Former Bike Rider Reminisces

As a former bike rider, I still remember how to balance a two-wheeler and sometimes venture out into the world to remind myself what it feels like to roll along the local pavements.

This morning I had an appointment over on Solano Avenue, a couple miles from home. I rode over. Then afterward, I rode up Solano and wound my way into the hills. Just to remind myself what that uphill trudge feels like.

I got to the top of Los Angeles Avenue, which is short and no big deal though it has a semi-steep pitch at the end. I was taking it very easy and riding in my lowest low gear.

Turning uphill on Spruce, perhaps the most popular way into the hills on the north end of Berkeley, another rider appeared alongside me. He was going faster than I and was visibly fitter, too. We said hi and wished each other a good ride, and within a few seconds he was pulling away. As I got ready to turn uphill on Keith Avenue, a quiet and steepish side street, the Other Cyclist was maybe 100 feet ahead of me.

I stayed in my low gear up Keith and crossed Euclid Avenue. Then I started a sort of side-step up the ridge toward Grizzly Peak Boulevard. From Keith, which has a gentle grade east of Euclid, I turned on to Bret Harte Way, which probably has a 16 or 17 percent grade (and grade is a measure of a road’s slope: 10 percent means a 10-unit vertical change for every 100 linear units; 10 feet in 100 feet, or 10 meters in 100 meters. Given my out-of-shape linebacker physique, which my legs have to carry up these hills, I regard 10 percent as pretty steep. In Berkeley, Marin Avenue climbs into the hills with gradients of roughly 20 to 30 percent, and the steepest street I’ve heard of in town is said to be 31 percent. That’s another way of saying darn near impossible for mere mortals and former bike riders).

At each corner, I tried to turn uphill. The way it worked out, I alternated between steep eastbound pitches like Bret Harte Way and flatter south-trending pieces like Cragmont. And so it went, up Bret Harte Road (steep again, and different from B.H. Way), Keeler Avenue (flattish), Twain Avenue (steep), Sterling (gentle), Whitaker (steep), Miller (easy), and Stevenson, a short street that I knew topped out at Grizzly Peak. And that was as far up as I intended to go.

I finished the climb and turned left on Grizzly Peak. As it happened, I was about 100 feet or so in front of the guy who had just passed me down below. We waved at each other, and I called out that he could have taken the short cut, and he laughed. It was a lovely piece of symmetry in a short ride into the hills, but the neatness of the coincidence made me want to try to account for it.

So here’s some arithmetic. The corner of Keith Avenue, roughly where the Other Cyclist passed me, is at an elevation of 499 feet if online sources are to be believed. The corner where we met again is at 1,082 feet. So both of us climbed 583 feet. Now, how far did we ride in linear distance? Again using an online tool–Gmaps Pedometer, which you ought to try if you haven’t already–my ride was 1.21 miles. His: 2.47. That’s another neat coincidence: His route being twice as long and the net climb being the same, his net grade (4.5 percent) is half of mine (9.2 percent). He also had to maintain an average speed roughly double mine, which would have been no problem since I was probably poking along at about 5 mph or less when the road got steep.

So those are the numbers. Interesting, but they don’t quite sum up that moment of delight when I saw the Other Rider again.

Lance and Us

Lance Armstrong is a renowned champion bicycle racer. Lance Armstrong is making a comeback this year after several years of celebrity and celebrity hangover. Lance Armstrong crashed earlier this week during a race and broke his collarbone. And now Lance Armstrong is starting his recovery training regimen. Today, and perhaps today only, Lance Armstrong’s workout routine resembles something I might recognize as human. Here it is, as reported on his Twitter stream: “Got on the spin bike for half an hour today.”

(And here’s the link to the Twitpic of Lance on said spin bike: http://twitpic.com/2jn5r.)

Tour of the Rain

Over the last 10 days, we’ve gone from a dry season, a sort of perpetual autumn, to full Northern/Central California winter. Which means: rain in the lowlands and someplace unseen, far to the east, the Sierra Nevada living up to their name. We have a storm parked offshore now, and the rain has fallen all day without much of a let up. We got out this morning to walk Scout during a break of an hour or so. But a couple of later excursions took place in a pounding-down rain, and the dog was soaked when we got back (he doesn’t seem to mind; and he seems to like the process of us toweling him down before we let him back in the house).

