Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Op Ed: Chris Froome Should Win 5 and Go Home

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"It's hard to leave the table when you're winning"


The 2018 cycling season is already being discussed with a tremendous announcement that Chris Froome, the current winner of the Tour De France in recent years has decided to take on the two most hardest bicycle races back to back, The Giro D' Italia and the Tour De France in a single year. This is coming off his success as having won the Tour/Vuelta double last year, also a difficult feat in of itself. The last person to do that was Marco Pantani in 1998, a good 20 years ago. Back then Pantani was loaded to the gills with an experimental drug that later became known to the world as EPO, the same drug that Lance Armstrong took during all of his tour victories. Marco Pantani was 28 at the time of his Giro-Tour victory year, a good 5 years younger than Froome will be by the time he starts the Giro next year. There is one fundamental difference between these two riders and I'm not referring or alluding to EPO use. Marco Pantani was a talent at a very young age. He had always been an accomplished rider even before he won his first Tour De France. Chris Froome blossomed later into his career. Chris Froome and I are a few months apart in age. It doesn't matter if you are the best athlete in the world, at a certain point age will catch up to anybody. Falls start to hurt more, recovery times slow down and a person may never fully recover from some injuries. So I'm not speaking as a world class athlete, I'm speaking as someone who is the same age as Chris Froome. It's time to rake it in, cash the chips and go home. It's hard to leave the table when you're winning, but that's the smart thing to do. It's not about matching records with the greats in the sport, because people will never know to what lengths those greats went to so that they could achieve those records. Stick around any longer and you will risk losing it all; your money, your success, your accomplishments, your credibility and your reputation.


Hubris sometimes doesn't allow people to know when to quit in a high risk game such as gambling, or in this case, professional cycling. They might as well be the same thing, because both require a poker face. If you call someone's bluff, then the game is over. So the question remains, if Chris Froome goes for one more Tour De France, will someone call his bluff? Unlike the last person that this happened to, Chris Froome is a likeable character that lays low and stays down to earth even when success comes his way. This has calmed any negative press that might be said of him to the point that even David Walsh, a famous reporter and Lance Armstrong whistle blower has come to his defense. Once in while, we will hear the suggestive mutterings of Greg Le Mond or Bob Roll implying that something fishy is afoot, but without the conviction or condemning language used against Lance Armstrong. Can Chris Froome manage to keep them silent for two more back to back grand tour victories? 


I hope Chris Froome takes a lesson from the Miguel Indurain playbook. Win 5, cash in and go home. Indurain wasn't trying to one up Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil or any previous 5 time Tour De France champs. He knew better, and was long gone by the time Marco Pantani, Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstong day-viewed with their superhuman cycling feats. He didn't try to rationalize a reason to go for number 6; he was confident that the world would remember him for his 5 victory contribution. He left with his money, his legacy and his reputation intact. He is the Michael Jordan of cycling, nothing negative or controversial can be said of him. Let's hope Froome follows in his footsteps. I really like the way Froome treats his teammates, the press and his rivals. At the end of the day that counts for a lot and even protects his career to some extent. Counting on that, let's see if Froome has it in him for a Giro-Tour double as well as a fifth Tour De France victory.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Bike Mechanic Confidential- Money saving tips, mechanical advice and the inside scoop that the industry won't tell you

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Thinking about a new upgrade to your bike? Not sure if you need the latest gadget? Thinking about replacing your 5 year old bike with a carbon fiber wonder? Have you already looked at next year's bike catalogs? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, you are on the consumer end of the bike industry. The customer, the end user, the money tree that keeps on giving and keeping the bike shops, online retailers and the whole entourage afloat. Need a fat bike? Just rationalize the purchase by saying "why yes, I need a bike for the one week out of the year when it snows, or to go frolic on the beach". Bike shops love you and are eager to take your money to have the privilege of working on your Colnago, oogling the bike over because it's a bike that a $9/hour bike mechanic employee will never be able to save up for. You make it rain dollar bills like Lil' Wayne in a purple drank video...

