Cyclist Assault on the W&OD

This never happens.  Sexual assaults?  There have been a few over the last 15 years. Collisions?  Of course.  Cyclists hit by vehicles at crossings?  Sadly, several.  Angry words exchanged?  Every day, I am sure, and several within my hearing.

But “road rage” attacks?  Never, until I heard this on the radio a couple of days ago:

A bicyclist was seriously injured Sunday on one of the area’s most popular bike trails when another cyclist reached out and struck him as they passed each other, authorities said.

It sounds horrible.  Somebody just reached over into the other lane and smacked another rider.

But wait; there’s more.  In the expanded Washington Post report, the story goes on [I disavow and deplore the painfully clunky prose you are about to read]:

According to the sheriff’s office, the victim was headed west and reportedly on the center line of the trail as he tried to pass two other cyclists. A cyclist going in the opposite direction purposely extended his arm and struck him on his helmet, the sheriff’s office said.

The westbound cyclist fell to the ground, the sheriff’s office said. The other cyclist rode off to the east, the sheriff’s office said, heading toward Ashburn Village Boulevard.

In a statement, the sheriff’s office said the suspect in what they described as an assault wore a white/light green shirt, a helmet and sunglasses, and was about six feet tall.

According to the office, his bicycle was said to resemble a time trial bike or a triathlon bike. The bars on the bike were “aero bars” and his helmet was an “aero” helmet covered with a sun shade that covered half his face, according to the statement.

Now it’s a whole different thing, right?  Clearly the “victim” was on the wrong side of the yellow line, not “on” it.  Check out the photo, taken at a place not far from the incident;

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The W&OD Near Ashburn Village Boulevard

there’s not enough room on that section to pass without getting out of your lane.

So it is easy to infer that the “suspect”, the tri-bike guy with the white/light green jersey and the aero helmet, was faced with a speeding cyclist coming at him on his side of the trail, passing other bikes headed in his direction on their proper side of the trail.  He had no place to go except way over to the edge or off the trail.  The shoulder varies in width and quality, but it’s never a good place to be forced onto at a second’s notice.  It’s easy for me to see why the “suspect” would want to smack the “victim,” or true assailant, who had put himself, the “suspect,” and others in harm’s way.  Not that I am condoning a deliberate attempt to injure another cyclist in any circumstances, but the “victim,” it would appear, got what was coming to him.

It was a Sunday afternoon.  It was a rare (for this spring) warm April day.  The cyclists being passed were probably going slowly.  They might well have been a family.  They, along with the dog walkers, the septuagenarian couples taking walks, the second graders being taught how to ride their bikes, the riders stopped on the trail to take a cell phone call, and the rest of the human comedy that occupies the Trail on nice weekend days, can’t be expected to know or follow the Trail Rules.  If regular riders want to get out there on days like that, they have to ride slowly.  Period.

So it’s a shame it happened, and I am glad such events are very rare.  Two guys trying to squeeze too much intensity out of a rare recreational moment.

But I bet I know one guy who’s not going to be wearing his light green kit, donning his aero helmet, or riding his tri-bike for a while out on the Trail.

Copyright Arnold J. Bradford, 2018

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Day One

Spring finally arrived in northern Virginia today.  It was in the mid-80s by late afternoon, breezy and wonderful, the first entire day that was truly like spring is supposed to be.  Nature was completely undaunted by any ominous omens of the calendar, which made it Friday the 13th.

Just three years ago yesterday I began my cancer treatment, quite a different spring regimen.  The aftereffects of the successful treatment have left me with less stamina and less determination to subject myself to discomfort.  So since 2015 I have not ridden my bike on the relatively more temperate days of midwinter or early spring.  All of the first three months of the year were on the exercise bike, or walking, and even these activities did not have the compelling allure they’ve had in years past.  But I was whipped into better shape by the visit of my daughter and granddaughter, who wanted to see the sights of our nation’s capital.  I was tested by Capitol Hill, challenged by the stairs of numerous subways, government buildings and museums, and generally called to consider that I was not too old to “use it” lest I “lose it.”

