Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Eight Hundred

Word has it that 800 registered racers will converge on San Dimas, and surrounding areas this weekend for the 2016 San Dimas Stage Race (SDSR). That is a load of racers and bikes and, even at that number, there are still a few open spots.

Over the past month or two I have found myself wavering on my annual commitment to be there - with the US Cup making its stop in Fontana, and the High School League jumping over the Castaic, it is a huge weekend for bike racing. If those are not enough, SoCalCross has got their Gravel Trofee Series of off the beaten path adventure rides, this one heading into the Santa Monica Mountains from Pedalers Fork. How to choose?

One of my favorite photos from last years' SDSR is the ringing of the bells on Heckler Hill, during the Saturday road race, in and around Bonelli Park. I will certainly make SDSR at least one day, and would really like to get out to Castaic on Sunday, so it is looking, right now, as if the US Cup is odd man out. What ever the ultimate decision I expect there will be a lot of bell ringing going on around me, so if you are there (whichever there, there is) don't forget to bring, and ring, your own.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

2016 Majestic Criterium

What if you threw a crit and no one showed up? Well, for one thing it would suck. It would make you wonder if it was worth the effort.

Is this what the death of USAC looks like? Probably not, but it certainly does not inspire optimism. Kudos, though, go out to Majestic Cycling for finding a venue where they could do more than just your boring old four-corner layout. And while those who came out to race, beneath the a sun that had some bite to it, may have found it easier to dig in for a placing, I wish there had been more. At one point I realized the birds in the trees were making more noise than the wheels and chains of the passing peloton, not to mention the hush from the scattering of spectators.

It was not all discouraging, thankfully. The racing action was still there - both the Masters 55+/60+ and the 45+ fields spit out successful 2-man breaks, while both the Cat 4 (once they got going) and Junior 17-18 races were full of attacks and counters.

Unfortunately the small size of the fields did not afford great opportunities for photos of actual competition - there are some, but the majority are, or will be when the album is ready, of individual riders. I wish there were more, if for nothing else than as acknowledgement of the efforts of Majestic; that will need to wait for next time.

Michael Birditt and Steven Strickler made their own little break and drove it all the way to the end where...

we had to be reminded that they did not need to contest the finish against one another - same race, different category - Birditt (60+), Strickler (55+)

In the 45+ race Marvin Hall gave a lesson in cornering with speed, and then, by outsprinting the field, pulled a broom from his back pocket, sweeping the podium for his G3 Foundation/Trek team - teammates Josh Gruenberg and Steven Strickler having already taken the top two steps.

The Flickr album has seventy-one photos in it, all from the Masters 55+/60+, Masters 45+, Cat 4, and Junior 17-18 races.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Query: Living in a State of Denial?

Some time ago I decided my racing "career" was officially over, not that there was ever much there anyway - a very few high points awash in a great sea of mediocrity. Those high points are now dusty memories of twenty years ago. Yes, the mid-90s. Never-the-less it was a time that came to define my self-character, and the way I have continued to view myself as a cyclist. Yet while I am not a racer in any real sense anymore and, while I may inform the mrs. that "I am going out on a ride now," what I am really saying (in my mind), or what I hear myself say, is "I am going out training now." There is a dichotomous existence that I have not yet been able to come to grips with. Needless to say, perhaps, this blogging stuff only perpetuates the myth - going to all these races, or the finish of a competitive training ride, like the Bud's, enables a sense of connection, or still being a part of a bigger, and somehow more significant, cog.

If I were to sit before a psychologist, she might come to the conclusion that all the solo riding I tend to favor (and I have always done quite a bit, just never as much as the past few years), has more to do with perpetuating an illusion of competitiveness, than it does with actually liking the solo ride. What, you say? How could riding solo do that? Well, the devil's advocate says, if there are no other riders around to challenge, to push, out sprint, out climb, drop, or be dropped by, who is to say that I am not as mediocre or, limiting my memory to just a few years, moderately good as I ever was? In a way it is the same premise as the old tree falling in the woods argument. Does it make a sound? Am I still fast in my sixth decade (50s)? If there is no one around to hear it, or out ride, who is to say otherwise?

