Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Hotter N' Hell Hundred Mile Bike Ride: My First Century

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The Hotter N' Hell Hundred: A Texas Tradition of Suffering


Sunday Morning Crit Race.


It's 2 o' clock in the afternoon. The sun beams down on my skin, attempting to sizzle in a sunburn through my mesh gloves and every exposed section on my body. Around me there is carnage; riders strewn across the road, some convulsing with heat strokes, some leaning against their bikes, staring with steely eyed, glazed expressions out into the nothingness of the prairie land. Some rider's bikes have broken down and ill equipped riders stand perplexed not knowing how they are going to change their flat tire. As I ride along past these mangled and distressed characters, I know there is little that I can do to help them; I have my own plight to contend with. I have another 18 miles to go, however between me and the finish line is a constant 20 mile an hour headwind to contend with. 

I couldn't figure out which was hotter, the wind which was blowing in my face or the sun burning me from above. The wind covered me with a fine coating of red dust from the famous red river on the Texas-Oklahoma border. My legs are on auto pilot at this point, turning the lowest gears of my bike in order to keep spinning. I could barely move the bike over 12 miles an hour for the rest of the way. "I have to keep going, I have to survive this" I kept telling myself. As I struggled for survival, in the sense of making it within the cutoff time of eight hours and literally my own physical survival, I kept asking myself "How did anyone talk me into this?"

After the Collin Classic, I was almost sure that I wouldn't be doing another big ride for the rest of the year. I was making friends outside the sport and becoming interested in other types of physical activities. I was playing pickup soccer games on the weekends, working out at the gym, losing weight, feeling good.



Meet my friend Levi. Yes, he's the one posing awkwardly with the horse statue. Levi and I have been riding on and off for a couple of years now. We had been toying around with the idea of doing the Hotter N' Hell for the past year, but neither of us had committed until about a month before the ride. 

Having had my first Sunday morning off in a really long time I met Levi and another friend Carlos for a few laps around White Rock Lake in Dallas. That's when the idea finally materialized. I told Levi that I would ride the Hotter N' Hell and train for the next three weeks before the ride to get my miles and my endurance up. By the day of the event we were averaging 18.5 miles an hour on every ride, and riding over 30 miles at a time. This is the absolute fittest on a bike that I have ever been. I have been lighter as a rider in the past but never this fast. Even at this level of fitness and training nothing could prepare me for what lied ahead. 

We rented a RV camper since by the time everybody decided that they were in all the hotels in Wichita Falls had been booked. I managed to talk another friend, Raymond, into doing the ride with us. Raymond organized the RV rental and put the cash upfront to get us to Wichita Falls. At 44 years old, Raymond is a beast on the bicycle. He finished the ride in a little under 6 hours, with time to spare to take a shower, come back to the finish line and wait another hour for me before I finally got there. 

From right to left: Raymond, Levi, myself and Carlos

The RV Camper we rented!

Here we go!

Being the youngest one there, I was the brattiest one in the group and therefore the butt of everybody's jokes for the weekend. On Friday night before the race, I had so much pre-race anxiety (and caffeine) that I didn't sleep at all. I kept everybody awake with my rolling around in bed. Finally, I got up at 4 in the morning and took a shower, double and triple checked my bike and gear, and started to get ready for the ride. Everybody was pissed that I had woken them up. "You crazy" was basically all I heard Levi say, for the rest of the weekend. 

We made it to the starting line early, and got some good spots in the scorcher section, although I had signed up for the Keeper category. Scorchers try to finish the ride between 5 and 6 hours, Keepers are 6 to 8 hours. 

Left to Right: Levi, Carlos and Raymond


I was the prankster on the group, on the far left.

This year I have had a love affair with my Woodrup bike. It survived the Collin Classic and a whole summer of training hard for the Hotter N' Hell. It has pretty much been my go to bike for long rides and hard efforts. Carlos calls my bike "La Poderosa" or the powerful one, conjugated in the feminine tense, so it's more like "My powerful girl" in Spanish. I'm going to stick with that from now on, and call my Woodrup La Poderosa. 

"La Poderosa"
The first 50 miles were literally a breeze, as in we had the breeze pushing us the whole way. I averaged 20 miles an hour, up and down rollers and easily keeping up with the rest of the guys. The 50 mile rest stop was awesome. They had hot dogs, baked cookies and free massages. It was like a siren's beckoning call, and I stayed for almost 30 minutes at this stop, way too long for my own good. Little did I know that all that stalling would catch up to me later. I would get caught in the blasting furnace of what this event is renowned for, being hotter than hell (or at least hotter than having your head stuck in an oven for 3 hours). 

At one of the earlier rest stops, hanging out with the Comic Con crew.

At the 50 mile rest stop. I don't think the chubby guy made it though.

At the second to last rest stop there was a long line to have our water bottles filled. One lone tree stood outside the service tent, where a couple of old dudes and some Nigerians were hanging out. I asked one of them how far we had left and if the route ever turned with the wind. "You don't have the ""butt"" to push against the wind", one of the old guys said, and no, he didn't say butt, he used the other word. One of the Nigerian guys told me that I couldn't bring my bike under the tree, as if it was his tree to make the rules. I'm guessing the heat had made everybody ornery, but the ridicule these guys gave me served as fuel to make it across that finish line. 

This story does have a happy ending. With everything I had, I pedaled myself, at least 15 pounds of gear including water bottles, my digital SLR camera (I was wearing a Camelbak) and my 1980's steel bike across the finish line in a time of 7 hours and 46 minutes. I didn't break any records, I had stopped at least five times for water and lunch, but I made it. Making it is such a big deal that you get a medal once you cross the finish line. For as many people who make the hundred miles, there are many who don't. Many end up riding the SAG wagon of shame, or worse, end up riding back in an ambulance or being air lifted by a helicopter. The 103 degree heat is real and so are the risks. I myself had heat exhaustion for the rest of the day, kept saying things that didn't make sense and ordered a chili fry appetizer with chili fries and mash potatoes for the main course of my dinner. Maybe I was subconsciously starved for carbs, I don't know. 



