« Sept. 2005 || HOME || Nov. 2005 »

Oct. 27, 2005

At the Jackson Park cyclocross race. These two Killjoy guys owned the single-speed race, during which I got a chuckle out of the roadie spectator who heckled: "Derailleurs! On sale at Performance!"

Photo taken: Oct. 23, 2005


Oct. 25, 2005

Saturday I woke on five hours sleep and rode 20 miles down the lakefront to Jackson Park, where my team was hosting a cyclocross race. I'd volunteered to help set up and marshal the course. For the life of me, however, I couldn't find the damn thing. Jackson Park is big, but all I could find were soccer games and fishermen.

After a frustrating hour I finally saw two guys on cyclocross bikes. Are you here for the race? I asked.

"You mean tomorrow's race?"

So Sunday I woke on five hours sleep and rode 20 miles down the lakefront to Jackson park.

I'd never seen cyclocross, a discipline that combines elements of road racing with elements of mountain biking, but it looked like fun. I liked how the slower speed minimized the effects of drafting. There were no weasels here, and all the huffing and puffing suggested that the riders were working much harder than your typical pretty-boy roadie.

When I compared cycling to poker, I speculated on how one could dress and behave like a Fred in order to be underestimated by one's opponents. I wonder whether that's what this guy had in mind with his hairy legs, gym shorts and vintage basketball jersey. (To understand how this was received, imagine someone showing up at a pick-up basketball game in bicycle shorts and jersey.) If there were any race to attempt such a stunt, cyclocross would be it, since there doesn't appear to be any advantage to form-fitting Lycra. I didn't pay that close attention to his single-speed race, but he seemed to know what he was doing, at least more than what one would guess from his get-up.

Photo taken: Oct. 23, 2005


Oct. 24, 2005

Five recent moments:



"I'm seeing Sleater-Kinney at Metro. The crowd will all be short lesbians, so at least I'll have a good view of the stage."



When I start a book, I like to get through the first 10 percent in the first sitting. Then, whether it's a good book or not, I continue to flip toward the back to monitor what kind of progress I'm making.

On my 30th birthday, I decide that this is a life hack I wouldn't mind. I don't want any spoilers, thank you, but I wouldn't mind knowing where I am. Halfway through? Nine-tenths? One-tenth???

Also, better footnotes, please.



"I noticed you taking communion."

"Yeah, I didn't want to be the first to not take it. Also, I was sort of hungry."



I'm driving to Ohio with Gus and Conrad. I take a turn behind the wheel, and Gus does Sodoku puzzles in the passenger seat. I realize that this is the problem with Sodoku: Unlike a crossword, there's no potential for collaboration. At no point is Gus going to ask, "What's a one-digit number that's not 3, 4 or 6 and is also not 1, 5, 8 or 9? And if it's 2, then what's a number that's not 1, 2, 6 or 9 and is not ..."



"I'm not sure which is worse: dating or looking for a job. They both have the same, insufferable interview process, the same 'I enjoyed meeting you, let's do it again' follow-up e-mail, the same sense of lonely rejection."

"But if you don't get the job, you can't go home and hire yourself."


Oct. 20, 2005

At Stan Hywet Hall, Akron, Ohio.

Photo taken: Oct. 15, 2005


Oct. 18, 2005

So this World Series. It's a big deal in my city this year. I'm to understand that its importance rivals the Tour de France, but it lasts two fewer weeks? With each individual contest lasting much less than five hours? With opportunities to sit and eat sunflower seeds? Without much chance of death or maiming? And participants, even the ones shaped like Larry Walker, are still considered athletes?

America! What a country!


Oct. 16, 2005

Photo taken: Oct. 15, 2005


Oct. 14, 2005


Photo taken: Feb. 5, 2005


Oct. 10, 2005

It was strange last week, as the air turned crisp and an influx of skinny tourists hit downtown, to know that I would not be running the Chicago Marathon come Sunday. It would be the first I haven't run in 5 years.

I'd hoped to watch, maybe even volunteer, but then came the Fall Fling, the last bicycle races of the year. Saturday would be Stage 3, a road race. Sunday would be the fourth and final stage, another criterium. I'd miss the marathon completely.

I miss some things about running, but not the final week of taper. I recall getting irritable and anxious. There's plenty of nervous energy ahead of a bike race, but it's a subdued, happy nervousness. It's the nervous energy of a blind date, not that of one's own wedding. If one doesn't meet his goals in a bike race, no matter. There will be another one soon enough. A marathoner, on the other hand, invests 18 weeks of training in a single event. Cyclists must train harder and longer, but if we have a bad morning, 18 weeks don't go down the drain.

