Corners

In the Tour de France, they descend mountains at between 50 and 75 mph.  Yes, mph, not km/h.  They freewheel a lot, but they also pedal, especially the good descenders, who can often make up a couple of minutes and rejoin the lead group of the race. Going downhill they have to contend with corners.   Of course they have no worries about cars coming the other way, or unexpected bad patches in the road.  Unless they haven’t scouted the course beforehand.  “Bad” can mean irregular and broken road surface, melted asphalt, or areas of sand, gravel, or grit on the road.  Any one of these factors on a curve can cause loss of control, and a high speed spill, often breaking a bone and sometimes ending a career.  One unconfident touch of the brakes can lose a cyclist all the sconds he’s worked so hard to gain.  One miscalculation can send the rider flying off the road, often in spots with no guard rails and long, long falls.  A couple of years back a rider in the Tour went off the road and fell off his bike.  The bike went on for  2000 feet down a steep slope of slag.  In the 2003 Tour Josebo Beloki hit a patch of melted asphalt and had his tire roll off the wheel, resulting in one of the most sickening crashes ever seen.  He lay ther screaming in pain, having broken several bones, and his career was essentially over.

So knowing how to go around a corner is a necessary skill for a cyclist.  I practice it on these limited winter rides.  It’s all about taking the right line through the curve.  Of course I don’t have the luxury of no oncoming traffic, so the idea is to take the right line around the corner, omit braking, and avoid losing traction on the rear tire.

Coming into the curve, i am supposed to take the line that results in me cutting close to the curb at the apex of the curve.  that way I maintain speed and don’t emerge from the curve way out in the middle of the street.  I push down on the inside handlebar to increase the tilt of the bike as I go around, maintaining speed and adhering to the right-hand side of the road.  I keep my inside knee up, to give a stronger center of gravity to the turn and to avoid my foot and pedal hitting the pavement, which can result in a nasty crash.

This sounds simple but is amazingly hard to do.  Every season i have to work on it again to feel comfortable with going around curves at high speed and without braking.  It’s hard to have that degree of confidence in your control and line.  In my neighborhood there’s a great right-hand curve at the bottom of a descent as I turn right from McNeil onto Holt.  I am always surprised how hard it is to train mysself not to hit the brakes, even though I know there’s no treacherous sand or potholes there.  It’s a qiestion of confidence in my own judgment and physical ability to ontrol the bike as I approach the turn at about 23 mph.  Maybe by June . . .

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

Friends

Funny how differently Facebook works for the generations.  The under-30 crowd uses it to organize mass snowball fights and advertize social gatherings.  The over-50 crowd uses it to keep in touch with busy young family members and old friends.  Thus it was that two of my Williams classmates and fraternity brothers emerged from “ancient history” on my Facebook page after decades of silence.  John and Mike were two of my better friends in those days.  I roomed with John at the fraternity house, and we all shared classes.

Our fraternity, Delta Phi, owned a former private estate which became our House.  It had a long treed drive, huge living room, and comfortable living quarters.  The front lawn was more than ample for hitting fungoes and hanging out.  Out back was a double row of apple trees, which came into blossom just in time for their sweet perfume to seduce us from studying for final exams.  The back lawn became a court where killer badminton games were played regularly.

We were a relatively studious and socially conscious fraternity.  The former trait distinguished us from the more drink-and-party oriented Greek societies, while the latter alienated us from our national organization.  Jews were not supposed even to be pledged, yet we not only had Jewish members, but even elected a Jewish chapter president.  That did it.  The national expelled us.  We were never so proud.

After struggling through classes together—Clay Hunt’s notorious Modern Poetry course, third year calculus, arduous science labs—we graduated and went our separate ways.  I corresponded with John for a while as he went off to teach in Kenya.  But graduate school and marriage focused us on our discrete lives, and the veil descended.

With the first excitement of Facebook contact we have exchanged long “catch-up” emails, to discover that we have something in common (other than retirement and a 50th college reunion that very likely none of us will attend):  Cycling.