Will I do it again? Most definitely. The tradition of suffering must continue, even if it's only for a few more times. The next time I ride the Hotter N' Hell, I'll be better prepared. I might take the plunge and get a carbon fiber tri-bike if I ever put this event on my calendar again. That would be much to the displeasure of my wife, but I figure that 18.5 miles an hour average speed on a steel bike is the fastest I'm going to be able to take an 80's racing bike. It's no longer about the rider, I have reached my physical limitations. The bike and my gear need to help me go faster now. Steel bicycles are still the best. They are the most comfortable, most durable bikes someone can own. There is no way I'll get rid of my steelie. But if I'm "in it to win it" in this kind of event, I need a triathlon bike, plain and simple. They don't make those in steel, so I might as well get a carbon one. For now, crossing that finish line was it's own reward. Saying that I rode 100 miles in August is it's own story. Subscribe for more posts and adventures from a Bicycle's Point of View.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

July Update: Getting in Shape, The World Cup, and the Tour De France

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Getting in shape, playing soccer, and what about that Tour De France?

For the past three weeks, this blog has been quiet. The truth is, things on the cycling front have been very quiet for me since doing the Collin Classic in June. I'm still riding, but now I dedicate my rides to commutes to the gym. I have been riding 13 miles round trip to the gym plus doing a lot of upper body workouts to even tone my flabby abs with my cycling legs. With the World Cup going on I have caught the soccer bug and I'm playing pick up games on the weekends with friends. My favorite team so far are the Netherlands and I'm a huge fan of Arjen Robben even though he did that swan dive that ultimately ended up knocking out Mexico with a penalty shot. This picture pretty much sums up what happened in real life.





I have actually liked soccer since I was 15 years old. It was my main sport growing up that I would play with friends until I hit my 20's. After that lots of friends moved away, got married and the soccer group that I grew up playing with has since dissolved. 


This is a big year for me. I'm closing the chapter of my 20's and I will be in my 30's by the beginning of next year. I don't want to start that chapter flabby and disproportionally out of shape. So road cycling is on the back burner for now and abs and dumbbells as well as other load bearing and resistance exercises are in. I was never a fan of going to the gym. I do however recognize there are a lot of benefits to resistance training. Although our legs are the largest muscles in our body, we can't assume that we will have a complete workout just by working out our legs. As time passes our bodies don't do a good job of metabolizing fats and start to store fat in our abdominal lining and in our liver. When we only do one type of activity, such as cycling, the body will burn calories and fats off our legs first, and will not address our fat deposits elsewhere. Weight and resistance training forces our bodies to react against it's natural tendency to be lazy and to burn off the easy calories. 


With weight training and supplements I have already lost 9 pounds in the last couple of weeks. No Creatine or Hydroxycut for me though. I have been using CLA, which is a lipid pill composed of good fats high in Omega 3 acids derived from Sardines and Anchovies. I have also been taking Ginseng and Rhodiola pills for mental clarity and Whey Protein powder with bovine colostrum to feed good proteins to my muscles. I have a serving of fruit a day in the form of a homemade smoothie. I feel great and if anything I know that I'm keeping my cholesterol down and have drastically cut my sugar and carb intake. 


This year's Tour De France is going to be a good one to watch. There are many veterans of the sport still racing and defending the old guard. It's good to see guys in their 30's and 40's still performing on the professional level. My hat is off to Jens Voigt and Chris Horner for being some of the hard old dudes in the bike race and still holding their own against guys they could have fathered. Fabian Cancellara is also one of my favorite guys to watch. He has the ability to break up an attack from the peloton and has blown away the competition in one day races like the Strada Bianche. These are some of the main guys I'm rooting for, probably because in a year I'll be in the master's category should I decide to compete. 


This year's tour also brings a ton of new talent to the fore that we haven't seen in years past. Andrew Talansky won the Criterium Du Dauphine, the prologue race which matches rider's abilities to how well they are going to race in the Tour De France. Marcel Kittel is an up and coming sprinter who has dethroned giants of the sport like Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel. Of course we can't dismiss the slightly older kids on the block such as Alberto Contador, said to be in peak form this year and riding with a solid team. I'm not going to take away anything from Chris Froome either, he has shown himself to be (somewhat suspiciously) a freak of nature when it comes to climbing and has that trademark high cadence, low geared spin that he does when he attacks on the climbs. I'll say it's probably being raised in Kenya at high altitude that honed his abilities, again I don't want to take anything away from him.


Glaringly missing from this year's race, in my humble opinion, is the presence of Nairo Quintana. I believe that this little guy from Colombia has the skills and physical ability to win it all should he choose to. I can easily see him pulling off a Giro-Tour double, for example. He has the skills to blow away riders on climbs like Froome, Contador and Vincenzo Nibali as if they were standing still. Knowing the politics that currently surround the sport of cycling I can understand why Nairo opted out of the Tour this year. Although Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault, Stephen Roche and Fausto Coppi have pulled off such feats in the past, in this era of doping a Giro-Tour double would be highly suspect. Quintana wouldn't have any problem proving his innocence, he's as clean as a whistle and is just pure cycling talent. Knowing his quiet and humble personality he's probably happy currently enjoying the biggest win of his career at a very young age and probably doesn't want the aggravation of having to explain himself that the only thing mixed in his water bottle was Panela, or hard sugar. 

This is my July update. August and September will probably be similar posts like these. Like skin cancer? Heat strokes? Ride a bike in the middle of the day in Texas during these months, just because. No thanks, I'm turning 30 soon and I don't need to prove anything to anyone. Stay tuned for more informative posts and videos from a Bicycle's Point of View.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The 2014 Collin Classic Bike Rally

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69 miles on the Woodrup, beautiful country ride.