So this morning I was eager to get out on the W&OD Trail in the belated warmth of the season.  Couldn’t just pick up and go, of course.  I first discovered that we had no 2032 batteries to replace the dead one in my bike computer.  So off I went to CVS, returned and then sought out the manual that would allow me to reprogram the gadget.  After a mere 40 minutes from start to finish I had my electronic source of statistics back.  I’d carried over the mileage tally for 9 or 10 years, outlasting several batteries, but today I started over again at zero, because I think this is the beginning of a new era in my cycling life.

Coda

Jamis Coda Comp, my basic ride these days. That is a 52-tooth chainring.

Out in the garage my next challenge awaited.  Since the Jamis Coda had not been ridden since late September 2017, its tires were low despite my pumping them up once over the winter.  And sitting idle in the garage is not good for the drive train, particularly the chain.  Though I had oiled it in September, it was stiffened with rust and dirt.  Luckily the tires held air, and about ten minutes with a rag and chain oil got the drive train workable.  More oil for the cables, a readjustment of the rear brakes (new brake shoes needed soon!), and I was ready to suit up and go.  I decided on my trusty Kelme / Costa Bianca jersey, the colors of a European pro team of the Lance Armstrong era.  Sandro Botero rode for them, as did a couple of riders—Chechu Rubiera and Roberto Heras—who switched to Lance’s US Postal team and helped him win several of his seven straight Tours de France almost as much as PEDs helped him.

I took off with a lurking trepidation—would my body be up for this?  The plan was to ride just 11 miles, out to Hunter Mill Road and back.  No overkill on the first ride of the season.  I felt good on the bike, and going up Jackson Parkway and onto the right-of-way over to the Trail, I passed a couple of neighbors planting new bushes along the 50 or 60 foot paved link.  Everybody’s loving the warm air.  Once on the Trail, I found my strength and stamina were OK.  I was passing the really slow riders, was being passed by the strong ones, and dodging a number of walkers.  As always, I marveled at the convergence of roadblock groups, like the two moms pushing strollers side-by-side, and the walker passing them, spread out across the whole trail just when I wanted to go by.  My cheery “on the left” was not met with any rush on the walker’s part to get over quickly.  Cheeky!  I knew I had missed the Spring Peepers in the marshes of Difficult Run by about a month, and the bullfrogs too.   But on the way home some kind of froggy noises were emanating from Eudora Park, where Piney Branch flows.

I was feeling good as I approached my turnaround.  Inside my head something whispered “go ahead, you can do a few more miles.”  But I said “get thee behind me, Lance,” recognizing the voice of the temptation to do more than one is naturally capable of, whatever the price.  By about halfway home I realized how smart I had been to keep to my plan.  I was riding into a brisk quartering headwind, and all the muscles that were doing things unfamiliar to them were starting to ache: quads, shoulders, arm and hand muscles, knee joints.

Back at my desk, the computer said that my numbers for time and speed were in the same range I had reached near the end of last year.  So now it’s nothing but onward and upward.  I well may be out there again tomorrow because it’s supposed to be another warm day.

Rare Tour de France Flip

July 14 (Bastille Day)

In the Tour de France, it’s not every day that the race leader loses 22 seconds, and the race lead, in the last 300 meters (328 yards, or 984 feet) of a 214.5 km (133.3 mile) stage.  But that’s what happened to Chris Froome, 3-time TdF winner, yesterday.

The stage featured six categorized climbs, including two 1st Catégorie and one Hors Catégorie, but the true killer was in the last 500 meters or so, a short Cat. 2 with a 20% grade.  That’s one foot of rise for every five feet of distance.  Climbs like that, taken at race speed with everybody trying to finish first, are not for the faint of heart, or of leg.

Froome and his strong Team Sky mates took the lead in the opening time trial when Welshman Geraint Thomas won, and Froome himself grabbed the leader’s yellow jersey on Stage 5.  At that time he said he saw no reason why his team could not hold the lead all the way to Paris.  Such a feat would have been the first in 89 years, since 1928, when Nicolas Frantz, the Luxembourg National Champion, did so for Alcyon.

Froome’s closest rivals at this point in the race were Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet, and Rigoberto Uràn, who trailed after Stage 11 by 18, 51, and 55 seconds respectively.  Beyond 30 seconds or so, against a formidable climber like Froome, any gap is significant, and riders finding themselves more than a minute and a half adrift are in deep trouble if they’re seeking overall victory.

