Monday, 30 November 2009

Thanks for Old Friends

On Valentine's Day, 8th grade, I sent a girl roses with the lyrics to "I Got My Mind Set on You" by Ringo Starr on the card. Yes, I was a dork. No, I did not get the girl. Why do I bring this up? Wendy played the song at spin today. Sob!

Speaking of back in the day, for the last 15 years, three high school buddies and I - all with our families overseas - have gotten together every Thanksgiving. The early days were more hungover than holiday, and our dinners were, um, gross. "So that's where the giblets were!"

We've since slowed down, thank god. No more drunken 3am trips for Korean soup, no more passing out on the floor with a barbell plate as a pillow, and no more cross-state drives for Legs and Eggs.

Yeah, things change. This year, John had dinner at his sister's in Burlingame. K-Dawg is (justifiably) hassling Steve about abandoning her in Seattle on Thanksgiving, since she works on Friday. Eric has moved to Hong Kong. We're all married, and two of us have kids. I don't know how much longer we'll be able to keep the tradition alive. But for now I'm thankful for one more year with the guys.

La Roleurette and I hosted Thanksgiving at our place, and had some friends over. Steve had gotten some sort of stomach bug, so spent the night curled up in a ball upstairs. At the time, we thought he was still hungover from drinking the night before (we were home by the responsible hour of 1:30am), but he never improved over the weekend. Too bad! He missed a great dinner. We had the usual turkey, mashies, gravy, and stuffing. But it was the honey cornbread, homemade mac and cheese, corn-edamame salad, and cranberry-persimmon relish - all brought by our guests - that really took it over the top. I continue to plug away at the leftovers.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Thanks for Time to Ride

On Wednesday I snuck in a ride up Shasta before work. A nice pre-Thanksgiving treat. Then, despite the holiday festivities and having some friends staying with us over the weekend, I managed to squeeze in Friday and Saturday quickies.

Friday morning, I didn't have much time, so I packed in both Centennial and South Park, two more in the Berkeley Hills Death Ride series. Centennial starts in earnest at the Strawberry Canyon pool, then hits 11% at the Botanical Garden. Ouch. South Park isn't all that bad in comparison, but my lungs were still inside out by the time I reached the summit. No newts sighted.

On Saturday, my buddy's wife, K-Dawg, and I rode the Secret Ranches. K-Dawg lives in Seattle, so I wanted to show off the East Bay hills. The weather obliged with a clear and cold morning, with views out to the Farralones. As for the hills, Grizzly Peak, north of Claremont, forced her into the granny, apparently a rare event back home. In keeping with her triathlete rep, we gunned it up Tunnel, but she was skittish on the descents. I'll give her a break; La Roleurette's Jamis was a bit big for her.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

3 Spin Classes, 2 Weekend Rides, 2 Product Reviews

Last Monday, Mistress Wendy Rick Rolled us, then hit us with another round of God pop. The class appeared bemused; JK admitted to liking it. Then on Wednesday, Lisa led us through four 10-minute intervals at 80-85% of max HR. Twas fine.

No outside riding all week, and I was jonesing by Saturday. Redwood Pine Happy Bearcat made for 55 miles on another gorgeous fall day, cold enough for a long sleeve jersey and toe covers. My legs felt great! It apparently makes a big difference when I take Thursday and Friday off and don't eat a pound of oatmeal for breakfast.

At mile 45, I was feeling like a superhero (tailwind,woot!), when my rear tire went flat with an emphatic hiss. Not surprising considering the Friday rains had washed all kinds of crud into the gutter on San Pablo Dam Road. I failed to find the offending object, which always makes me nervous. But I put in the spare, inflated it with a CO2 cartridge, and was off.

At the base of Wildcat, I had warmed up again and was ready to make a good push back home. But just as I started up the climb, the front tire went all squishy. Balls. I spent a bunch of my second CO2 cartridge just trying to locate the hole to patch it, and by the time I got it all together, the tire was only 1/3 full.

Head low, I limped into Inspiration Point and borrowed a pump from another cyclist. This lack of self-sufficiency threatened to enact my shame spiral.

