Saturday, August 29, 2009

Introducing SingingCyclist: I Wanna Hold Your Hand!

Who sang this song most recently and in what unusual place?
"I wanna hold your haaaaand,
I wanna hold your hand!"

Answer: The SingingCyclist (aka DartreDame's son and CurioRando's stepson, otherwise known as Janak) as he descended 600 feet from a 4500 foot summit of the Zumwalt Prairie road in Joseph, Oregon!

Hi! I am the singing cyclist and you’ll soon find out why! I only just started biking in the last year or two and my longest ride to date was a year ago when I was 11 years old. That ride was a 25 miler (which was only that long by accident of my mom, DartreDame, getting lost) on a day that was about 100 degrees. And it was somewhat remarkable that I didn't get turned off completely given that mom hadn't packed enough water or sunscreen and I was only wearing sandals. Yes, it did take a while to finish...six slow but steady wins the race hours!

So, this year, while spending glorious time up at our little cabin in Joseph, we decided to try again. First we tackled a 20 mile ride that did a lovely loop around Joseph and back up the back way on Hurricane Creek road. It was hard not to be inspired by the beautiful scenery: tall craggy mountains, green patches stretching out into the landscape, vultures swooping down, hawks gliding above.

Our little loop turned out to be only 18 miles, but I was determined to do 20! As a result, we cycled up and down the streets of Joseph town numerous times to reach our goal of magic 20 miles. I was proud but fairly tired.

The bicycling bug had bitten me! The next day, I insisted we go out again for a 30 MILER!!! And this time with a hill. And not just any hill. The Zumwalt Prairie hill, the same one that even DartreDame (my mom) had trouble with her first time. But I was determined. We rode up to the hill and started chugging up it! I was singing (hence the name) constantly as I climbed it, so my mom finally asked me "don't you want to conserve your energy?" I said OK... And then started singing the next minute!

Finally we reached the top। Yay! My personal best climb!

And then the infamous "I wanna hold your hand!!" as we flew down। When my mom caught up to me and asked me how I was doing, I replied "king of the world, wind in my face!" I felt good!

We biked along Eggleson Road out to Hurricane Creek Road. Whoah! A deer carcass! Some car had hit it and then moved it to the side of the road. But we still saw it! It was wild! Once again, I added more to our ride, and this time we went to the 5 mile away town of Enterprise. Hurricane Creek Road from Enterprise to Joseph is a gradual but continuous and very hard (for me) climb (500 feet, 8 miles, and at the end of the ride).

This time, when DartreDame asked me how I was doing I replied "nemesissing," referring to her telling me that this climb had been her nemesis for a couple of years before. (That came from when she and CurioRando biked from Joseph to Enterprise and back to get groceries to make pumpkin pie one freezing cold, snowy, icy and incredibly windy Thanksgiving Day a couple of years back.)

When we got back to Joseph, I was the two P's: proud and pooped :).

I really didn't think I could do any more than 30 miles ever! The next day was a virtuous rest day. We did nothing! But that didn't last long. Soon we were hungry for more! So we decided that after that day of rest, we were ready to try biking to Lostine and back, a town we estimated was about 15 miles away for a total of 30 miles again.

On the way out, we saw signs that said Lostine was further than we thought.

Uh oh.

We kept going but I was a little discouraged. My legs were tired from the other rides and it was only the beginning. I could tell my mom was already worried. She said we could always ask our friend Paul (who lives in Lostine) to give us a ride back if I was too tired. Although I insisted I could bike all the way, I was secretly thinking about the offer.

By the time we reached Enterprise, it was already 10 miles and we still had 10 miles to go—that meant a 40-mile ride roundtrip if we could make it! And I was determined again!

We made it to Lostine and I wasn't too tired, just hungry! Paul had an answer for that. Peanut butter and honey sandwiches and sweet Imnaha corn and cold green tea Snapples! He even played guitar for us and gave us a tour of his great garden. What a great stop!! It got me all ready for the ride home!

We stopped at the Blue Banana in Lostine for pictures. It is a cute-as-a-banana smoothie shop but we were so full from our sandwiches and corn that we decided we would have to come back some other time to try the smoothies and roasted nuts.

This time, the ride home seemed fine! Even the hill coming back wasn’t so bad and I didn't nemesis that much!

Once again, by the time we got to Joseph, we still needed a couple of more miles to make 40 and I insisted! So my mom took us up yet another hill to Old Chief Joseph's grave site। This was a hill that I did last year and it was really hard back then! It was hard again for sure but not as hard and I did it! We sat up at the top on the wall at the gravesite in the shade of the big tree and did high fives!

The way down was a blast! We flew down the hill and ended with a total of a 41 mile day!

All told, we did a total of 90 miles over the course of 4 days! I was really proud and happy and ready to bike some more! I told DartreDame and CurioRando that I want to do a half century this year and hopefully by next year, be ready to do a full century!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Ultimate Randonneurs: Flying Pigeons

They play by slightly different rules, but Pigeons return home at 60 mph, almost never get lost, and can navigate like nobody's business. I know this by listening to a local radio program where they interviewed Andrew Blechman, author of Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's most Revered and Reviled Bird.
According to Blechman, Pigeons navigate by the sun and stars. But if you blindfold them, they navigate with other, more mysterious tools. One, apparently is ultrasound. He said they can hear, via ultrasound, the wind rushing over the rockies from 2000 miles away! They also steer by sensing the Earth's magnetic field.
They don't stop to flop down for naps. They don't stop to eat or drink. They'll go 24 hours at 60mph until they find home. Sunspots do screw with their navigating, but otherwise they just rocket.

To hear a podcast of the KUOW radio showon Blechman and his book, go here. A review of Blechman's book can be found in the New York Times.

Many cultures admire the Pigeon, or Rock Dove. In fact, the ubiquitous bicycle in China is the Flying Pigeon according to Wikipedia. It reminds me of the Atlas and Hero bicycles we saw all over India.

And finally, how about a YouTube video of that famous Flying Pigeon bicycle of China?

The Pigeon pictures are from Amazon (top) and Wikipedia (bottom).

Keep it going home,


Monday, August 24, 2009

I Went to the Town Hall Meeting on Health Care and Found...a High Wheeler!

On the way to the Town Hall Meeting in Longview, Washington the other day, I didn't quite know what to expect. What I found when I got there was a very polite crowd and a good public dialogue.

What I found on the way down was my favorite secret obsession: a high wheeler. We stopped in Centralia at the Country Cousin resaurant (where they serve Yak meat, right in Centralia, Yak meat!), and there hanging from the rafters was an old high wheeler.

I believe it is a real one from back in the day. I tried to take a few photos without causing a stir, but I'm afraid I was still a bit of a spectacle.

Anyone know what kind?

Isn't it great that a bicycle is a prop for old-timiness ambiance setting? Who doesn't like an old bicycle?

Keep it hangin' (or is it better not hangin' and rather ridden?)


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dog Chases Cyclist...Let's Call it Sporting, But a Cougar?

Fair warning:
Don't share this with anyone who is concerned about your cycling safety.

I don't like being chased, hairy eyeballed, or even barked at by a dog any more than the next cyclist. And while it can be dangerous to woman/man and beast, it is at least sporting. The dog can only go so fast, and they're bored because nobody plays with them. We cyclists at least shouldn't be surprised; we're cycling right into their territory.

