Tuesday, January 31, 2012


People often ask me what I think about while riding. Well, the answer depends on the ride, or even the particular part of the ride at any given moment.

During long, tricky, technical descents, there are only two things on my mind. 1: ohmygawd, this is TOTALLY RAD. 2: What do I need to do to not die? Really, that’s about it. You don’t have time for much else.

Much the opposite, when climbing, especially those long, seemingly never ending climbs, my mind races between telling my body things like, “Keep pedaling!” “Keep spinning!” “Cadence!” “Spin to win!!” (with more potty mouth and violent statements directed towards myself, of course) mixed with trying to keep the right song stuck in my head. Which is always an adventure. No matter what songs I listen to while I get ready to ride, it’s always something else that pops in there when the pain actually starts. For example, on yesterdays ride, even after listening to great jams like "Hoosier Love", "Ten in 2010", Miss Alissa, "Indians" and “Aloha Means Goodbye”, the 3 songs I remember actually popping into the noodle were “Karma Chameleon”, “Footloose”, and a plethura of Sousa Marches. WTF?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been climbing and all of a sudden burst out (yes, out loud) with The Bumble Bee Tuna Song. You in the know, you know.

On a side note, I have the same problem with belting out song lyrics that I do with seeing cows. I moo at them before I look around to make sure I’m actually alone. Yes, that has caused me a couple of possibly embarrassing moments in my past. A couple as in several. Several as in nearly every ride. Good thing I don’t mind looking like a complete dork while riding!

Now, the flats are a different world. Those long, never ending, straight, flat roads that take you to the mountains. Or not. This is where your mind can really start to wander. It’s nice to imagine songs, or even run stories through your head in between running through your cycling checklist. But in reality, your mind just floats around from subject to subject, like a kid with ADD at the County Fair.

These subjects can run anywhere from fantasies of your own future, to rehashing memories of your past, to conversations or arguments from earlier in the day or week.

Well, there are a lot of long, flat roads between South San Jose and the beginning of the climb up to Gilroy Hot Springs, so a couple days ago I had a lot of thinking to do. For some reason, I wondered how I got addicted to this long distance, endurance cycling thing in the first place, and my brain flashed back to my first foray into long distance.

Of course, it wasn’t really long distance at all; today I would consider this ride in particular a short, flat, spinning recovery ride. But back then, it was epic. Legendary. Heroic. Larger than life.

It was somewhere between ‘92 and ‘94. I don’t remember, but I do remember a few details. The bike was a Specialized Hard Rock. This was before every mountain bike came with suspension, even front shocks. That sort of thing was only for the extreme high end rigs, and this was not. This was my first transition bike from the BMX bikes of my childhood to the mountain and road bikes of adulthood. So, no shocks, front or rear. Which, on this ride, on this day, helped.

I don’t know why we decided to do this, but a good friend and I decided to go on a ride. It was winter, so it was a bit cold and looked like it might rain. So, I put on hiking boots, jeans, a baseball hat under my helmet, and a flannel shirt over my tee shirt, and we set out.

The idea was to ride from my house in South San Jose to Morgan Hill and back. I think we even had a goal in Morgan Hill, some certain shop or restaurant. Thinking back on it, it was probably Sno White’s Drive In. Remember that place? Me too. Sweet.

Anyway, that was the plan. We filled up our water bottles with Coke and set off. I don’t remember much about heading south towards Morgan Hill, it must have been pretty uneventful. I do remember heading back home. That was the day I figured out that the wind in Coyote Valley is strong and consistent, to say the least. And more often than not, it’s going North to South. Or, more accurately, North-West to South-East. Which set up a perfect headwind for the entire way home.

But that wasn’t enough. Right as we set off from Morgan Hill, the rain came. And stayed. The entire ride home was a constant pelting of wind and rain. It was like getting punched in the face, not over and over, but continuously, for nearly an hour. We took turns drafting on one another, but it didn’t do much good. The poor choice of clothing pretty much stole every amount of hope and promise I had for ever reaching home again. If you’ve ever been stuck in a downpour for 30-45 minutes wearing jeans and a flannel shirt you know what I mean. They soak up water and hold it better than anything I can think of. Vince Shlomi could have made some money.

