Tuesday, 29 September 2009

It's Official

After summer's last gasp over the weekend, autumn has finally set in. I felt it for sure on the ride home today. The leaves rustling along the road, pumpkins on doorsteps. The light is more yellow, but the wind still a little warm. I'm looking forward to putting on the arm and knee warmers, and going out for a nice long rides.

I went up Claremont today and saw The Intimidator:

Scary! But who exactly is being intimidated? Dead bushes?

The legs felt pretty good. I never got to that gasping state that usually hits on the first switchback. After turning onto Grizzly Peak, I bombed down South Park, then up Shasta and Golf Course Drive for a little more climbing.

Descending South Park at top speed is a supreme act of faith - and stupidity. The sight lines are long enough that you can spot cars well in advance. Still, I hit 49 mph today, and at that speed, there's no room for sudden adjustments. When I'm going that fast, I just relax and try not to imagine the carnage if a deer bolted across at just the wrong moment. Ironically, South Park is actually more dangerous over the winter, when it's closed to allow the newts across the road (yes, seriously). Besides the threat of getting newt smoothie all over your bike, the off leash dogs will kill you, literally.

Monday, 28 September 2009

On Competition

So with the fall comes love for all things cyclocross. It's fun to ride skinny tires on dirt. Plus, you get a chance to suffer with your buddies for an hour, engage in friendly competition, then drink beer. I get it. That's why I played Ultimate for so long.

But, honestly, I'd rather do all of the above, and just skip the racing part.

Over the course of 10 or 15 years of playing Ultimate at the college and club level, I came to realize that what I disliked about Ultimate was the tourneys. I hated the early morning jitters, the nerves on the line, and reliving blown plays before going to sleep at night (it was never the great plays that stayed with me). But mostly I got tired of doing brutal track workouts and plyometrics, then getting my hat handed to me by better teams (and there were many better teams).

In the athletic food chain, I was a herbivore. Not bad, but not good. Fast, but not fast enough. Solid, but unimpressive skills. And a lack of the assassin gene that makes for good competitors.

Each tournament served as a brutal reminder of my adequateness, and I grew weary of my place in that hierarchy. Unfortunately, winning (or at least not losing so much) had become my sole measure of happiness. Eventually, injuries spared me from even more frustration with the game, and I quit cold turkey for a year.

Then, one gorgeous Sunday, I went out to play pick-up and rediscovered how much fun the game was when I wasn't so fixated on the win/loss column.

Having gone through this cycle with Ultimate, I don't want to risk my love of the bike because I'm bummed about mediocre results in a local cyclocross race. Sadly, I don't think I can suppress my ego enough to relax and have fun.

So what I look for in sport now is camaraderie, a chance to be outside, and the satisfaction of being fit. I will always want to be one of the faster people in the group, but mostly I get happiness from the leaves swirling around as fall creeps in, the sun off the Bay, the spookiness of a night ride, the reassuring grip of the drops at 50 mph.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Back in the Saddle

A heat wave hit the Bay Area this weekend, leaving people reeling in 90 degree temperatures!!! Panicked runs on gourmet ice creameries were reported. Yes, we are soft as Care Bears here in the land of milk and honey.

Sure enough, the "heat," a reasonably tough ride, post-infection weakness, not enough food/water/salt pills, and surging with racers on Skyline left me cramping by the end of the 50 miler. The route - I call it Redwood Pine Happy Bearcat - strings together several East Bay favorites for a decent bit of climbing. Despite the indignity of leaning over my handlebars in pain as an old man toodled by, it felt absolutely spectacular to be back on the bike. I love the sun on the back of my hands, the warm tailwind, and the mocha Freddos from Peet's, which I tried for the first time.

Today, rather than battle the midday heat, I spent the morning doing household chores, including wrapping two cushy layers of handlebar tape on La Roleurette's road bike.* In the words of Spinal Tap's David St. Hubbins:

The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin'.
That's what I said.
The looser the waistband. The deeper the quicksand
Or so I have read.)

La Roleurette wanted to re-christen her long-abandoned bike, so we headed out at 3:45pm to ride up Tunnel together, then I sheared off to do Redwood Pinehurst. Yesterday's effort left my legs a bit wobbly this evening. A gorgeous sunset ride; at the top of Grizzly Peak I found myself in a dreamy snowstorm of floating thistle seeds. I stood there for 10 minutes, trying to catch one in my hand so I could take a photo.