But look at this shiny little pump! Oooh - smooth action and the hose stows away in a neat package! Even with my vestigial arms I was able to pump 85 psi into the tube. I was impressed enough with the Lezyne Pressure Drive to order one that afternoon from REI. My old frame pump doesn't fit on the IF, so I've been in the market for a replacement. For most rides the CO2 setup works great, but I appreciate the extra insurance of a hand pump after a rain.

I was starving by the time I got home, so stopped by Cactus Taqueria for a chicken burrito, then went out with La Roleurette to Noodle Theory a couple of hours later. They make a really nice bowl of catfish katsu with curry noodles. I wish we had one of these on Solano. Great Asian comfort food at a good price.

Sunday, I met JK to do the Zoo Loop, a 55-miler around Lake Chabot. This isn't my favorite route, but the stretch on Skyline offers some great views of the East Bay hills, and as you descend towards the Oakland Zoo, you zip through a tight grove of eucalyptus trees, which make me feel like I'm on Endor. The fog never cleared, and I got back soaked. I gave the bike a long overdue wash, and hung it up to dry.

Speaking of which, bike washing is a "snap" with the Wipperman Connex link! Just unhook the link, take off the chain, and no more dragging grease all over the frame! Get at tight spots on the chainstays and bottom bracket! Unlike the SRAM Master Link, which is near impossible to undo, the Wipperman pops off effortlessly!

"I've put 500 miles on the Connex and a Shimano Ultegra chain and have had zero problems. In fact, it runs smoother than the regular Shimano pin!"

Seriously, though, the thing works perfectly. Online reviews suggest the Wipperman chains are prone to breakage, but the link mates well with my Ultegra chain, so no worries.

And, to bring this long rambling post full circle, tonight I had the usual Monday session with the Mistress. She opened with this song, which KICKS ASS!!! I would love to DJ a spin class composed entirely of 80's hair rock.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Gift List

The holiday season has officially begun! Today, I got the annual email from my dad with his Christmas wish list.

See, our family has long abandoned the romantic notion that Christmas gifts should be a surprise, because (a) we're picky, (b) we usually just buy stuff we want for ourselves, and (c) we're too lazy to come up with something awesome every year.

Still, we are materialistic bastards. The year my sister made charitable donations in our names, we were somewhat less than enthusiastic. So, now we just send each other wish lists.

Unfortunately, not every family is as practical and cold-hearted as mine. So, in the holiday spirit of helpfulness, I've put together a list of gifts the cyclist in your life might appreciate. Plus, I've included some items NOT to get him or her. If you stick to these suggestions, you can rest assured that the excitement your cyclist shows on Christmas morning will be sincere.

Now if someone I know were to see this list, and decide to get me a couple of these items, I wouldn't be opposed to it. But, again, this is about giving to others. Just want to make that clear.

Starting with the naughty, do NOT get your cyclist any of the following:

A jersey with a cartoon character. Now, your cyclist may actually want that Spongebob Squarepants jersey, having circled it in the Performance catalog left slyly on the kitchen table. But you are doing him a huge disservice by enabling this fashion disaster. Just don't.

A team jersey. Also a faux pas. Retro team jerseys are acceptable, but the team must be at least 15 years old, and the more obscure the better. Lance's Postie jersey does not qualify as retro. Speaking of which, yellow jerseys, especially replicas of THE Yellow Jersey, are best avoided, unless your cyclist actually happens to have been a GC leader in the Tour de France.

A squeaky toy for the handlebars. I have a bin of these things from my office Secret Santas. Your poor cyclist will feel compelled to install it, only to come back from a ride with some story about getting mugged and handing over the toy.

Any technical doohickey. Unless responding to a specific request, it's best to stay away from this stuff. And by "this stuff" I mean almost everything. You may think it's a non-technical piece of gear, but cyclists will spend hours querying online forums about what inner tubes they should buy.

With all these "don'ts" what CAN you actually give your beloved cyclist that he doesn't already have?

Road ID. This company dropped some serious coin on marketing this year, with ads all over the Tour coverage and Bicycling magazine. Levi shills for them, along with the Tour de France announcers on Versus. Just in case Phil Liggett is run over by a camera dolly, his emergency contact info will be right there on his wrist. Shell out for the Elite version, and go with basic black. Also, don't fool around with that online info service. Just get the emergency numbers on there. You don't want the EMTs to have any question about what to do.

