Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Curious New Banner!

The Curious Randonneur is at last fully dressed! You probably noticed the new banner atop this page. This is has been in the works for some time. I remember when I first started the blog, I Googled "Top Ten Tips for Bloggers" or some such and Tip #1 was to absolutely have a banner. Any bannerless blog was considered undressed and unworthy.

So I set off in search of a banner, but I wanted something unique. So I turned to our good family friend and artist: Aaliyah Gupta. Thanks, Aaliyah!! I know it turned into more of a project than first imagined, but I love it and am so grateful.

The photo at the top of this post is from Aaliyah's "Lichen" series. Here is how Aaliyah describes this recent series of hers:

This group of works, acrylic on duralar, builds on earlier themes. The “Cluster” series was inspired by the lichens I saw while traveling in Iceland. These lichens, while fragile and lightweight, survive in the most inhospitable of environments. Newer pieces that I am currently working on, and are not featured here yet, are about the intricate networks and environments of these amazingly complex organisms.

The pixelation of the photos does not do justice to the high level of detail and depth (due to the layerization).

Aaliyah is a celebrated fine artist who has exhibited in Portland, Seattle, New York, and Copenhagen. She has been commissioned to produce works for Kimball Elementary, Seattle; Callison & Sons, Seattle; Seattle Asian Art Museum, Seattle; Wing Luke Asian Museum, Seattle; University Hospital, SUNY at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York.

To visit Aaliyah's personal website featuring more of her art, please check out this link!

In the case of my banner, this kind of graphic work is a recent departure for Aaliyah, and is inspired in part I believe by her take of my descriptions of randonneuring over the past few years. All I know is it was a labor of love by a true artist, and I am blessed to have my blog graced with her sensibilities. She was assisted with the technical aspects of integration into my blog by her husband, Vésteinn Þórsson. This blog html can be pretty funky and glitchy at times. I know they both had to fight their way through this.

Aaliyah and Vésteinn, along with their twins, are more than just close friends, they are part of our extended family. Thank you, all you VARKs, and Aaliyah especially, sister: I am deeply honored only!!!!

For a little more about Aailyah, here is an Artist's Statement I came across:

Over the years, my work has been rooted in the ideas of connection and interdependence, nurture and sustenance, microscosms and macrocosms. Most recently, natural disasters across the world have fueled my interest in the idea of dispersion, the movement of light, color and particulate matter. The dispersion of ash, smoke, clouds, wind, water have had a global impact on multiple levels, transforming entire geographies, economies and communities. On a more micro level, I have been exploring the themes of symbiosis and coexistence, looking at complex organisms like lichens that are made up of several organisms that exist in a symbiotic relationship known as mutualism. Surviving in the most inhospitable environments, these organisms are dependant on each other for their survival. I was born in Kolkata, India, and have lived, worked and exhibited in India, Denmark and the USA. I am deeply committed to social change work and actively involved in the movement to end violence against women, as well as in immigrant rights and civil liberties campaigns.

Those of us who know Aaliyah are acquainted with that firece activist side of her. Particularly we know her as the first Executive Director of Chaya, a community based nonprofit organization established in 1996 to serve South Asian women in times of crisis and need, and to raise awareness of domestic violence issues. She remains today one of the core movers of Chaya.

For more of Aaliyah's work in person, watch this Core Gallery website for an upcoming show this July in Seattle's Pioneer Square.

Keep it fiercely coexistent, with color and layers and movement,


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Paris Brest Paris: intuiting and relaxing.

When I decided to engage randonneuring and set the 2011 Paris Brest Paris as my objective just shortly after the 2007 edition of PBP (and my first learning that such an event existed) I had a mental image of myself surviving--barely--an event for which I had very little perspective. In fact, reviewing my first post on this blog I find two photos of PBP 2007 participants. One is of a smiling finisher looking pleased but not beaten. The second is of a cyclist asleep on the floor of the gym at the conclusion of that same event. While I bravely posited the question as to which would be me in that post, the truth is my only real objective at the onset was to finish. No matter how I survived, I just wanted to finish. I'd be thrilled to be the guy in the fetal position. And given how I fared on my longest ride to date--the Surf City 600k--I have a pretty clear image of what just surviving feels like.