Or do you? Are you getting tired of spending an arm and a leg every time you walk into a bike shop? Not an independently wealthy trust fund kid?  Wondering if some things are unnecessary, or are things you can do yourself? Then there is hope for you, my friend. Welcome to the club of bike aficionados of the non-corporate, non doctorate inclination. Welcome to the club of do-it-yourselfers. Let me share with you some insider tips that the industry doesn't want to share.


Never use the lockout on your suspension mountain bike:  

The first rule to proper mountain biking, to getting longevity out of your suspension and to not blow out your fork seals, is to NEVER under any circumstances ride with the lockout engaged while you ride off road. Some people may argue with this notion but I maintain that unless your first name is Nino and your last name is Shurter then you have no business trying to fiddle with your lockout mechanism on your mountain bike. Set sag, pre-load and have the right air pressure in the fork if the fork has an air chamber. Those things are more important than locking out the fork for climbs and forgetting to disengage it on the descents. No suspension fork, no matter how expensive, will stand up to that kind of abuse. A good fork should last a number of years if the lockout is never used. Forget 30 hour maintenance oil changes, forget overhauling the fork and having all of the internals replaced. No lockout, no worries. You will, however, need to do is if you are a remote lockout, trigger happy fool. My advice? Take that remote lockout straight off the handlebars and chuck that thing as far as you can throw it. This leads into another suspension related, money saving tip.

Your Suntour coil shocks work just fine:

I rode a set of Suntour XCM shocks hard for over 5 years before they finally died. They came on my first full suspension bike which went through some of the local hard trails in the area and even went off road in Georgia and North Carolina. The failure of my shocks was due to leaving them locked out and taking them through a technical descent. Otherwise I don't think I would have had any problems with them. I currently have another set of Suntour XCR 32's  on my full suspension 29er. These shocks are super value coil shocks with oil dampening rebound adjustment. True to their reputation they have given me excellent performance and have taken everything I have thrown at them so far, from technical rock gardens to 3 foot drops. The only upgrade that would make sense, if only to save a little weight and add a little stiffness, would be a set of Fox 32's.

Why the emphasis on Suntour? Rockshox seems to be leaving the coil suspension game to try to be a more premium brand the way Fox is. Rockshox at one time made some of the best coil forks that could be found on the market, such as the Judy, Tora, Dart and XC28 models. These had the ability to be self serviced and fine tuned depending on what kind of suspension coil they had. They seem to be exiting the entry level price point and their products are usually found on bikes starting at around a grand. So that leaves Suntour with the $400 to $800 market, the target which most beginners or new kids to the sport would be able to afford.

Was there anything wrong with coil shocks in the first place? No, in fact once the industry got it right and built a bombproof, indestructible coil shock like the Rockshox Judy, they realized that they weren't going to sell any more bikes, because the thing would just not break. They needed to find a graceful way to sell us another bike so they gave us longer travel options, tapered head tubes and a more affordable mid-range solo air option. Also counting on user error, they gave us the lockout feature on our forks, because that's how they guarantee repeat business.

The moral of this story? As we say in Texas, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Ride your bike to the ground and o-nly upgrade things to add comfort to your ride, like your grips and your saddle. Shocks are a part of the bike and represent about a third of it's overall value, so it's a big ticket item to upgrade just for the sake of upgradeditis. 

Unless you park your bike outside, never replace cable housing: 

Cable housing becomes damaged only if it is cut, severely bent or exposed to the elements and becomes rusted from the inside out. Ride a lot, but leave your bike stored indoors in a dry place? You will never have to change cable housing, no matter how many times a mechanic brings it up as part of a performance tune. Not necessary.

Dawn or Simple Green cleans better than that bike wash stuff they sell at the shops: 

Forget buying bike specific cleaning products. All you need is a bucket with water, a rag, a brush, some dish washing soap or an environmentally friendly cleaner like Simple Green to get the job done. It will cost less and give a better clean than the stuff the store sells.

Stop shaving, using chamois butt-r and slurping gels:

The pro's are the people you see on TV. They are not you and I. We are but mere mortals that have to work for a living and must carry on with dignity and self-respect. We will neither see or appreciate the aerodynamic gains of having our legs shaved or our rear ends slathered in chamois butt-r. Hair stubble hurts, no joke. Not even Peter Sagan shaves his legs anymore.