Madonna del Ghisallo medallion. Nothing like having the patron saint of cyclists on a gold chain, nestled in your chest hair on a hot summer day. Actually, unless your cyclist is committed to the Eurotrash look, it's probably best to just sew this into his saddlebag or hang it from his keychain. Keep it small and light. Obviously, not the best choice for your Muslim or Jewish cyclists.

Socks. Cyclists love good socks, and the fashionistas have declared that white tall socks are in. Even more bold, you can go with argyle. It's a risky move, akin to getting someone a pair of giant aviator shades - not everyone can pull off this look. It's a bit much for me. I like these diamond ones, but probably wouldn't wear them on the bike. Also tough to go wrong with Smartwool.

Cycling cap. I like 'em. I do. Pace makes the best ones.

Loaded coffee card. Find out where he stops with the other roadies.

Cycling books.
  • Odysseus' Last Stand, Stamboulis (globe trekking hijinks)
  • Catfish and Mandala, Pham (Vietnamese American searching for his roots on a bike - love this book)
  • Miles from Nowhere, Savage (a classic in the bike touring genre)
  • The Rider, Krabbe (a classic in cycling literature)
  • A Dog in a Hat, Parkin (the gritty side)
  • Rough Ride, Kimmage (a polarizing figure in the doping wars; Armstrong hates him)
I haven't read the next two, but have heard good things (ahem):
  • Ten Points, Strickland
  • Off to the Races, Abt
Cycling magazines. There's the usual newstand fare, like Bicycling or Velonews. Cycle Sport is by far the best of the bunch, and only available online as a subscription or perhaps at your local bike shop. If he has all of the above, you can pick up an issue of Embrocation or Roleur. Whether you want to spend $20-$25 on a fancy-pants magazine is your call, but it's the kind of ridiculous purchase your cyclist might not make for himself.

Mad Alchemy Embrocation. Your cyclist will love a little pre-ride rubdown with this stuff. Smells real purty.

The Stick. Sure, it's overpriced and plastic, but if it even saves you one trip to the masseuse you'll come out ahead. I haven't had to see poor Doug all summer, thanks to some regular Stick love on my IT band.

A puppy. Cyclists LOVE puppies. God, who doesn't?

Journey Back to the Planet of the Apes

Friday night, we had dinner with some friends at Cafe Biere, a new spot in Emeryville with dozens of imported European ales and a nice lamb burger. Recommended.

The next morning, JK and I met up at the civilized hour of 9:30. It was a sunny, crisp fall day; hot going up Tunnel, freezing on Pinehurst. We parted ways somewhere in the suburban limbo of Lamorinda, and I headed north towards Martinez and the "Planet of the Apes" route. I'd only been there twice before, and never on my own, so I spent a lot of time by the side of the road, fiddling with the iPhone map.

Here's a shot of the entrance to the Planet of the Apes section of Carquinez Scenic Drive, closed to cars due to erosion. It's a popular walking spot, with sweeping views of the Carquinez Strait. Way back in the day I brought La Roleurette here to get her comfy with the drop bars, integrated shifters, and clipless pedals on her Jamis.

I climbed McEwen, Pig Farm, the Three Bears, and Wildcat on the way back, and got home tired and hungry. Despite a big bowl of spinach and cheese ravioli at 4pm and a 12-course Chinese banquet at dinner, my stomach was growling when I woke up this morning.

Fortunately, we had plans to meet up with Coach at the Pacific East Mall for dim sum. I highly recommend this place over any other dim sum joints in Oakland Chinatown. The dumplings are fresh from the steamer, and even the fried stuff isn't too greasy. But get there by 10:15 or you will suffer an epic wait on weekends.

After dropping La Roleurette off at her pickup ultimate game, I successfully battled the food coma, and headed out for a mid-day ride. Feeling frisky, I went hard up Tunnel and Grizzly Peak, then took Secret Ranches to Wildcat for another good effort.

On the way home, I swung by La Farine for a coffee and walnut scone, and hung out in the sun for a while, basking iguana-like in a caffeine/endorphin buzz. On crisp sunny days like this, I love the gentle burn of embrocation under my shorts and knee warmers. Try the Mad Alchemy mellow mix, which is plenty hot for Bay Area temps, and smells like victory.

Tonight, we had some friends over to christen the ping pong table. La Roleurette cooked up a pot of lentil soup, and I made a pasta with sausage, kale, pine nuts, and parmesan. Chocolate chip cookies and tea for dessert. An all around excellent eating/riding weekend.