So when the race entered the Pyrenees yesterday, rolling out of Pau toward Peyragudes, with the six climbs looming ahead, all cards were on the table.  No more holding back.  This was the first big mountain stage, the one that was the consistent launch point for Lance Armstrong back in his United States Postal Service heyday.  His strong, tireless team would ride at a pace that would keep others from attacking, led by support riders whose efforts would keep Lance’s legs fresh for the charge up the last climb of that first day in the high mountains.

That’s how it was going yesterday, with Froome behind a couple of leadout men.  By the next-to-last climb, the legendary Col de Peyresourde, A group of about riders, including all the remaining contenders, was in the lead.  Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana got dropped before the last climb.  The rest followed the wheels of the Sky group of three, with Froome in third position.  TV announcers suggested that nobody was attacking because the pace set by Sky was so high.  Truth is, the potential attackers were saving it for when it would do the most good, inside that last steep kilometer with a climb that looked like a wall.

Fabio Aru (l) begins his move on Chris Froome (r). Romain Bardet, eventual winner, is just behind. Getty Images

All of a sudden, with about 500 meters to go, they went.  By 300 meters the stronger men created separation from Froome.  Uràn and then Aru looked good for the win, but Bardet at last shot ahead, taking it cleanly 2 seconds ahead of them.  Meanwhile, Froome looked as if his gears had jammed.  He was zig-zagging across the road, riding at an angle to lessen the steepness, looking just like me riding up Hunter Station Road on a bad day.  He came in alone, in 7th place, 22 seconds behind, not even the first man from his own team across the line.  Mikel Landa had gone on his own, because there’s no way to help a team leader whose legs just couldn’t take the angle of the slope.

Chris Froome, now trailing Aru by 6 seconds thanks to the time bonuses, may well win this Tour, but yesterday he was the central figure in an abrupt, unprecedented loss of time and race lead.  Good cycling, great theater.  Vive le Tour.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016.

Close Encounters of the W&OD Kind

Yesterday was the first day since about early June that I would call truly comfortable.  El niño, climate change, or both, have made this summer truly miserable in the mid-Atlantic states.  The sky was clear, the air was dry, the breeze was from the northwest.  At breakfast time the temperature was in the low 60˚ range.

Energized by the weather, I took off for a cruise to Herndon in mid-morning.  Before I got back I had two very unusual encounters, not unknown to frequent riders on the trail, but firsts to me.

I got out to the west Herndon Trailside Park, with its skateboard facilities, thinking that the skateboarders there were enjoying their last week of free and easy fun; those boarding next week would be playing hooky.  After a brief rest I headed back, feeling cool and fast, enjoying the tailwind.  Suddenly the only rider I could see, about 50 yards ahead of me, went down like a sack of potatoes.  It was as abrupt as the moment in the 2004 Tour de France when Lance Armstrong caught his handlebar in a musette bag held by a fan beside the road: the fall was definitive and heavy.

When I got there a few seconds later he was just rolling over, a middle-aged guy with a small backpack, somewhat heavy-set, wearing glasses, a t-shirt and cycling shorts.  He had road rash on the left side of his left knee, and more severely on his left elbow and upper arm.  He said there wasn’t much pain, and he thought he could make it back to his start point.  Then he tried to lift his left arm.  He was suddenly in a world of hurt.  He said he’d had rotator cuff issues, but this seemed different, located below and inboard from the tip of his shoulder.  He got up, in more severe pain (shock wearing off I suppose), and walked over to the chain-link fence that marked the border of the Herndon Centennial Golf course to compose himself.

Trek

Trek Madone 9.2 in “Stealth Fighter” matte black

Meanwhile two other riders passed.  The first stopped, and we discussed what we might do.  We waved off the second.  The fallen rider came back and talked of riding one-handed back to his start point at the Route 28 overpass.  We both thought that was a bad idea, and convinced him to call his wife.  He explained that he fell because he caught a little bit of the grass at the side of the trail, and then lost control when his wheel caught a rut in the grass.  Looked to me as if the front wheel abruptly turned 90˚ left, and he was thrown by his momentum.  Not just a “fall.”  [His bike, by the way, was a Trek Madone series, I think a 9.2 ($5000-$5500) in “matte Trek black/ gloss Dnister black” that everybody thinks is so cool right now.  Ironically, one can also get these bikes in a variety of color combinations that are actually attractive.  Guess his Bontraeger R3 slicks did not handle the grass well.]

