Somewhere in France two Americans are stuffing themselves silly before embarking on a challenging afternoon (and evening?) ride through the Vercors region. We arrived by train in a small town miles from nowhere (St Haire/Nazaire, a town so nice they named it twice) and now will ride 65 miles back to Grenoble. With as much as we’ve eaten, we won’t have to worry about bonking!
Way way way back in the day, when I was a junior racer (15-18 years old), there was a family from the midwest that dominated bike racing- the Stetinas. Dale & Wayne, I believe (Dale is now a stock broker, and his brother Wayne a high-up person at Shimano bicycle components). They used to arrive at races in a huge motorhome, and their father was legendary for badgering other racers as well as his own kids. At one point one of his sons had “only” come in 2nd place, and Roy Stetina, “proud” papa, was heard to tell him “2nd place is no better than 5th!” That was the shot heard ’round the world; from then on, the standing joke, if you were 5th in a race, was to ask to trade prizes with 2nd place because, after all, it was no better than 5th.
I bring this up because today, in the final sprint, I didn’t have what it took. I just couldn’t close the gap in time to Chris. Maybe I wasn’t pushing a high-enough gear, maybe I should have sat down sooner, not really sure. Or maybe I just wasn’t strong enough. Chris later said that another 10 feet and I would have had it, and that’s when the “2nd place is no better than 5th” line came back to me. It didn’t matter that George and Kevin and John and whomever else were back there. What mattered was that Chris won and I lost (as seen in the short video).
Regarding the other 25 miles of the ride, it was yet another beautiful morning, third day in a row of riding for myself and Kevin as we prepare for France (we leave a week from Thursday). For reasons not explained or easily understood, we had an exceptionally-easy, dare I say lazy pace up the first half of the hill until something finally triggered Chris to start pushing the pace, at which several riders went forward (Chris, Jim, John, George & Todd) and several others backward (myself, Kevin, Eric and Terry). People may have expected heroics (again) from Kevin, but we had decided beforehand to take it a bit easier and try to avoid him having a seizure (thankfully, he didn’t).
I did ask Kevin tonight if he was in a good position to see Dad lose the sprint. He was. Now trying to figure out if it’s good that he was up there, or bad that he saw me fail.
Those wise words from Jan (which I originally mis-quoted as the “accomplishment” rather than “pride”), one of several witnesses to the passing of the torch. Yes, today, June 23, 2011, Kevin dropped me on Kings Mtn. And it’s not as if he dropped me when I was having a bad day. He posted a more-than-respectable time of 26:30, with me trailing 10 seconds behind. Normally, I would have been very happy getting the 26-minute-monkey off my back. I’d been wondering how long before I got a decent (for me) time up the hill, and a bit concerned that my (up to now) slightly-slower rides with Kevin might have held back my shape a bit.
It was on June 10th, just two weeks ago, that Kevin finally got below 30 minutes on Kings. That was a big deal. Then a week later, he knocked off a minute and a half with a 28:16. I thought that was pretty darned good. And now this. 26:30. Probably close to my best time last year (but at this point, I vow to do better than that this year!).
Witnesses? Karl, Jan, Millo & Terry (whom had left a bit earlier and we passed near the top), Marcus. Eric, Karen, “pilot” Kevin & John were fortunate not to be there, fortunate because they don’t have to worry about whether they were witnesses to something that could put them in danger.
There was no question that Kevin had put everything into his effort; there wasn’t much left of him at the top, so little in fact that he couldn’t hang onto the group’s moderate pace across Skyline. He did recover reasonably well by the time we got to west-side Old LaHonda though, where he rode fairly strongly, but frankly, at that point, I exploited whatever advantage I had and rode on ahead. He still had enough fight left in him to try and take the last two sprints, and I still had enough left in me to not let that happen.
26:30. If he keeps this up, and if I get my act together, something in the 25 range is a definite possibility. For me, that would set the clock back quite a few years. For Kevin, who knows?
This is from yesterday’s (6/12/2011) climb up West Alpine Road, one of the classic Bay Area climbs. Fantastic ride and can be part of a pretty short (under 40 miles) ride from Woodside. Below is an example of a 35 mile ride starting & ending in Woodside. A very challenging 35 mile ride to be sure, with two good climbs (Old LaHonda and West Alpine). Food & water is available in LaHonda, but once on the West Alpine climb you’re on your own, so bring two full water bottles. –Mike–
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A “Clean Air Vehicle” shouldn’t burn gas! It probably shouldn’t even run on electricity. The only true “Clean Air Vehicles” are those self-propelled. Your bicycle is a true “Clean Air Vehicle.”
Besides the recreational/fitness aspects of cycling, you truly can use a bike to avoid driving. Today, I did a run to the bank before heading to the shop, and how much gas did I use? Exactly zero. How many square feet of asphalt were required for me to park my bike? Exactly zero. The air would be a whole lot cleaner if there were more bicycles used for shorter trips and fewer “Clean Air Vehicles.” It’s time for some truth in advertising. Or maybe a new advertising campaign for Chain Reaction!