I hadn't eaten since lunch, and didn't take any food on the ride, so I was frantic with hunger by the time I got home. La Roleurette made a brilliant suggestion of a banana milkshake with cocoa powder. But I was still crazy enough by the time we got to the Pacific East Mall Korean restaurant that I ordered an enormous plate of scallion pancakes along with my hot bowl bibimbap. I only got through half of them, but have lunch for tomorrow.

All in all, an excellent weekend back in the saddle.

* Per her request, J-Lou will now be known as "La Roleurette."

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Remember cycling? Yeah, that was the best.

After a visit to the ER on Saturday night (due to threat of blood clot), and another dose of antibiotics, my calf has almost de-Hulked back to Bruce Banner size. And with all that fluid, the fitness is draining from my legs. I've been off the bike - commute or otherwise - since last Friday.

Sadly, this work week is a bear, with non-stop early/late meetings, leaving little time for the bike. Last night I was at the Mountain View City Hall till 10pm, waiting for the Council to get to my item. Tomorrow I need to be in San Jose at 8am. Ugh. Probably just as well to keep me off the leg until it's back to normal.

At least on Sunday I managed to get the ceiling hooks installed, hang up the bikes, and get most of the way through retrofitting J-Lou's Jamis. Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational Mancave!!!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

I Need Compression Tights!

After two benadryl tabs had no effect overnight, I went to the doc. He's concerned it may be a blood clot, even though my risk factor is incredibly low. Gah! I'm just hoping the antibiotic shot kicks in, signaling that it's just an infection. Bloodtests this morning, ultrasound on Monday.

So instead of riding on a gorgeous Saturday, I'm laid up at home watching the last stages of the Vuelta. Le sigh.

It took forever at the doc's. At least they had some sports magazines in the waiting room.

Note the cassette on the left, and the VHS tapes to the right. It's a little olde fashioned here.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Finally, muscular calves. Well, calf.

A spider (I'm guessing) bit me while I was in the yard last night. My right calf is now about 33% larger than the left. Also, it feels like burning.

Should I be worried? I mean, if it was going to kill me it would have happened by now, right?

I know, I know. Just after giving people a hard time for posting pics of their legs online.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Thursday, the Best Day?

That's what my co-worker believes. She likes that the weekend, with all its potential and promise, is right around the corner, but still far enough to look forward to.

My Thursday long-way-home ride wasn't the Best, but I'll take it. I'd been jonesing to get on the bike, since my last proper ride was on Saturday. Took it relatively easy on Tunnel. It was hot out, and the legs felt heavy.

I passed a gang of hipsters going up the road on old 10-speeds, and we all stopped briefly to watch an enormous buck eating the flowers off someone's yard. (I read this morning that these deer can spend their whole lives within 5 square miles.) What's with the messenger bags, hipsters? They're so much less comfortable than a backpack.

Decsending Grizzly Peak, I usually push hard to make it up the little dip where Shasta comes in. Tonight, I felt the bike go all squishy as I stood and mashed the pedals. Sure enough, a rear flat. WTF? That makes 3 flats in two weeks. Two front, one back. Or is it two back, one front? Anyway, I've found the debris every time, and the tape looks straight, so it's not a problem with the rim. Still, when I get this trend - and I feel like flats do come in sets - I get paranoid, and compulsively check the tire pressure every hour. Is that why I felt so slow on Tunnel?

All these flats are starting to cost real money, though. I don't like patching the tubes on the road - it takes too long and I"m never sure the patch will hold. And I don't like having a patched tube as my spare. So I guiltily end up tossing the punctured tube when I get home, and buy a new one. Plus, I use CO2, instead of a pump, so that's $ as well. At least the canisters are recyclable.

The Honda Avocado battery was dead - I left the dome light on last week while looking for my missing glove. So J-Lou and I jumped it, then used it as an excuse to drive to Larkspur for fancy soft serve cones from Picco Pizzeria. Worth the trip, and the battery seems good to go.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Clif Shot Roks Review

JK and I always try to time our fall Napa rides to coincide with the annual Clif Bar Epiphany Ride, their all-employee bike "retreat." Erickson has a place on the Ink Grade, and we used to fantasize about getting invited to the post-ride party. I imagined exotic dancers in a tub filled with Margarita Shot Bloks.