Picture of the author. Photograph by Sugar & Spice Photography


On Saturday I finally got to participate in an event I had been spending a good part of the week preparing and training for. I put a hundred miles on my Woodrup bicycle on the days leading up to the Collin Classic Bike Rally, an event in Mckinney, Texas that benefits a children's charity called City House. I signed up for what had originally been a 64 mile bike route, but due to construction on some rural roads, detours had to be made and the route ended up being almost 70 miles. My goal was to make it through the ride in one piece and survive all 69 miles. Not only did I complete the ride, but I averaged 17.1 miles an hour, my fastest average speed yet for a distance that long. I took advantage of four out of eight rest stops they had on the ride to refuel on water, bananas, oranges and electrolytes. 

I have to say this is the most organized bicycle event that I have been to. The route was well marked and wound through some scenic country roads which made the ride that much more enjoyable. There was police presence directing traffic at all times through the route intervals and turns. The weather was beautiful considering this is Texas and temperatures can get to oven hot levels. The day was overcast enough to bear the high 80 degrees in Fahrenheit. 

Along the ride I met a 62 year old Chilean cyclist that was as enthusiastic about his vintage Peugeot as I was about my Woodrup. We rode the last nine miles of the ride together, and at 62 years young, I had to ask him to slow down and wait up for me a little bit as I was starting to cramp up on my back and unbeknown to me, had a rear wheel that had come off true and was rubbing on the brake pad.  He is in truly remarkable fitness for his age. I only hope I can do the things this guy does when I get to be his as old as him. 



This is the first time that I do a ride like this. I'm already pumped up about doing this ride next year, weather and all unforeseen occurrences permitting. I wish there were more spring and early summer rides like this were I live. While most of the country enjoys the July to September months, it gets dangerously hot here during that time. I can't ride during the middle of the day in the summertime, only in the early mornings or the evenings. Otherwise I put myself at risk for heat strokes and UV ray exposure. Therefore this will probably be the last event I see myself doing for the rest of the year. I really enjoyed it and it was a true test of my fitness level. However it did not leave me feeling defeated like some competitive events I had done in the past. 

Stay tuned for more updates from A Bicycle's Point Of View.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bicycle Commuting 101

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Here's a short video from my video series that teaches the basics of bicycle commuting and some of the gear you may want to use while commuting. I'll keep cranking out the videos. Thanks for watching!


Friday, June 6, 2014

New Video Blog Series Coming Soon!

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That's right guys! I'm going to start up a video channel on Youtube to share some of my bicycle repair knowledge and feature some of the subjects that I have discussed on this blog. Some of you may already be familiar with my other channel, Bicycle Adventures, where I have featured videos of myself riding on my bike. Well, the GoPro has broken, and I still wanted to make some cool videos to share on my blog. Subscribe to my new channel, Johnny Guzman, which is the same as my Google+ account. Stay tuned!


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Humble Schwinn Le Tour

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The Schwinn Le Tour: The Original Touring Bike




Touring bicycles have been around long before the Schwinn Le Tour. The name "Le Tour" is a dead giveaway that this bike was inspired by it's predecessors from across the pond.  This bike however, was the first mass produced touring bicycle to enter the U.S market by a U.S owned company.

According to history, the mid 1970's oil crisis and a national interest in all things European at the time brought about the bike boom and most notably, the "touring" bicycle or ten speed as it was once called. Before then bicycles in the United States mainly consisted of cruiser-style single speed bikes with balloon tires, also known as paper boy bikes. These more common bicycles featured tanks, horns, fenders and many of them weighed in excess of fifty pounds. The concept of lightweight racing bicycles was a foreign one to most people at the time. This perception changed during the 70's, when a fuel shortage, a new environmentally conscious generation and an unpopular war paved the way for a bicycle revolution. Belgium and the Netherlands rolled with the movement and are now the most bicycle friendly countries in the world. The momentum in the U.S ended abruptly around the late 80's when the economy improved and technology rapidly advanced. From the 80's onward, bicycles have turned from a practical means of transportation to a form of exercise and recreation. Out of that bike boom era there arose a people's champion, a working man's fare, the Model T of touring bikes and a well made product forged in a Chicago factory. The humble but reliable Schwinn Le Tour.





Over the years I have owned several Schwinn Le Tours. The yellow Schwinn featured in the title heading of this bike blog was my first restoration. It has now left my possession as I have given it to my mom, who rides it regularly. Unlike their French counterparts at the time, these bicycles were all steel with metal shifters and derailleurs, making them reliable and durable. The strong metal used for the frames could take a sustained load without making the bicycle ride slower. The early Le Tours had almost all factory made components with all parts stamped "Schwinn Approved". Finding the date on an early Schwinn is as easy as looking at the head badge and hubs of the wheels.


The following two bikes are examples of an early Schwinn Le Tour model and one of the last Schwinn Le Tours that came out of the Chicago factory. Both have features of what was popular for bicycles at the time of their production. With a stronger focus on touring, comfort and practicality, the 1980 Schwinn Le Tour on the right was equipped with stem mounted shifters, steel rims, ergonomic handlebars with shallow drops and center pull brakes. The late 80's Schwinn on the left was made much more sportier, reflecting the shift from practical use to recreative use. The 1988 Schwinn features downtube shifters, side pull caliper brakes and alloy rims. Like the earlier model it came with a strong steel frame and eyelets for mounting racks on, heralding back to it's original purpose of touring. Both bikes can be equipped as touring bikes and in this regard no one bike is superior than the other. 

A 1980's Schwinn Logo

A 1980 Schwinn Le Tour with a logo design reminiscent of earlier models.


By the late 80's lighter steel such as true temper was being used for the Schwinn Le Tour


1020 Tubing is not light by modern day standards, however the bicycle rides like a lightweight bike due to it's road dampening qualities.



Early Schwinns featured stem mounted shifters, steel rims, "suicide" brake levers and lots of chrome


Although the later Schwinn model was designed to be faster than the earlier version, the early Schwinn can be a serious contender with alloy rims and some minor upgrades. As shown in this video, this bike is no wimp when it comes to speed. The video shows me whipping past carbon fiber roadies in their $3000 Wiliers and triathlon machines on my 79' yellow Schwinn.