Today, I here declare that I want more than to finish only. I want to enjoy PBP as an experience start-to-finish, and I want to be comfortable and relaxed in my overall pace. And to do so, I am going to follow in the footfalls of the gentleman above. Well, sort of. Tom Osler is apparently well known to those in the know among the running crowd, but I won't be running my way to Paris. I will, however, adopt Tom's training philosophy because...I intuit that it will suit me and my relaxed PBP finish visualization just fine.

I won't go too far into explaining Tom's approach because the links below to excerpts from his little book, The Conditioning of Distance Runners, speak for themselves. I will expand a little, however, on this notion of relaxation.

I've never really physically competed. Once I was chosen to compete in a track & field endeavor in elementary school and I failed superbly. The only accomplishment was breaking a basement (what we called cellar) window practicing the shot put with a soft ball! Another time I got put into the final minutes of a high school hockey game, and not because I was a clutch player. Nothing to rave about there either. I think that about covers my experience in physical performances.

Nor have I performed artistically. I don't sing or play an instrument. About the only thing I can think of that relates is public speaking: as a panelist, speaker, leader of a meeting. One thing I've learned about that is that being prepared and being relaxed are key, and they are linked. Breathing plays an important role in speaking too.

Another instinct I'm drawing on is my reaction to a book I bought to read on the plane as I went to India last month: Chris Carmichael's The Time-Crunched Cyclist. I know Chris is pretty much the guru cycling coach of the day, and I know that I probably qualify as a time-crunched cyclist, but I reacted pretty stiffly to Chris's prescription. In some ways though, Chris really ratifies what Osler contends. Chris's idea is that you can cheat by putting in less time, but just don't expect the results to last over time. I guess I don't disagree so much with that conclusion, but the notion of intervals, kilojoules, and overloads in a compressed time program put me off. It doesn't feel like it will have me very relaxed, either in training or in Paris.

Too, I am paying attention to my homeopath who winces when I describe brevets or permanents which leave me feeling spent. Spent is a warning word for him, and I listen to his winces. And when I described my intention to my physical therapist (the one I call The Healer) to begin to engage in interval training to build speed for PBP (this is prior to discovering Osler) I heard her silences. And she is an ultra-runner so her silences run deep.

All of this, combined with my bodily intuition that I want to pursue relaxation at a faster cadence, have led me to Osler and perhaps to some breath work as well. So what is Osler's prescription, written in 1967 for endurance runners?

Here is the link to Part 1 as reprinted in Runner's World in 1984.
Here is the link to Part 2 as reprinted in Runner's World in 1985.

The photo above of Tom running more recently is from his own website which is also worth pursuing. There you'll discover Osler's prolific and successful running career and rather astounding mathematics career. One glance and you'll see Tom Osler is not some goofy uninformed weekend athlete. Nope, he is that rare character that is wondrously athletic, analytical and intuitive all at once.

I thank Ian Jackson for turning me on to Tom, but Ian is a story for another day.

All this is not to say that I wouldn't be grateful just to finish PBP. I would. But my visualization is grounded in randonneuring as ambling, faster ambling. And to get there, I am going to eschew the frantic and the rigid, favoring intuition and relaxation instead. That previous sentence is not just about my cycling, it's about my visualization for my life.

Keep it visualized,


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

India Street Sounds, Bicycle Videos & Pics

Here is a montage of Indian alternate forms of transportation, mostly bicycles. The pic above shows one of the classic and ubiquitous Indian bicycles. Lots of versions, but the essentials are similar to this.

Coconut juice and meat are yummy!

 Here is a typical rural cycling scene as we passed through a village in the middle of the threshing season.

Most bicycles aren't necessarily shops on wheels. Most are basic transportation.

Newer models seem to be showing up contrasted with what I remember from my previous two visits.

Even bicycles can't handle some jobs!

The Mysore Mounted Police, an unusual regiment, was headquartered nearby to our accommodations when we visited Mysore. They often cooled down their mounts on the street leading to our hotel.