The truth is that no, I am not as fast. There is no doped blood flowing through my veins to make it otherwise. I have not discovered some secret of longevity, of perpetual speed, strength, or endurance. If I were to toe the line at this weekend's criterium I am confident the 50+ field would drop me and I would plummet off the back like a seventy-five pound bag of concrete mix. See, the reality is still there and I recognize it, but because I have not been dropped from a race in some five years, I need not acknowledge the reality. More than that, and other than just having shared these thoughts, I could very well have continued the falsehood of non-acknowledgment for the rest of my cycling life. 

I don' know. I keep thinking I will eventually reach some sort of compromise, that I could eventually get comfortable being the older guy who comes into the regroup last or, if not dead last, at least with the back-markers. I keep wondering when the point of accepting that I will just not be in the front group, all the time, will be reached. Twenty and more years ago I did those group rides on which the old guys did the best they could, reaching the summit, or after-sprint regroup as best they could, and didn't seem to mind one bit that they were, sometimes, multiple minutes behind. The wheels have turned full circle, there is a new crop of young guns, and I am now one of that older group, just one unwilling to accept it, or willing to hold off the inevitable by sheer force of avoidance. Denial? Ya think?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

This Bud's for You, 23 March: Texas Toast & Burgers

First was the Texas Toast with that thick buttery garlic spread; it lasted about four houses. A half mile later were the burgers, grilling outside; they were not as pungent, or maybe the breeze was blowing the wrong way, but after two houses their scent was gone. Oh wait, that's not what this post was supposed to be about. Sorry for the momentary distraction there - the ride home almost made me forget what I was doing.

You know if stuff like this continues to happen during the year, I am going to have to report someone to the improper authorities. What stuff? You know, the riders who come through the finish ahead of the bunch, acting all like they are out front, like they have been away for half a lap, and not just holding off the charge, but widening the gap with each wheel rotation. Man, those Bicycle Friends riders, in their bold colors, are some of the worst offenders. Relegation! Anyway, once I disregarded the quartet of fake winners I, and a handful of spectators settled back down to await the real charge to the line. As you will notice, they were barely able to keep ahead of the sun which was making one heck of a chase (I have the singed brows and arm hair to prove it). Out of that glare emerged one rider ahead of the rest; approaching the line the victor's gap was big enough that he could accelerate from the saddle, while those behind rose to sprint for second.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Houston, We Have a Problem

Actually, it is myself with the problem. My name is Michael and I have a problem. It was only a month ago that I rebuilt the ol' yellow Basso, cannibalizing my previous road ride to accomplish the task. I thought I would be satisfied, that the Basso would carry me on all the paved rides I might desire over the next few years, at least. 

But then a few days ago I looked around the stable and noticed the C'dale Caad 4. Ostensibly this was the sons bike, handed down after serving me well during the last few years of my racing "career". I can't begin to remember how many times I rode it round in circles without winning a blasted thing. As I thought about that, I realized that he (the son) had only ridden it three times since the El Roble Bike Marathon four years ago, and so decided a little reacquisition might just be in order. I put on some spare Speedplays, raised the seatpost, swapped saddles, and that was all it needed. Ready for me to ride again. I bought the Saeco team reproduction frame from Steve Lebanski's Open Road shop in Pasadena in either 1999 or 2000 and rode heck out of it until the call of the dirt was picked up by my ears a few years later.

Best thing about this resurrection is, I did not need to disassemble the Basso, so I could pick up again where we left off. The Caad 4 is also closer in size to the Ibis. Switching between riding the Basso and riding the Ibis always seems to require a short period of acclimatization. Now, being able to ride two bikes mostly the same size should solve that problem.