We all came to cycling differently, and I suspect our modes of riding are different.  John, a distance runner all his life, resorted to cycling as an alternative when he developed back problems.  He rides the rolling country of upstate New York, has done some long distance trips, and logs 1500 miles a year.  Mike has ridden 20-25 miles every day since his 1999 retirement.  He lives in Santa Barbara, where the climate allows such intensity.  He’ll hit 100,000 miles this summer (do the math—it checks out).  I stand in awe.  I’m somewhere in between, I guess.  I have been averaging 3000+ miles per year, riding about every third day of a year, but more regularly in the warmer seasons.  The three of us own different kinds and numbers of bikes, and have our individual objectives, routines, and motives for riding.  But here we are, nearly half a century after college, converging on some of the same points in life, validating in our common interests the innate bonds that first made us classmates and brothers.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

Off

A day off the bike after three days of riding is not a luxury, but a necessity.  I feel lucky that I timed this one for a rainy day.  Each day I rode I felt stronger and more in control of the bike.  Of course this is my beloved old Fuji (see Specs page) that has the wide tires and heavy frame.  It weighs almost 15 pounds more than the Trek 2.1.  It has a shifter system which is “logical” in the absolute sense but different from any other system I’ve ever used, so it takes a spin or two for the right instinct to settle in.  But it’s easy to handle and solider in slush.

And a bike like this discourages reckless speed and behavior which neither road conditions nor my physical condition is ready for.  While the regular indoor work I have been doing gets my legs ready for riding, they’re only ready to begin real riding, not to hit the pavement in top form.  But a quick inventory tells me I came out of this first rush of daily riding with no inflammations or strains of joints or muscles, better lungs, and a tad less weight.

Today I did my indoor core strength exercises instead.  They present me with a physical challenge, but one I am always glad to take on.  There are a few onerous moments, but I think I’m doing the exercises better each time, and the results seem evident.  They take just about 30 minutes.  So tomorrow I will be back on the wet, cold streets, or else rolling along with the peloton during the 2003 Tour de France. I’d prefer the former, time and temperature permitting.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

Outside II

Everything is dripping.   The gutters to the left and right are syncopated and liquid.   Their rivulets darken the driveway.  Drops from the eaves pelt my back, the saddle, the frame.  When each tire reaches 90 psi, I pull the pump off the valve with a percussive pop.

Underway, the tires crunch road grit.   The chain clunks into cog after cog as I shift with downhill acceleration.  Ahead, salt crystals catch sunglint, sand silica dazzles.  Snowbanks refract glare.  I need some yellow lenses; the black ones darken too much.  Yellow’s right for winter snow (“don’t eat yellow snow,” but what if it’s all yellow?).

Turning the corner, headwinds slam me.  Winter wind is like iron: hard, cruel, painful.  I gasp with cold air deep in my alveoli, a challenge to the core temperature.  My eyes tear up; my nose runs.  Quads, knees, calves strain to push the pace.  I bend my body into a more aerodynamic position; no use prolonging this.  Still, my Goretex jacket and new thin but effective underlayer keep my body comfortably warm despite the betrayal of the sun, which has chosen to hide behind a thin layer of cloud.  It looks as fuzzy as a nebula, even though at 40,000 feet I know the sky in an intense, deep blue and the sun dazzling.  Up there it’s also -60˚ C.

I sense cars approaching by motor’s rumble and tires’ churn.  Some honk; a brief beep is gentle warning, but a long blast screams annoyance.  How dare I slow them down a few seconds?

Cruising, the hollow sound of the hard-pumped tires is a constant background.  These 32 mm cruisers have a gentle flowing sigh.  But 23 mm racing slicks have the deeply hollow “ahhhhh” of a despondent ghost.  Along with the sighs is a faint recurrent click.   Bottom bracket bearings worn?  Something loose in the drive train?

Also in rhythmic accompaniment is my steady breathing.  No intense gasping on this route, but it’s deeper and more insistent than usual, just to keep enough oxygen in my blood.

Hitting a rough patch of road, the bike rattles and vibrates.  The damped front forks of the Fuji absorb a lot, but I replaced the damped seatpost—the most uncomfortable component of any bike I have ever owned.  A little honest interaction with the road never hurt anybody.  Bicycle tires and tubes have a remarkable resilience, surviving more than I imagine they will.

You can always tell who’s doing the laundry in the neighborhood just by the fabric-softening tissue’s heavy perfume that blows out of the dryer exhaust and surrounds the house.  But this time the best scent about 1:30 pm near the end of the ride comes from Neighbor’s Bar and Grill.  We go there for the Philly Cheesesteak subs, and that’s what they’ve got on the grill.  I could really murder one of those right now!