We rented bicycles at our hotel and took a spin. They didn't fit us well, and many of the adjustments were rusted, but we had a fine ride that acquainted us with the countryside and riding on the "wrong" side of the road. For a post about my first ride in India, check out this post.

 A video of DartreDame and the SingingCyclist on their first cycling in India.

Yours truly on a poorly fitting rental bicycle. I could get a move on out of the saddle though!

A look at a typical rental bike.

For a more urban scene, here is Brigade Street in Bangalore. To hear what an actual Bangalore Street sounds like, check out this audio link.

For previous posts about bicycling in India, check out this and this and this, or use the "Topics" index in the sidebar to the right.

Keep it moving one way or another,


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cycling in India...Himalyan Style

Himalayas from the International Space Station, courtesy of Wiki.

I have recently marveled at riding through the crowded streets of India, but there is another, higher side to Indian cycling. The Himalayan mountains. I've only been there in my mind and via a recent great read: The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen.
But straight from the spirit of the French cyclo-touring pioneering comes a blogger with whom I've been communicating and his blog cataloging some wild riding: My Crazy Rides. He's got some excellent photos of the high mountain roads, accounts of multi-day cyclo-touring, funny renderings of self-dialogues and daring adventures that others find a little out there. I like it.

If you want a taste of the higher, wilder India, do check it out.

Keep it mountainous,


Friday, January 21, 2011

Coup de Torchon Cycling

Coup de Torchon is simply french for The Dish Towel Technique as put forward by Ian Jackson of BreathPlay. The idea is that instead of pushing down into the bottom bracket we pull the pedals away from one another as if we're trying to keep the dish towel taught and straight.

Or, as you see in the photo above or in the video, if you imagine you're holding a dish towel between your hands, your hands represent the pedals.Then, to keep the towel straight you must push each pedal away from the other with equal and opposite force.

I discovered this technique in another podcast by Terry Bicycles owner Georgina Terry.

Ian posits that even as we contrive to push down on the down stroke and pull up on the up stroke or "wipe mud from the bottom of our cleats" we are still engaging in essentially centripetal pedaling rather than centrifugal pedaling. Coup de Torchon is about pulling around the circle rather than pushing into the circle we all hope to pedal. I'm certainly no physicist, but I am intrigued by the visualization.

I've tried it--not yet for long rides (tomorrow will be first longer test)--and I like it. I can tell I am recruiting some new muscles and my stroke is smooooothing out.

Let me know what you think.

Keep it smoooooth,


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Paris Brest Paris on Facebook

If you haven't seen the Paris Brest Paris facebook page yet, do check it out. There is a webcam of the official PBP Startline, pictured above though admittedly not so exciting.

Better is a YouTube interview with a PBP official about the new start times. Also, what seems to be an interactive lesson on the history of PBP. Though on that I am not certain because I need to learn French!!

Maybe that game is a way to practice my French?

Oops! Just in, the second part of this YouTube interview, this time about rider quotas and rules.

Exciting to ponder being in Paris with thousands of other cyclists!

Keep it faced,


Monday, January 17, 2011

Yoga and Cycling

I took Yoga classes in India, and progressed really well. After two weeks I was able to walk down this uneven staircase on my hands.

JUST KIDDING! While I did take my first ever Yoga class yesterday (here in Columbia City, Seattle), this photo is from an early morning walk that the SingingCyclist and I took. We were taking a three hour long guided tour of the trees of Lal Bagh Botanical Garden in Bangalore.

It was a wonderful tour. As we were beginning the tour with about 20 other folks, the guide began describing the history of the Garden with his back to this giant rock. A number of folks were hanging out meditating, exercising, practicing various breathing techniques, etc. Then this guy, pictured above, began to do all kinds of extreme poses...and then proceeded to walk down this staircase on his hands while our guide waxed on about the marvels of Lal Bagh.

I was just mesmerized by this guy. Afterward, he held himself in a pike position on an old water pipe. Wild.

Below is a tree tour from Lal Bagh.

Fire Ants on bark.

As for me and my first Yoga class, I loved it. DartreDame turned me onto it, and it was just the right thing to get me going after the sinus crud. I plan to do more. As my Physical Therapist (aka The Healer) told me: You might not be able to cycle when you're 80--then again you might! (as she spied my countenance)--but you certainly will be able to do Yoga when you're 80.