Saturday's road race comprised three 8-mile loops south of Rockford. I'd been warned of "rollers plus one big hill," but I never did figure out which hill was supposed to be the "big" one. They were all small, barely enough for the small chainring, especially compared to the Wisconsin nutcrackers I cut my teeth on earlier this season.

I started the morning tied with a teammate for third in the overall standings. Walking from the port-o-potty before the race, I passed the host team huddled in a strategy session. "We know xXx has a couple of strong riders," one said, "but we don't know if they're here today." I smiled knowingly.

At the start line a guy in a triathlon-club jersey started moaning loudly and seemingly endlessly about all the teams present. "I thought this was a citizens race! What are teams doing here!?" Minutes earlier I'd been giving this guy advice on his first race, including the correct way to pin his number, which he'd pinned sidways, and this abuse was my reward? (Naturally his name was Fred.)

For my teammate and myself, our decisive moments would come with 3 miles to go. The citizens field was mostly intact and had just passed the 50+ field on Turn 3. The masters were nonchalant about moving to the right so we could get by. As a result, two small breakaways formed as our field spurted through the bottleneck.

My teammate bet that he could keep up with the first group. I put my chips with the second group. We both lost, although in different fashions. Afterward we had our regrets -- 48 hours later the TiVo of my mind is still replaying the endgame -- but deep down we both conceded that we had no choice but to go when and with whom we did. We merely proved that it's possible to play your cards right and still come up short.

My teammate was the first to lose position, turning the lead group of five into a group of four. Driving to the race we had decided that we should speak Italian lest any other riders hear our super-secret scheming, so as my chase group of four approached him I yelled, "Va bene!" Go well! It did no good: He wasn't able to hop on.

The 15-year-old overall race leader was in my break. He took good pulls but he and another rider fell off, leaving me alone with none other than the vociferous Fred from the start line. I exhorted him to trade short pulls with me, but although he rode fast, he pulled much longer than he should have. I knew if he popped I'd have little chance on my own. I had to waste energy and jump past him in order to take the load off. "They're gaining!" I said, looking back and seeing the main pack a few hundred meters back. He didn't seem to think it was possible. (Did Chris Horner's fate at Stage 13 of the Tour de France teach him nothing?)

Sure enough, the pack overcame us with 50 meters to go. I salvaged 13th place, my teammate 17th. The results sent my overall standing from 3rd to a precarious fourth.

Sure, we could have sat in and maybe finished better, but I have an entire off-season to be passive and boring (and don't doubt that I'll take advantage of it).

With seven laps to go in Sunday's criterium, the series' third-place rider, a guy in a full Phonak kit, took off on a flyer. (I remember this guy from my first race in April. He's been sandbagging in the 5/citizens class for years.) His result wasn't liable to shake up the overall standings, so the field let him go.

A lap later, an unattached rider couldn't hold his line on Turn 2 and clipped the front wheel of a rider in a Navigators jersey. Navigators was a point behind me in the standings but a bike ahead of me on the road, so when he went down, I followed. Fortunately we were going only around 22 mph, barely fast enough to do harm. As quickly as I went down I bounced back up. I assessed damages -- 1. Bike: check. 2. Team kit: check. 3. Body: bruised but still useful. -- and waited to reunite with the pack when it swung by next.

Phonak's lead grew to 30 seconds over the next six laps. A few people tried to jump off the front. I pursued each one, but none developed into a break. That's the tough thing about the citizens class: Most people sit in, but then when they do attack they don't know how to organize so that it has a chance of sticking. (Not that I'm any great shakes at breaking away myself.)

On the final backstretch I was on my teammate's wheel and getting ready to jump with him. Meanwhile, an acquaintance from another team shot up the right and called for us to let him lead us out. Unfortunately I'd spent too much time in the wind keeping tabs on the so-called attacks and this time I didn't have enough gas to find his wheel. It's a shame I didn't, because he held on to beat Phonak by a few lengths.

I finished 10th, my teammate 11th. Miraculously, that put me in a three-way tie for third overall, fourth after various tiebreakers were employed. Three fewer seconds in the time trial or one more position in any other race and I would have had third outright. (For my birthday, generous friends chipped in to fund a set of aerobars, so next year those 3 seconds should disappear.) Nonetheless, each of these was a better finish than I ever expected to reach this season.

And now my season is over. I met all my goals, and next year I will upgrade to the next category and start the process all over again. It's already a daunting prospect.