These bikes can be found all day long on the online classifieds, at a good price too if someone is a shrewd buyer. The 1980 Schwinn cost me $40 and zero dollars in investment to get it in it's current condition. I bought the 88' Schwinn to help out a friend and it cost me twice as much.  These bikes can and do usually bring anywhere from $150 to $300 at resale. I personally have a hard time letting go of Schwinn Le Tours. They are such well built bikes and such a bargain for the money that I will usually hold onto them while usually getting rid of my more expensive bicycles. Having restored one from the ground up, I know firsthand the quality of their build and what this bicycle is capable of. For some reason unknown to me, these bicycles are usually passed up by collectors while inferior models like the Varsity and Stingray get all the attention. The Stingrays, Lemon Peelers and Fastbacks which sell in the thousands of dollars can barely be ridden by grown men while a good Schwinn Le Tour that is capable of beating the socks off of a modern day road bike doesn't even get an offer over $100 most of the time. 

One day when the Puerto Rican Schwinn club switches from vintage cruisers to vintage road bikes (I'm Puerto Rican, I can say that...) or when hipsters start to covet Schwinn bikes for their fixed gear fallacies, the collector's value on a Schwinn Le Tour will probably rise. When it does, just remember that I was riding Schwinn Le Tours before it was cool, before hipsters discovered it and before having knowledge of a Puerto Rican Schwinn club, of which I am probably now regarded as an honorary member. Even though my stable of bikes boasts the best of French, Italian and British imported vintage steel, I will always remember my roots and the bike that got me into restoring bikes in the first place. I can always make room for a humble Schwinn Le Tour.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Exploring Downtown Mckinney

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Art Ideas: Exploring Downtown Mckinney

The perfect picture, staged unintentionally for someone like me.

I have been dwelling on starting a new painting lately. My last painting came out really well and I was exploring the idea of combining all my passions into a masterpiece. While out on my bike ride today through Downtown Mckinney, I found some awesome ideas.

Downtown Mckinney has some interesting architectural sights combined with an industrial vibe. At the same time, it is a very clean space and not a whole lot goes on there after hours. It's a great place to stop and take pictures or relax in one of two coffee shops there. Here's a couple of random shots that attempt to capture the essence of this town.

Cadence Cyclery Bike Shop in Downtown Mckinney


Many restaurants have outdoor seating and Menu on display at the door.



The sign does a good job at describing it's surroundings, as well any elements who might be living here.

Boo!



I love this backdrop.
Some of the town's events include trade days and art shows. Every second Saturday of the month most businesses stay open late to cater to pedestrians. Next month there will be a bicycle race through the city, a competition known as Bike The Bricks. Mckinney is a cool destination for anyone living north of Dallas.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How I restored the Peugeot

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My Peugeot UO-8 Restoration




I wrote an article about this bicycle last year but never got into any detail as to how I restored it. The restoration process was extensive so I didn't go into the details of how I got this bicycle to look the way it did. 

When I received this bike, the chrome parts had grit and a lot of surface rust. The shifters were broken and the derailleur no longer worked properly. The bearings in the crank arms were seized and the brake levers were toast. Nothing really moved on the bike except for the wheels, which spun smoothly. The frame, although scratched up and with a little surface rust, was solid and had no visible dents. 

The cottered cranks on this bike were the most difficult part of this restoration. The Nervar cranks were solidly installed and it seemed that nothing could take them out. I had to drill out the cotter pins in order to remove the crank arms and went through a few drill bits trying to loosen the metal pins. I could not get the drive side bottom bracket cup out so I had to send the frame for powder coating with it attached.  Here's a few pictures of the bicycle stripped down to the frame.





While the frame was getting powder coated, I went to work on removing the rust from the components using an oxalic acid bath. In hindsight, throwing the parts in Simple Green solution, which is safer for the environment, easier to dispose of and is not a health hazard like oxalic acid, would have been a better idea. At the same I had yet to experiment with Simple Green so I did what I knew could work. When the frame came back from powder coating, I proceeded to put the parts back on.

The cottered cranks gave me a hard time once again when I had to reinstall them on the bike. I had to order French cotter pins on ebay which cost about nine dollars and take the bike to a bike shop that had a cotter press lying around. At first one of the guys in the shop did not know what a cotter press was, a tool which is now obsolete. However, cottered cranks are still used on new bikes in third world countries like India. An older guy who worked there dug up the old tool from the back of the shop and called me in, allowing me to get behind  the counter to install the cranks. I had already established a good relationship with the guys at the bike shop, so it was no problem when a regular customer like me needed a favor. 

I also ordered some new old stock Shimano 600  brake levers to replace the broken Mafacs. Before putting the rest of the parts on the bike I called a guy who specializes in pin striping to repaint gold leaf paint on the lugs. I had met him at a swap meet a while back and saw that he did really good work. For about 25 bucks it added that extra detail that really made this bicycle pop. Afterwords I installed the rest of the parts. Here's a picture of the bike at this point of the restoration.


I then purchased some period correct decals for the frame from an australian guy off ebay and they took about a month to arrive. It was well worth the wait to make this bike complete. I first cleaned off the areas where the decals were going to be placed. Then I used a squeegee for applying vinyl like the ones used in sign shops. Here's a couple of pictures of the process.