Over in Davis this morning, just this side of Sacramento, Stage 1 of the Tour of California hit the road. The route was 107 miles to Santa Rosa over many of the same roads I’ve ridden on brevets, or centuries or just on rides with friends. The big climb of the day was up Howell Mountain Road. I remember it as a steep 2.5- to 3-mile grind I once did with my friend Pete. The eventual stage winner made one of his big moves on that climb today.

I’ve ridden some of these roads in the rain, but today it looked like the racers got pelted from beginning to end of the stage. You see all everyone wearing rain jackets, shoe covers, tights, and what look like scuba gloves. None if keeps you dry. The longer you’re out in the rain, the more water you get in your shoes, the more sodden your shorts get, the colder you become. Of course, the elite pros in today’s peloton really raced today; it’s very, very rare for weather to interfere with the running of a race (one exception I remember: heavy snow in the mountain passes during a stage of the Tour of Italy maybe 15 years ago caused the race organizers to abbreviate a stage). They raced today, but they were miserable, just like the fraternity and sorority of just regular riding folks.

How bad was it? Here’s the Twitter Lance Armstrong sent out after finishing:

“Holy hell. That was terrible. Maybe one of the toughest days I’ve had on a bike, purely based on the conditions. I’m still freezing.”

More rain in the forecast tomorrow. And some patchy, wild roads, too, including another one I rode with Pete once: Tunitas Creek. It turns into a wild one-lane route through a redwood forest. When we road it, the road was all patches and patches on patches. I saw a report from a local cyclist today that the route had debris on it today. Which makes it kind of amazing to me that the best cyclists in the world are riding it. It’s more than a little like the Yankees showing up to play on your local diamond, complete with pebbles in the infield and potholes in the outfield. Seeing the best on your home field — well, it changes the way you see the field.

Into the Wild, Onto the Road

Riding and racing for the pure joy of it: Canadian Rider Makes an Unorthodox Climb Toward Cycling’s Pinnacle.

It’s The New York Times on Svein Tuft, a 31-year-old riding in the Tour of California and who could make his debut in the Tour de France later this year. I suppose that if the Times is getting around to it, similar tales have appeared many other places, too. In any case — wonderful story:

“Those who have heard the tale of Svein Tuft have wondered, could it possibly be true?

“How he dropped out of school in the 10th grade, lured by the freedom of the outdoors. How he evolved into a barrel-chested woodsman with Paul Bunyan biceps. How he ventured, at 18, from his home in Canada into the wilderness on a $40 thrift-shop bike hooked to a homemade trailer.

“They have learned of the way he traveled sparingly, towing only his camping gear, a sack of potatoes and his 80-pound dog, Bear. The way he drank from streams and ate beside an open fire. Or hopped trains across Canada, resting as the land flickered by.”

Don’t

Don’t go out for your first real bike ride in months and try to go hard. Just don’t do it.

But if you do, don’t let your heart rate go into the red zone. Red zone meaning you’re not sure whether you’re heart’s really supposed to beat that fast.

But if you do find yourself looking at that high heart rate, don’t engage in hijinks like trying to show the other guys how fast you can go — even for just a couple minutes, which is really all your atrophied legs have in them.

But if you do start showing off, don’t let anyone talk you into taking the hard climb back home when there’s an easier one you know you really should take.

But if you do let reason be overruled, don’t ride out ahead of the other guys, even if you’re telling them you’re just warming up for the hard part of the climb (note: it’s all hard).

But if you do go off the front a little, don’t lose track of where your friends are. They might take a turn you weren’t expecting.

But if you do get separated, don’t waste a lot of time looking for them, and don’t hesitate to take easy bail-out route back home you had in mind instead of trying to push yourself up the wall in front of you.

But if you do look for them, and if you do try the wall, don’t get off your bike, whatever you do.

But if the damned hill is just too hard for you in your broken-down state — OK, get off. And if you do, take a look around at all the stuff you’d miss if you were just grinding your way up the grade. When you get back on your bike, and finally hit the top of the hill, you’ll be amazed that you ever thought it was hard. Don’t tell anyone it was.