I’d by lying to say Sierra Road was easy. While the temps were moderate, I felt overdressed for most of the climb, with a warm base layer and leg warmers causing me to consider stopping along the way to remove them… but stopping, once on a climb, is something done only for “external” reasons (or should I say excuses?). Such as coming across a friend you haven’t seen in some time (saw a few of those today but didn’t stop), or maybe an imaginary mechanical problem. I was sweating more than I have in ages, and wondered how close my heart rate was to red-lining (hitting the maximum that I can reach, which these days is going to be around 175). I was getting a much-tougher workout than I had planned, and that, of course, was a good thing.
But everything worked out great. I made it to the top without getting passed by too many along the way, and the Bike Friday and I felt like we were up to the task of some challenging rides in France. I’ll admit that initially I felt like I wanted my Madone but it wasn’t too long before that feeling passed and it was just me & the hill.
(Originally posted for Bike To Work day) So have you figured out how you can ride your bike to work instead of drive tomorrow? The weather report looks good for the Peninsula, with a high of 71 and low of 48 degrees. So what’s keeping you from trying the bike commute thing?
For me, it was the assumption that hauling around my “missile case”, a laptop case including the keys to everything needed to run the shop (in particular the marketing end of things), and a 400ft hill at one end of the commute that just isn’t much fun with a lot of weight on your back. Nevertheless, when one of the two shop vehicles died a second time (one doesn’t put a third transmission into a 13 year old Dodge Caravan with 133,000 miles on it), I was left without a gas-powered weather-insulated tomb on wheels. And that’s really what a car becomes when commuting… you try to pretend that you can do other things than drive, because you admit to yourself that driving is stupid, so you talk on your phone, you turn on the radio, you roll up the windows and put the air conditioning on, you eat & drink. Anything to avoid thinking about your actual surroundings, which is, of course, incredibly dangerous. And dehumanizing.
I started out with a big Oakley backpack, so big that it could swallow up the laptop case. But, riding with a heavy backpack just isn’t much fun, but seemed like the only option since I don’t own a bike with a rack on it. Except that I do! My Bike Friday, my travel bike for trips to France, has a rack on it. Add a grocery bag pannier like my wife uses on her Trek e-bike, and voila, no more backpack, and I get to make a lot more use of the Bike Friday than for a once-a-year trip to France.
The run to the shop is pretty easy, since it’s downhill for the first mile, although I’ll admit that, on a Tuesday or a Thursday, when I’ve just finished the morning training ride, the legs talk to me once I hit the flat part of Jefferson (especially when there’s even a slight headwind). The detour to the bank seems to take less time on the bike than in the car, and there’s been no issue bringing the bike inside. Without the side trip to the bank, it’s about 9 minutes from home to the shop (2.7 miles). Adding the bank in brings it up to 25 or so. The trip home? Not quite so easy, but not that much slower at between 14-16 minutes, depending upon how I hit the lights. Do I feel “rested” when I get home? Uh… no. I’m 100% totally destroyed, because I can’t help myself, the second I leave the back gate at the shop I turn on the timer and it’s game-on. But perhaps “destroyed” isn’t quite accurate, because there’s this strange combination of near-death & energized that really best describes how you feel. I don’t think a non-cyclist can relate to that, and perhaps it’s a more-exclusive club that requires a degree of competitiveness bordering on the absurd.
Please tell us about your own commute! Submit it as a reply to this post and I’ll try to organize them in a fashion that will hopefully inspire more people to Go By Bike. –Mike–
George, Karl, Leslie (pilot-Kevin’s friend), Kevin, Eric, John, Millo, Marcus, Karen… that might be everybody, or I might be missing someone. What wasn’t missed was a day that turned out so much nicer than expected! I put on the long-fingered gloves but really didn’t need to; it probably started around 54 degrees and was up to 64 by the time I got back home a couple hours later. No complaints!
Since it was a Tuesday I knew it would be a bit harder than the Thursday version of our ride, but hard is really what you make of it yourself. Starting up Kings I’m now making sure to not set the pace at the beginning, since people complain that I go hard and then blow up. Not sure how that’s a whole lot different than what I’m doing now… waiting for Marcus and John and Karl to pass by, and then hanging onto their wheels for dear life until… I blow up! The end result is the same; no way can I maintain a torrid pace all the way up the hill. Yet. Working on that one! And I think my new life as a bike commuter is helping out in that regard, since my 15 minute ride home includes a stiff climb at the end, and no matter how tough the day has been, no matter how tired or hungry I am, I still punch it as hard as I can.
Once we get to the park I get a chance to rest for a minute or two, and then continue up the hill at a bit more moderate pace. It’s still tough seeing the fast guys head on up ahead though, and I’ll still try to get back up to them at least once, an effort that pretty much destroys me. As usual. But today at least I got in two hard sprints, with Georgepushing things each time. Looking at the video I shot during the ride, I saw something that I key on during the sprint, without thinking about it… George pulls ahead, takes a quick glance back and then takes off. It’s that glance that tells me I’ve got it. If you’re serious about a sprint and it’s going to be an all-out drag race, there’s nothing to be gained by looking back, unless you’re thinking about backing down, and if that’s in your mind, you’ve lost already. In George’s case, I think he’s just curious and wants to know where he is vs myself or Karl. If it were a tactical sprint, knowing exactly where the other guys are makes sense, but for either the Skegg’s or Sky Londa sprints, the tactics are played out well before the actual sprint (while you establish your position… basically, whose wheel to sit on).
