  1. First, in addition to the proximity of Corner Canyon and its trail network, there are a number of other trails originating in the neighborhood that are terrific, kid-friendly hikes. And nobody is on these trails. Ever.
  2. Second, in the winter time when the valley is smothered with inversion, we’re sitting above it, breathing clean mountain air and seeing stars at night.
  3. Third, in the summer, when it’s stifling hot in the valley, it’s comfortable and nice at home. Like sit on the porch and read a book nice. Utah summer nights are something special in their own right. We just don’t have to wait all the way until night to enjoy the pleasantness.

We enjoyed the first and third items on the list during this hike. The maples had already changed color. I enjoyed views of orange and red against the green of the Gambel Oak. The kids were more fascinated by the surveying marker on the summit.

The third hike was on Saturday with Junkie Boy. I took him up Big Cottonwood Canyon to hike to Donut Falls. I’m pretty sure nearly everyone in Salt Lake who has done any hiking at all in the Wasatch has hiked to Donut Falls at least once. It’s a short hike, super easy to get to, and the namesake falls is cool because it pours through a hole in the rock, hence the “donut” moniker. You can just see the water pouring into said hole in the photo below.


For these reasons, it’s a great hike with kids, even when there’s snow on the ground. It also has some “technical” features that make it just challenging enough to be exciting, like this stream crossing.

If you’re a not-very-adventurous type, these features may be too much, as we saw someone turn around rather than climb down this rock staircase.

Doing this hike late in the season meant we didn’t deal with the high season crowds and got to enjoy aspens in beautiful fall colors.

Up high on Mt. Superior, it looked like there was enough snow to ski on. Probably was, but just barely. I’m going to let it fill in a bit more before busting out the skis.

After the hike to Donut Falls and a brief sojourn up Mill D North on the other side of the street, Rachel, her mom, and the kids met us at the Birches where we enjoyed a picnic.

And encountered the third unexpected animal sighting, a feral rabbit. This guy was friendly enough and appeared to be well-fed, living as he did at a picnic area. We also discovered that rabbits are omnivorous, as he gladly ate a scrap of turkey that fell from the picnic table.

I imagine this was someone’s Easter bunny that they got tired of caring for. We don’t have pets simply because we’ve discovered that we’re unfit pet owners. (We learned this the hard way when we left Junkie Girl’s betta in the car overnight when moving from California to Idaho. It got down to 9 degrees that night in Elko, and there was a layer of ice on the fish bowl the next morning.)

In light of what I’ve just told you, I’m the pot calling the kettle black for criticizing anyone else’s care for their pets, but it still made me sad to see this little bunny up there, knowing full well he’ll likely not survive the winter. The kids of course wanted to take him home and may have shed a tear or two over it.

The most amazing thing to me about all of these hikes is their proximity to a major metropolitan area. The majority of Wasatch Front residents never set foot in the canyons surrounding their home. And I’m just fine with that. Please, stay home. I’m glad your lawn is greener than mine and that you have a nice home theater system. I hope you continue enjoying them.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stick a fork in me

In seasons past, I’ve read about pros withdrawing from late season events, such as Valverde and Zabriskie have done this year, citing “fatigue” as the reason they’re not going to race. I never understood this and always figured that with a couple weeks rest, they’d be fine. I sort of figured that “fatigue” was code for “laziness” or “I don’t give a crap about that race” or “I just want to be home for the first time in nine months.”

But the last few times I’ve been on the bike, I have begun to understand what they mean by “fatigue.” Which is not to say I’ve trained or raced like a pro or put in anywhere near the volume or intensity that these guys have. I have, however, if you include mid-week races, raced over 25 times this season. I’ve been on the bike five or six days a week almost every week since April, including eight days in a row through last Monday. And it’s caught up with me. I’m just plain tired. I’ve burned all my matches. My legs seem to lack that little extra something they had earlier in the season.

I’m not complaining—I don’t have anything left to train for, and I’ve accomplished more this year than I thought I would or perhaps even could. Going into the season, I wondered if I’d ever win a single race in my entire life. This year I won three.

It would be fun to try some ‘cross races. And I may still do so. But I think there’s a difference between “trying a ‘cross race” and “racing ‘cross.” If I do it, it will be the former.

One thing that’s certain is that race fitness is not a prerequisite to enjoy fall colors and cooler weather. The Ghost falls and Bobsled descents require very little fitness to be fun, especially with the trails as tacky as they are right now. I’ve always maintained that the tours we do in the winter are so nice, I’d hike up just to hike back down—being able to ski down is just an added bonus. Well the hiking up just to hike back down stuff is pretty good right now, too.