Back to that other problem. The drawbacks of N+1 are usually described as space and money. Not enough of the first and, well, not enough of the second either. But there is a third, lesser known drawback as well - never being satisfied with what you've got. Owning more than one of any type of bike (mountain, road, etc) can lead to excessive tinkering, the these bars might be better on that bike, or I'd like to try this shorter stem on that bike, or maybe these longer cranks would be better over there, kind of tinkering. Then there are variations in the saddles, the bar tape needs to be a difference color, the pedals, though the same model, are not quite the same - one pair is older and, after all they fell apart last week and I really should find a replacement screw, so I will move them to this other bike in the meantime. Never being satisfied gets to be a bit much sometimes. 

How many times did I switch majors in college? Rock and roll. Country. Yuck. Back to rock and roll. Thank goodness I don't shop that way - usually. I am in my second career, but hey, at least there has only been the one marriage. It hasn't always been the case, but my life with bikes has long revolved around maybe's and possibilities - if I change this maybe I can get a little more speed, if I change that maybe it will be more comfortable, maybe if I change this, and that, I can increase control. How will you ever know if you don't try. Sometimes I think it might be wonderful to have one bike so completely dialed in, that you simple maintain it as is for years. Sooner or later, though, I know that the urge to tinker would get the better of me. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

2016 NAHBS: Bits and Pieces, Odds and Ends 1

As expected, there was so much to see at NAHBS that posts on individual builds and details could go on for months. In order to streamline the process I have found it necessary to pull multiple posts into the Bits and Pieces, Odds and Ends

Peacock Groove was showing a fatbike with one-off 24" wheels at the HED booth. It was that hammered gold [?] chainguard that first caught my eye, but the HED rims, painted to match the custom frame was turning heads as well:

For the longest time, it seems, singlespeed bikes favored the sliding dropout for installation and tensioning. I like the range of options we are seeing to accomplish the same thing. Earlier I posted a photo of a rocker dropout by a Cal Poly student. At Oddity Cycles they have split the chain stays allowing them to slide in and out, while couplers on the seat stays allow you to completely break apart the rear triangle for travel, or to install a belt drive:

No where will you find the level of custom design that you get from the handmade builders. The owner of this Bilenky creation has the last name of Star (or maybe Starr). Either way that served as inspiration for some personal customization:

I have been aware of Appleman Bicycles for a number of years, and would even go so far as to describe him as the premier handmade builder of carbon fibre frames. I had only ever seen his road bikes, however. It was a pleasant surprise when I spotted this Appleman fat bike at the HED booth:

The Matter Two Stroke is one of seven models of bikes, for pavement and dirt, built by Collin Schaafsma out of Boulder, Colorado. Check more at the Matter website:

Like the students of Cal Poly, the students of the University of Iowa Hand Built Bicycle Program showed up at NAHBS. Unlike the former, however, the U of I brought many bikes to show. I was particularly taken with the wide-tired mountain runner - I think it was the swooping tubes:

A custom fit at Riivo Custom Cycling Footwear means a full foot mold first. I am not sure you can get a fit like that anywhere else:

Monday, March 21, 2016

From the Library: Cycling Home from Siberia

In my early teens I did a backpacking trip into Death Valley over, what they then called, Easter Vacation. The temperature dropped below freezing one day and through the night. I know it did because it snowed. It was Death Valley, it was Spring, so I was hardly prepared and, though I survived, I swore to forever hate cold weather. Having thus far lived my entire life in southern California that has not been a difficult promise to keep. So, cycling Siberia in the middle of winter? A great adventure, I am sure, but perhaps not the most pleasant of times.

That said, Lilwall's journey only partly involved Siberia, after that came Korea, Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua-New Guinea, Australia, various countries of southeast Asia, India, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Europe and home to England, a journey of 30,000 miles and more than three years. If travel is the best education a person can have, as many believe, then the author is well ahead of us all because this was not your typical tour bus / fancy hotel touring. No this was tents, miners' cabins and the generosity of strangers touring. A great adventure and some good reading.