But being stalked by a cougar. Did somebody change the rules of the game here?

This Seattle Times story tells about how mountain cyclist, Brian Klass, thought he was being stalked by a dog only to discover on dismounting that it was a cougar!

Stop. Think about that a second. Can you imagine it? He said it seemed to be in "hunting mode" and came within six feet.

Now I'm guessing he may be exagerating here. Six feet is close. Let's assume his adrenalin is coursing and it is double that: 12 feet. Can you imagine that?

A few days later we learn from another Seattle Times story that a rancher in the Leavenworth, Washington area where the cougar had been stalking, shot and killed said cougar while it had a pig snout in its jaws.

Stop. Imagine shooting a cougar in your pigpen when it has your pig's snout in its jaws.

Too much for me. Just this week I posted about how I ran over what might have been a weasel and had a bobcat cross my path during my 400k. I kind of thought those two encounters were kind of interesting.

If you're out there Brian Klaas, I'm offering you a free post if you'll "tell all" about your close encounter of the cougar kind. For that matter, Mr. Rancher, same offer to you.

Both photos courtesy of Wikipedia.

For a more in-depth story about a variety of encounters with the same cougar prior to the pig incident see this Seattle Times story.

Secret confession: though my Bobcat sighting was my second ever, I've yet to spot a cougar (seen cougar tracks in snow) and I'm just dying to. Er, I mean I'd love to...someday.

Lastly, if you'd like some fascinating reading about a huge variety of cyclist-critter encounters and other wild things that cyclists happen upon (nude couples well, coupling, for example) check out the Fat Cyclist's post and his 144 comments.

Keep it out of your pigpen,


Friday, August 21, 2009

Power of Compassion Broke the Cycle of Vengence Today

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill

I have been noodling for a little while about a post I might write some day about a belief I share with many others that acts of altruism or compassion are not simply expressed and then lost. It is the belief that these acts of compassion or selfless kindness feed a reservoir that promulgates or spurs further acts of altruism. I had hoped to illustrate the point with some randonneuring examples.

I was planning to write about how I tested a corollary to this theory in my college Research Psychology class thirty years ago. The short version is that we approached strangers on the street and asked for directions and variously reinforced them. We found a difference, though not statistically significant, and of course our methodology was suspect. The idea, however, that altruism begets altruism stuck with me.

I was planning to draw this together with randonneuring by telling of a few unselfish gestures. The first is when the randonneur I'd been riding a few shorter brevets with told me I should not ride with him on my next longer brevet: my 400k attempt. John Vincent told me that he'd slow me down, and that I should ride with others so as to increase my chance of success. Riding with him, his logic went, decreased my opportunities.

It is a small thing in the scheme of the world, but it touched me: his generosity.

Then when I attempted my first 400k and ended up riding with another new acquaintance, Tom Russell, I could tell Tom was hoping to finish in under 24 hours. And given his pace, he'd have had no problem. As I reported in my Oregon Randonneurs Alsea Falls 400k Ride Report, Tom chose to hang back with me and my slower pace instead even though he knew he'd finish in more than 24 hours.

Is this a big deal? Not really, but it touched me again. In the race for time and accomplishment today, it is refreshing when someone steps back from these expectations to just lend a hand. The question then is will I extend their acts to fellow randonneurs as they have done. I can only say I hope to.

So as you see, these examples didn't add up to a complete post so much as a notion I'd been noodling.

Then today when I heard Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's statement about his releasing the sole person convicted of the Lockerbie bombing on grounds of compassion, I felt compelled to post.

After a nearly endless cycle of cries for vengeance in so many circumstances all around the globe, I was hearing on my radio a departure from vengeance and opening up to compassion. And not with bashfulness or apology. Kenny MacAskill called upon the Scottish people's heritage of honoring humanity and openly called upon Scottish values of compassion and mercy.

I couldn't believe my ears it was so extraordinary.

Here are his concluding remarks:

“Scotland will forever remember the crime that has been perpetrated against our people and those from many other lands. The pain and suffering will remain forever. Some hurt can never heal. Some scars can never fade.

“Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive. Their pain runs deep and the wounds remain.

"However, Mr Al Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.

“In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity.

“It is viewed as a defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people.

“The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live.

“Mr Al Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them.

“But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days.

“Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available.

“Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown.

“Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people. No matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated.

“For these reasons - and these reasons alone - it is my decision that Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya to die.”

Click here to watch Secretary MacAskill's full statement.

Then this evening I had dinner with several of my wife's Indian relatives. When I asked them whether they had heard MacAskill's statement, we got to discussing death penalty cases and how they are viewed. One of them said that he believed that everyone, by being human, has the capacity to change. Even those who have committed evil acts are not themselves evil. Each of us has the capacity to change. If we don't believe that, where does that leave us?

Driving home from dinner I heard another radio show: about non-violence and Martin Luther King and Gandhi. One of King's followers talked about the absolute requirement that to succeed in their campaign against racism and unjust laws they had to sincerely listen to their foes and even love their foes, all of them. She talked about how she led them in a song and added a verse about loving "even Bull Connor" the infamous "member of the Ku Klux Klan, and a staunch advocate of racial segregation" according to Wikipedia. If they didn't believe in their foes' capacity to change, then non-violence fell in upon itself.

A powerful set of insistent truths for one day.

I am awed by Kenny MacAskill's commitment to the truth that we all deserve compassion. It is consistent with Gandhi's Satyagraha or "insistence on truth". The thing that is startling is that while we were all taught about compassion and the Golden Rule as children, living by such a seemingly simple dictum is rare and hard. Kenny MacAskill reminded us that while it is hard, it is possible as individuals and as peoples.

Thank you for indulging a not-so-randonneurish post. I have simply been inspired by compassion and selflessness both big and small. And I believe that small leads to big.

Keep it, give it,


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In Search of Bicycling Bliss

Bicycling Bliss is unlike any other single bicycling book. You might find one of the subjects of Bliss covered in some other book or a different subject in still another book, but you won't find all that this author's jammed in anywhere else in one place, and there is plenty here you just won't find anywhere at all.

I met the author, Portia H. Masterson, at the annual Cascade Bicycle Club Seattle International Bicycle Festival a couple years back. You know how you discover something by yourself without having been referred, and it feels more like your own? Silly, I know, but sometimes that's how it feels. Well, that's how it is for me with Portia and her book.

I stepped up to her booth and I discovered she had owned a bicycle shop in Golden, Colorado just after I left Golden. So, I connected with her on her Golden history, and bought her book. It is self-published and costs a whopping $29.95, but it is a goodie. I hadn't seen it anywhere else so I grabbed it. Since then, I've seen other good reviews including in Momentum, and it is now stocked in bookstores in which I hadn't seen it before.

Now understand that Portia is not a randonneur to my knowledge; the term is not in her index. However, just look at the photo below. Clearly she understands a thing or two about long distance cycling and certainly about not being self-conscious. Here's a cooling technique I think some randonneurs believe they've invented. Personally, I would have taken off my helmet, but maybe she's wary of falling rocks or...pirhana?