Overall this bike is awesome. It is comfortable for riding around the countryside and pulling the child stroller behind. This isn't a race bike, however don't let that mistake you about it's speed. I have passed guys on time trial bikes in their drops who thought they were fast on this bicycle. The spring loaded saddle wasn't the best quality and has since been replaced with a vinyl leather imitation saddle. I plan to put money aside to get this bicycle a proper Brooks Flyer someday soon, as the geometry of the bike demands a suspended saddle in order to be comfortable. Hopefully this bike is around for another 30 to 40 years. I feel like the structure of the bike was well made and all it needed was some love and attention to give it's second lease on life. Stay tuned for more bicycle restoration articles and subscribe to my posts for more informative posts.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Keep On Rolling

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Why my tires keep rolling after seven years of active cycling


Sometimes I quit on things. Somethings I give up on. Some people eventually quit and give up on me. Sometimes no matter how much I try to please others, I may at times end up alone. The people who quit on their dreams make me feel like there is something wrong with me for not quitting as well and for not accepting mediocrity in my life. But I can't stop and I won't stop riding my bike.


Even if I wanted to stop, I'm already being carried along by the momentum of my wheels, and I enjoy the feeling of movement too much to slam on my brakes. Even if I sold every bike in my possession, I will still end up buying a bicycle at some point or another and start riding again. This can't be said about other things that I have started, achieved a measure of short lived success on, and then eventually moved on to something else once I started to get bored. In addition to being a cyclist I enjoy painting, skateboarding, drawing, playing guitar and photography. Some of these things I am talented in and have even made a little money off of. But none of these things are things that I am consistently pursuing on a daily basis, that form a part of my routine. I ride my bike almost every day now that the weather is improving.  I have no self-rightous motives for this other that it makes me feel good and I am addicted to the Vitamin D of the sun's rays and the endorphin rush to my brain. 


I can't even say that I ride to stay fit anymore. I haven't lost any weight since picking up my cycling and I am not pretending that I will, although after a few months I always drop a couple of pounds. Within  my reasoning doing a short bike ride is better, in fact anything would be better than spending the evening planted on the couch, watching what is probably bad television and whatever pap the media wants to serve to the masses. This is the routine that many people are addicted to. They watch other people play sports on TV and they like to talk about sports, however they won't even go outside to toss the football around. They like to see other people become famous because of how well they can sing karaoke, but they themselves never bother to learn an instrument. People live their lives vicariously through the celebrities and Youtube sensations that are on display in their electronic devices. As I think about this I have to ask myself, "is that even a life at all?". 


Cycling is freedom, enlightenment and exercise all rolled into one beautiful package. Freedom from other's expectations that you too should be sitting down at work and sitting down at home. That eating out is supposed to be a form of socializing and entertainment rather than providing the body with basic sustenance. Enlightenment that there is a whole world out there beyond the realms of television that is unexplored. Why should we be labeled as weird, strange and crazy for trying to explore it? I think it is more crazy for people to be led to and fro from one cage at work to another at home, like dumb cattle from the corral to the slaughterhouse. The craziest part of it all is that no one complains or puts up a fight, in fact they are as happy as can be until they see someone who is different and does not share their insular view. Then like the stampeding cattle that they are they try to trample the more morally elevated health conscious individual down, whether by words or even by using their SUV on the road.


No one was born this way. No one starts off life saying "I'm cool just sitting on my butt all the time". Most people come out of the womb active, kicking and screaming. In the beginning we were all young and free children riding our bikes down our neighborhood blocks. Then we grow up. Some people along the way achieve titles and credentials and start to think of themselves as "important". Important people can't be seen idling in non-important activities, such as bike riding. That time has to be better spent working overtime to afford that new car payment. The car becomes everything at that point, a status symbol as well as the transporting cage from the cage at work to the cage at home. Some people don't shut up about their cars either. You'll see old men in shiny Corvettes or small men in giant Hummers. Sometimes people are classified by the cars they drive, regardless of who they really are. There is no such classification system that can be made for a bicyclist. At speed, all bicycles look the same, regardless of whether the bike cost $100 or $1000. This turns off "important" types from riding a bicycle having any respect or admiration for anyone who rides them. Little do they know that they are the ones with the mismatched priorities and that they are missing out on all the fun.


I have always been part of the not so silent minority. Rejection, alienation and social isolation are not things that are new to me. At different points of my life I have had to swim against the current and go against the grain of what the majority of the people were doing and thinking at that moment in time. Almost always I have been thankful that I did. Riding a bike is no different. It is not an activity that sits well with a lot of people or one that will grant me instant success, fame, money or popularity among my peers. But it is an investment I have made for my long term health and well being, one that I hope I can cash in on, even when most of the people that I know will be diabetic, dead, frumpy or morbidly obese.  


As I turn 30, I am already looking forward to seeing the first phase of my investment pay off. My Dad had really high cholesterol at my age, something I have been able to regulate with exercise thus far. Hopefully I can fend that off for a few more years as well as high blood pressure and diabetes. Hopefully I can also avoid the obesity my mom had from not taking care of herself during my childhood. If I can do even a little better than my parents did in this respect I will feel like I made a difference in my health. 


I am a cyclist. I may not look the part or be competitively fast, but I feel this is sticking with me wherever I go from now on. I might go back to drawing and painting (which I should) or photography later on in life, but I plan to always be riding my bike.  Like the song that was made in the 70's (who sung it, REO Speedwagon?) I keep on rolling, rollin' on despite the changes.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Moto Moto!

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My 1985 Motobecane Grand Record

Here it is in all it's pomp and Glory. My 1985 Motobecane Grand Record.
It seems someone phoned the 80's and brought me this Motobecane Grand Record from the past and into my possesion. Actually, I got this bike on a very fair trade from a fellow blogger at Vintage Restorations. He is a really nice guy to deal with, I recommend him for those of you looking for a vintage bike in the Denton area. A few weeks ago, in the middle of an ice storm, I drove out to meet him, the ice blowing sideways by a howling wind. Only a bike nut as obsessed as I am would have gone out on a day like that. Greg, who runs Vintage Restorations and is as obsessed as I am about bicycles, agreed to meet with me for the exchange. I traded a 1940's Korean roaster, equipped with rod brakes and a rear drum brake, for this Motobecane. In the end I think we both got what we wanted, with Greg being more of a pre-war bicycle guy and me being a vintage road bike kind of guy.