If you want to get out and ride for fun, I’m all over that. But if you attack on the climb and try to get me to chase, I’ll probably just let you go. Probably.

Monday, October 5, 2009


So my friend Alex has been know to post pictures of Selma Hayek on his blog in a tongue-in-cheek attempt at driving traffic. I have no idea if it works, but you’d think there’s likely more people in this world interested in looking at Selma Hayek than are interested in reading about a stand of 80,000 year-old aspen trees near a remote mountain lake in Utah.

Likewise, one would assume that more people would be interested in looking at revealing pictures of supermodels—even if the supermodels are limited to those who have dated Billy Joel—than are interested in looking at revealing pictures of me.

But if you thought that, you’d be wrong. Because last week when Elden posted a revealing picture of me showing off my post-crash road rash, traffic to this blog was more than double what it was the day I featured both Christie Brinkley and Elle Macpherson in scanty bathing suits.

Of course Elden’s daily readership is something like 30 times what mine is, but I’ve seen the Fatty effect when he’s linked to me before, and it was nothing like what it was last week. I should pull down my pants for the camera more often.

Now if you’re wondering what any of this has to do with cycling or skiing, the answer is absolutely nothing. Except that there’s something similarly counterintuitive to think about next time you inflate your bicycle tires.

Allow me to illustrate. Last week, before Elden attempted the Clark’s time trial, we had the following exchange via IM:

Elden: Tire pressure will go up to a very rare 30psi for this effort I think. And a sleeveless jersey.

Me: now you're getting serious. I'd keep the tire pressure low, though. Lower pressure = less rolling resistance. And you'll want the traction climbing the rocky parts.

Elden: Lower pressure = less rolling resistance? Are you high?

Me: Nope. I'll explain in an email. But I am correct.

Elden: I'll be interested to read that, cuz it sounds counterintuitive as hell.

After sending the email, Elden suggested I turn it into a blog post. So here’s the explanation why lower tire pressure actually decreases rolling resistance.

On a perfectly smooth surface, a harder wheel will have less rolling resistance because there will be a smaller contact patch, thereby creating less friction (think ball bearing inside the bearing shell). But on a rough surface, such as a mtn bike trail or, to a lesser degree, asphalt, a very hard wheel would not roll smoothly at all because its travel would be disrupted by the roughness of the surface (think of those old roller skates with metal wheels on asphalt).

A softer wheel (less tire pressure) is able to deflect when it hits rocks and other vertical obstacles, or even as it rolls across a rough asphalt surface, thereby smoothing and shortening the horizontal path of travel. Obviously there are limits, which is why you run higher pressure on a road bike than on a mtn bike.

A road is smoother, so the ideal tire pressure is just enough to allow deflection to smooth the road surface without being so soft as to create additional friction from a too-large contact patch or to increase the risk of pinch flats. A 25mm tire has less rolling resistance than a 23mm tire because it has higher sidewalls, which deflect more when they hit obstacles. The rolling resistance benefits of the 25mm tire, however, are offset by it being less aerodynamic and heavier.

On dirt, where aero and weight are less of a priority than rolling resistance, a fatter, softer tire is better. Most pro XC racers run 18-22 PSI because it offers lower rolling resistance and better traction. There are limits to how low you can go, however, because you run the risk of pinch flats or, with a tubeless setup, the tire blowing off the rim. The reason tubular tires are so popular for 'cross is because they allow you to run lower tire pressures, thereby reducing rolling resistance, without as much risk of pinch flats.

Another way to think about it is if you consider the path of travel of the outside diameter of the wheel rather than the outside surface of the tire, it's easy to see why softer is better. You want the wheel to travel in as close to a horizontal path as possible. To effect this, ideally you would have a soft tire that's able to deflect and absorb vertical obstacles without disrupting the horizontal path of travel of the wheel.

At first blush you think people would rather look at supermodels than look at me and that a harder tire is a faster tire. But the reality is that the opposite is true. At least in one case you now know why.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Shop employees are like Satan’s angels

Last night about 8:30 p.m., a splitboarder picked up two A.T. skiers to go to a telemark ski movie together. What is the world coming to? Actually, it was all for a good cause, as the screening of Flakes supported the Utah Avalanche Center.

If you missed it the last two nights, it’s showing again tonight at Brewvies. Grab a date (I think last night, I was officially Jon’s date and Aaron was the third wheel, though I forgot to wear the pushup bra—good thing Dr. John’s shares a parking lot with Brewvies) and go take in the flick. The footage is great, much of it from our local spots here in the Wasatch, and I promise by the end of the film, you’ll get used to the drop-knee turns. Unless you’re Dustin, in which case the drop-knee turns looked totally normal.