Lilwall, Rob  Cycling Home from Siberia  New York, NY: Howard Books, 2009

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Bungle in the Jungle

There is no sign that all the extra water in Puddingstone is going down any time soon. The usual crossing of the slough through the Jungle is in the background of the photo above and, at its deepest, the water reaches up over the 29er hubs. It is also too wide to span with a bunch of fallen limbs and washed up reeds. All this new water puts a real crimp in plans to riding a full loop around Bonelli. Today a walker directed me to a bridge "they" had built. It is about as funky as a bridge can get - the logs and branches bob up and down, and the reeds are more an impediment than a help. There was a bit of a line to cross, and I waited my turn watching a couple guys very slowly, and very wobbly make their way from one bank to the other, bikes hefted on their shoulders. I kept waiting, expecting the splash, but it never came. Eventually I got to go, and opted to push my bike through the water beside me, a goofy walking tripod, but at least quicker than those other two guys, with no worries about creating a splash.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Young Guns of NAHBS: Equilibrium

Vladimir Balahovsky is the man behind the Equilibrium name. His building career began with repair and restoration work of vintage racing bikes. Inspiration and training from an NJS framebuilder in Japan allowed Balahovsky to expand his business into the realm of the builder. He works with steel for both its ride quality, versatility and longevity. These days, many riders, especially younger ones are conditioned with the belief that steel is the heaviest of building materials, and that if you want light carbon fibre is the only way to go. Back in the mid '90, when I owned a GT Edge, I realized that steel could be incredibly light. This is one of Balahovsky's driving philosophies. The showbike he brought to NAHBS, even with the extra build up of material at the tube connections, was regularly mistaken for a carbon fibre frame. Hence the hastily written sign on the floor.

Balahovsky builds both brazed and lugged frames from a workshop near Tokyo, Japan. Check the Equilibrium Cycleworks website for more information on his road, cross, and track bikes, and/or like his Facebook page to keep abreast on his current builds.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Yellow Flush

You like the color yellow? You like riding? Now is the time for both. The time to ride along the SGRT above Santa Fe Dam, because it it there in great force. If I happen to be there on the ol' yellow Basso - an extra dose of brightness.

Later, as I passed by the great white splotch (no, not Donald Trump) that used to be Spongebob Ghostlypants, and then a few names scrawled on the ground a short distance later, I wondered if taggers, especially those who just do the name thing continued their narcissistic habit into old age. I mean, is someone's grandmother out there leaving a moniker like Granny Apples on the walls of some town or city?

Anyway, that was a temporary, and passing thought; mostly I was just glad to be out in the crisp, bright morning. With a maximum speed clocking a relaxed twenty-three miles per hour, the only pushing today came when I turned a certain direction and the morning breeze provided an assist. If I had brought the fixings for coffee, it would have been the perfect opportunity for one of those rides that Pondero likes to do. I kind of wish my thoughts had been ones of greater substance, but then, maybe it was not the day for those, and that is just fine.

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cycling Claremont: Rack 'Em Up

Would it not be funny if these had been there all along, I mean since the parking structure was built, and I just never noticed them. Well, I know it is not that bad, but I can't say with any exactitude when exactly they were installed. I have never noticed them before, but then I am not usually around this side of the parking structure. What I can say is that these bike racks are in good shape with neither wear, nor tear in evidence. What is especially cool about them is that the wheel channel of the top ones slide out, and down, so that you can roll your bike up without having to lift the entire bike. There is also a thick cable attached to the rack so, ostensibly all you need is a good padlock.  Strike that part, the cable isn't really long enough to do much on its own, but needs to be used in tandem with your own U, or other type, lock. There is even a workstand for small repairs, and as long as you have your own tools.

These racks are on the east end of the Village public parking structure, 1st Street, west of Indian Hill. 