Here's how I describe Portia's writing: sensible, no-nonsense, caring, gentle, and determined. On the last point, she comes across as one of those folks who just knows that while some of her ideas are not mainstreamed yet--acupressure, meditation, journaling, breathing (I guess breathing is mainstreamed, we all seem to do it, so I'll say conscious breathing)--she's clear and unabashed from personal experience about what she knows. She isn't prone to the latest this or that, so her ideas are grounded in observation, logic, and years of listening to customers.

She also knows a fair amount about body mechanics and body geometry. There are pictures of muscles and anatomy as well as a pithy cartoon here and there as below.

She goes on to say that many cyclists pedal with their saddles too low, essentially doing to our knees what the knee-bending backpacker does.

Portia's also intrepid. When she opened her bicycle shop she didn't know how to wrench at all! Just learned it as she went. That takes some confidence.

But mostly, Bliss is thorough and it's a good book to come back to as you'll continue to draw out nuances. For randonneurs, she's all about comfort on the bicycle and long-term solutions. It's a randonneur's approach for sure.

So if Western medicine has let you down or you want to see how some of the less obvious strategies for wellness pay off if you commit, or even if you don't mind getting distracted by something you come across but weren't looking for, then Bicycling Bliss ought to interest you.

While the text is pretty dry, some of the graphics lighten it up. If the print is too fine in the drawing above it says:

"The unfortunate Timothy McTight is a high-mileage cyclist who has not committed himself to a daily stretching practice or to developing good riding form. Imbalanced and tight muscles limit his health and riding performance."

If you like a cycling book that focuses on the body, then Bliss is a comprehensive and I'd say unique find.

If you also like a book that throws in a two-page chart that outlines all the considerations for different bicycle clothing fibers:
  • cotton
  • wool
  • nylon
  • acrylic
  • polyester
  • polypropylene

according to:

  • benefits
  • drawbacks
  • durability
  • care
  • best use
  • avoid use
  • common use,

then Bliss is for you.

If you like a book that respects its readers throughout all 473 pages, and that I guarantee you cannot devour in even several sittings, then what are you reading this for? Go get Blissed!

For more about blissful cycling from Portia herself, go to her Bicycling Bliss website.

Keep it Blissful (of course)


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Critters, Conditions, Consumptions & Companions or The Oregon Randonneurs Alsea Falls 400k Ride Report

I'm betting you'd guess this is a picture of me AFTER the Oregon Randonneurs Alsea Falls 400k Brevet. Reasonable assumption given my countenance, but no, this is me right before our 6am start. I seem incapable of taking a photo of myself without blinking. I tried more than once. They all look like this.

My lids seem to want to protect my lenses from the light. Lenses are precious. They help us focus, to truly see. But they also eliminate the other in order to focus on the this. So for this ride report, I am choosing four lenses through which to view the Alsea Falls 400k: Critters, Conditions, Consumptions and Companions.


Oh, the critters. What a delight! Especially the night critters. I've camped out, backpacked, stayed up late, thrown green apples at bats to watch them invoke their radar, hunted until the sun set, played flashlight tag, and even fished once for most of the night for catfish, but I never penetrated the wild places through the night--awake all night long--before. The Alsea Falls route was really wonderful. While it wasn't the wilderness, it was for the most part forested or rural, and the wilderness creatures were present.

I saw all the usual--but each with its own charm--suspects: jays, herons, squirrels, hawks, deer, bunnies, butterflies, bees, and other unnamed-to-me insects. Knowing the names is important though. Check out this story about naming critters, about taxonomy, from last week's New York Times. One of the cited studies of taxonomy reveals that cultures worldwide almost invariably use two-word descriptions. For example, when the Mayans first encountered the Spaniards they called them village peccaries, for the Mayans were familiar with the pig-like peccaries and the peccaries provided a point of reference.

To further grasp the importance of naming, note that scientists have discovered that patients who have lost use of that part of the brain that names things, and hence know the names of no objects though their brains are otherwise fully capable, are wholly lost. As the article states, if you don't know a carrot from a cat, you don't know which to pet and which to grate.

That is the sad fate of the brain damaged, but what of our collective and voluntary naming atrophy? Carol Kaesuk Yoon writes in her story:

"No wonder so few of us can really see what is out there. Even when scads of insistent wildlife appear with a flourish right in front of us, and there is such life always — hawks migrating over the parking lot, great colorful moths banging up against the window at night — we barely seem to notice. We are so disconnected from the living world that we can live in the midst of a mass extinction, of the rapid invasion everywhere of new and noxious species, entirely unaware that anything is happening. Happily, changing all this turns out to be easy. Just find an organism, any organism, small, large, gaudy, subtle — anywhere, and they are everywhere — and get a sense of it, its shape, color, size, feel, smell, sound. Give a nod to Professor Franclemont (her Taxonomy professor of old) and meditate, luxuriate in its beetle-ness, its daffodility. Then find a name for it."

So as I was saying, I saw all the usual suspects--named and not--but I also saw some I don't see so often. I saw a few Vultures feeding on roadkill deer carcasses. Below is a photo of one--he is in the top middle of the frame--that I found feeding. I tried not to get too close, hence the poor photo, though really he wasn't obviously bothered by my approach. As I was taking this photo, a rider I had met but didn't know, Marcello (see Companions below), cycled by and we exchanged hellos.

I also saw a very large owl fly from a tree up into the top opening (for hay loading?) at the apex of the end of a barn. I'd sure be scared if I were a little field mouse and saw his shadow or heard his wing feathers whistling. I saw what I believe to be a Bullock's Oriole too.

And bats of course. Doing their best to keep the insects in check. But the highlight had to be the Bobcat that crossed in front of my path when it was fully dark. He bounded across the road on the edge of a small rise. Once he had crossed safely and was about to enter back into the foliage he stopped and stared back at me as I turned my bike and my lights lit up his eyes. Then off he went to do his/her Bobcat night thing leaving me to do my night thing.

Well, one of my night things turned out to be running over a critter. I had wondered about making critter contact earlier when I'd seen a deer cross my path a ways ahead. Having hit a deer once with my car, I got to wondering...what if I hit a deer with my bicycle. I've heard it has happened. What would I do?

Well, I found out what I would do. Not much. Tom (see Companions below) and I were riding through some backroads that snaked through farmers' fields when I heard a scrit, scrit scrit and at the same time saw a long, low critter entering the road from the brush alongside the left road edge. It just kept coming--scrit, scrit went its claws on the chipseal--until its trajectory met mine and bump went my front wheel. It happened so fast I'm not even certain whether I rode over it with my rear wheel too. I think not. I think it skedaddled fast!

It wasn't squishy. It was like running over a full fire hose: all muscled and tough. I first called it a weasel though the truth is I never saw its surprised face. Could it have been a pack rat? Also long and furry tailed (I've become all too familiar with them in Eastern Oregon). I certainly know what it wasn't. It wasn't a "regular" rat: no hair on the tail. It wasn't a porcupine: no flat tire! Not a squirrel: too small and are they nocturnal? Not a skunk: I wasn't stinking afterward any more than about 300k would normally induce. Not a mouse: way too small. Not a peccary: no tusks or villages around! Not a turtle: too fast and I didn't fall over from hitting a shell. Not a rabbit: it scurried, not hopped. Not a fox: no scampering, and besides no self-respecting fox would be so un-clever. Not a snake: no slithering. Not a cat: it was low to the ground. One indicator it wasn't a weasel is that it didn't go Pop! I went back to see if I could find it, and it was long gone.

