Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Christmas of Cycling

To quote my dad, "This was a Christmas of cycling for you". Yes, yes, it was. Amongst the stocking stuffers and beautifully wrapped packages with my name affixed to them, there was Roadie: The Misunderstood World of a Bike Racer, 2001 Tour de France DVD Set, and a black Chrome (Chuey Brand) cycling cap.

Wow. Thank you, everyone!

The huge Christmas snow-storm kept us from traveling to see family in the southern part of the state. Thus, I spent the day parked on the couch watching Stages 10 - 12 of the 2001 Tour and wearing my Chuey. Don't worry, I'll post pictures and a product review of the cap quite soon and of the book as soon as I finish it. ^_^

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Specialized Films - A Christmas Card

A few years ago, Specialized sent out a virtual holiday card. So? Lots of companies send customers and vendors Christmas cards. This card played the Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, entirely on bicycle parts.

Happy Christmahannukwanzaka, and a Merry Festivus!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter-itis? Uh-Oh...

I promised myself that it wouldn't happen this winter, but it has. I've come down with a case of "Winter-itis". This is that special brand of inactivity particular to Upper Midwesterners in the winter time. Rather than hitting the treadmill in the basement or lifting weights after work, all one wants to do is curl up with a thick novel and a mug of hot tea.

I'm not sure of the cure, but I am a lot further in the (literal) stack of books on my nightstand. I think, after a summer of enjoying the outdoors from the saddle and being perhaps the most active I've been since senior year of high school, I want a break. If I had the chance at riding my bike right now in just a jersey and shorts, I'd go for it. But I hate getting all bundled up to be miserable out there, it isn't worth it.

To be fair, I did do some shoveling yesterday and today, so I've got that going for me. Plus, now that there is some snow, conventional winter recreation activities may commence with less difficulty. Perhaps I'll go sledding...

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Here Comes Old Man Winter

Here in Minnesota, it gets cold in winter-time. And I mean cold from November until early April. We're talking four-layers of clothing before you put your coat on, liners for your heavy chopper mittens, car exhaust freezing to pavement, covering all exposed skin for fear of frostbite, icicles forming on facial hair, and your boogers freezing. Remember January of this year? It didn't get much above 10 degrees and our cars took longer than the usual 15 minutes to warm up in the morning before work.

Okay, I might be exagerating a little about how miserable it is in the winter. There isn't much that's more pretty than a fresh dusting of snow on our trees and icicle lights. And I do actually (80% of the time) enjoy shoveling the driveway. As for sports, I enjoy downhill skiing, ice hockey, and I'd like to learn to snowboard this season. (Money is an issue.)

But, I digress. What's a girl to do when her "bike-on-the-brain" mindset clashes with plummeting temperatures and many more layers of clothing? Substitute and improvise. Here are a few ideas for when the snow flies:

-Shovel the walk/driveway/mailbox
-Beg/borrow/buy/rent cross-country skis and hit the proper trails
-Beg/borrow/buy/rent downhill skis and go find a hill
-Beg/borrow/buy/rent a snowboard and boots and go find a hill, mind your rear-end
-Beg/borrow/buy/rent a pair of snowshoes and hit the trails
-Try speedwalking in snowboots and snowpants around your neighborhood

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Monster Dash 10 Mile

For inquiring minds who want to know, I ran the 10 Mile Monster Dash in Minneapolis this morning with my mom and step-brother, Mark.

First off: It. Was. Cold. Probably around 34 degrees when I finally found spot I could legally park. Let me also say I don't like driving around Minneapolis, especially when anyone with half a brain is still snuggled in bed. And the wind? I think it was gusting up to 10 - 12 mph. Brrr! Fortunately, most of the route was sheltered by trees.

I will be one of the first to admit that I didn't prepare very well for this race. I'm usually a "fly by the seat of her pants" kind of girl. Leading up to today, the most distance I'd put on my legs at one time was about five miles.

My watch crapped out on me as soon as I hit the Start button. I had no idea what my time was or how fast I was running miles. GRRR!!!

I hung with Mom for the first two miles or so, but my legs started to feel heavy, so I slowed down to a quick walk. Let me tell you, it is a bit of a blow to one's ego when one's 50+ mother is wiping the pavement with her mid-20's daughter. ^_^

My mental game with myself sucked the first half of the race. All I could think of was that I shouldn't have been having as much trouble keeping pace as I was.

At roughly Mile Six, my left knee absolutely refused to move without shooting pain up and down my leg. I endured more limp-walking alternating with running, with tears of frustration and pain brewing in my eyes. Mile Seven saw me getting angry enough to push past the pain in my knee, turn Nickelback's "Follow You Home" way up, and run some more.

I kept my eye out for Mark and for Mom near the turn-around. Mark passed me, running quite well and not looking stressed. I saw Mom about ten minutes later and managed a "Go Mom!" when she passed me in the opposite direction. I think she yelled back, "Yeah Cait!", but I'm not sure. I was busy stuffing myself into the hurt locker.