I like Clif food in all its textures, from the chewy bars to the semi-solid shots. I even liked Gary Erickson's book about the company. Really, I'm into everything about the brand, from products to practices.

So it was with great excitement that I bought a pack of Chocolate Clif Roks at the gym last night. The idea behind the new Rok line is to provide a bunch of protein, along with the usual carbs, to assist with recovery. They must be trying to get on the Endurox, Muscle Milk protein bandwagon. Anyway, I thought I'd give them a go.

To put it simply, they were...bleaugh. I can't speak for the other flavors, but Chocolate tastes like rancid fruit in an artificially-flavored choco shell. I think all the protein messed with my stomach a bit, too. A little hard to digest after a workout. Definitely take these with a lot of water.

On the Clif hardness scale, I'll go from gel to bars, but won't venture into Rok territory again.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Romance and Style

Baseball and road cycling, more than any other sports, drape themselves in their past, and are seen through a romantic soft focus by their fans.

Baseball evokes nostalgia for an older, purer America, where dads and sons have a catch on warm summer evenings. The crack of the bat speaks of honest, blue-collar work, punctuated with moments of glory. Think The Natural, where Roy Hobbs' homer shatters the lights like Fourth of July fireworks, or Crash Davis's signature speech in Bull Durham.

Cycling, in turn, celebrates the purity of athletic suffering, digging deep to surpass soul-crushing conditions and vast landscapes. The tifosi point to these elements when describing the "beauty" of their sport. They talk of Andy Hampsten's mythic ride over The Gavia, swoon over Hamilton's second place in the Giro with a busted shoulder.

It's not surprising, then, that it's these two sports where performance-enhancing drugs spark the most resentment among fans. It's not just about unfairly beating your rivals. PEDs spit in the face of the romance.

One area where cycling differs vastly from baseball, however, is the sport's obsession with aesthetics. The height and color of one's socks, the whiteness of the bar tape, glasses over helmet straps, the sag of your pockets, even the shaved legs. All speak to an unspoken code of do's and don'ts.

And nobody does cycling style like Rapha. The company elicits both passion for their brand, and hatred for their over-the-top, and arguably pretentious ad copy. The word "epic" is tossed around maybe a little too casually, and "suffering" is fetishized to the point of obnoxiousness. It is, after all, just a sport.

That being said, Rapha deftly weaves together the romance of the ride, the nod to tradition, and the detail-oriented, technically-sound, fashion-forward style that cyclists crave. The fact that every item is unapologetically (over)priced only makes it that much more attractive. $207 jersey? Drool. $70 silk scarf? Yes, please. $400 jacket? A must have.

Rapha may speak to dandies with more money than sense, but god, they do it well. I must be right in their marketing bullseye, because their website sucks me in like a Sportwool-lined black hole. More than any other cycling or fashion brand, they successfully tell a story and cultivate an identity through photos, copy, events, and features. Instead of pro riders, they feature a "team" of everyday riders who are fast, but don't feel the need to talk about it. The "Rapha Continental" crew documents a series of "epic" rides across the US with photos, film, and soundtracks. This road journal perfectly captures my love of the bike, and, incredibly, inspires me to seek out tougher rides and try to look good doing it.

Interestingly, Rapha has established itself as the evil twin of Rivendell, my first entry into cycling as an identity beyond the bike. Like Rapha, Rivendell has an equal share of cultists and haters. But Rivendell is all about accessible, friendly, and practical cycling. Kickstands are king, baskets are beloved, and your bars must be level - no ABOVE - the saddle. Sloppy, beat up machines are celebrated! While Rapha is neo-retro, Rivendell is simply retro, evidenced by their love of leather and lugs, seersucker, not Sportwool. The only common thread between the two brands is the pricing scheme, though Rivendell goes out of its way to over-explain why they charge so much for their goods. With Rapha, if you have to ask, it's too much.

Funny that these contrasting brands each speak to me, bookending my attitude towards the bike and riding. It's a testament to the marketing genius behind both companies, and their ability to craft an identity beyond the goods themselves.