Greg on the left holding the roadster. Author on the right.


I spent the next few weeks ordering up some period correct parts and basic replacement parts such as the seat post binder. I took every piece of this bike apart and re-greased all the headset and bottom bracket bearings. I took the old, hardened and burnt grease off using Simple Green degreaser bath. Greg was kind enough to include the Campagnolo hubs laced to Rigida rims that are pictured above. I bought some tubulars on Ebay that are more period correct and could take my seven speed freewheel. In the future, I might go back to these rims if the tubulars fail under duress. They are indeed a great backup wheelset and I am glad to have them in my possession.

Today I took the bike out of a spin around the suburbs and bike paths for about 15 to 20 miles. How does it ride? This bike is a little too small for me to ride aggressively. It is not the type of bike someone my size can do long, sustained efforts on. At the same time, I am used to riding bikes in the 56 and 57cm range, usually with my legs just short of being fully extended on the downstroke. However, once I got a rhythm  going the bike is quite comfortable to ride and cruise around with. For basic exercise and transportation purposes, this bike fits the bill and then some. Here's a few more pictures of some of the bike's details.


You can barely make it out from the sticker, but the frame is made of Columbus tubing,
the good stuff back in the day.

The iconic dove logo decorates the Columbus made and very lively fork.

Campagnolo Triumph derailleurs shift on a dime and are very reliable.

Are those toe clips? Yes they are! Campy ones in fact.
I can see why people made such a big deal about bikes made with Columbus tubing. Together with the best components of it's time, this bike doesn't ride, it hums and sings. It's a feel good kind of bike, kind of like listening to one of Steve Winwood's good 80's songs, and drinking iced tea on your porch in the middle of a cloudless afternoon. There is a very innocent, uncorrupted feeling associated with riding this bike, and that's probably because this bike really is as old as I am. Almost 30 years old, yet the perspective I get riding this bike takes me back to the past, before people got all serious about riding. Just to give the reader a idea of how relaxed I was, I rode in tennis shoes, cargo shorts, a sleeveless tee and a backwards facing barrette.

This bike is definitely a keeper, and I plan on keeping it when my son gets big enough to ride it, as well as to lend it to some of my shorter 5'8" friends so that they can really ride the wheels off of it. Eventually the collector's value of this bike will appreciate to the point I might be tempted or forced to sell it, if I fall on hard financial times. One never knows what the future will bring. But for the moment I am happy I found it. I will ride it, love it just like I do with the rest of my bikes. Stay tuned for more articles like this and subscribe to my posts.

Some interesting facts about this Motobecane:

-It comes with an english threaded bottom bracket, however it comes with a french threaded 25x1 headset, not interchangeable with other forks, headsets, bearings or stems. Thankfully the bearings on this bike were well made and salvageable.

-This bike is one of the first attempts at making a more aero frame, hence the lug-less design, recessed rear brake cable and awkward seat post binder location.

-This bike is very serviceable, even the toe clips can be re-greased by removing the dust caps from the ends of the pedals. 

-If you run across one of these bikes for sale, chances are it was owned by someone well off in the 80's or an amateur bicycle racer. This bike was one step below what the pro's were actually racing back then. My bike came with a water bottle memento of a bicycle tour company that hosted bicycle tours in Tuscany, Italy back in the day.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Riding the Backcountry: The Journey To Becoming a Complete Cyclist

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How exploring by bike has made me into a complete cyclist


I recently moved to an area where getting to the countryside by bicycle takes longer than where I lived before. The back roads of the country aren't usually named; they are usually just given an FM (farm to market) designation followed by a number. As I ride away from the smooth, well kept concrete roads of the suburbs, a raw, untamed and uncivilized world seems to open up to me. It's a place where you can sometimes hear the sound of someone's hunting rifle go off,  encounter stray goats, chickens and even packs of dogs on the road, and sometimes there can be an uneasy co-existence on the roads with rural dwellers in their large pickup trucks and cyclists. 

Smooth roads turn into bumpy, potholed roads. These give way to loose gravel roads, and before I know it, I'm riding my road bike on hard packed dirt paths, winding up and down fields or densely tree-lined areas. Before, when I used to think that I was riding in the country, the roads had names, were paved over with black tar, and most dogs stayed behind a fence or on a leash. Not here. Out here there is real adventure riding, where anyone who rides out here has to be ready to encounter a wide variety of scenarios. So far, on good days I have averaged about 15 miles an hour on my bike, according to my online tracking app on my phone. That's not bad when I consider I have had rides with almost 800 feet of total elevation gain and 19 mile and hour headwinds to contend with. It's a different kind of riding then what I am used to. One has to learn to adapt to the lay of the land and sometimes ignore the data that the cycling computer or the tracking app is saying. Its more important to stay mentally alert, being constantly on the look out for potholes or dogs, conserving energy to ride against strong headwinds and making sure that both bike and rider make it back in one piece. 

Around four years ago, I left kicking and screaming from a centrally located suburban area to a part of the a city on the borders of the Dallas county line. It seemed like the very edge of civilization of for me back then. The countryside was my only option for local bike riding unless I wanted to load up my bike in my car and go ride somewhere else. At first I did do that, a lot. Then I realized that the twenty to forty minutes I spent in my car getting to and from a riding destination was time I could have spent doing a ride around where I lived. I also realized that I just didn't have the same amount of time that I used to have to go to these far away places to go ride for an hour and then take another forty minutes getting home. I started to get on Google Maps and plot my own routes around the countryside where I could take low traffic and scenic roads for a good twenty to thirty miles. If I wanted a shorter ride I could just shorten the loop so that I would be riding sixteen miles or less on days when my time was really constrained. After three years of riding in the countryside, I have found that I enjoy it more than riding in the suburbs, and I don't freak out if my bike rolls off smooth pavement or hits a small pot hole. 