Good advice.

For a perspective shock, that giant rock that the hand walker was coming down is 8 Billion years old. Half as old as the Earth itself. So said our guide. Therefore, it was formed as the crust and such was still cooling. Our guide struggled with describing just how old that is and he used 8000 million years to describe it. However, you describe it, it remains unfathomable. The Garden is magnificent.

My breathing is as old as that rock. I am exploring Yoga and Cycling and Breathing. Here's a look back at Heart Forward Cycling.

Keep it magnificent,


Saturday, January 15, 2011

R-12: We Did It!

If you hear something while reading the following text, don't worry it is only the incessant sound of me patting myself on the back.

In a previous post over a year ago I set out to win the Randonneurs USA R-12 Award, pictured above. The inspiration for the attempt came from a rider named Tom Russel from California who accompanied me at the end of my first ever 400k. Tom said that one of the best ways to get to Paris for PBP was to ride more and more consistently, and that in addition to cyclo-commuting, the R-12 was his ticket.

Because the R-12 is awarded for riding a 200k (or longer) brevet or permanent in each of any 12 consecutive months, it keeps you going. On that cold day in the winter when it's hard to get up, what gets you up in spite of yourself? R-12 does! You may curse R-12 as you're rolling out of bed, but R-12 does the trick.

And as I eventually learned, the more months you have invested the harder it is to give up. I actually had one start that I aborted in November of 2009 because I had a sinus infection. Having had just two months under my belt, is wasn't difficult to make that prudent choice. But once I had 8, 9, 10 months down, there was no way I was going to be deprived. So I planned, and stayed in touch with everything related to finishing one 200k each month: health, family and work responsibilities, weather, etc.

But really, the secret to my success was following Dr. Codfish's 10 tips published in the RUSA newsletter. You can do no better! As always, Dr. C puts it out straight.

For a peek at some of the rides that I counted toward my monthly 200k-or-better-ride (some were Brevets, others were Permanents) starting in Decemeber of 2009, select R-12 in the "topics" sidebar to the right.

But why do I say "We Did It!"? Because it is a whole family endeavor to fit in a 200k or more once/month. Much juggling to keep it going, going.... Thanks DartreDame and SingingCyclist!

Keep it going, going...,


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jan Heine on Bicycle Planing again...on podcast

Photo of an Albacore dinghy planing, from Wikipedia.

Planing is Jan Heine's way of describing when a bicycle absorbs some of the energy from a pedal stroke into the frame and gives it back in the form of propulsion at a later moment in the pedal stroke. At least that is my one sentence take for the uninitiated. Jan publishes Bicycle Quarterly and the blog Off the Beaten Path. Jan explains that he and his pals were inspired by a boat's planing for their naming a process that others have described in bicycles in various ways over time. He didn't invent the concept, but as he says he has attempted to synthesize the notion and test it some.

If you are at all interested in bicycle design or how pedaling techniques interact with bicycles with varying tube sets and therefore a range of flexibilities, then you have to listen to this interview podcast of Jan Heine by Georgina Terry of Terry Bicycles. Because Georgina is herself a builder, this podcast has real depth and some back and forth going on.

What I am finding I really like about some podcasts is this very depth that you just don't get in the written word alone. The interchange brings out many nuances, and in this instance we get a much clearer sense of what Jan contends as well as what he has inklings of or wonders about but wouldn't put in print because he isn't sure just yet. I really enjoyed this podcast, and I found it very informative.

I know I probably sound like an apologist for Jan, but having seen how some have attacked him, at times pretty unkindly--including really getting after him on one listserve for his remarks on planing from my interview here with Jan (Part 2 of a 3 part interview)--I just want to say a few things. First, I think folks think bicycles are very simple when in fact they are simple to ride but are pretty complicated when it comes to their physics. I believe that leads some to assume we've got bicycles figured out and what could be so new, right?