I stayed upright, but it nearly upset my bicycle and me. And as a I said in my previous post, I doubt I hurt it much. From my experience running over my stepson's arm, it doesn't seem to do any damage. I also know from the recipient's point of view. I once had my foot run over by a car tire on a picket line, and despite only wearing tennis shoes I wasn't injured. So there you have it. Unless someone makes a better argument, I'm thinking it was something in the weasel family.

Other ideas?


Starting off, I felt pretty darn good. In fact, I had enough in the tank as we approached the summit finish for the first controle that I surged ahead when another nameless-to-me randonneur called out "Eleven minutes!" as he rode past us indicating that the controle closed in eleven minutes.

I reminded him that the organizers relented to pre-ride protests that the controle couldn't be made in time due to the toughest climb being first up. The organizers replied that they'd not hold anyone accountable for missing the time limit on that mountaintop finish first controle. In short, there was no time limit.

He called back to me, between rhythmic deep breaths: "Do it honest!" And so I grabbed his wheel and hung on. I don't know if it was my Presbyterian upbringing and the call to honesty or a more base instinct like the predatory and unconscious but instant swat at a fly that happens by. For whatever reason, despite the voice in the back of my head telling me to pace, pace, pace, it is early, early, early, I stayed with him and we made it together at 8:40. Exactly on time with not a minute to spare as they do say.

The descent was a blast! A little while later I found myself really struggling. I attributed it to the wind and my foolish early push. Everything just seemed hard. At one point, I stopped to take off some clothing and as I pushed my bicycle back onto the road the rear wheel caught tight. Huh?

I noticed that my rim was rubbing the brakes. So that explains the difficulty. But why? Then it flashed on my mind and I thought my brevet was finished. The week before the ride I broke my freewheel on my 34 year old Fuji. My LBS replaced it with another used freewheel. They'd order a new one they said, but I'd forgotten to see whether it had arrived. Now I might be paying the price.

Investigating, I discovered that no, the freewheel was OK. It was just that the wheel was out of true. That accounted for the brake rubbing. It is at this point that the so-called "Curious Randonneur" wasn't so damn curious after all. I didn't seek out the cause of the untruthfulness of my wheel. I loosened the brakes to avoid the rubbing and rode on figuring I'd true up later.

As it got hotter, I felt tireder and listlesser, and the wheels turned slowerer and slowerer. I stopped to check whether the brakes were still rubbing--funny little sound--and at last I discovered the broken spoke. I also now recalled that funny big sound a while back that I attributed to a hard getting-into-gear but even then knew that it wasn't. That must have been when the spoke broke! Again, I hadn't been curious enough to check.

I was feeling less than self-congratulatory when I discovered the offending spoke, but all that soon changed. I reached into my toolkit and pulled out Fiberfix, a Kevlar-corded replacement spoke. The first words on the Fiberfix instruction sheet soothed my ego: "Remain calm and congratulate yourself for carrying Fiberfix in your tool kit."

Right. This isn't a crisis, this is a PBP preparation gold mine! I set up shop in a weedy but shaded gully. As I went to work other randonneurs popped in to check out the condition my condition was in as randonneurs are wont to do. Two, Brian and Dan, stopped to give me a few tips and graciously gave me some space too as there is nothing worse than performing bicycle surgery with more than a few helpful surgeons/chefs. In my haste, I failed to notice that the spoke was frozen to the nipple and I ended up driving the spoke through the rim tape and into my tube. Flat tire now too.

By now though everyone had passed me, or so I assumed. But I was rolling again with a new spoke. The picture below shows the Kevlar replacement in place but with the excess cord still uncut. Remarkable invention, Fiberfix is.
For the rest of the ride, my Fuji's condition was fine, and she got me through. My body was paying a price, however. Mostly little aches around the ankles, but also a deep pain in my left groin. I'd not had it on previous rides, but my physical therapist has certainly uncovered that weakness on her PT table so I wasn't surprised. Advil masked most pain, but I occasionally felt piercing pains there.

By the end of the ride I was tired. My groin hurt a good bit. But my spirits had remained pretty good throughout. I'd even thought up three jokes per my stepson's request (see Companions below) on the way to the first controle. Not great jokes, but you could tell they could be funny if you kind of squinted your eyes and cocked your head a little.

My true bodily condition was revealed after the ride. My outside right ankle, right on the bone that sticks out (Lateral malleolus muscle?) was bright red. Scarlet. So was my left front shin (Tibialis anterior muscle). My left groin was so weak I had to pull my left leg up by my hands, as when I got into a car. My pinky fingers were numb and tingly, and also up along the outside heels of my hands. Finally, I discovered butt welts that hadn't been bothering me. Especially on the right side, the side where I had a shimmed shoe. Perhaps I'm really getting some power from that right side now?

Today, a week later, all is good excepting residual tenderness on my left shin.

Actually, I think that's pretty good considering I had my bicycle fit pretty drastically altered just a week prior to the ride. I had two wedges installed under my cleat on each shoe to adjust my over-pronation. Also, it appears I have a cycling leg length differential (I'd suspected as much since my saddle rotates the post clockwise inside the seat tube). Therefore, my cycle fit physical therapist installed a shim under my right cleat. He also raised the saddle and moved it forward in order to close the cockpit. Finally, he moved my cleats forward to move my feet rearward on the pedals.

All together, quite a bit of adjustment. Just like you're not supposed to do. I will say though that my knees essentially did not hurt as they often do!


I'm a Perpetuem man myself. Mostly. I also take Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes for electrolyte replacement. Hammer Gels too. But I do get these salt cravings and I can devour potato chips like nobody's business. I don't eat chips regularly. "No Meats, No Sweets, No Frits" is my non-randonneuring mantra, but on brevets the chips fairly fly into my mouth.

I also took in some caffiene in the form of Hammer Gel and one cup of coffee at the Brownsville controle. I may have also done two Excedrin tablets for the caffeine.

I drink plenty of water I think. And I bought Tums for the first time, and took three or four of them. Oh yeah, and Advil. Too many, I'm sure, but it is tough to stay to the recommendation if you're going 24 hours without sleeping.

The other thing I tried to take in was the sights. I did stop at Alsea Falls after first riding right on by. I turned around chastising myself: "How could you ride hundreds of kilometers on the Alsea Falls 400k and NOT visit Alsea Falls?" It was hard to discern just how far from the main road the Falls were, but I coasted down and parked the bicycle. Walking down, then up the steep steps actually felt good. There was one couple cavorting on a log that spanned the river and another with two children who used their camera and tripod to take posed photos of themselves as in the one below. The Falls were beautiful and I'd have loved to pause longer, but my inner clock urged me on.

The photo below shows a covered bridge that I'm guessing all Oregon randonnuers know from their Covered Bridges 400k, but it was new to me. Oops, just learned this bridge is not on the Covered Bridges 400k!

Then there is this Victorian home I took in. I wasn't the only one. As I pulled up, two men stood back admiring their work. One was the owner--who wouldn't stand back and admire if you lived in such a fine home?--and he told me it was built in the 1890's.

I also took in much of the subculture of fast food stores and modern day mercantile shops. Folks were friendly and helpful, and the air was clean and honest. I passed by many great photo spots but regrettably didn't stop in my haste. A lesson learned for next time.