The guy turned out to be a former Air Force pilot (Lt. Colonel) who since then has been a captain for Eastern and then United.  He was saying this when another rider came by, and she (on a matte black Felt with green highlights) was an orthopedic nurse.  What luck!  The other would-be assistant left while she got the victim’s symptoms, sized things up as a probable dislocated shoulder, and directed us to the next intersection, Ferndale Avenue, and just down the road to the golf course.  She was determined to wait with him by the street, but then decided he’d fare better out of the sun, so she got the golf course to provide a van to take him to the clubhouse, some ice for his shoulder, someone to carry his bike, and shelter in the shade.  Once all that was settled we took off.  He had

Airbus

United Airbus 320 Not Being Piloted by Fallen Rider

determined he needed to go straight to Emergency Care.  Interesting how he, like most of us, realize only slowly the full implications of a serious situation.  We begin by assuming it’s just a minor interruption to our day, even if it truly means we can’t possibly pilot our Airbus A320 to Houston and Philadelphia the next day, as planned.

The other encounter was briefer and sillier.  I was nearing the top of the low hill between Vienna Community Center and Cedar Lane, almost home, when a vehicle crested the rise.  Vehicles on the Trail are not as uncommon as they should be; I had thought earlier on this ride that it was a rare day because I hadn’t seen one.  No Park Ranger truck, no mower with its huge circular blade on an hydraulic arm, no subcontractor out to prune trees, no electric company vehicle to work on the lines or some wayward transformer.  But here was a vehicle, with headlights on.  It soon was evident that this was a civilian car, moving very slowly.  Another cyclist only a little behind me and I immediately started shouting.  “This is the bike trail. No motor vehicles are allowed.  Get off of here! You can’t be here.”  The car stopped.  It was a red sedan with Virginia plates.  The driver was easy to see and hear because his window was already down. He looked middle eastern, wore sunglasses, and spoke with an accent.  “I know I shouldn’t be on here.  I made a wrong turn.  How do I get off?”  Our advice was to turn around and go back to Cedar Lane.  As he moved on ahead to begin the turnaround process, we two cyclists looked at each other.  “What the hell?” the other one asked.  “Takes all kinds,” I said.

When I got to Cedar Lane a half-mile later I looked back.  There was no sedan to be seen, so I don’t know what he did.  I crossed the street, rode the last half mile, and mused on one of the stranger rides I’ve ever had.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016

Kerry on the Colombiere (complete version)

John Kerry, U. S. Secretary of State, broke his femur today as he rode out on his bike for a little exercise jaunt.  He was headed for the Col de Colombiere, a mountain pass in the Savoy Alps that ascends more than 5,200 feet above sea level.  Kerry had an entourage of support vehicles, American security and Secret Service (rousted no doubt from the beds where they and their lady friends were “sleeping”), that put to shame even the famous Tour de France motorcade in terms of firepower if not tourist kitsch.

Kerry fell off hitting a curb at low speed.  It’s a surprisingly dangerous maneuver.  The curb does not have any “give,” so essentially what happens is that the bike stops very abruptly.  The rider, who did not see this coming, takes no evasive action.  His body, which was not directly acted upon by an outside force, follows the dictates of that famous law first propounded by Sir Isaac Newton, and keeps on going, propelled by momentum.  Ah, but that other Newtonian force, namely gravity, does come into play, and so the cyclist first catapults and then hits the tarmac.  The Secretary’s femur did not withstand the blow.