This evening I submitted myself to Mistress Wendy, my cycling dominatrix. Spin classes at Berkeley Ironworks are taught by cyclists for cyclists. Intervals, tempo rides, cadence, single-leg drills, LT sets - it's all there. This is not aerobics on a bike.

Still, there's nothing romantic nor stylish about pedaling a stationary bike to nowhere, while an angry ultra-marathoner yells at you. But it is an express lane to the pain cave. And sometimes that's all you want.

p.s. Sold the Atlantis today. But I still have a soft spot for Rivendell.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Fall Classic

On Saturday JK and I made the 7am drive out to Fairfax for a rolling 40-miles through West Marin with the local club. Sometimes we like a friendly paceline, and our attempts to roust the Berkeley Ironworks guys were unsuccessful.

The crew was nice enough, albeit with the usual bike club oddballs. The ride leader, an older British gent, was perhaps a bit too focused on keeping us together, and kept harping on this 20-something kid for surging on the hills and ditching the group. If he wants to ride hard, let the guy for god's sake. He's not your draft horse.

This was the wettest ride I've done in ages. Very fun. I eat up that Roubaix romance of mud on the shins, grit on the glasses, rain on the cycling cap. It was a warm rain, and the legs felt fine.

Washing the bike was more epic than the ride itself. After a hose and scrub, I slid out the seatpost and turned the frame over to drain it. I'd never done this before, and I swear like half a cup of water came out of that thing. Gah! This is the stuff that keeps steel frame owners up at night.

On Sunday, J-Lou and I did a gastro-architecture tour of San Francisco via bike, stopping at several homes on the American Institute for Architecture home tour and some eateries we've been meaning to try for a while.

Tartine - Goddamn. Delicious. Pastries. The ham and cheese criossant is worth waiting in that line. Suck it up, and do not settle for Craig's Place across the street. To the left is my foot at the threshold of a brunch flavor explosion.

Blue Bottle Coffee at the Mint Plaza - Brewed and served in a space age siphon pot. See the photo below. To operate this machine, you need to have taken AP chemistry. Hells yeah, the coffee was good.

Flour + Water - Perfectly adequate thin-crust pizza and pasta, but not worth a special trip to the Mission. The couple next to us debated whether to get the pasta with goat for like 15 minutes, then each whipped out camera phones when the food arrived and flashed away. The diners next to them looked as if they just got a whiff of something awful.

Humphrey Slocombe - This place has taken the bizarro ice cream craze to the furthest reaches of taste. See if you can identify the fake flavor from the following list:
(a) Cornflakes and bourbon
(b) Salt and pepper
(c) Peanut butter curry
(d) Foie gras
(e) Government cheese

Trick question. They are all real flavors at Humphrey Slocombe. I fear this trend's natural conclusion is Lobster and Butter-flavored ice cream. It's not good when they have to put up a sign clarifying, "Ancho chocolate has no anchovies." Because, you know, it's possible.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Thoughts on the Bike Racing

This month DirectTV lost Versus, but picked up Universal Sports. While I'm more than happy to exchange deer hunting for cycling coverage (including the Vuelta now), I hope something gets sorted out for the Tour next year.

Until fairly recently, I really didn't give a crap about bike racing, mostly because (1) I didn't know any of the riders and (2) it was impossible to watch a Grand Tour while holding down a job, relationship, or life.

With the new DVR, the Tour was suddenly watchable at my leisure. Plus I didn't have to slog through hours of tempo riding just to watch Cavendish win another bunch sprint. DVR technology, plus a little more reading on the various players, gave me a newfound appreciation for bike racing.

Not a racer myself, what is it that I enjoy about seeing it on TV or magazines? In ascending order:

3. Bike Porn. My stuff is far from bleeding-edge. I ride a custom steel frame with Ultegra SL (the Honda Accord of gruppos), and hand-built Open Pro wheels laced to Chris King hubs. It's all like really good, albeit unexciting, vanilla ice cream. In fact, the frame color is Vanilla. But I also appreciate the nano-weenie pro gear. Shimano Di-2 is, to me, like a really hot stripper. You don't want to take her home, but you can't help but look, and you wonder what it would be like to touch. Just a little.