My first companions are Philippe Andre and Michael Wolfe, the mad creators of this route. See Michael's very desriptive pre-ride report here. It was much studied prior to this new route.

As others have noted, the idea that we'd talked ourselves into that all the climbing was over after the first major climb up Bald Mountain was folly. It was 13,000 feet of climbing all told I'm told. For me, that means this was the longest, steepest and darkest ride I've done. Bravo! Thank you Philippe and Michael. I'd also have to say this was the most beautiful route of any brevet to date for me. I'm told that Keith and Alex Kohan, Michael R. and Susan France also helped. Many thanks to all!

It was well organized with good spirit. What more could one ask?

My next companions were my wife, Pramila (aka DartreDame when she posts here) and her son, Janak, my stepson. They were incredible. They volunteered to join me for this ride just to be supportive, and I'm ever grateful. Pramila drove most of the five hour (backups out of Seattle, out of Portland, toward McMinnville, out of McMinnville) trip each way, but best of all was their planned food drop at the first controle atop Bald Mountain. Despite their getting lost and my getting there much faster than I anticipated, I only had to wait for them for about...five seconds. I topped the mountain dismayed to confirm (for they had not passed me) that they weren't there. As I was asking at the staffed controle how to deal with a later food drop, in they came. I delivered to Janak my three goofy jokes, and I was positively elated to be able to share with them my giddiness at not having such a bad time with what was the first and highest (3000 feet or so, I think) climb of the brevet.

Janak came out of the truck with a bottle of water for me in one hand and his stuffed animal (yet another Critter sighting!) in his other. They also gave me my three pounds of Perpetuem that I didn't have to haul up Eagle Mountain. Yahoo! This explains the secret of how I was able to push up toward the summit so easily.

I bid them a hasty farewell as I descended with many verbal good wishes tucked into my jersey pockets. Our good friends Aaliyah and Vesteinn (Vesteinn who completed his first century with Pramila) and their children Raisah and Kian had also made a point to wish me well because they knew how nervous (maybe grumpy is a more apt description?) I'd been. Their support carried me through the night!

Other than my critter companions, I rode alone all day and into the night. I can't remember where it was (somewhere between Monroe and Brownsville) that I once again met up with randonneurs. I recognized one, Marcello, whom I'd met at an earlier controle. When I Helloed them outside a convenience store he asked if I wanted to ride along. Boy did I! I can't convey how badly I wanted company.

His companion was Tom Russell hailing from California and relaxing on a recumbent. (Coming soon to this blog will be an interview with newbie recumbent rider but veteran randonneur, John Vincent, about his recumbent observations.) We struck out together, and it was a new ride for me. This is not to say, however, that I didn't enjoy the solitude. In fact, I did. And I was proud of my wayfinding in the night too. But I was ready for companionship.

As we started in I realized they were going a little faster than I would have liked. I made up on the hills as Tom on his recumbent naturally slowed there, but I've never been very fast on the flats. We rode along though pretty well until at one pont we were uncertain of our whereabouts. Tom volunteered to pedal back a half mile or so to double check while Marcello and I made small talk. He indicated he was wearying despite having just taken a 200mg caffiene tablet. He also had the resourcefulness to whip out his iPhone and verify we were in fact on the right road. Good going!

As we pulled into Brownsville, guess who we encountered? Pramila and Janak! What a surprise! Again with the water and the stuffy, Janak hugs and greets me. I had no idea they were planning to visit another controle. Turns out their Garmin navigated them to a small car ferry that was closed for the night, and they ended up driving around lost for hours!

Nonetheless, it was great to see them. Apparently, other randonneurs arriving before us had seen them too, and I'm getting the picture that randonneurs thought they were the "staff" at the staffed controle at Brownsville. Since randonneurs encountered them first, most ignored Keith and Alex who had in fact volunteered to staff Brownsville. Pramila told me of helping one randonneur remove his jacket because he was so spent he couldn't accomplish that simple task on his own. Turned out they were unbeknownst-to-them controle volunteers!

We rolled out of Brownsville with the end in sight, but Marcello was apparently still tiring. A little while later he told me he wanted to rest for "15 minutes". I turned around and there was no Marcello. Tom and I found his bicycle on the ground and Marcello is flat on his back on the side of the road, already half asleep. We offered to wait for him to finish his nap. We gave him a Tums tablet, but he insisted we go forward.

This was a new deal for me. Though I had read about randonneurs flopping any old where on the PBP and other long rides, I'd never done it nor seen it done. I had this odd feeling of deja vu when Marcello repeated he only needed "15 minutes" and then he'd catch up with us. It was as if Tom and I were buddies in the First World War overlooking our platoon mate who'd been mortally wounded. When our wounded pal said he'd meet us at Yankee Stadium for Opening Day next year we assured him knowing he wouldn't last another hour: "Sure, Marcello, we'll save you your usual seat behind the dugout old buddy."

I just had this sense that Marcello was done for. He couldn't finish, despite our acknowledging that we'd see him later on the route. Marcello had also told me of this other randonneur who had started late Saturday morning and was still behind us on the route. I was dubious, since I had been bringing up what I thought was the rear with my broken spoke delay, and surely such a randonneur would have caught up to me.

In the end, Tom and I pedaled off leaving Marcello on the ground somewhere just before the stop sign at the crossing of a highway.

Tom and I continued and I peppered Tom for some tips and lore. He gave it up. Randonneurs who commute every day to and from work, he said, had an edge. That constant riding, even if not long mileage, adds up and keeps you strong. He also believed that the R-12 program, riding a 200k or longer brevet every month for 12 consecutive months, builds the kind of strength a randonneur doing longer brevets needs. I logged each of these tips in my randonneur training memory bank.

When we reached the Salem controle, it became evident that we might finish in under 24 hours. Amazed though I was, I was also tired. I put it to Tom that if he wanted to push on at a sub-24 hour pace he was free to do so, but that I didn't think I could sustain it. He may have been disappointed, but Tom didn't show it. Instead, he graciously cooled his jets and stayed with me. Thanks, Tom!

Eventually, the dark was peeled away by a determined morning light. Instead of just hearing critters dart off in a rustle of weeds when they heard us pass, we could actually see the morning birds as well as hear their calls. Navigating got easier. Our spirits perked. And we made it in.

My first 400k! And with time to spare. Why was I rushing so much after all? Why didn't I cavort more at Alsea Falls? Next time, I kept thinking. Next time, I will stop to savor even more.

We checked in with Philippe and learned that indeed there was another rider out there: Bill Alsup who provides a crisp ride report here. I really like his report, and his pictures are excellent and remind me again what a great ride it was. Below is Tom on his recumbent as we cross the City line.

And what of Marcello? Of course he made it! Why had I ever doubted? Marcello is a veteran of four years randonneuring. He plans brevets. He finished with Bill Alsup and they had time to spare. Oh me, of little faith!

And this was my biggest lesson: no matter how you feel now, it can change, and better: you can change how you feel yourself. Marcello knew exactly what he needed and it worked. Now that I've seen a flopping randonneur with mine own eyes I just may have to adopt the strategy myself!

There are many lenses, and as a newbie each brevet is an overload of information. I learned a little about what I consume, and I'm learning more about conditioning with each brevet: body, mind and equipment. But most of all, I really delight in the Critters and Companions. Critters and Companions are powerful lenses through which to focus, name and take in this wonderous world.