To keep me company on the bike, I downloaded a couple of Escape the Peloton episodes from Bike Radio. A solid meh. If I'm desperate for yet another source of bike media, it'll do.

Friday At the Gym

The gym. So moody.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Style vs. Practicality

Last Saturday, as I watched the parade of cyclists going up and down Diablo, I started working on a theory.

Cyclists make dozens of decisions about their bike, components, set-up, accessories, and clothing that are represented by the dots on the graph above. And for any one item, there tends to be an inverse relationship between practicality and style. The more stylish an item (i.e., the more "PRO"), the less practical it is for the middling recreational rider (i.e., 99% of all cyclists).

Exhibit A - the Saddle Bag. The larger the bag, the less cool. In fact, the most styley thing is to roll with no bag at all, and carry the essentials in your jersey pockets. However, having ridden with a trunk rack - once I carried a thermos of tea - I can honestly say it's nice to have room for a layer, a multi-tool, a bag of energy drink powder, an extra Clif Bar, whatever.

Exhibit B - Gearing. Here in hill country, most of us would be better off with a triple, or at least a larger cogset. But chicks dig dudes with a racing double and corncob cogset.

Exhibit C - Handlebar Height. Long and low may be the business, but you will pay for this look with brutal neck and shoulder pain.

Exhibit D - Mirrors. The pinnacle of uncool. But, aside from style, why not?

Exhibit E - Road Cycling Shoes. Why should you have to walk like a cripple, just to have an official "road" shoe? I'm a sensible shoes girl myself.

There are a few items which break the trend. These are on the upper right and lower left corners of the graph.

Uncool AND Impractical - Recumbents. Like a guy lying on the ground and trying to fight off an attacking eagle with his feet.

Uncool AND Impractical - Shocks on Hybrids. Shocks make the bike heavier, require more maintenance, and are totally unnecessary on the road.

Cool AND Practical - Full-Size Frame Pumps. A relatively recent old school backlash to the ineffectual mini-pumps.

Cool AND Practical - Cycling Caps. Keep my head warm and my eyes shaded.

As for me, I find myself smack in the middle of the chart. I won't sacrifice form for function. I actually appreciate the odd little rules that govern the cycling aesthetic, and like knowing them. So, no mirror for me, my saddle bag is modest, and the IF sports a compact double, not a triple. Still, I love me my mountain bike shoes and 27-tooth cog.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Week in Review

Argh - too much work, another overdue post.

Saturday. JK was out for the weekend, so with nobody to meet, I lazed around all morning, eating a gigantic bowl of steel cut oats, toast, and a fried egg over easy for breakfast. I like my oats with a banana, peanut butter, toasted pecans, and jam. This billion calorie breakfast had me in a deep food coma by the time I headed out at 10:30 for a long spin out to Mt. Diablo.

For a change, I took North Gate up - much tougher than South Gate as it turns out. It had been years since I last took that route, and the steep pitches wore me out. By the time I got to Juniper, about 2/3 of the way up the mountain, I was cold and hungry, and I realized I'd be pushing darkness. So I rolled back down and booked it to the Walnut Creek Starbucks, where I had a snack while watching the luxury sport cars and overdressed shoppers cruise by. Ladies - a word to the wise - nothing says "Lady Douchebag" like Ugg boots.

And nothing says "Lord Douchebag" like going to this attorney for your divorce. I would love to see that waiting room, though. ESPN in HD, swimsuit magazines, beer on tap, and a bunch of bitter dudes. "Bitches, man. All bitches."

As a Bay Area food snob, I'm little ashamed to admit that I love Starbucks as a mid- or post-ride stop. Their turkey bacon and egg sandwich was just the right amount of hot salty goodness, and a mocha gave me the sugar and caffeine needed to make it through Lafayette and back to Berkeley via half-Happy and Wildcat Canyon. A gorgeous fall day on the bike. Here's the view from Juniper Campground.

Sunday. The usual loop up Tunnel and back. In the afternoon, La Roleurette and I set up our new ping pong table which we picked up off Craigslist for $40.

Monday. No spin. Work.

Wednesday. Pre-work Arlie Cat Golf ride. Check out my anti-gravity Specialized gloves. Told you they were cool.