Emphasize needs and wants, and pick the right tool for the job: 

Looking for a new bike but already have 20 bikes in the garage? Let me stop you right there. You don't need a new bike. Maybe a kid in Malawi needs a new bike, but you certainly don't. Chances are that you already have the tool needed for the job required. With  a little modification, an old mountain bike can become a drop bar gravel grinder or a commuter with some street slicks. Don't have a road bike but want a road bike? Take a rigid mountain bike and put drop bars on it. That bike will hold you over until you are averaging 18-19mph with the fast guys in the club. Looking for your first bike? Think about all realistic scenarios that you will be riding your bike. These days there are many good options in the "one bike that does it all" category. They might be heavier, have knobby tires or made of steel, but one good bike can last a lifetime.

Mid-range is the best range: 

Not sure if your 9 speed Shimano Sora or Shimano Alivio groupset is up to par with that of your friend's Dura Ace or XTR groupsets? Have you found yourself being talked out of your triple chainring crankset to go to a 1x? Have a solid set of wheels but saving up for some carbon ENVE's? Do you find yourself blaming your bike more than your time off the bike for performance loses?

My go to road bikes for group rides lately are a 1988 Schwinn Tempo with downtube shifters, a 6 speed freewheel, 32 spoke count wheels and a steel frame. My other is a 2012 Cannondale Caad 8 with an aluminum frame and Shimano Tiagra shifting. I can average 20mph or more on the fast rides in my area and stay with the rest of the pack, on both bikes. My go to mountain bike is a Fuji Outland 29er full suspension mountain bike that I bought new. I have less than $1,400 invested between all three of these bikes. So while I'm not saying that my bikes are cheap by any means, all three of those bikes might equal the price of what the industry advertises as a "performance" or "race specific" bicycle. The difference between the bikes that I own and a $1,400 bike ends at the price tag. For $500-$800, or about half the price, the same kind of bike can be had. I don't mean a dumb down version of the $1,400 bike. I mean oftentimes, the same performance can be had out of a mid-range bike. The mid-range package might be less flashy, less desirable and less advertised. However, it might have parts that are more durable and have less proprietary technology on it that makes it easier to maintain. What if I told you that 9 speed groupsets were the sweet spot? 9 speed groupsets for road and mountain have the best price point, best durability, best functionality, best reliability and oftentimes the best design. There are also the staple groupsets of mid-range bikes. Something to consider whether you are a beginner cyclist or a seasoned rider eyeing their next bike purchase.


Don't be a poser: 

There are other cyclists besides Chris Froome. Don't be that guy that shows up to the club rides in full Team SKY jersey kit. Not only does that reek for noob behavior, but you will be on the wrong side of history later and will look back on how much of a tool you were for being such a bandwagon Team SKY fan-fan.

When in doubt, Youtube it: 

You can learn literally anything on Youtube, even bicycle repair. Don't want to learn? That's fine too. We in the bike industry appreciate your dollars. However, I will suggest at least learning how to do basic maintenance on your bike. Because when all of the shops in the area are a month out on repairs, you don't want to drop your bike off at the shop because of a flat tire. 

These are some insider tips that the bike industry isn't talking about. Hopefully this has been a helpful article for some of my readers out there. Till next time!




Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Vintage Mountain Bike Racing

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Tales of the rigid mountain bike
The vintage mountain bike race

Vintage Mountain Bike Race on my 1990 GT Karakoram

Mountain bikes have been around since the late 70's and mass produced since the mid 80's. Therefore, it's fair to say that some of those early mountain bikes can now be considered classics. Lately, people are reminiscing about all things 90's. Even mom jeans tried to make a short lived comeback. What's next, acid washed jeans, neon and the like? One cool trend that I have been noticing, at least in the world of mountain biking, is an appreciation for old school mountain bikes, like the ones I grew up riding as a kid.