So, after what seemed like an eternity, we FINALLY arrived in my driveway. We were so soaked and covered in road grit and grime that my mom would not allow us into the house. My friend took off for home, he lived down the street, and I changed in the garage and went in to shower.

During that time sitting in the shower slowly but surely defrosting and recovering from this epic(ly stupid) event, I got to think about what I had just been through. It was frightening. It was the most excruciatingly painful, exhausting, grueling, agonizing thing I had ever put myself through. At times it was depressing, even heartbreaking. It seemed like all hope had vanished. Every pedal stroke felt like the end of the world, like it would be the last one I would ever turn over.

And I learned at that moment that I loved every bit of it.

And for nearly the last 20 years, I’ve been stretching that pain out for longer and longer. I’ve replaced the jeans and flannel for lycra and racing jerseys. I replaced the hiking boots with carbon fiber soled cycling shoes. I’ve replaced the Specialized Hard Rock with a RockHopper Comp, then a StumpJumper FSR XC, then a Performance R-101 (my first road bike), and now a Specialized Tarmac SL3. I’ve replaced the water bottles of Coke with bottles of Hammer Nutrition.

But I haven't replaced the search for epic, painful, exhausting rides. I learned that day not only how to push myself so far beyond the point of painful exhaustion that dying is an option in order to reach a goal, but also that I loved every second of it.

And now that I have this down, it’s time for a ride!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Safety First! Or, Luck Be A Lady

There’s a woman I often see around my neighborhood at the beginning or end of my bike rides. Other than a few mind boggling nuances, she is just a normal cyclist out for a ride. She has nearly all the gear, good shoes, cycling clothing, the right bike, nearly everything one would need to be successful in this activity.


Ignoring her cadence, which turns at about 30-40 rpm, (uber slow) which in itself is not at all annoying, just a little odd, there are a few other aspects about her riding style that annoy the living hell out of me.

Let’s start with what she isn’t wearing. Aside from having all the right cycling gear, she lacks a helmet. I have NEVER seen her wear one, and I see her regularly, and have for several years. There’s no law saying you have to wear a helmet if you’re over 18, per California Vehicle Code Section 21212. But seriously, anyone who rides on the street, specifically on streets as busy as Santa Teresa Blvd, has got to be pretty dumb to not use one. OK, maybe ignorant, but still.

Match the non-use of a helmet with my next quip about her and, well, you’ll get the point. She rides slow. With that ultra-slow cadence, you’re not going to gain much speed. No problem with that, that’s not my quip. She rides at the far left hand side of the bike lane, which makes passing her extremely difficult and dangerous, since I have to enter a lane of traffic to get around her. But she just keeps chugging along, oblivious to anyone else who might be out there.

Now for the best part: Once I do get passed, if a light ahead of me changes and I have to stop, she rolls through the red light, passing me. Granted, I do see her look both ways, but she usually doesn’t even touch the brakes and rolls right on through. Now, one complaint I have is that now I have to try to get around her again, but my other complaint is much more important.

Riders that ride like this don’t just make it dangerous for themselves. They make it dangerous for ALL of us. I can’t count the number of times I have been yelled at, honked at, received amusing gestures, buzzed (passed by a car at a very high rate of speed inches from my left elbow), cut off at the last second on purpose, or even the few thrilling times when objects have been hurled at me from automobiles. For having done nothing but ride down the street.

What are motorists' biggest complaints about cyclists? A quick innerwebs search, mixed with over 20 years of cycling experience, tells me these include cyclists that run red lights and stop signs, and riders that ride in the lane, or two or more abreast, making passing difficult. When cyclists do this, it doesn’t just endanger themselves. It gives motorists that see them doing these things a “here we go again, yet another cyclist that’s too good for the rules of the road” attitude. They then think this same statement the next time they see a cyclist, whether or not that cyclist is actually guilty of that infraction.

Because of this, when I ride, many drivers see me as, “just another one of those asshole cyclists that run red lights and stop signs, and are always in my way.” I know they do, they let me know all the time, between arguments in person or online, or out on the road shouting at me out of their car windows. And guess what? It’s DIRECTLY the fault of the many riders out there that ignore these rules and regulations.