Keep it flopping,


Monday, August 10, 2009

What doesn't go squish when you run it over with your bicycle?

One answer is my stepson's, Janak's, arm. The other is something I ran over at about 3am on my journey through the Oregon Randonneurs Alsea Falls 400k Brevet. I know this about Janak's arm because about two years ago we were riding in a nearby park and he fell over in front of me with his arm splayed out. I ran over his little child arm with my front tire...then my rear tire.

I was mortified. I assumed I must have broken his little armie (Where do generals keep their armies? Why up their sleevies, of course!). But I hadn't! He was well enough to crash again a few minutes later and fall into the blackberry bushes. That hurt!

So from experience running things over I don't think I hurt this astonished critter, and he didn't go "Pop"! Any guesses?

The answer to this mystery and more about the Alsea Falls 400k night mysteries to be revealed soon. Too pooped now.

Keep it rested,


Friday, August 7, 2009

Jan Heine Interview, Part 3: Future of Randonneuring and Bicycling & Advice for Newbie Randonneurs

How do you like my picture selection? Doesn't it look like Jan is gazing out into the future of randonneuring? At least I hope that is Jan. He pointed me to some photos, but it could be one of his companions gazing thoughtfully. Hmmm.

Well, that's what I've asked Jan to do in this the final part of our three-part interview. Given that he is a student of our history, what are the trends? I am also unabashedly asking for advice for us newbies. I'll be attempting my first 400k tomorrow, the Oregon Randonneurs Alsea 400k, so advice solicitation is one of my forms of stress management.

Also, since the actual interview, Jan and two others embarked on the first official Cyclos Montagnards event. You can read about that inaugural trip here.

Since this is the final of three, I want to thank Jan for taking the time. Also for his responding to where the question needs to go even if I didn't pose it so. You can find more of Jan's writing at Bicycle Quarterly. Typically, I don't send folks to for-profit endeavors, but Bicycle Quarterly is a such a unique treasure trove of really informative articles I feel compelled to do so for any of the rare few who might not know of it yet.

The only "further ado" is this: the first interview with Jan, Part 1: Personal & Social History, can be found here. Part 2: Equipment is found here.

Keep it aware of our elders,


Future of Randonneuring and Bicycling
& Advice for Newbie Randonneurs

CurioRando: So how about the future of bicycle design, the popularity of bicycles, the popularity of randonneuring type bicycles in particular, your sense of that?

Jan Heine:
Predicting marketplace behavior is difficult. If people bought products only based on what they need and what fulfills their needs best, I would say that the classic randonneur bike has a huge future. But it’s like so many things, marketing comes into it. Unfortunately, as I see it now, performance bikes are racing bikes which can be ridden only during daytime in good weather without carrying much. The alternative is bikes that don't offer much in terms of performance. We just tested a "performance commuting bike" with upright handlebars and a carbon fork. I can tell you that the carbon fork is not going to improve the performance enough to make up for the flat handlebars. I talked to the manufacturer, and he said the flat bars are easier to sell because most people know mountain bikes. But overall, I think randonneur bicycles in some form or another are bound to grow just because more and more people are exploring beyond their horizons. It’s just encouraging to see, especially the growth of randonneuring. People really want to go beyond what they know and see what is over the next hill and in the next valley, and they need the bikes to go there.

CR: Any particular equipment or design advances you foresee? You’ve written about electric shifting.

JH: I think we’ve had a tremendous revolution that might have almost gone unnoticed. And that’s the new LED lights and generator hubs. It’s amazing that now you can go downhill almost as fast at night as you can during the day. We did our fleche on the Olympic Peninsula and I suddenly thought: “Wow, here we are going 40MPH on a twisty downhill in the middle of the night with just a bunch of generator powered headlights.” I think that is a huge advance.

CR: What I like about randonneuring is uncovering limits and moving past them. What’s your vision of a world in which the bicycle is an integrated form of transportation today? Is that something you think about?

JH: You know, I’ve been thinking about that a little bit because as we all look at our environmental impact. As cyclists we are very very lucky because we can reduce our environmental impact while improving our quality of life. People who don’t ride bikes, who don’t like riding bikes…have a hard time giving up their cars. I recently dropped off a bike in West Seattle. It was a 70-minute bike ride, but a 2-hour bus ride back. And the bike ride took me across the Ballard Locks, along the water several times, I got exercise... The bus ride was boring by comparison. The more people we can get excited about cycling, the more the bicycle will become an integrated mode of transportation.

CR: Cyclos Montagnards got a little bit of—some people I talked to were reacting a little strongly to the notion. My take on it was that if folks want to introduce a new challenge for themselves that doesn’t unfairly change things for the rest of us, for those of us who are too slow to do those things just yet, so what? Why the fuss?

Challenges are how randonneuring started. You know, the challenges are not just for fast people. The Cyclos Montagnards challenges are indeed challenging, because we see it sort of as a continuation of the Charly Miller Society. The Charly Miller Society is a challenge that Bill Bryant, the former Randonneurs USA president, developed. It honors Americans who ride in PBP in the same time or faster than the last American professional racer in PBP (Charly Miller) who rode it in 1901 in 56 hours and 40 minutes. It seems awfully fast, but it is doable for many avid cyclists with training and a little luck. It’s not just for the super fast guys like Scott Dixon who came fist in PBP three or four times. This is something that is doable.

But it’s probably not doable for a beginning randonneur, so I just encourage people to challenge themselves. Just pick some destination. Maybe you can try and ride from Seattle to Windy Ridge and back in 24 hours. Or if you’re a new rider, see if you can get from here to Stevens Pass and back in the daylight before the sun sets—of course, you should bring lights anyway in case you don't make it. Explore your limits! Without a challenge, cycling can get boring. I’ve done many brevets, I know I can finish them. Just getting another medal is not that exciting. So for me, it’s a way of exploring my limits, just like you were saying.

CR: Advice to beginners like myself for randonneuring or a long brevet like PBP or generally just starting out? (Or for me on the eve of my first 400k, about which I am slightly terrified?!)

There are probably a lot people being successful for a lot of reasons—but I see people being successful who really enjoy riding their bike. And yes, it’s not always easy, but in the end, you are just excited to be out there. Successful randonneurs often are people who just have a real interest to explore, who always want to see the next thing. The brevet allows them to get away from their normal routes, to see something new. And that’s why I would pick routes that, even if they are challenging, are scenic, are interesting. So that you come around the mountain and you see something new, so that you say, oh wow, I’ve never been here, it’s really exciting to do that. Because if you are just riding your bike for 20-odd hours, it can get pretty monotonous. During the brevet, pace yourself and try to ride with other people. It’s really fun that way. And don't be intimidated. Most people can complete a brevet. It’s not as hard as it might seem. At first, it’s daunting, but it’s like anything, it’s only daunting because you are not used to it.

CR: Another question occurred to me watching the Tour de France this am. If I'm recalling correctly you've ridden with about 10 - 12 gear combinations total, arguing that more cogs create overlap, etc. I ride with a similar set-up, mainly because my bicycle is over 30 years old and won't accommodate more than 5 cogs. But watching the Tour riders, it reminds me that they might find the "perfect" ratio while I must adjust my pedaling to the ratios available. Isn’t there some value to greater ratio availability?