2. Drama. This year's Tour read like Days of Our Lives. Every stage saw some snippy comment between teams, or - in the case of Lord Voldemort and El Pistolero - within the same team. Speaking of which, Armstrong may have lost the race, but he just destroyed poor 'Berto in the PR battle. Shit, Armstrong even had the French cheering for him! Contador was isolated on what was supposed to be his team, with Bruyneel turning on him, and still, he comes off as the petulant brat, while Armstrong looks like the savvy, warm, conquering hero.

1. Suffering. Like the French, I appreciate suffering more than victory. The physical feats the leaders accomplish are so far removed from my ability and experience, that I can't connect to the thrill of the podium. I do, however, recognize Wiggins' steady IV drip of pain to hang onto 4th on the Ventoux. Watching the Vuelta recap tonight, I saw Taarmae lunging desperately up the final 20% grade, head hanging over his bars, eyes losing focus, and I thought, "Yes - that feeling I know."

Today's ride: I opted for the climb up Shasta to Grizzly Peak. I've never seen another rider ascending that road, which is surprising given how nice it is. One lane, lined with mature trees and quirky Berkeley-style homes. It has steep pitches, but with a couple of easier bits to catch your breath. After hitting Grizzly Peak, I kept a fast pace up the ridge to South Park, then turned around and followed Wildcat back to Spruce.

Lunch at Rotten City Pizza, the East Bay's best kept pizza secret. Their NY-style pies rival Gioia's, though are admittedly kind of expensive. Like $7.50 for two slices.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Give My Regards to Summer

Over the last few evenings, I've noticed it getting dark well before 8 pm. I'm trying to squeeze the last few after-work rides out of the year before being banished to the spin bike and darktime rides.

And with the shorter days, thoughts turn to bike lights. The Planet Bike Superflash has got my back, but over the last couple of winters, I've been less keen on ye ol' Turbocat. It was (and is) a lot of light for the buck, and more than enough for rides home on the flats. But I definitely felt sketched out on Grizzly Peak descents, more harrowing now given the state of the road up there. The need for an overnight charge, the weight of the pack, limited burn time, and the lack of any battery life indicator has also worn on me. Plus, LED technology has really made serious leaps and bounds in recent years. So...I'm considering an upgrade this winter. I try to get at least one night-time long-way-home ride a week, so a good light is nice.


No ride tonight. Another night meeting in the South Bay. Fortunately, I had The Places In Between to keep me company on the drive. I like it so much that I may actually get another audiobook when this one is done.

Tomorrow, though, I'll take the long way home.

By the way, Andrew and Andrew - your Craigslist flakiness kills me. I'm reposting the Atlantis for sale.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Tribal Markings

Lately I've seen way too many pictures of cyclists' legs on their blogs. Yes, I know you check your legs out in the mirror. We all do. But nobody wants to see them online, really. All flexed like your knees are about to explode.

That being said, early September is when one's tan line is at its most extreme, and the best for showing off. Last week I walked into a meeting and noticed that the woman across me had the worst farmer tan, and shamelessly showed it off with a sleeveless shirt. When asked if she was a cyclist, she happily went off about a recent ride in Livermore. The guy next to me perked up, said he too was a cyclist, and proceeded to show me his glove tan line. (His son apparently just competed in Nationals.) I was tempted to roll up my pants and show my own tri-colore band around my (lean and powerful) thighs.

The same way a tattoo reminds you of that one time in Cabo or how to write your name in Chinese (useful in case you're in a horrible accident in China and don't have ID), the tan line brings back long, sun-drenched climbs, and the satisfying grit on your calves after a long day in the saddle. The tan line, more than a $8000 bike, is the mark of a serious rider. (Ergo, triathletes, with their sleeveless jerseys and speedos, do NOT count as serious riders.)

Yes, you will be laughed at by whatever non-cyclist is lucky enough to see you naked. The spray-on arm and leg-warmer look is actually not sexy. But I guess the romance of road riding is not for everyone.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

For My Listening Pleasure

Most of my rides have been solo for the last few weeks, leaving me plenty of time to listen to podcasts and music.

Favorite podcasts for the bike, in descending order:

1. The BS Report - Bill Simmons's blend of pop culture commentary, meat head humor, everyman voice, and keen sports analysis have made him the most successful sports writer in America today. No bikes, but very funny. Gets a range of guests from Jerry West to his (increasingly famous) college buddy Jack-O, a die hard Yankee fan and foil to Simmons's Boston homer-ism.