Later: Ahhhhokay. That makes perfect sense now that I hear it. My anonymous source (LFS, and thanks) has let me know that these neato racks used to occupy space in the, now defunct, Bike Station at the Depot. After that operation went belly up due in part, it is believed, by the hefty fee charged by the outside operating entity, and since the city had invested its own hefty sum of money on initial outlay (which included these racks) the city decided to move them here where they might still do some good. So there you go, a nice shaded spot to park in the Village.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

This Bud's for You, 16 March

That evening glow was turning everything it touched into gold tonight. It is that time. The first Wednesday after the change. An extra hour of light at the end of the day, means the first Bud's Ride of the year. Two riders come into view first, the bunch way behind. The SC Velo rider takes it before the line, and on a single speed bike, ahead of the Mobbin' rider who I normally see racing around on a single speed rig as well. Bringing home the big bunch and, as his kit notes, going fast - Full Circle. One, two, three. This Bud's for you.

Ibis Nights with the Goddess Pomona

Oh, I was so ready for the time change, the sun still high in the sky and casting its rays upon the Goddess. Unsurprising, really, that the only thing in bloom would be the Redbud growing upright, next to her. Proximity makes all the difference, I guess. Was it a touch, or merely a gaze, that burst color from its branches? Surely she shall grace the Farm next:

"...They knew Pomona had passed by in state,
For on the apples was a rosier blush,
And on the grapes a richer lustre born." (Scollard)

Nearby, within a whispers walk, a giant was laid low, a ram tipped upside down in his wake. I questioned whether they were the detritus of some epic, homeric conflict, each at the end of life and suffering a dismantling, a decomposition. The giant tipped forward, resting on rigid toes and shoulders shorn of thoughtful head, arms splayed back and to side, four points of contact with the earth of which it sprung. The ram, a tripod on horns and back, legs straight up in mortification at the death at the hands of a headless one. 

Or, maybe they are yet to be raised, perhaps even by that same breath bringing life to the Redbud, by the rays of a longer sun. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

2016 Vail Lake Challenge: Determination, Fun, Deception

Determination. A broken rear derailleur could just as easily have resulted in a DNF (Did Not Finish), but not for the athlete from San Pasqual High School. I am not sure at what point during the race the mechanical mishap occurred, but I do recall the race announcer, from way over yonder, encouraging him through the start finish area. With, that means, a full lap still to go. Walking, pushing, maybe occasionally running. Why, you ask? For the points; remember high school mountain biking is not just about the individual. Every point for finishing counts in the team competition. If this were PE, that determination would earn him an A+. When I go to a High School mountain bike race and see the numbers of young athletes out there challenging themselves and one another, I see not just a promising future for the sport, but a great future for the communities in which these kids may very well become leaders.

Fun. Yeah, it is to be expected before and after, the down time, hanging out with teammates, friends. But what about during the race? In some ways it is just as obvious. Fun. It is written all over a hundred different faces, a glow in the eyes, a smile that says all you need to know. "She smiles the whole time, like she's having fun!" A group of athletes, finished with their own races, sat on a hillside across the trail. They were joking amongst themselves, cheering everyone who came racing past. Everyone. There could have been any number of racers they were talking about, but in this case the talk of smiling was in reference to the Varsity girls' Division I leader, from Ramona High School. I was curious and checked the photos. Sure enough, that smile seemed to always be there. I have been around racing long enough to know that a smile is not always a smile of fun. IN this case, however, I have absolutely not doubt. It is fun.

Deception. You know, the camera flattens out the landscape. This rise, this final climb of the course is not the gradual incline it appears to be on a computer screen. Very few make it look easy. It is steep, it is rocky, there is a rut running down the middle of the trail, with a steep drop on its narrow side - and yes, at least two riders toppled over and down today. It is the challenge of mountain biking.

These Damien High School races seem to have lunch well in hand.

One hundred twenty one photos have been selected for the Flickr album. Most of those are from the Sophomore races, JV, and Varsity girls. Remember that those photos are only a representative selection, and there are six times as many not in the album, so if you don't see who you were looking for, let me know and I will see what I can find.


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