But Jan rides a lot of different bicycles and puts them through the paces, along with some of his pals. He has a perspective from having ridden so many bicycles that is hard to match. Also, I believe much of what we think we know about bicycles, like most things these days, is informed by those who try to sell us things, in this case bicycles. They are marketed to us, and the marketers convince us of all kinds of things about tire rolling resistance, frame flexibility, number of gears we need, how a certain shifting mechanism will improve our ride, etc. And just because racers ride some of the bicycles doesn't mean what they need in a bicycle is what we need.

And, when someone challenges some of the things we "know"--like Jan does--some get edgy.

Now I'm not saying everything Jan contends is right on, but I don't know anyone who has contributed as much to opening our minds and bodies to what else might be true about bicycles than what we think we knew. I admire his courage on that. And, I think if you listen to this podcast you'll find a thoughtful take, not a dogmatic one. Check it out.

For more on my interviews with Jan go to Part 1 and Part 3. For more on the whole notion of cycling podcasts, check out this previous post, especially the reader suggestions about their favorite podcasts. And for more on pedaling technique, stay tuned. I've got something fascinating on the way soon!

Keep it flexible and open-minded,


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bangalore's first brevet: 188 Registrants!!

Stop the Presses! I just checked the Bangalore Brevets website to see how they were coming along with their first ever ACP-certified 200k brevet in Bangalore, and they have closed registration it has become so popular!

I greet this news with a mixture of mostly extreme happiness for them tinged with a smidge of my own regret that I won't be there to ride it with them. Their brevet is this Saturday the 15th, and I left Bangalore on the 5th. Darn!

But as I said in my previous post, with a billion people and 8 million alone in Bangalore, they have a great future ahead of them. The photo above is the Start/Finish in Cubbon Park. This is where DartreDame did her fitness running/walking when we were there.

One of the organizers is Rohan Kini, with whom I traded emails but unfortunately never got to meet. He was out of town just when I was in town. Dartre and I did visit his bicycle shop and dropped off a few SIR trinkets and several copies of Bicycle Quarterly, and a few pictures from the visit are below. Rohan's blog, Bums on the Saddle, is here, and is very much worth checking out.

Sidhartha, who works with Rohan at his shop showed Dratre and me around even though the shop was closed. It is a rooftop shop up several flights of stairs. Great space, and from the rooftop you can peer around to other buildings in the city.

Rohan graciously invited me to join his group that met last Saturday to plan for the big event, but again I couldn't because I departed just a few days prior. Not that I'd have been much help. One of the things I need to do this year is start paying back to my own organization by volunteering on our brevets. To date, I've been a freeloader.

Here I am just outside the shop in the stairwell.

Well, perhaps I'll meet Rohan and his gang in Paris this August. I'm sure there will be plenty of tales to tell about their first year of randonneuring. Bonne route, all you Indian randonneurs!

Keep it growing,


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cycling into Christmas Day...and into India!

Was I nuts to ride a borrowed bicycle through the dark, strange streets of Bangalore with heavy traffic heading toward me on the "wrong" side of the road, and the real possibility of a milk cow, bullock or dog jumping into the mix? I don't think so. If anything happened, my riding companion was a brain surgeon after all!

Plus, every vehicle driver honks at least every 15 seconds, so I was never caught unaware of a single vehicle's presence!

Seriously though, I will confess to nervousness as I anticipated my first cycling in India. But as with just about all of the things we most fear, it's just not that bad. And in this case, I truly loved it!

I couldn't have had a better guide. Arvind Bhateja, pictured second from left above, happens to be a neighbor in DartreDame's parents' apartment building. He is also fast. He finished first in the first ever Bangalore brevet the week before (though this one wasn't ACP sanctioned, their upcoming one is!) in about seven hours. Told you he's fast. Arvind is also training for an upcoming Triathlon in Singapore.

Arvind is also very generous. Since I had no ride, he loaned me his Look 566 bicycle (after he made saddle and handlebar adjustments). And though I know he had planned to ride like the wind with his cycling pals (Roopak Suri is on the left and Mohan Kumar is second from the right), he hung with me instead.

Roopak lives in Delhi, and he too is very fast. He rides about 300k a week, I think he said. He is on the Delhi racing team. Mohan, again also fast, is newer to cycling, and he hails originally from Kerala, DartreDame's family's home state as well. My next trip to India, I hope we get to visit beautiful Kerala!