Now for the best part, Are you ready? I can’t tell her about what she is doing, or how it endangers me. Hell, I can’t even call out to pass her when she's hugging the left corner of the bike lane, blocking anyone else from passing safely. Why? Headphones. Ear buds. Ear plugs. In both ears. I call out anyway, but she doesn’t hear. I know she doesn’t because no matter how loud I call out, “ON YOUR LEFT!” she is still startled and surprised when I pass her. Sometimes to the point of nearly crashing. Here’s my viewpoint:

1. Ear phones/buds/plugs are illegal. In the state of California, as stated in Vehicle Code Section 21200, “A person riding a bicycle… has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division…” Going on, Vehicle Code Section 27400 states, “No person operating any vehicle, including a bicycle shall wear any headset covering, or any earplugs in, both ears.” Pretty plain and simple, yeah?

2. They are just plain unsafe. VERY unsafe. As a cyclist, our ears are our second lifeline, right behind our eyes. If we block that sense, we make our every day average bike ride infinitely more dangerous. We NEED to hear what we can’t see, be it a car coming up behind us or honking at us, another cyclist trying to pass or get our attention for something, or the sirens of emergency vehicles. It’s bad enough seeing the amount of folks on multi-purpose trails with plugs in both ears. But on a busy major road? Really?

Just take them out. Enjoy the outdoors, or ride inside.

I see this lady all the time. At least once a week, for several years. Always the same. Chugging along at a snails pace due to the ultra low cadence, no helmet, ear buds in both ears, running stop lights and stop signs. Granted, she’s not the only one. There are lots of cyclists out there that ignore the rules, making the lives of those of us that don’t that much harder, but she is the one I see most often. Completing the tri-fecta of douche-baggie cyclist stereotypes. And when I hear or read stories of the stereotypical cyclist scofflaw, I always think of her first.

I just wish motorists would think of her, and others like her, and not all cyclists. Because most of us out there try very hard to not have to tangle with multi-ton automobiles carrying angry, road-raged drivers. The vast majority of us really are safe riders.

Perception is a bitch.

Added: Expect another blog later on the importance of helmet laws, earphone laws, and other rules of the road followed by both cyclists and motorists.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Baby You’re A Rich Man

Goals. Life would be so much easier without them. Just cruise through and take what comes as it does. No planning ahead, no working towards an end purpose. No last minute scrambling to meet a particularly lofty goal set at a particularly lofty point in life.

However, life would be pretty boring without goals. Never pushing yourself past your current potential, never realizing just what really is possible, all the while settling for the mediocre, the mundane, the humdrum, the routine.

99% of what we do day to day is just that. Survival. Wading through the bog that is life alongside everyone else. But that extra 1%, that little bit that gives you that excitement, that thrill, that hyper-sensitive feeling of accomplishment. That is what really matters. That is what defines us.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do something every day that scares you.” That phrase was used again in the “Wear Sunscreen” speech, written by Mary Schmich and published in the Chicago Tribune, remixed by Baz Luhrmann, and often mistaken for Kurt Vonnegut. Pretty much everything that piece inspires and encourages me, but that one phrase sticks out a little more then the rest.

So here I sit, 9:09 PM, The Beatles’ “Baby You’re A Rich Man” playing on the iTunes, thinking about what I can do tomorrow that scares me. 80 miles isn’t an extremely long ride for me any more, even in January with the colder weather, the wind in the valley, the shorter days, and the winter legs. Last year there is no way I could ride 80 miles on January 10th.

“Do something every day that scares you.”

My goals this year are as lofty as they have ever been. Last year was the first year I topped 5,000 total miles, and reached triple metric (near) miles logged in a single ride with 180.6 around Lake Tahoe in late July.

This year? 6,213.71 miles. Or, 10,000 kilometers. Seems a bit lofty, yes, as it took three years with 5K as a goal to finally hit it. But, that’s not the part that scares me. That would be the California Triple Crown. I barely passed 180 in a ride last year and my new goal is to pass 200 three times. Three times. Not once, not twice, but thrice. Three. 3.

This should be interesting.

Let’s see how this 1% turns out.