Thursday. Up Shasta at a frantic pace before work.

I learned that Jake - friend of a friend - will be in town in early December, and wants to go on a ride. Ed, another buddy, will probably come along. These guys were collegiate rowers. They love Pain. Pain is like their BFF. If they were sorority girls, Pain would be holding their hair up while they puked in the toilet.

Sadly for me, neither has let themselves go. Jake is a hardcore Colorado cyclist (altitude advantage), and Ed finished an Ironman this summer. They will tear my legs off, grind them into mincemeat, bake them into a Shepherd's pie (Ed is British), then feed the pie to their dog. Then they will make the dog chase a ball for hours till it collapses in a puddle of its own vomit. And they will not hold its hair up. Jerks. So I'm a little motivated to get in better shape.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Warriors Game 1

Tonight was the first of four games we bought to see the Warriors this season. A crushing loss to the Clippers. When we left in the fourth quarter they were down by 30 points. Totally dominated by the Kaman-Camby Twin Towers. And our Great Rookie Hope Stephen Curry fouled out with 4 points.

But at least it was Filipino American Heritage Night, so there's that. Arnel Pineda was in attendance.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Scary Week

I've been getting hammered at work, so this post comes in late.

Saturday. JK and I headed out to the Junction Cafe, south of Livermore. This fell in line with the Halloween spirit, since the Junction Cafe is probably the scariest cycling destination around. Scary because of the rednecks with pickups, and, this time of year, giant tarantulas. Honestly, the spiders creep me out more than the rednecks, who are used to bike fags descending on them every weekend. A detente has been established wherein we don't block the road and they don't hit us. Seems fair to me. As for the spiders, they're supposed to be harmless, but those things will take you DOWN if you turn your back on them. They will swarm all over your struggling body, then eat you. I seen it on the YouTube, I swear.

I like the Junction because:
1. The roads are almost car free, and riding two abreast is seldom a problem.

2. It's a nice 50 miles with a good mix of small climbs, false flats, and a wide open descent to the finish.

3. Leather clad motorbikers and lycra wearing cyclists are two kinds of sexy. Truth be told, neither are that sexy at the Junction. The bikers are lawyers in disguise, and the cyclists are all soccer dads on high-end bikes.

4. It feels more remote than any other cycling spot in the Bay Area. The first time I went out there was a shit show where I forgot my cycling shoes, drove home to get them, rushed to try and catch up with the group, took a wrong turn and ended up lost far out in the middle of nowhere. I bumped into some off-roaders on quads; it was like Mad Max. But they were nice enough to give me a ride back into town.

5. The fries at the Junction. Ok, they're the frozen kind, but they hit the spot mid-ride. One order is enough for two people. Resist the urge to stuff your face. The road back starts with a pretty long, hot climb, and your body will reject that greasy burger like a bad kidney.

At the Junction, JK and I shared a bag of Corn Nuts with a grizzly old biker at our picnic table. We had the usual Lance Armstrong conversation with him, and learned that he'd actually driven out to watch the Tour of California one year, and was blown away by the sound of the peloton going by. Interesting to hear the regular man's view on bike racing. Made me wonder how Armstrong can be a top-10 athlete in terms of name recognition, despite cycling being a bottom-10 sport.

We continue to enjoy the Bay Area Summer (aka October); I was comfy in shorts and a short-sleeve jersey all day.

Sunday. Seen today while on my easy Sunday ride: a bloody operating table on the front lawn. Bleaugh. Were they re-enacting the birth scene from Rosemary's Baby while the kids came up?

The cyclists were out in force, and I hung around some high-end racers on a recovery ride up Tunnel. Sadly, I had to put in some work just to stay within spitting distance. Meanwhile, they could have been passing tea and crumpets back and forth.

Monday. Spinning with Mistress Wendy. Solid workout as usual, but.....Frampton Comes Alive? Seriously? Talking guitar does not fire me up.

Thursday. I finally threw in the towel and brought the IF in to Solano Cyclery. They sorted out the front end creak (loose headset - duh) and rebuilt the rear hub, which had been slipping consistently. I took it out for a pre-work spin this morning up Shasta. Super smooth. I love that buttery greasy rear hub feel. And no squeaking at all when I stood up. Ahhhh. Quiet.