Simplicity

Bikesimplicity121808-1

Others call this image “brilliant” and “awesomely awesome” and say “it makes my brain salivate.” I like the simplicity message. But shouldn’t the spokes be shown whirring around–you know, in motion–for the old friction generator to produce enough current for that light beam.

I know–picky and boringly literal. But I’m just getting started. I also wonder about the flat bar, the lack of a shifting device, and the implied absence of a rear brake. Is this some sort of hybrid hipster bike? I do like the lugged steel frame, though.

The poster was done by an artist named Nick DeWar for ReadyMade magazine, party of a project called Poster Children that asked artists “to reimagine the populist poster art of the first Great Depression.”

Dewar says of this poster: “I hope that America is entering a post-’greed is good’ period. I can’t think of a single step that would change the nature of our society more than everyone abandoning their automobiles and cycling instead. There would be less dependence on oil, obesity levels would drop dramatically, and reflective bike clips would replace fancy ladies’ purses as the current must-have fashion accessory.”

Dewar’s personal site is full of odd and wonderful discoveries.

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Simplicity

Bikesimplicity121808-1

Others call this image “brilliant” and “awesomely awesome” and say “it makes my brain salivate.” I like the simplicity message. But shouldn’t the spokes be shown whirring around–you know, in motion–for the old friction generator to produce enough current for that light beam.

I know–picky and boringly literal. But I’m just getting started. I also wonder about the flat bar, the lack of a shifting device, and the implied absence of a rear brake. Is this some sort of hybrid hipster bike? I do like the lugged steel frame, though.

The poster was done by an artist named Nick DeWar for ReadyMade magazine, party of a project called Poster Children that asked artists “to reimagine the populist poster art of the first Great Depression.”

Dewar says of this poster: “I hope that America is entering a post-’greed is good’ period. I can’t think of a single step that would change the nature of our society more than everyone abandoning their automobiles and cycling instead. There would be less dependence on oil, obesity levels would drop dramatically, and reflective bike clips would replace fancy ladies’ purses as the current must-have fashion accessory.”

Dewar’s personal site is full of odd and wonderful discoveries.

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Hazards of the Road

I recently came across a post from the veteran writer/cyclist Maynard Hershon wherein he narrated the terrors of driving with an inattentive driver:

“She seldom drove with both hands and full attention. More often she manipulated the phone, studied the instructions and changed radio stations or swapped CDs, concerned that she was choosing music that I’d enjoy.

“While she did those things, tasks that were clearly priorities, she did not or could not drive in a straight line. She would veer over the center line or cross the fog line onto the shoulder. Three times she jerked the wheel to center the car on the road, apologizing to me each time.

“At one point she said: I guess I shouldn’t get into an accident with you in the car, meaning me.”

That’s bad. But it could be worse. Here’s the view from the other side of the windshield, by way of Chuck Bramwell, a well-known long-distance rider and ride organizer in California:

Many of you know Brian Stark, the Ride Director of the Central Coast Double, a great cyclist, and a good friend to many cyclists.

On Friday 11/21/08, Brian Stark was side swiped by a car then another car hit him too.

His main problem is, a smashed leg both tibia and fibula, broken ankle, fractured jaw bone, and a fractured Pelvis. He was Medivaced to Stanford Medical Center from the Templeton Hospital out of Templeton, California.

Cindi Staiger reported on 11/24/08: “Brian will have to undergo a number of surgeries for his injuries, one possibly Tues. on both legs.

Broken left Tibia/Fibula

Broken Right Tibia/ankle

Broken mandible

Broken 1st lumbar vertebrae

Broken tailbone?

Broken pelvis (on ‘non-load bearing’ area) no surgery at this point scrapes abrasions, stitches

in ICU for at least a week maybe more, fairly in and out of it

asked (in writing cause he can’t talk) if he’ll still be able to ride his bike! Typical! :>P

Estimated 6-12 months for full recovery.

…in lots of pain and surely annoyed by it all, good meds – but he will eventually be ok.

He needs all our thoughts and prayers!”

Cindi reported today, 12/02/08: “I spent Sun and Mon evenings visiting Brian at SUMC – he was moved out of ICU this weekend – he’s still in a great deal of pain but VERY thankful to be alive after this horrible accident.