A little more grit to grind over, some last clicks of shifting gears, and then the senses of motion stop.  At the garage door, meltwater is still dripping.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

Outside

At 4:45 am the day before yesterday, we were awakened by the sound and flashing lights of heavy equipment.  VDOT had sent Bobcats and front loaders to clear our streets of snow properly, since the couldn’t/didn’t do it with snowplow blades.  They made huge mounds of snow at the street corners, which had been particularly ill-plowed.   They also gouged the streets with grooves 3 ½” wide, ¼” to ½” deep, and 6 to 12 feet long.  In some places they actually took off the top 1” of asphalt, creating almost sure potholes for the future.  The neighbor kids who play street hockey all summer just got their “ice” ruined.  Yesterday morning the equipment was back again, this time along our street from above our house to the corner below.  I got about 8 feet of dirty snow dumped on part of the sidewalk I had shoveled out after the storm.  The poor neighbors across the street got a 7- or 8-foot snow fort wall between their house and the street.

But there was a method in VDOT’s madness.  For yesterday the melting began in earnest.  The sun was out, the air temperature was 40, and everything was dripping.  I spent a couple of hours unburdening the branches of our ornamental trees and shrubs, and digging them out from their drifts to take full advantage.  Our giant icicle “Fang” shrank to a mere shadow of his former self, and today received the ultimate indignity of emasculation as half of his remaining length suddenly fell off.  As for the street, it was clear and dry by 2:00 pm yesterday.  And so were streets all over the subdivision, having gotten the same treatment.

So today I was able to ride (21.13 miles) for the first time in three and a half weeks.  From my neighborhood circuit I can report that: mounds at intersections are as much as 15’ high, traffic generally is still very light, lots of people do a terrible job of shoveling, and some cars inexplicably have never been moved or cleaned since the storms began, so they’re now plowed in with frozen slush.  I saw only one other cyclist, who appeared to be on a mission similar to mine.  I had seen others from the car over the last few days, commuting on major thoroughfares.

The ride itself was wonderful.  Just being back on the bike excited me, and I vowed to push it hard enough so that every muscle fiber in my quads was screaming for mercy at the end of the ride.  I succeeded fairly well in that, and threw in my calf muscles for good measure.  (I intend to write about the pain of physical effort sometime soon.)  The sun was warm, though the air was a cool 40˚ and the wind chill brought that down to about 32˚.  Somehow I didn’t notice.  I was too focused on the smells and sights of the ride, as well as the exact road and traffic conditions.  No unforeseen perils, though.  Now if we can get the trail melted in a few more days, we’ll be all set.

Wow!  I have been waiting to ride for a long time.  Couldn’t feel better.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

Fan

I’m upping my exercise times, in five minute intervals, from 45 minutes to one hour over the next week or ten days.  When I can never get out on the bike I can’t maintain form, especially stamina and power, at 45 minutes of indoor time.  Today is my first day of doing this with my most frequent e-bike routine, in which I ride at varying resistances while keeping my heart rate at even at 122-125 beats per minute.  That’s slightly more than double my resting pulse, and about 80% of my lactate threshold, the rate at which i am working so hard that lactic acid starts to build up in my muscles.  My maximum is still about 160-162, somewhat higher than average for my age (a good thing).  So today I’m on a very controlled and understated pace, designed to maintain conditioning without too much strain.

As I am roll along I watch the 2003 Tour de France.  It’s stage 5, the Team Time Trial.  In this type of race the entire team rides together, keeping a high pace by rotating through a line to shield one another from the wind.  Rules are that at least five of nine team riders must finish together, with the team time taken from the fifth rider.  Lance’s team, U. S. Postal, has never won the TTT, but is designed this year to contain the riders necessary to win it.  One of his main rivals (Josebo Beloki) is on a strong Spanish team (ONCE) that won the previous year.   The other (Jan Ullrich) is on a weaker team (Bianchi), though he himself is a strong rider.  But a stong rider on a weak team loses in a TTT, because he get the same time as his weaker mates.

U. S. Postal rides last since it has been the strongest team in the earlier stages.  Drama.  They flash around the curves and past the intermediate time checks, gaining on all the others with every kilometer.  I know how it’s going to finish, but it’s still exciting.  The Postal guys are decked out in blue, with white and red highlights.  They’re riding Trek bikes, and they are hammering it.  All nine are together as they cross the line; Victor Hugo Peña is first, and will be leading the race and thus the first Colombian to wear the yellow jersey.  Ace rouleur George Hincapie knows they’ve won and raises a fist in triumph.  Lance is grinning, now only one second behind, having put big time into his rivals.   The first eight places in the race belong to U. S. Postal riders.  My heart rate is 130.  By the end of the post-race interviews, it’s back to 123.  After seven years, still a fan.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.