It was probably 1997 or 1998 when I first got my Huffy rigid mountain bike, with grip shifters and cheap brakes that imitated a much earlier but more functional U-brake design. It was about 98' or 99' when that bike hit dirt for the first time at a flat trail then known to the locals as California Crossing. By then, good suspension systems were just being developed and we dreamed about doing the things that we can do today on our modern suspension 29ers. We lacked the skill and the equipment to be good at mountain biking, but the motivation was definitely there. 


Mountain biking was on experimental territory back then and so were mountain bikers. It wasn't unusual to see people riding in cut off jeans, flannel shirts and gardening gloves. Lycra as common as it now is wasn't the norm back in those days. Sure, some people wore Lycra in mountain bike racing. Most people however didn't buy their clothes from a bike shop and wore whatever exercise clothing they could find or make themselves. That's right, even exercise clothing had to some extent, be made because no one really wore exercise specific clothing aside from Richard Simmons and a bunch of suburban Mom's doing aerobic workout routines in front of a TV.   


A few weeks ago, I had the chance to relive that old 90's feeling to a certain extent. The local mountain bike racing association decided to host an exibition vintage mountain bike race, only accepting bikes that were made before 1999 with no modern modifications. I had found this 1990 GT Karakoram on Craigslist that I'm sure I only paid 20 bucks for. The bike needed to be stripped down to the frame, cleaned, re-greased and needed a couple of new parts. All in all I think I added around $100 to that original $20 purchase price. I lined up against guys with some pretty iconic 90's bikes that where real contenders in their day. The winner of the race had a Schwinn Homegrown with a Rockshox SID fork and lightweight Mavic Crossmax wheels. The guy with the Schwinn posted a lap time that could have easily put him in a top ten position in the regular races. The guy in second place had a titanium Merlin mountain bike that probably weighed nothing, as he ended up modifying it with carbon cranks ( I seriously don't know how he didn't get DQ'ed from a 90's themed mountain bike race).  I came in fourth, with my friend Nathan taking third on his 90's Ironhorse with Rockshox Quadra forks that he engineered to turn them into rigid forks. There were other cool bikes that were way lighter and more responsive than mine, so 4th place out of 11th was a good ride for me. I received a cool participation award for most vintage bike, and a lot of kudos from other riders for having the guts to show up and narrowly miss the podium on a nearly 30 year old, rigid bike with a front shifter that dropped the chain. I did, in fact have a mechanical which caused me to fall 3 places back and I had to overtake 3 guys to get back in 4th position.

Here's a couple of more pictures of the vintage mountain bike race...

Nathan on his Ironhorse with modified shocks.




The only other rider who had a bike older than mine







I hope to see more races like these as time goes on. I appreciate the nod DORBA gave to us former 90's kids and mountain bikers. In a world that is ever more serious and focused on tech, nutrition and other nuances, it's nice to get back to our lighthearted roots and more innocent times. I will still continue to ride my modern mountain bikes because I'm not a curmudgeon or a retro grouch. I will nevertheless look forward to the next event like this and hopefully this one won't be the last!

Possibly to come on my blog; I will try if time allows to showcase some of my recent vintage mountain bike findings, write more point of view articles and try to revive this blog a little bit. My goal is to go from a roadie to a mountain biker and come full circle with myself. Let's see if changing the format up a little bit will bring life into a bike blog that is nearly a decade old.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Are Cyclists Selfish?

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Taking The "Me" Out of Cycling:
A Look at how to be a cyclist without making it all about us


Self-centered people are often the ones making onlookers and would-be cyclists refer to all cyclists as "douchebags". Of course, selfish people and self-centered people are not limited to the confines of the bicycle riding, Lycra wearing types. Someone who exhibits these traits doesn't just have to be a cyclist. In fact, these attitudes in cycling are just a symptom of the bigger problem of where we have come to as a society. Smart phones, selfie sticks, status updates, targeted advertising; everything is geared to put our own interests ahead of everything else. We come to see ourselves not as contributors to society. Rather, we at many times expect the rest of the world to wait on us and attend to our needs. The more I pay attention to this, the more obvious it becomes. 