Now, though, I'm feeling the same void that I always felt after a marathon. What now? What do I do with myself when I'm not obliged to ride 50 miles every day? On the one hand, this will be an opportunity to restore balance to my life. Cook more, sleep more, see my friends more. On the other hand, there's an elegant simplicity in a daily to-do list with only three things: Ride. Eat. Go to work. I'll miss that.

Photo taken: Oct. 9, 2005


Oct. 7, 2005

I'd thought about making a list of 30 things I know at 30 that I wish I had known at 20. 3. Time is too valuable to ever be "killed" ... 5. Always check for toilet paper, or always carry small bills ... 8. Don't assume everyone else is any less baffled than you are ...

But then I got to 11 or 12 and realized: Here I am, 30, almost an adult, and after all my travels and adventures, after all my education and work, after all the hearts I've broken and all the hearts I've had broke, all I'm really, really certain of is this: 1. When I was 20 I thought I knew everything, and I still don't know shit.

Photo taken: Oct. 6, 2005


Oct. 6, 2005

Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life

Studies add to earlier evidence that traditional bicycle saddles, the kind with a narrow rear and pointy nose, play a role in sexual impotence.

The studies, by researchers at Boston University and in Italy, found that the more a person rides, the greater the risk of impotence or loss of libido. ...

"A consumer's first line of defense, for their enthusiasm as well as sexual prowess," said Marc Sani, publisher of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, "is to go to a bicycle retailer and get fitted properly on the bike."

Researchers have estimated that 5 percent of men who ride bikes intensively have developed severe to moderate erectile dysfunction as a result. But some experts believe that the numbers may be much higher because many men are too embarrassed to talk about it or fail to associate cycling with their problems in the bedroom.

New York Times, Oct. 4, 2005

Why is everyone looking at me funny?

The long and the short of it is, I've always associated cycling with my problems in the bedroom. They just tend more toward problems of opportunity than to problems of motive.


Oct. 5, 2005

County Line Orchard, Hobart, Ind.

Photo taken: Oct. 2, 2005


Oct. 3, 2005

The cycling season is long, much longer than the 18 weeks it takes to train for a marathon. It comprises endless training runs up and down the lakefront, hundreds of hill repeats in Highland Park and too much healthy living for anyone's own good. After seven months of this, I'm exhausted, especially with the healthy living, so at poker Saturday night I indulged with two brats and three beers, not exactly a bender but also not the best supper the night before a criterium. I figured, Hey, it was only a criterium, and I never do well in those anyhow.

(I'm mostly certain that the beers had nothing to do with falling off my bicycle on the sidewalk and taking a chunk out of my knee after I bumped into Sandy and had my weight too off-balance to clip out.)

Sunday's race was 10 laps at a suburban office park. The course was a .8-mile oval with a gentle rise between turns 3 and 4. Before the race I scribbled on my forearm the race numbers for the top five finishers in Saturday's time trial so that I could spot the likeliest threats. Naturally, officials assigned us new numbers, rendering my notes useless, and for the rest of the day I had people asking me what all those numbers on my arm were.

My nascent criterium strategy is cribbed from the Chicago Machine: Attack early, attack often. Often enough to make the race lively, early enough so that if it doesn't work I have time to recover before the final sprint. Better to race aggressively and come in last than be a weenie and come in first.

My first attack was with seven laps to go. I had a 50-meter gap when a young ABD rider bridged to me. I invited him to work with me on an expresss train to glory, but he declined. His face showed no emotion. I figured he was an errand boy dispatched by his orange elders (there were about 10 ABD riders in the race) not to form a break but merely to reel me in. It worked. I stood up after half a lap and rejoined the 30-strong pack.

I attacked again with four to go. I got the same gap, but not even a single taker. Again I coasted back.

I figured I'd burned my last match but managed to work back into the front 10. With half a lap to go I was in second, right on the wheel of someone who looked like a triathlete. I figured that was a good wheel to be behind: A triathlete would be liable to keep up a strong, even pace the rest of the way but might have a sprint even worse than mine, allowing me to overtake him at the line.

On the climb before Turn 4 I saw some riders accelerating up the right. Suddenly that looked like the place to be, so I ditched the triathlete and insinuated myself into their line.

I was in fourth position coming out of the final turn. This is the point of the race where everyone usually passes me, like the tide passing over a piece of driftwood. I focused on sticking to the wheels ahead of me and minimizing the damage.