He had surgery on both legs last Tues. (the right actually only has the broken ankle not the tibia) the left both Tibia and fibula were operated on. The surgeons aligned and wired the bone fragments to 5 external metal rings stabilized with vertical 2 bars around the leg between the knee and ankle. He also had exploratory surgery after the accident as there were fluids in the abdomen – it was only exploratory and there was no internal damage other than bruising. Brian will undergo surgery this morning on the mandible which was broken on the left side. He finally got the ok last night for real food (not liquid or pureed) and today will go back to the former after surgery. He really enjoyed eating dinner last night!

Brian is greatly appreciative for all the well wishes coming in…..and sends thanks to all.

He’s in pretty good spirits and is dealing considering what he has been through!

His recollection at this point is that the car coming from behind drifted onto the shoulder hit him and threw him into the other oncoming lane where upon a car coming from the opposite direction struck him. HE IS TRULY LUCKY TO BE ALIVE!!!! He has endless number of doctors taking care of him and he feels well covered in that respect.

I think any cards or letters he gets will really bring him comfort knowing his friends and large ultra society are pulling for him.”

Please send Brian a card and let him know that the California Triple Crown Family is thinking of him:

Stanford Hospital & Clinics

ATTN: Brian Stark

Department Name: ICU

Room# C310

300 Pasteur Drive

Stanford, CA 94305

We all wish him a complete and strong recovery. Please keep Brian in your Thoughts and Prayers.

What Chuck said: Send Brian your best thoughts. And a card can’t hurt, either.

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Idiosyncratic Bike for Sale

As posted on Craigslist (though not for long — the bike sold in about an hour):

For sale: Idiosyncratic Bridgestone RB-1, $600

Bridgestone RB-1

Year: 1991

Size: 59 cm

Details:

–Built up as a 40×15/40×17 fixed gear with a retrofitted horizontal rear dropout.

–Wheels: rear is a Mavic MA-40 built around a Sansui Pro-Training 36-hole hub; front is an Araya RC-540 built around a 32-hole Shimano 105 hub.

–Crankset: Shimano 600 53/40.

–Brakeset: Diacompe aero levers. Front brake: Shimano 105 sidepull. Rear: Diacompe 986 cantilever. Brakes are set up “cross-handed”: right lever controls front (explanation below).

–Control Tech aluminum stem (approx 100mm), Icon drop bars approx 44cm).

–Lovely pre-distressed Brooks B-17 saddle, once handled (and perhaps even sat upon) by Grant Petersen himself.

–One-of-a-kind, non-factory paint job.

Backstory:

I have not made many impulse bike-related purchases. In 1991, I bought a British-racing-green-and-ivory Bridgestone RB-1 at The Missing Link in Berkeley. I had just started to do some long-distance cycling and somehow thought that that bike was just the ticket for me. It had a late Suntour 7-speed rear drivetrain, and with younger legs I did manage to do some hill climbing with a bailout gear of 42×23. I stopped riding for years, got back into it in the early 2000s. In 2003, I ripped everything off the bike, had it repainted in close to the same scheme by Ed Litton in Point Richmond, and rebuilt with a triple-crankset randonneuring machine (again by The Missing Link). I rode that bike in Paris-Brest-Paris 2003, and kept doing brevets on it until I finished a 300-kilometer ride in Santa Cruz with a huge crack through the bottom-bracket shell.

So, I stuck with that horse until it couldn’t run anymore. In the meantime, I had found two other 59-centimeter RB-1 frames: a built-up beater that the owner had unconscionably refitted with a lousy aluminum fork, and a unique Joe Bell-painted frameset that a former Missing Link mechanic was trying to unload. When that first frame broke, I just took everything off of it and put it on the Joe Bell frame and commenced riding that. That was my mount for my unfinished 2007 PBP and for a 1,000-kilometer brevet in Colorado in 2006 that earned me a Randonneur 5000 award.