I find that 2-teeth differences between gears work well for me in the mid-range. I used to ride a straight block (1-tooth differences), but it just led to lots of unnecessary shifting, breaking my rhythm. Then it just becomes a question of what gear range you need. When I started racing, I was amazed at how fast we went uphill and how slow we went downhill. As a racer, you don't really need that many gears... As a randonneur, there are no sprints, and on steep downhills, you are faster tucking than you are pedaling, so you can make do with even fewer gears. However, more cogs do allow some riders to get all the gears they might ever need, and that might be a good thing. For me, 10 gears are sufficient most of the time, and when I encounter really steep hills, I find that no matter how small the gear, it is hard work.

CR: Anything you’d like to add?

JH: It is sometimes hard to appreciate for the experienced riders how challenging these rides can be for a new rider. I remember when living in Texas, I visited a friend in Dallas from Austin, and a ride of 204 miles in a single day. I started at 3:30 in the morning, and when I arrived, I thought it must be the furthest anyone has ever ridden. Well, as a randonneur, 204 miles is 325 km, and you still have 75 to go during a 400 km brevet. And even the 400, it’s a challenge, but it’s quite doable. So I’m really encouraged by people who do seek out these challenges and see what they can do. And I want to encourage them. I think they deserve as much applause as anybody else.

CR: Thanks for your insights, for sharing them so deeply, with charm. I particularly appreciate your attention to the elders, pulling out our elders and elevating them to the status they deserve. We’re all here on the shoulders of other folks and I appreciate your bringing them forward.

JH: You know, that has been the most pleasant part of it all. I was in France in January and we had this lunch with Alex Csuka of the Alex Singer Club. I was sitting at the table with these old guys, one guy who had come first in the PBP in 1956; one guy who had ridden the fastest tandem that year; another guy who had been one of the newspaper carriers and a racer. And we weren’t even talking about bikes that much, but they were such a fun crowd and it is just so nice to be part of that. So often people who have achieved a mastery of something, they’re just really interesting, nice people to be around.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Acclimatization to the Heat. Adaptation to One Another?

Wikipedia says: "Acclimatization or acclimation is the process of an organism adjusting to change in its environment, allowing it to survive changes in temperature, water and food availability, other stresses and often relates to seasonal weather changes."

For Seattlites, last week's 90+ degree days (even over 100!), were hot, hot, hot! It was all anyone talked about.

I know. For those of you from states where it actually gets and stays hot, I can hear the "Sheezes!" already. Just so you know, I wasn't one of the complainers. That's not to pat myself on the back. In fact, my personal theory that my upbringing in Western Pennsylvanian summers prepared me for the heat is now borne out according to the theorists of such things. The news story below bears this out.

Truth is, I welcomed the heat so I could acclimatize for the upcoming Oregon Randonneurs Alsea 400k. On Thursday, my stepson, Janak, and I hopped on the Light Rail, me with my bicycle. I dropped him off at Fall Ball Little League practice (Fall Ball in July? Right.). I then proceeded to ride hard in the 95+ degree heat.

I came across the ghost bike pictured above on the long climb up the Renton Avenue Extension from Renton to the top at Skyway. I was inside my head on the climb, focusing on my pedal stroke and trying to keep my hands and feet light. The white bike entered my peripheral vision and I rode past it, stopped, then turned back for the photo above.

I'd driven past ghost bikes, but I don't recall riding by one, at least not as slowly as I did crawling up the hill. Ghost bikes are memorials to cyclists killed on the road. I didn't see a plaque, though there was the remnant of a bouquet of flowers. For whatever reason, the heat, the slow climb, I was strongly affected. I wanted to know how it happened, and I clearly felt more vulnerable.

You mean a cyclist was killed here? So that could happen to me? I'm on this hill. Who was killed? What were they thinking just before it happened? Did they have family that loved them and depended on them?

After connecting up with Janak and having dinner, we "Light Railed" it back home and after Googlizing I found that an unidentified 56-year old Seattle man was killed when he was struck by a car driven by a 79-year old Renton man at around 6:30am on December 11, 2008. The victim died at the scene.

Here I was trying to acclimatize to the heat, and I was confronted with how we're still acclimatizing to one another's presence: cyclists and drivers, that is. For the full story about this still anonymous cyclist's death, see the Seattle Times here.

So what about the original acclimatization? Well, once again the Seattle Times is the source, this time for a scientific story on how adaptable our bodies are to heat.

And the truth is we are remarkably adaptable. We're built for heat. With simple adjustments we do pretty well, and we can tolerate a fairly wide range of temperatures. Sweating, for example, is one of our chief strategies.

I believe we can acclimatize to one another very well too...if we so choose. The techniques are available. We're pretty darn adaptable when we decide it is in our interest. The trick is in the choice: we must make the choice that bicyclists and automobiles and trucks and pedestrians will each have to adjust a little, and we'll do fine.

And by that I mean education for all, laws that support the equal rights of all, infrastructure for all, and a commitment that all are equally entitled.

And if one investigates the nature of acclimatization further it becomes clear that acclimatization happens within an individual organism's lifetime. It is a temporary effect on an individual. Adaptation is the process a species goes through whereby it changes permanently--across generations as in Darwinian evolution--in response to its environment in order to facilitate long term survival.

In the short term, we need to acclimatize to one another, i.e.: not crash into each other accidentally because we take precautions against the circumstances that lead toward accidents. In the long term, we need to adapt to one another so that over the generations we become more loving to one another and less self-centered in order to facilitate our collective long term survival, i.e.: an injury to one is an injury to all.

Which leads to something I've always wanted to know: Is self-centeredness a species survival tactic we've been honing and polishing because it increases the liklihood of the survival of our species if at least a few ornery and selfish brutes survive? Or, did we start out really really selfish and we're gradually (but unnoticeably to each generation) evolving to becoming increasingly collectively oriented in order for our whole species to survive?

Or further still, if I recall my Darwin correctly, there can be two adaptation strategies in which different populations of a given species exhibit divergent strategies simultaneously. Eventually, one of them--in our case either self-centered strategy vs. collective strategy--wins out.

I can testify as one representative of the species that becoming less self-centered is certainly a struggle. But I am working on it while I root for the collective strategy.

Whew! Guess that ghost bike got me to pondering! Either that, or despite all my talk of acclimatization that darned heat wave has been getting to me!

Keep it sweaty,


Monday, August 3, 2009

Jan Heine Interview, Part 2: Equipment

We randos love our equipment. And why not? It can be simple. It can be elegant. Sometimes it can be just the right curve that catches the eye, catches the heart.

But for randonneuring, it also has to be reliable, safe, comfortable, and all to its purpose. Jan Heine has spent some time unraveling the mysteries of equipment. He's also put forth some theories that mystify some. He certainly is relentless about equipment.

Anyone up for a twenty-first century version of the technical trials?

Here's Jan, editor of the Bicycle Quarterly, on equipment. If you're searching for Jan Heine Interview, Part 1: Personal & Social History, look here. For Part 3: Future of Randonneuring and Bicycling & Advice for Newbie Randonneurs go here.

Keep it simple yet elegant,



CurioRando: Your interest in design. Obviously you’ve got a background and some expertise in design and materials and the science of design, as well as the aesthetics of design and utility.