Most likely Kerry was preoccupied by thoughts of how he might feel halfway up the climb.  The Colombiere is formidable, offering a climb of about 16 km at an average gradient of about 6.8%, and an ascent of 1100 meters (over 3600 feet).  There is a 10.2% gradient section near the top.  I can avow that for most recreational cyclists, that kind of a gradient requires distinct effort.  The climb has been featured 20 times in the last 65 years of Tour de France racing.  Heroes from Luis Herrera to Richard Virenque to Marco Pantani have led the racers over the top in years past.  But the most infamous leader over the top is the American rider Floyd Landis.  Landis went on a literally incredible escape on the 17th stage of the  2006 Tour.  He had been dropped on the previous day, losing almost 10 minutes to his main competitors on a mountaintop finish, to trail the race leader by 8 minutes and 8 seconds.  But on July 21 he took off on a 130 km solo ride, finishing by going up and over the Col du Colombiere and down into the finishing town of Morzine.  At the end of the day he trailed the overall race leader by only 30 seconds.  He then won the Tour with a powerful Time Trial performance a couple of days later.  But as the Tour ended in Paris, word got out that a high placed finisher had tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs.  Landis’ tests revealed that he had an 11:1 T/E ratio (testosterone to epitestosterone) at the end of stage 17.  The normal ratio is 1:1.  The highest permissible in the Tour is 4:1.  Incredible, unbelievable, indeed!  But that’s not the only dark American cycling parable in which Kerry’s ride was caught up.

Kerrybike

John Kerry rounds a corner on his Serotta.

John Kerry was riding a Serotta bike up the Colombiere, if newspaper photos of him reflect yesterday’s outing.  Serotta bikes are of many sorts, but they include high-end titanium/carbon road bikes which sell for over $6800, and it appears Kerry is riding one of these.  Serottas are American made, in a small entrepreneurial operation run by designer Ben Serotta.  Or I should say “were” made, because last year Ben Serotta was bought out by Blue Competition Cycles and Mad Fiber Wheels to form Divine Cycling Group.  The Group withdrew funding and now Ben Serotta is not making Serotta bikes.  He owns neither the company nor the brand that he formed 41 years ago.  His bikes were at the heart of the American move into international bike racing in the late 1970s, used by such  teams as 7-Eleven under the “Huffy” brand name.  Andy Hampsten won his epic Giro d’Italia stage on the Gavia riding a Serotta-made bike, and Davis Phinney won Tour de France stages on them.  But the modern business climate of corporate control has poisoned the well for many an American small business.  Kerry’s patriotic choice to ride a Serotta symbolizes both the achievement of American small business and its precarious health.  Kerry could have ridden a Trek but I’m glad he chose otherwise.  I love Treks, but that’s another story.

So John Kerry’s fractured femur carries the weight of American parables, echoes of triumph and tragedy, appearance and reality, success and failure, all in the same moment. Quite a load for a broken bone.  And it hurts more when you put pressure on it.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2015.

Motors on Bikes? LeMond Thinks So

There’s been much talk of motors on bikes lately.  The motors in question are lightweight and can apparently be concealed in downtubes and pedal spindles.  Suspicions arose during recent stages of the Giro d’Italia when several riders, including race leader Alberto Contador, have changed bikes arbitrarily during the race.

Back in the day, let’s say Greg LeMond’s day, riders occasionally changed bikes at the foot of climbs.   One bike was designed for flat road racing, and the other for climbing.  Still, that tactic was rare.  One ensuing problem was that the new bike was not weighed before the start of the stage, as the old bike might have been.  It could be weighed at the end of the day, of course, but they seldom were.  Bikes must weigh at least a certain amount (about 14.7 pounds) to be legal in racing.

Today, if the bike change were to be from a regulation cycle to one with a concealed motor, that would provide a distinct advantage to the rider.  Even 50 or 100 watts, while small by absolute standards, is massive as an additional fraction of the rider’s natural power output.  Let’s say roughly 10% to 20%.  Even if it only gave a short boost over a few key kilometers, a motor would change the dynamics of the race greatly.

Greg LeMond, an early and outspoken enemy of doping, one who called out Lance Armstrong when everyone else was believing the “miracle,” says he thinks motors are being used in the pro peloton by major riders.  Today’s cyclingnews.com story reports that:

 LeMond is convinced that motors have been used in the peloton and that a heat gun and banning bike changes could be a simple but effective deterrents.