Rather than staying in the suburbs, doing small cafe racer loops and constantly having to stop and go at traffic lights, my bicycle and I tend to naturally gravitate toward the countryside, no matter where I start riding from. I used to love riding in the suburbs and avoid rural areas like the plague, now I am finding it hard to stay away from the countryside. I don't enjoy riding in the suburbs like I used to and let's face it, farmers in beat up pickup trucks make better company on the roads than distracted soccer moms in their large Land Rovers do. I also find that riding out in the countryside is like a form of fast mountain biking, and my general fitness tends to improve as a result of having to employ both speed and bike handling skills into my workout. 

The carbon fiber wonder-bike, spandex-clad in team kit wannabe racer concept is ingrained and hard boiled into almost every cyclist I see riding out on the roads where I now live. Occasionally I will run into an older gentleman riding helmet-less on a Wal-Mart special with a bag of groceries tied to the front of his handlebars. He's the only guy that I have seen that is that comfortable on a bike and I know he rides a lot, because I have seen him more than once. Everyone else seems to be speeding away, trying to get their ride over with as fast as they can so that they can brag about it to their friends immediately afterwords. These guys have the same three loops that they'll do religiously, without any deviation whatsoever. I have been guilty to doing the same thing myself, but at least I don't do it all the time. I have learned to let go of that pre-ride anxiety I used to get thinking about how I needed to record my miles, carry a spare tube, and wear my ceremonial garb of spandex and special shoes. I don't get angry if another cyclist passes me and I fail to catch up while they run through a red light. Now I have different bikes and different approaches depending on the levity or severity of how serious I want my ride to be. My rides are no longer all serious, half century ride expeditions anymore. Sometimes I'll do a fifteen miler or even eight miles just to warm up the legs and say that I worked out that day. I have even done four mile rides to the grocery store and back. It doesn't take a lot to be consistent. Consistency is more important than bragging points on a Strava app and it's what makes a person a fitter and more livelier rider in all sorts of conditions. 

Complete cyclists are ones who are always exploring, always adapting and know how to dress for the occasion. They are ones who do it all; long rides, short rides, on and off road rides and value all rides equally. They are people who know the risks and prepare for the risks, rather than allowing those risks to scare them from doing what they love. They are the kinds of riders who do not get worked up over-thinking a bike ride, instead they can just get on a bike and go. A truly complete rider does not have routes, they have destinations, even if unknown to them. To a complete rider, the journey is more important than the end result on a tracking module. Strava can't tell a story of the billy goat you saw in the middle of the road, or that cool looking dilapidated  red barn, or that ghost town that you passed through that made you think of a wild west movie. If there is something interesting on the road that makes you want to get off of your bike to check it out, you should check it out. A complete rider does that, without fear of having to pause their workout on their phone for them to do so, or that their average speed will drop as a result of stopping for a moment. A complete rider also knows their limits. You will not see them riding in cold, rainy, pneumonia inducing weather, just because the group ride didn't cancel that Saturday. However, on nice days during the week a complete rider will take to the streets when most wanna be riders have to work to make that payment on their carbon fiber wonder-bike, as well as their Land Rover, which they use more than their bike. 

By employing this methodology into one's riding, fitness will improve, cycling skills will improve and overall quality of life will improve as a result. One will learn the essential things that they need to ride a bike and the things that are baggage in their lives and that they can do without. Remember, the more things you have to pay for, the more a slave you become to those things. Some people are even a slave to their bicycles, if their bikes are ridiculously expensive. So by simplifying our lives as well as our approach to cycling, we can make cycling a more wholesome activity. Never stop exploring, or taking the road less traveled.  Stay tuned for more perspective from A Bicycle's Point of View. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Just Ride: A Book to Better Understand Ourselves By

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Just Ride:
Reviewing one of the best cycling books out there




Just like the cover of the book suggests, this is a guide on how to just get out and enjoy riding our bicycles, without all of the ceremonial gear and accessories that exist in the racing world today. This book provides the reader with a back to basics approach on practical bike riding for the average person who isn't competing in the Tour De France or the BORAF ( Big Old Race Around France) as the author likes to phrase it. 

Grant Petersen is a bicycle engineer that started his career making bikes for Bridgestone Cycles in the 80's and then started his own company, Rivendell Bicycle Works in the mid 90's.  His bicycles nowadays have a cult following among those who simply seek an elegantly made, non-competitive touring bicycle that can be ridden on  and off roads in varying terrain. The bikes he makes for his current customers are made of steel, with intricate lug work and awesome paint schemes. They echo back to simpler times in cycling before carbon fiber became the rage and the standard for everyone else to follow by. 

Surprisingly, his book does not completely bash carbon fiber bikes like one would expect from an author like this to do. Instead, the author takes an objective approach in describing carbon fiber as a material that hasn't reached the level of development to be considered free of defects or not prone to catastrophic failure. He makes a comparison between different frame materials and makes a justifiably arguable case for steel bikes for the average person, something which I have been saying on this blog for at least a couple of years now. 

Being an engineer himself, Petersen dedicates several pages explaining the different dimensions on a bicycle and how different angles of these dimensions can have an effect on a bicycle's ride qualities. He also describes the advantages of having a steel fork with fork rake as opposed to having a carbon fiber fork or a straight bladed fork. The author notes that as we consider all these things, most bicycles today are designed for 150 pound skinny racers, not with the rest of us in mind. They are not designed for long term use, and are not designed practically for utilitarian use. They are modeled after professional athletes that can go through as many as 12 bikes in one season, with several component changes in between. 

There are a lot of things that I agree with the author on. The dieting advice in this book is great. I had already started a diet free of carbohydrates when I picked up this book at the bookstore a couple of days ago. The author mentions that carbs are actually harmful for cycling and that elite cyclists will eat carbs because their bodies genetically do not produce the same insulin as the rest of us. If we tried to eat as the pros do and have the same workout regimen, we would end up being strong legged and potbellied diabetics. The author also brings out that bicycling is generally not an ideal exercise for weight loss and is not load impact bearing; it will not fend off bone density loss and osteoporosis. As fun as cycling can be, there are other forms of exercise that need to complement it. 