So what was the riding like? First off, you've got to visualize yourself as a corpuscle in the bloodstream. That was my strategy. You've seen those photos of cells going through an artery, right? All the corpuscles are individual, but they bob along despite obstacles and always squeezing through like one fluid unit. That was my vision from riding around in cars and auto rickshaws, and it worked for me on the bike.

In our case, we corpuscles departed before dawn so as to escape Bangalore Central prior to the arterial traffic rush. Christmas Day is an official holiday (residual from British times?), but most shops are open and traffic is still as congested, so leaving early was a good strategy. The challenge with that is seeing the road. You just can't assume the road is smooth, because it might be for a long while then...boom! There will be a deep, gaping hole. But I had taken my Ixon IQ light plus a helmet light, and I stuck to Arvind's wheel pretty tightly. And when the morning brightened, I knew I had endured the worst.

And as Arvind had planned we were nearing the outskirts as the Sun came up, and all was good. He pointed out the beautifully designed buildings at the high tech center called Electronics City. Big campus with gracefully carved, space age-looking buildings.

After we hooked up with Roopak and Mohan, we headed for the gate that sits on the border between the states of Karnataka (home to Bangalore) and Tamilnadu. The whole time we cycled on Hosur Road. And the road condition was actually great outside of Bangalore proper. It was about a 60k ride, roundtrip.

On the return we stopped for Chai Tea at a local roadside stand. That's where I took the photo below of Arvind's bike that I rode, and where a fellow traveler snapped the shot of the four of us above. I'm not a coffee drinker, so the cliched randonneuring coffee stops here in the Seattle area don't interest me, but if we had little Chai stands I'd be hard pressed to ride by without stopping. It was a sublime cup of tea, and with me cycling in India!

Then, entering back into Bangalore, the Sun really came out and so did the people. We passed by all kinds of shops just opening up. My favorite was riding by a meat stall with a butcher carving up a goat hanging from a hook just feet from us in the morning glow. It was Christmas morning, and I was cycling in India.

I wish I knew how to convey my love of India. All I can conjure up is that it is a present place, and I feel very much in the present there myself. I'm sure being on vacation and being held gently by family and friends like Arvind is part of it. I recognize that when I've been in India I've not been jammed for time between work and other demands. But still, I've vacationed other places too, and India and Indians are special. Cycling into India was beyond special! Thanks, Arvind, for your generosity.

A few other notes. Arvind's family founded a hospital in India. His wife, Anandita, is also a physician, and while we were there she ministered to the SingingCyclist's health as he recovered from a diarrhea and vomiting bout, to DartreDame and her sinus and diarrhea issues, and to Maya, Dartre's mother. She has treated lots of issues for building residents over the years, and for no compensation. She says simply: "Why have a physician in the building if you can't be cared for?" I also witnessed first hand as both Arvind and Anandita answered pesky medical phone calls from patients at all hours of the day and night without complaint. These examples perhaps get at part of the Indian spirit I cherish.

Now don't go thinking I was any kind of intrepid traveler cycling in India. Millions do every day. They typically ride Atlas or Hercules bicycles that are truly utilitarian. Built tough and heavy to last, they are everywhere. I got the impression though that serious road cycling for sport may not be viewed as such a revered thing since many regard the bicycle as a sign of the lower classes. That may explain why there are relatively so few sport cyclists. I asked Arvind whether he figured he knew all the sporting cyclists in Bangalore ( a city of 8 million residents), and he reckoned he did. And Bangalore has got the most robust cycling scene of any Indian city. With a country of over a billion people, talk about a potential audience for randonneuring and other sport cycling!

And of course I've already posted about one of the first cyclists in India. Remember Thomas Stevens?

And finally, see how visible I am in the photo above with my randonneuring reflective sash? I think I agree with (was it Jan Heine?) who said that reflective gear is more effective than lighting as for cyclists being seen. I really like my new Indian cycling pals; I do encourage them to consider seriously the complexities of being seen when cycling at night. This is one of the lessons I've learned from my nighttime randonneuring: you just can't overdo it, and reflective gear on the moving parts (legs and feet) go a long way.

Keep it present,