“I know that motors exist, I’ve ridden a bike with one and I’ve met the inventor and talked about it. If people think they don’t exist, they’re fooling themselves, so I think it’s a justified suspicion. I believe it’s also been used in the peloton. It seems too incredible that someone would do it, but I know it’s real,” he said.

“To make sure it doesn’t happen, I don’t think there should be bike changes in races. Period.”

There was a day when I’d have called LeMond, America’s only official Tour de France winner, a paranoid fool.  But not so much any more.  LeMond suggests a heat gun to identify hot spots in bikes as they are being used in races.  Seems like a simple thing to do, but the UCI (International Cycling Union) has a long history of cowardice in confronting cheating effectively and objectively.

The whole thing puts a new coloration on the excited announcer’s phrase “he’s really motoring!”

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016

On the Chain, Gang

About three years ago I converted my old Specialized Hard Rock Sport to a sort of “town bike.” I was not using it for its intended off-road purposes, and the shock absorbers in the forks drove me crazy going uphill because they absorbed so much energy that should have gone to the cranks. The knobby fat tires were noisy and high-friction on road surfaces, and the bike itself easily weighed 35 pounds.

So I bought Specialized road-friendly tires for it (smoother, tread for control on slick surfaces, not traction in mud), added a rack over the rear tire with a detachable commuter bag attached, a fold-up basket for groceries on the left side, a bell for warning pedestrians, and two locks: a U-lock mounted on the frame, and a cable lock in the commuter bag. Now it probably weighed 45 pounds, but was more useful.

The idea was that I could work fitness into my daily routines by doing local errands on this vehicle, while leaving the Audis safely in the garage. Whether it was going to Thoreau Middle School to vote, to CVS to pick up a prescription, to the bank for a deposit, to the library for a book, to Giant for food, to the P. O. to mail a package, or to Emmaus UCC to work on the finances, I’d use the bike. It worked pretty well, until nasty winter weather and summertime lassitude got the better of me.

And so the bike, my only bike not wall-mounted, stood in the garage, until yesterday.

That’s when the sublimely perfect fall weather forecast for all week inspired me to think of the Specialized again. I had two large envelopes to mail, and a copy of the New Oxford Annotated Bible to pick up from the church to prepare to lead a Bible study group. So I donned a comfortable shirt, collected my mailings, and went out to the garage. I told my wife I’d probably need to apply some lubricant, but once I did that I’d be gone.

There were two immediately noticeable effects of the long inactive period of about a year and a half: the tires were flat, though I had pumped them each once during that time, and the bike computer mount snapped from brittle old age (about 14 years) when I tried to mount the computer. But it could be temporarily attached with a rubber band, and the tires happily inflated and stayed hard at 80 psi.

Then I wheeled the bike out, got the oil and a rag, and started applying oil to the chain. It soon became evident that I was going to have to do more than a light lube job; the links were fairly well frozen. Despite the garaging, the chain had become inflexible, due probably to a combination of oxidation and of dried oil residue and grit in the joints. A thorough oiling and hand cranking didn’t loosen it up too much. I thought it might get flexible if I just rode it a bit in its newly-oiled state, but a trip down to the bottom of the street rid me of that delusion; I had to walk the bike back uphill to the garage.

I didn’t really have time to soak the chain in solvent, but I did want to ride that bike in the glorious cool air and bright sun. So I went to a “brute force” solution, using two pairs of pliers (can you imagine anything more useless than a single plier, or scissor, or pant?—they always come in pairs), plus some heavy-duty oil, necessary because I had used up the last of my chain lubricant: Seeds’ Merit Fine High Performance Sprocket & Gear Oil, a leftover from the Andrew era.

The process involved hand-checking every single link. For the frozen joints, which averaged about every other one, I put a drop of oil on it, grasped the link body on either side of the joint with my two pairs of pliers, and flexed until the joint loosened. Almost always that was rather quickly. After I was sure I had checked them all, I wiped the extra oil off the chain and gave it a whirl. Success!

An hour after I planned to go, I rode off on my errands in the bright and sunny afternoon, nagged only by the realization that I probably had two other bikes that were going to need the same treatment. Maintenance is the name of the game. But I intend to use this one enough to prevent a relapse.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014.