Jan Heine: Well, it’s simpler than that. When I started racing, the classic racing bicycle was very clearly defined. In the late 1980s, I went to a pro shop in Germany. The guy said well, here’s the Columbus SL frame Bianchi, here’s the Campy group on close-out and you’ll be happy with that. I asked about click shifting and he said, you don’t need that. And so I was riding this classic racing bike, which was replaced after an accident by yet another classic Columbus SL frame. This material has been used by generations of racers, and it worked very well for me. I never thought much about the bike – as a racer, you worry about your body more than your bike. It was only in the last decade, when I started testing bikes, that I found some worked better than others for me. My interest in the French bikes started with the design aspect – they just look lovely – but riding them made me realize that they work as well as they look. And I so got interested in figuring out the differences between bikes, between different geometries and different tubesets.

CR: You write about the technical trials and as I read that, it occurs to me that part of what made them successful was there were a lot of bike shops in a relatively small geographic area and a relatively large group of folks doing riding…

Actually it was the other way around. Technical trials came first, and the small bike shops and builders came as a result. In 1920s France (and elsewhere in the world), bicycles were very much mass-produced. There were some very nice bicycles by the standards of the day, but nice usually meant lots of features, not better performance. On some bikes, you could adjust the length of the cranks or the width of the pedals, and all kinds of stuff. But the bikes were pretty heavy and more related to what you might call the English three-speed than a modern high-performance bicycle. Even the Tour de France bicycles were pretty heavy, crude machines, and they still broke with alarming frequency. When you look at how many Tour de Frances were decided because somebody broke their frame or fork, you realized that the bikes weren’t that sturdy and not that advanced. In front of that background, a group of riders banded together and said: "This needs to change." So they organized these technical trials to showcase what could be done. They had rules which gave bonus points for light weight and for features like certain geometries with shorter rear triangles, better brakes, racks. Then the bikes were ridden over very, very punishing courses and this allowed the small builders, of which there were a few emerging, to showcase their talents against the big makers. You know, the small builders couldn’t take out advertising in the popular magazines, they couldn’t sponsor a Tour de France team, but here all they needed was a really good bicycle, a decent rider and they could show what they could do. And that’s how the famous names like Alex Singer, Rene Herse, all of those guys, got their start: in the technical trials.

CR: That’s a better segue than I had in mind to my actual question which is do you have a “secret plan” to re-initiate the technical trials in the US?

We were thinking about it, but it’s a very, very difficult thing to do, because the ideal technical trial would be the one where the best bike wins. However, taking the rider out of the equation is almost impossible. So in the end, a mediocre bike with the best rider would have a very good opportunity to win. In the 1930s, they basically drew up a blueprint for the bike they wanted. They had specifications that tires need to be 35 mm or wider, chainstays can’t be longer than 470 mm, etc. Basically, whoever conformed most closely to the blueprint would win, provided their bike held up to the demanding course and didn't break or develop problems. Back then, nobody argued too much about the blueprint or if they did, they stayed home, and we don’t know what they were thinking. However, I would not be comfortable prescribing the design. I am amazed by the vision of these original organizers of these technical trials. With all we have found out since, the rules of 1934 with the addition of a front rack would still make a great randonneur bike today. You don’t have to add or subtract a lot. Nowadays there are many more differing views accepted than in 1930s France, so it would be very difficult to get people on the same page, and have them accept a similar blueprint.

One thing we are doing today is testing bicycles for Bicycle Quarterly. We are riding them on the same courses with the same riders, and compare them always to the same reference bike. It’s not the same as the technical trials, but at least the bikes are compared on equal terms. And since it’s always the same rider, the only thing people have to do is trust us that we can get the best out of every bike. When you see the bikes we have liked, including carbon bicycles and so on, it’s obvious that we’re not very biased. That may be the best we can do at this point.

CR: Your readers love your reviews. What if you organized an event where a bunch of riders were riding a bunch of bikes and they evaluated…?

That’s a very interesting idea... but of course organizing events takes an enormous amount of time. If someone wants to do it, I would gladly support it.

CR: Planing. I’ve seen some online mocking, people attacking the notion of planing.

For ages people have thought that stiffer frames were better. But when you look at what racers were riding, especially while steel was still reigning supreme – because with steel it was very difficult to be stiff and light so you had a choice... Most racers chose light bikes over stiff bikes even for flat stages. People have talked about "dead" bikes, which were usually the cheap bikes from heavier tubing, but these really were the stiffest of them all.

Our hypothesis is that we perform best on bikes when we get in sync with the bikes. This allows us to put more power into the downstroke because the bike isn’t pushing back. Instead, the bike is flexing. And then as we get to the dead spots of the pedal stroke, the energy is released and helps drive the bike forward. So basically we don’t push against an unyielding wall during the downstroke. It’s sort of like jumping on a sprung gym floor. It’s like bouncing a basketball up and down. If you are hitting the ball correctly, it takes very little energy to keep it bouncing. Tuning of the bike to the rider is difficult, and maybe that’s why in the past the rider was tuned to the bike. When you look at the average European racer who raced on the average European racing bike, the Columbus SL frame on which I raced, they usually pedaled at a 110 RPM, they usually had their handlebars two inches below the saddle. There was little variety in the peloton. It’s not like one guy was pedaling at 60 RPM and the next at 140 RPM. Eddy Merckx was a little more physical, Jacques Anquetil was a little more elegant, but overall there was a very very narrow range. And I suspect that was because that was how you could get the best of the existing bikes.

I find that with some bikes that I test, I need to change my pedaling stroke. It sometimes takes me a 100 or more miles until I really can make some bikes perform. And some bikes that are really so far apart from what I’m used to and what works best for me that I just can’t make them go very well at all. It’s mostly noticeable in acceleration when I sprint. It’s also noticeable during a brevet where you’re riding into a headwind for hours. You always have to pedal, it’s not like you get a free lunch, but on some bikes, it’s easier to maintain the cadence, to make the bike go, and there are other bikes where you have to remind yourself, pedal, pedal, speed up, spin, and those are the ones that I find hard to ride for long distances.

CR: Tread, or Q-Factor, is another thing that seems to be under appreciated.

There are some people who need wider cranks. These riders do well on mountain bike cranks, but lots of performance riders seem to prefer a narrower stance on the bike. Overall the cranks have gotten wider in the past few decades, and some riders aren't happy about this. I definitely prefer narrower tread. It’s interesting that the Italians, Campagnolo, keep their cranks narrower whereas Shimano keeps them wider. I wonder whether there are some differences in style and culture. Perhaps one company has more feedback from traditional racers than the other?

CR: 650B tires: enough traction, if you will, for continuing success? Are they here to stay?

Oh yes. Looking at how many bikes there were with 650B tires in the US five years ago, maybe a couple dozen, old French machines and a few others—Schwinn made a mountain bike way back when—but all of this was very obscure, you couldn’t find 650B tires anywhere. But now there are new tires coming out and bikes being made. They’re certainly here to stay and it’s probably only a matter of time before some big makers realize that the logical way for a racing bike to go is to put on some bigger tires so that you can take it on all kinds of roads. More and more, the best riding is on the least maintained kinds of roads because those are the ones that don’t have any traffic. And for those roads, the wider 650B tires are ideal.