I personally felt other aspects of the book, such as the bicycle maintenance section, could have been written better. The author himself puts a disclaimer in the book saying that there are better guides for bike maintenance than his book. Fair enough. But saying you do not have to clean your bike and just let the mud and crud fall off with the road vibration implies just being a filthy bike rider. I believe that when my bikes are parked and not being used, they should be clean. Like my mom used to tell me, even dirt poor people can have clean dirt floors. Leaving dirt on a bike for more than one ride is just negligent in my opinion. The author talks about Beausage, a word he makes up to describe how imperfections on aging vintage bikes bring out their character more and make them beautiful in an antique sort of way. I also agree with that, and generally speaking I won't repaint a frame that has a few chips and scratches because it brings out the character of the bike and the bicycle's life experience, if it were a living thing, of course. But Beausage is not something someone goes about trying to replicate, whether intentionally or by negligence, on bicycles that are not vintage or that haven't withstood the test of time.

Another point that I couldn't agree with was his advice on fitting and use of platform pedals over clip-less ones. On the latter point I somewhat agree not to use clip-less pedals if you are new to cycling. I would recommend platforms or even toe-clips for awhile before going clip-less. But once someone learns how to ride with clip-less pedals, there is no need to go back to platforms, unless it is on a different bike with platform pedals on it. Even then, I recommend clip-less pedals on long rides because of the tendency to become flat footed if a rider vigorously applies pressure to the wrong part of the foot. On most of his advice regarding fitting, I felt it was targeted at older riders with back problems instead of a general fitting guide for everybody. One example of this is the author's recommendation to ride with the handlebars at even height to the saddle. On frames that are too big for me I will usually employ this method. However, most of the time my handlebars are about an inch lower than my saddle, because I can handle that position and I am more comfortable on it. When making these recommendations, I felt that the author made them taking his own aging body into account, something that I can't blame him for, however a little open mindedness goes a long way.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book. It reminded me of everything that got me into riding bikes in the first place. It also reminded me of the poor maintenance my neighbor used to give his clunky mountain bikes growing up but how he would always smoke me up and down the mountain bike trail. There are other topics the author talks about, or rather "velosophizes". Topics in his book such as "racing ruins the breed" and "how to get your family to hate cycling" are good for analyzing whether one has adopted the elitist attitude of an entitled, self absorbed wanna be bike racer and how that can ruin good relationships with other people. 

I recommend any deep thinker and passionate cyclist to pick up a copy of this book. If someone is new to cycling, they should go ahead and pick up this book immediately. It has a lot of good advice that will help develop a love for cycling and a passive interest into a lifelong passion.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Enlightened Cyclist: A Book Review

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The Enlightened Cyclist: Eben Weiss's failed followup to Bike Snob NYC


Okay, so I'm a little late to the party in reviewing this book that has been out since 2011. I am recently in book reading mode since all of this cold weather has kept me indoors with little else to do besides making vegetarian recipes due to the fact that I'm trying to get in shape for the summer. I picked up this book a little over a year ago and started reading it briefly before putting it down and losing it in my bookshelf until I found it again during my recent move. As a huge fan of Weiss's first book, Bike Snob NYC, I bought this book with great expectations that it would be as entertaining and as humorous as the first novel. Nevertheless, it was a complete disappointment that torpedoed any further success he could have had and ultimately became his undoing as a publisher that could relate to most cyclists and people in general.

The message of the book, in short, is that all commuters should treat each other with compassion and consideration, treating each other in an ethical manner the same way we would like to be treated. The author raises the question as to why this isn't the case between bicyclists and motorists, and tries to dissect the situation by getting into the environmental factors between the two. Being a resident New Yorker at the time, Weiss describes the collaborative unity between New Yorkers after 911 but how New Yorkers have once again become insular over time, getting into confrontations over petty things like being in the bike lane or cutting a vehicle off on the road. 

While attempting to find a solution, the author makes this book a soapbox for his atheistic views, discrediting the Bible as a fictional reference piece while at the same time quoting from the Sermon on the Mount when it was convenient for him to do so. This is what really irritated me most about the book and why I really don't recommend it to anyone, even as an easy reading piece. Here you have this guy trying to give moral advice who is obviously without a moral compass himself, denying belief in God but at the same time quoting from his word. 

What further discredits the author was his use of strong language and vulgarity that wasn't at all like the first novel he wrote. Weiss's first book, Bike Snob NYC, was a funny, down-to-earth satire of cyclists that made us laugh out loud about ourselves. The first book was rated G and this book, by comparison, is rated R. It must have been a dark period for the author when he wrote it, and I could only feel pity for him as I struggled to read through the pages, knowing that this will probably be the book he will be remembered by. I begrudgingly read the rest of this book so that I could give a fair and overall review of what I had read. But seriously, it was probably the worst 20 bucks with some change that I have ever spent. If I would had known what was in the book before buying it, I would have never bought it.

It was almost as if the author took the success of his first book, which was a well thought out masterpiece, and then created this 200 page rant thinking that it would have the same reception. Was he hoping that people would be forgiving or ignorant of his liberalism and profanity just because of his new found celebrity? As with many who achieve a sense of fame, I wouldn't doubt that the success of his first book went straight  to his head. In his mind he felt he could write whatever he wanted, regardless of whom he offended. That's sad, really, because he could have been a credible voice in the bike community, like a Sheldon Brown of sorts. Instead he attempts to score political points with the liberal, self pleasing crowd and narrows down his reader demographic as well as anyone who has any respect for him. Whatever good intentions or message of goodwill the author might have had became undone when he attacked people's belief in God and most people's tolerance for number of bad words in a single book.

This book is will make a great overpriced doorjamb or paperweight, or a good projectile for defending oneself against a stray dog while out on a bicycle. Other than that, save yourself the trouble and don't buy this book. I'm throwing away mine, as it was a complete waste of my spare time.