The most-interesting part of the ride for me wasn’t a sprint though. George and Karl had gotten out ahead on the 84 descent into Woodside, with me in that no-man’s land between them and a few some distance behind. Normally I’d be inclined to wait for those behind if there was much of a gap to the front guys, but today? Today I wanted to see if I could run George & Karl down, in particular on the Tripp Road section where I normally run out of gas and am happy to sit on someone’s wheel. But today I managed to bridge the gap to them, after which Karl promptly attacked, leaving me behind. Good tactic on Karl’s part, since it took me completely out of the final sprint.
This is what I do for fun. Or is it, This is what I do for fun? To tell you the truth, at 55, I’m scared to death that, if I slow down, I’ll never get back up to speed again! –Mike–
Behold the appearance of part of Chain Reaction Redwood City. What is that attached to the wall near our dressing rooms? Decoration? Something to add character? Does it belong in the modern retail environment? Is it appropriate or just something we think is cool? (Click on the photo to read the T-shirt’s text.)
OK, what is it? It’s a t-shirt I got from Versus network a few years back, when the prior year’s Tour de France had been rocked by scandal (has there been one that wasn’t?) and people were making noises that bike racing wasn’t worth watching because the winners are all dopers and that somehow makes it not a legitimate sport (just like baseball, football, and, good gosh, golf even!). I put a link on our website to their Tour de France page, and in return, I got a T-shirt (hey, all Charlie Brown got was a rock, I’m not complaining).
So what does it mean when someone sees that t-shirt hanging on a wall outside the dressing rooms? Do they actually read what it says and think about it, or does it just look like an old orange t-shirt badly in need of dusting off? Does it somehow add desirable “character” to the shop, or does it add to the background noise level, a distraction from what is supposed to look like a professionally-run retail business?
It’s tough, this idea of bringing up our retail presentation and standards to modern expectations. Whose expectations? I mean, isn’t part of being in business for yourself an act of independence from “The Man”, an almost-defiant act of putting your own stamp on things, so that you’re mistaken for neither the hapless *Mart nor the sterile Nordstrom experience? Bikes aren’t lingerie, or car batteries. They’re something everyone on our staff really enjoys riding. To us, they’re a lifestyle, and that’s what this character or attitude stuff is all about. We want to promote that we’re cool. We see stuff that separates us from the rest of the retail experience. We’re hip.
Which is all well and good for those coming in who have already bought into the lifestyle and are looking for that casually-hip & trendy experience. But if Chain Reaction Bicycles were to have to pay the bills on just that crowd, we’d be broke. If we were to play the music that most of our younger staff would get into, rather than “Classic Vinyl” (Channel 46 on Sirius Radio), we’d alienate a lot of our core base of customers. In short, if we don’t, at times, accept a lowest-common-denominator (but modern and well-implemented) approach to retail, we could become just another asterisk of the Internet, a place that people remember, a few people very fondly, some people not. We cannot afford to be a place that people would avoid coming back to because we’ve got too much attitude, too much badness factor. We need to deliver an exceptional and welcoming experience to all manner of people who make the effort to come and see us. Don’t get put off by my “lowest common denominator” remark… I mean that in the best-possible way; that we need to seek a common ground with all who come in. It’s not “lowering” anything really… rather, it’s raising our ability to deliver the message that bikes are the most-wonderful thing on the planet to as many as possible.
This business, Chain Reaction Bicycles, has to be more than the combination of my employee’s and my own view of what’s personally cool about bikes. We have to excel at retail, delivering an experience that’s friendly and efficient each and every time. We have to look at all the “cool” stuff on the walls and question whether that means anything to the average customer or if it’s just noise, and one thing the world absolutely has too much of is noise. We have to recognize that what’s really cool is getting as many people as possible to enjoy cycling as much as possible. That’s great for cycling and great for business.
But my wife thinks I’m crazy to listen to retail experts who come in and tell me that that shirt needs to come down from the wall. The interesting thing here is that she’s all too aware of my propensity for clutter & noise at home, and would love to see me adopt a “cleaner” (figuratively & literally) attitude around the house. The problem at the business, I think, is that what it is today represents a little bit of this, a little bit of that, that we’ve all contributed to over the years. It’s “us” if you will, and to some extent (I think) we can’t see the forest for the trees. What do you think? –Mike–
People asked for years, “Do you ride to work?” It was an assumption; obviously, as much as I ride, I must be riding to work as well. I must be living on a bike. Until recently, that wasn’t the case; having two locations required frequent transfers of inventory, requiring that I have a shop van each day that I would load up with items needed by the other store, and Steve had one for product needed in Redwood City that was coming from Los Altos. We’d exchange vans several times per week, so basically I was stuck driving, whether I wanted to or not. Continue reading