Then a funny thing happened: Nobody passed. I started the sprint in fourth, I finished it in fourth, by far my best finish in any race. (The kid who had bridged to me earlier ended up winning; he's half my age.) I coasted down the course in disbelief. Fourth place? Really? I really belong here?

Sure, it was only a citizen's race, and I don't pretend I was the fourth-fastest or fourth-smartest rider out there; I just got lucky and sucked the right wheels at the end. But I've been waiting a long, long time for a hint of success. Sunday was the first seagull spotted after a transatlantic voyage: Land is near.


Oct. 1, 2005

Today was a time trial, my first and the first event of the Fall Fling, a four-race series that will end most riders' seasons, including my own.

I experience gear envy at most races. I have an entry-level bike with entry-level components and entry-level legs. It's worse at a time trial, where about half the riders are flush enough to afford not just one bike better than mine but two, the second being a time trial-specific bike complete with $2,000 disc wheels and aero helmets pinched from the firing station of the Death Star.

Since I'm not likely to do more than one or two time trials a year, I haven't even sprung for clip-on aerobars, so I must resort to the poor man's aerobar: Resting my forearms on my stem and hoping circulation returns to my fingers by the next morning.

The race took place in Maple Park, a rural village that looked destined to be rural for not much longer. For every field being plowed there were two staked out for development.

The course was advertised as 10 miles long with two turnarounds. The wind was about 10 mph out of the south. In theory, wind-borne gains and losses should net out, but I felt like I was fighting it in all four directions the course went. And that's a Chicago truism I've learned and relearned: The wind will always be in your face, whether your cycling north, cycling south or sitting at your desk.

My goal was 25 minutes, which would have been an average of 24 mph and based on last year's times would have been good enough for the top 10. Coming into the last mile, I knew I was well below where I needed to be. My legs were regretting the two hours I'd spent on the bike at Critical Mass the night before.

I checked my odometer to see how far was left. With about a kilometer to go I got ready to gas it, to ration out every last calorie of energy, every last watt of power. I was in my poor-man's tuck and staring down at my front tire when I saw a thin blue line pass below. I looked back and saw a card table at the side of the road and some people standing nearby. "Was that it!?" I yelled. Yes, they said, that was it, the finish line. The race was done.

A few hundred meters later I came across a race marshal. "That was a pretty short 10 miles," I said.

"Yeah, it's only 9.5 miles."

It was my own damn fault. I knew at which corner the finish was supposed to be, but I blew it by navigating with my odometer and lost my chance to earn a few more seconds with one last push. My time was 24:33, which would have been great for a 10-mile course, but I didn't think it would earn me any points for anything shorter.

Race headquarters was in the village American Legion hall. While I was looking up my time a large, angry woman in a large, cheerful sweater came in demanding to talk to the race organizer. She proceeded to chew him out for the fact that she'd never been notified of the race and suddenly there were 50 cyclists going by her house. (In fact there would be 220 cyclists going by her house, one a minute for four hours.)

She was a vision of flimsy indignance, or perhaps of indignant flimsiness, so out of proportion was her rage to the grievance. The organizer was polite and apologetic, saying that press releases had been sent to the local paper and other outlets but that he was sorry one hadn't been mailed to her. She kept badgering him about not being notified; he kept apologizing. He took her address for next time.

"Do you even have a permit?" Yes, he said, and she demanded to see it. He dug it out and handed it to her, but she couldn't read it: She hadn't brought her glasses.

"There'd better not be trash in front of my house," she shrieked. "Who's going to clean that up?" Volunteers would be sweeping the whole course, he said.

"Why have I never seen a bicycle race here? Have you done this before?" This was the fifth time the event had been held in Maple Park, he said. "Hmmmph," she said. "Must have been on days I was working."

She continued grasping for a legitimate reason to be upset. It was like she really, really wanted her day to be ruined and the organizer's polite, rational answers were foiling her at every turn. Her final thrust was to act as if she was just looking out for us. "What if I pulled out of my driveway without paying attention?" At this all the cyclists within earshot rolled their eyes at this crazy lady, apoplectic at the thought of having to pay attention while driving. The horror, the horror.

Poker was at Jeff's tonight. During a break I went online and checked for race results. They were up. Out of 55 riders in my category, I finished 13th, much better than I had expected, considering how poorly I felt I rode.

Out of six people at the poker table, I came in second. But I've come to expect that.

Tomorrow is a criterium race. I don't expect anything to come of that, but next Saturday will be a longer road race, my preferred format, and it will be worth double points toward the overall standings. I'm hopeful. After that, winter. Rest. Indulgence. And then rebuilding for next season.