2. Two Johns Podcast - They've lost some of the luster from the early days, and John G, in particular, sounds a little tired of the gig. But their camaraderie and love of bike racing comes through nicely. I particularly appreciate John G.'s anal-retentive and style-nazi approach ("detail oriented") to road biking. Apparently, the cycling fashionistas dictate one MUST wear one's glasses arms outside the helmet straps. God knows why. They viciously skewer Discovery-kit wearing, Serotta-riding dentists and all things fred-ly. Production value is, um, limited, but charming in a homegrown way.

3. The VeloCast - A better-produced, somewhat geekier version of the Two Johns, but with excellent Scottish accents. Commentary on bike commuting, racing, tech, news stories, etc.

4. Sound Opinions - A sure sign of aging is that I rely on NPR to tell me about cool new music.

5. This American Life - Ira Glass fires me up.

6. The Cadence Revolution - Serving up mindless workout music at just the right tempo for hard efforts. If zombies did aerobics, this is what they would listen to.

I also check out The Moth, The Score, and The Spokesmen occasionally. Other suggestions?

For music, I've made a huge playlist and just hit "shuffle." A sample:

Song Artist
6' 1" Liz Phair
93 'Til Infinity Souls of Mischief
A Day In The Life Handsome Boy Modeling School
A Little Respect Erasure
Any Way You Want It Journey
Baby When I Saw You Kylie Minogue
Back 4 You Jurassic 5
Blue Monday New Order
Brilliant Disguise Bruce Springsteen
Classifieds Bob Mould
Call It Love Poco
Callin' Out Remix Lyrics Born Feat. E-40 & Casual
Chains Of Love Erasure
Champion Kanye West
Chief Rocka Lords of the Underground
Crazy Gnarls Barkley
Debaser Pixies
Don't Stop Girl Talk

The ride today was largely uneventful. JK and I bumped into Sanj and Rubes, a couple of ex- Ultimate folks on Tunnel. Great descent down Centennial - 45 mph. Stopped at La Farine for a pastry afterwards. Korean tofu soup for dinner with J-Lou. I think they dumbed it down for us; it wasn't as spicy as usual.

Raise Your Glass to the Labor Movement!

Did the usual Tunnel-Grizzly Peak route yesterday and this morning. With my parents in town for the weekend, there's not a lot of time for riding.

Saturday saw lots of fog - perfect arm warmers weather. I pushed it on the hills, stopping a couple of times to take some pics. Then, returned home to pancakes, a strawberry-banana smoothie, sausage, and coffee. The best.

This morning was sunny from the get go (picture is from yesterday). I took it easy, though had a super fun 50+ mph descent on South Park. On the bike, I listened to Dream Signals in Full Circles by Tristeza, a San Diego group. It's as mellow as the album title and the band name ("Sadness" en espanish) suggests. Perfect for recovery rides, trying to show your college girlfriend how sensitive you are, and cinematically staring out the window when she breaks up with you for listening to such sad sack music. Fried potatoes, salad, Filipino sardines, and watermelon when I got back. Thanks, Moms!

My farmer tan is fierce.

I accomplished a big chunk of the long-delayed Mancave chores this evening, with some manual assistance from my parents and technical advice from the Home Depot. Finally got those backpacks off the floor and up onto the peg board. I'd still like a proper work bench, but this works for now. Notice the many shoe boxes J-Lou has hoarded over the years getting put to good use. I still need to sort out a music solution, install a shelf for the snowboard, and finish overhauling and hanging up J-Lou's road bike.

Tomorrow, I'll do Redwood-Pinehurst with JK. Haven't ridden with her in a while, but that will make four days in a row for me. I've been feeling pretty fit with all the miles, which, in my experience, is usually when my connective tissue starts to protest. Regular stretching and use of The Stick has been keeping things together thus far, knock on wood.

God, I love long weekends.

Friday, 4 September 2009

I Love the Bay

Every time I see this view I think about how much I love the Bay, especially the East Bay. It makes me happy to ride here. My most mundane workaday loop is 20 miles, up the hill to this vista, along the ridge (more views), and a casual descent to to nice bakeries, pizzas, and taquerias. One complaint: in the last 12 months, Grizzly Peak from the top to Centennial has become an death trap of unmarked tire-eating potholes and gravelly corners. City of Berkeley - this is a bike vs. auto accident waiting to happen.