I'm going to preface this by saying that this is my first blog post in well over a year. I have been busy with life since my last blog post. If  I'm honest I have also lost interest in trying to write about the same cycling topics that have been already extensively discussed in online forums and around the cycling inter-webs. I don't want the articles that I write about to be aimless content filler that just gets lost in the void of useless information. Since I have very little time to write anymore, I want my content to matter somewhat and to make a positive impact. Having said that I'm writing this article with the intent of looking inward and becoming better cyclists from the inside out, not relying on the latest gadget or the newest bicycle to do it for us. 


Like all bad habits, a selfish attitude is a bad habit that goes from being a mere tendency to a lifestyle once it is left unchecked. Cycling is a sport which can be as expensive or as inexpensive as we want it to be. Most of the time, the guys and gals you see participating in clubs where there is organized riding or racing have opted to make it as expensive as they can make it for themselves. On that side of the spectrum, the industry that retails the sport is one that highly discourages contentment. The aim of the game is no longer about fitness, recreation or the personal enjoyment of being in the outdoors. The motivation for spending is not getting "dropped". That is why bikes these days are marketed as lighter and faster. That is why people often times end up spending ten times the amount for a delicate carbon fiber paper bike rather than a durable, steel touring bike that can last a lifetime. And let's face it, once we are no longer happy with the current bike we own we see buying another bike as the solution. It doesn't help that most cyclists have a morbid fear of getting dropped. Well, someone who is always buying without regard to price and can never be satisfied with what they own is already making it about themselves. So in that regard cyclists can be selfish, to the point of narcissism even.


So how can you be a cyclist without becoming selfish? You have to look at the greater picture. Getting dropped is a part of life, and every ride is a learning and training opportunity that will make us stronger so that eventually we will no longer get dropped. No bike no matter how expensive is going to teach that lesson for us, only lots of humbling experiences will. You might find after a while that group riding really isn't your thing. That's okay, you don't need to ride at race pace to enjoy cycling. Maybe you are more suited to riding by yourself, adventure riding, mountain biking or simply riding with a different social group of people who are not interested in racing. You can still become a very fit individual doing it this way if that is what you are aiming for. 


My Mom once told me that 99% of the things that happen to us are as a result of our attitude. So if we have an "attitude of gratitude", that can go a long way. I have seen ungrateful people in all levels of society so this is not really based on our upbringing or where we are from. We can have a humble beginning only to get spoiled later in life. We could also have everything given to us but still have humility and accept things that might be a little lower than the standards set for us. Being grateful will also allow us to get out of the rat race, live within our means and have more time for riding. It will also prevent us from getting "upgraditis" and replace our bikes every few years. Buying an expensive bike doesn't make us a contributing member to society as some would portray it,  on the contrary that's just being a wasteful consumer and in some cases, a hoarder.


There is another aspect of cycling where most people act really selfishly towards one another. In a group ride setting, it's common courtesy to wait for an individual that has a mechanical, call out gaps in the pack and start and finish rides as a group. More and more even on social, non-competitive rides these kind gestures are disappearing as people become more selfish. More and more group rides in my area are becoming "drop" rides, meaning the group doesn't wait up, on purpose. Blowing through traffic lights and not calling out to pedestrians is another selfish way for cyclists to behave on the roads, since they are posing a danger to themselves and others. Reckless cycling is just as bad as reckless driving and it's inconsiderate to the family members of those cyclists who already worry about them being on the roads.  


After many years of riding to be one of the fastest, riding not to get dropped and paying attention to all of the market trends, I'm just about done with it. It has become the ultimate game of chasing the rabbit for me. That still doesn't mean that don't love riding my bike. The difference now is that I'm going to forgo my pride and there will be times where I will get dropped. There will also be times where I'm slower. That's okay, I've earned it. I'm no stranger to the fast guys in my area. They know who I am and who I can be with the right amount of time and training. It's time I put things in their proper place. My rides from here on out will be done between family obligations or with my family and for my personal enjoyment and well-being. I don't see myself going to the bike shop and shelling out a few grand on a new bike anymore. The bikes that I currently have are just going to have to last for the long haul. Besides, there are other things and people in life that are more important.