Seeing lines we ski on a regular basis featured in a ski movie reminded me of just how far I’ve come as a backcountry skier since I started a few years ago. When I started, I knew pretty much nothing. I just had a colleague who did it, and it sounded like fun, so I bought some gear and decided to give it a try.

I would have never survived without the help of some trusted advisors. Initially, I relied on Bob, my colleague, for advice. After moving to Utah, Dug became my trusted advisor for all things backcountry skiing.

Dug will be the first one to tell you he doesn’t know everything about backcountry skiing, but he knows a few critical things, including snow safety basics; how to choose the right gear and supplies for a given tour; and, most importantly, I think 80% of his brain mass functions as a GPS and topographical map of the Wasatch mountains. He knows just about every route up every peak and what will be good when.

Similarly, when I started road racing, I certainly knew how to ride a bike, but I knew very little about the ins and outs of categorized road racing. As I’ve become more serious about it, Alex has become my trusted advisor. Like Dug, Alex may not know everything about road racing, but he knows the critical things, having done many of the races that are new to me and having been through the upgrade process and selected teammates. If he doesn’t know the answer to a certain question, he knows someone who does. His advice and connections have proven invaluable.

Whether cycling, hiking, racing, or running, a trusted advisor is a critical element of success in any endeavor. Which is why bike and ski shop employees are like Satan’s angels. The classic Christian paradigm for how Satan tempts God-fearing people to go astray is that he takes a good chunk of truth and mixes in just a touch of deception so that one thinks what one is doing is OK or maybe not that big of a deal until finally the sinner is so far off track he or she doesn’t care any more.

Similarly, bike and ski shop employees often give advice that’s like Satan’s temptations. What they’re saying may be 80% true and nearly always makes sense, but often they have another agenda, whether that’s pushing a particular line or getting you to buy something that will kind of fill your needs when something else they either don’t offer or that just isn’t in stock would actually be much better.

The economics of the industry are such that shop employees are almost never highly-paid professionals who know their products and their competitors’ products inside and out and will offer knowledgeable, objective advice knowing that by doing so, even if it means losing business today, the trust gained will return itself many times over tomorrow.

More often, they’re students or young kids who may or may not even ride as much as you do. If you’re a roadie, the employee you’re talking to may be a gravity-focused mountain biker who’s never even been on a road bike. It could be the owner’s nephew who’s way into motorcycles, doesn’t ride bicycles, but needed a job for the summer. You never know and never will know unless you prepare yourself to discern good advice from bad.

That’s where the trusted advisor comes into play. If you have a difficult question or are contemplating a purchase involving a significant outlay of cash, the shop is the wrong place to find the answer. Most shops like nothing more than a person walking in saying “I want a bike of a certain type and this is my budget.” They know they’ve got you. So long as they can offer skinny tires if you’re looking for skinny tires or fat tires if you’re looking for fat, the sale is theirs. Even if they only offer one line and that line happens to be a poor fit for your needs.

A better approach is to consult with your trusted advisor and find the things you should be looking for when making a purchase. Then you can go to a variety of shops and know what questions to ask. The holy grail is when your trusted advisor helps you prepare to make a decision and then you find the rare shop staffed by knowledgeable, honest employees whose first priority is seeing your needs are met.

Once you’ve found a good shop, it becomes like a three-legged stool: your trusted advisor is the sounding board against which you bounce ideas and begin to formulate a direction; the shop, with whom you should establish a relationship so that they know you by name, facilitates the decisions after you and your trusted advisor have ruled out the 90% of options that aren’t a good choice; and finally you, as the decision maker, apply sound judgment, understanding your needs, budget, and subjective factors such as feel better than anyone else.

Once you’ve found the right shop, you begin to ask direct, intelligent questions that don’t waste their time, and you demonstrate loyalty in exchange for the sound advice they have offered you. It becomes a relationship rather than a series of transactions. Don’t be surprised if they begin to give you a discount because they recognize you as a valued customer.

When this happens, reward the shop by planning ahead. For instance, if you have an event coming up and you need a particular item, go a couple weeks beforehand to pick it up or just call and ask. That way if it’s not in stock, they have time to order. (Most shops place orders every Monday or Tuesday and have them in stock by Wednesday or Thursday.) Never snub a shop that’s treated you right by ordering something from the Internet and asking them to install it. If you think you’re so smart you can buy stuff without a local shop, you better be smart enough to install and maintain the crap yourself.

Finally, in your interactions with trusted advisors, pay attention. If you discuss something where your trusted advisor pointed you in the right direction but didn’t have the final answer, follow up once you find the answer. Educate yourself and eventually pay it forward by becoming a trusted advisor to someone else. You don’t have to have all the answers, you just need to know a few critical things.