Rode up Claremont today for a change. Instead of the slow threshold burn of Tunnel Road, Claremont serves up a concentrated stretch of sweaty, lurching, for-reals climbing. It's one of the Berkeley Death Ride series and consistently beats my ass. I get a third of the way up and think, "Wow - all this riding is paying off! Claremont isn't as hard as I remember." Then the steep bit by the eucalyptus grove kicks in and I start looking down to make sure I don't have another gear left. No? Huh. A couple of seconds later - what the? Still no extra gear? By the time I make it past the second switchback I'm just trying to keep the bike moving in a straight line.

I lowered my bars this week to see how it feels. There's more power transfer to the legs, and I love standing and grabbing the hoods instead of the drops when climbing. This feels particularly nice on the steep hills like Claremont. But the more aero position will take its toll on my shoulder on long flat rides, which thankfully we have none of around here. We'll see. It does make the bike look a lot sportier though. Mmmmmm....sporty.

Dinner with the parents at a tapas place in Oakland's Temescal district. Although the restaurant was meh, the neighborhood is going off! I had to circle for 10 minutes to find a parking space - unheard of in the East Bay. Temescal has become a grittier, cooler version of Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto. The Ghetto Gourmet Ghetto. Many many hipster fixies.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


Drove to Mountain View at rush hour for an evening meeting last night. Two soul-crushing hours in the car while eating a burrito, and just managed to get there 2 minutes late. I discovered midway through the meeting that my tie was covering up an enormous salsa stain. Bleaugh.

Tonight, once again, I will drive from SF to SJ at 4pm. I'll listen to The Places In Between, though, which will be good. Definitely recommended. It's my foray into audiobooks, downloaded free thanks to the This American Life partnership with Audible.com

Also hoping to sell the Atlantis frame this morning. Please, "Andrew" - don't be a Craigslist flake. It's such a cliché. I have noticed that buyers' initial eagerness in response to an ad is inversely proportional to their likelihood of actually closing the deal.

I swear I will ride tomorrow morning. There - I said it. You'll all hold me accountable, right? Hello? Wait - is this thing on?

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Long Way Home via Secret Ranches

After work I went up Tunnel and took what I call the "Secret Ranches" path back home. For the locals, it starts at the Steam Train, goes down Lomas Contadas and across to Wildcat. I love how intimate that road feels. It passes by unkempt stables, and even dissolves into a gravel stretch for twenty yards. The sunset over the hills also rocks from there.

I drilled myself on Tunnel, Grizzly Peak, and Wildcat, so was happy to take it easy and take some pictures on the Secret Ranch section. I never used to ride hard on the bike, putting in the work in spin class instead. I didn't want to associate my bike with pain and suffering. The lumbering Atlantis also discouraged hard efforts.

But lately, easy after-work cruises feel boring unless I have someone to ride with. I've actually grown to like the pain cave, especially on the more zippy Indy Fab. Also, if I take too long to get home I end up STARVING, and stuff huge handfuls of potato chips in my mouth while standing in the kitchen in a wet chamois.

Sometimes I wonder why bother with the "training." Training for what? To drop 50-year old ladies on hybrids (for the record, I smoked two tonight)? To be the bestest century rider I can be? I think it comes down to a couple of things:
1. Feeling fit, and the associated confidence to tackle tough rides.
2. Endorphins.
3. Post-ride meals taste even better.
4. If I'm going to shave my legs I'd better make a fucking effort.
5. My shaved legs will look good.

I still refuse to call it "training," though. And though tempted, I haven't committed to the lactate threshold test at the gym. I don't race. What would I do with this data?

For dinner - spinach and cheese ravioli tossed in a sauce of fresh tomatoes, anchovies, and garlic. Grilled green beans on the side. I highly recommend the Costco frozen ravioli. Nothing beats it after a mid-week ride, when I'm too tired to make a proper meal. It's a once-a-week date for me. Not glamorous, but super satisfying.

Oooh - I managed to get the stuck stem out of the frame this morning! I just put a wheel into the fork, which gave me enough leverage to twist it out. Should have thought of this on Sunday.