I mentioned my lack of impulse bike purchases. That’s less a product of virtue than necessity. Once upon a time, I went out and test-rode a bunch of bikes I knew I couldn’t afford, including a cushy early Merlin titanium frame. I also coveted high-end Masis and have looked on in semi-envy at friends’ custom Rivendells and Calfees. I’ve never felt justified in plunking down $4,000 or $5,000 for a bike, though–and I understand that’s no longer top-of-the-line money.

In the case of the bike I’m selling now, though, I had an impulse and acted on it. How did it happen?

Somewhat euphoric and more than usually brain-addled after PBP ’03, I chanced to read an email from Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle Works in Walnut Creek, California. He was selling a few custom items to raise money. Among them was a 59-centimeter RB-1 — my size — set up as a fixed gear. The bike had a history, too: the fixie was a project undertaken by a one-time California bicycle writer. The email identified the writer, but I won’t because I have a feeling he’s sensitive about how his name is used and I haven’t gotten his permission.

Part of the writer’s project was to doctor the original Bridgestone logo with the logo of bike and parts maker Salsa. The red frame carries the legend “Salsbridge” on the down tube. It’s also adorned with numerous flashes of white, green, and yellow paint. I’ll be honest: the Salsa reference loses me, as the bike as presented to me has zero Salsa components. (The secret might be contained in a long-ago story about this bike by another Northern California bicycle writer, a legendary randonneur who left the Bay Area to take up residence in northern Nevada. This second writer contacted me after I bought the bike and promised to send a laminated copy of the story; I long ago stopped waiting for that to happen; I only hope that he just couldn’t find the thing, or that he was always too busy to send it, instead of him deciding that I’m some sort of undeserving jerk. Why undeserving? Well, to be honest, next to the two writers, and many riders, too, I’m just a dabbler at this whole bike thing.)

Another aspect of the project is easier for me to understand. The brakes are what I’ll call cross-handed. The right lever operates the front brake, the left the rear — and that’s the opposite of the usual arrangement. However, it’s the standard set-up for motorcycles, and, sure enough, the writer/creator is a moto enthusiast.

The stories that come with the bike are almost good enough to keep it around. But not quite. Why? Let’s go back to Grant Petersen and 2003.

After reading his sale email, I called Rivendell, out in the Contra Costa suburbs–the region my younger son dismisses as “the 925.” I talked to Grant himself, I think, and he told me he still had the bike. Hold on to it, I told him, I’ll be out after work. And I was. I rode BART out to Contra Costa and walked the two blocks over to the glorified garage that served– still serves–as Grant’s shop. The bike was there. Nondescript, to my eyes, and not nearly as special as the RB-1 on which I’d just done PBP. But the new bike was a fixed gear; just the thing, I thought, to branch out in the sport that I suddenly felt rather accomplished in. I paid and left to get back on BART. It was probably a sign that I could barely get on the thing and control it as I rolled down a short sharp slope to the street. I wound up walking most of the way to the station with my newly claimed prize.

And in the years since, I have never quite gotten the fixed-gear thing. For a long time, that has made me feel like I’m less as a cyclist than others are (to be honest, I find plenty of reasons to think that). To engage in bike riding in all its subtlety, shouldn’t I master the art of having my feet locked to pedals that will keep turning as long as the back wheel is moving? I have seen some amazing feats of long-distance cycling on fixed gears: multi-day tours with lots of climbing. I’ve watched fixie riders go away from me on the climbs, and I have overtaken them, their legs in an unsettling 160 rpm blur, on big downhills. Bottom line: While those climbs and descents might be a challenge and some sort of joy to others, I’m too much a creature of the freewheel to partake. I just never got the hang of the fixie. And beyond that, yeah, I can use the money now, too.

Thus, the for-sale ad, and this writeup.

If you’ve got any questions about the bike’s history or provenance, I’ll answer them all. I’ll even disclose the names of the above-mentioned writers. Including the one in Nevada, just in case you can convince him to send his old story about how this bike came to be.

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Kaiyobi

Raincyclist093008

On rare occasions, I’ll see a cyclist in Berkeley try this: riding a bike while holding an umbrella. I saw dozens of people doing so with seeming ease today. This guy was negotiating his way past a tour group on a sidewalk outside the Imperial Palace. Elsewhere, I saw a woman whose bike appeared to be fitted with an umbrella holder–a unit that also incorporated a headlight.

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