I'm not sure I've ever been happier to see the finish line as I was this morning. I turned on the gas and even passed a few people on my way to the big orange blow-up. The emcee announced my name correctly (amazing, I know) when I crossed the finish line amongst crowds of people. Mom was standing off the the side, waiting for me to cross the line. I was a bit of a mess, as I could hardly move or put weight on my left leg with out pain, but Mom hugged me and reminded we were done and had survived. Thank goodness.

My time? 1:59:25

YES! I broke the two-hour mark; which was my goal, actually. ^_^ I'm quite proud of having survived this race and accomplished my goal. I'm already thinking I might be crazy enough to do this again.

So, the Half-Marathon next year?

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day '09 - Change the World, One Bike at a Time

The focus of this year's Blog Action Day is climate change. Now, I'm not a climatologist, a biologist, or a geologist. I don't understand all the highlighted graphs, charts, or the monstrous amount of numbers that these learned people crank out to try to get Congress's attention every election year.

What I do get is that the world I'm being handed isn't the world I want to hand to the next generation. I know I'm a small fish in a huge ocean, but by doing the little things I can affect change on my corner of the world. How? The bicycle. My bike is something I understand and I know it can change the world. Heck, it already has.

When bicycling first became popular in the 1800's, it was one of the first things a woman could do without a chaperone. For the first time, women could go where they wanted, when they wanted. Businesses sprang up to service bicycles, roads were paved to better acomodate riding, and various shops and resaurants opened to serve the women and men who rode.

The freedom and joy a bicycle gives to the rider is the reason I spend so much time astride mine in the warm spring and summer months. If every working adult in the US gave up their car just one day a week to ride a bicycle, who knows how many tons of CO2 wouldn't make it's way into the atmosphere. It helps keep my body healthy and my mind more alert. I'm rarely so happy as when I'm riding.

I'm not saying give up your automobile, far from that. Just be wise in how much you drive. Carpool to work and/ or school, if you can. Walk the shorter distances to the corner store or to the soccer field. Every little bit really does help.

Hey, Congressmen and women; turn in your car keys for a week and go ride your bicycle. I bet you'll feel better. And you just might save the world in the process.

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Another Entry In the Bicycle/Car Conflict

While I support freedom of the press in all of it's forms, I do not support the spreading of hatred or condone the physical or psychological abuse of anyone, regardless of how I feel about them personally. So, I am disturbed to learn that British TV chef James Martin won't face any sort of disciplinary action resulting from his treatment of a group of cyclists while test-driving an electric car.

Mr. Martin wrote in a review of an electric sports car: "God, I hate those cyclists. Every last herbal tea-drinking, Harriet Harman-voting one of them.

"That's one of the reasons I live in the countryside, where birds tweet, horses roam, pigs grunt and Lycra-clad buttocks are miles away."

Mr. Martin has every right to say this, it is his personal opinion and he's welcome to it. But, it's what he says he did that is disturbing: "Twenty minutes into my test drive I pulled round a leafy bend, enjoying the birdsong – and spotted those damned Spider-Man cyclists.

"Knowing they wouldn't hear me coming, I stepped on the gas, waited until the split second before I overtook them, then gave them an almighty blast on the horn at the exact same time I passed them at speed.

"The look of sheer terror as they tottered into the hedge was the best thing I've ever seen in my rear-view mirror. I think this could be the car for me."

*headdesk* Does the phrase, "Open mouth, insert foot" mean anything to you, Mr. Martin?

Furthermore, this isn't how you should apologize. He said he was sorry for his remarks. That's great, lovely. What about the cyclists he intentionally and unnecessarily frightened and endangered? He didn't apologize to them, or say that he was out of line, which he clearly was. While this oversight may have been a calculated move to save his own ass from criminal charges, what it amounts to is blowing smoke.

The sad part is, if a cyclist sneaked up on a car and smashed a rear window with their U-lock and wrote about it in a review of the bicycle they were riding at the time, there would surely have been criminal charges. What a mess.

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pulling the Plug

The racing community heard last week that professional cycling's governing body, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), voted to phase out two-way race radios. Tighten your helmet straps, everybody, it's going to be a bumpy night.

For those who don't know, every racer wears a two-way radio that is connected to the team director in the car following the peloton. The director has access to video from the cameras following the peloton, radio broadcasts from the commissionaires on the current course conditions and where the peloton is in relation to the overall course for the day. Sounds good, right?

Those who are for the use of radios cite improved safety and better communication with riders as benefits to keeping them around. When many directors and riders heard of the decision to ban radios, their reaction was that UCI is out of touch with racing and how the game works in the 21st century. When the 2009 Tour de France prohibited radios for Stage 10, the peloton soft-pedaled the stage in apparent protest.

Michael Barry, a professional cyclist who now rides for Columbia-HTC wrote a great opinion piece for expressing why this race radio ban will ultimately be good for the sport. Riders who have never ridden without a director talking in their ear have never had to learn the finer points of tactics and are sometimes incapable of acting without an order in their ear. Sport directors have become puppeteers and their racers puppets, in a way.

What do I think? I've raced my bicycle without a team or radio and I know that it can be done successfully. Just not by me, yet. So a strong rider loses some time due waiting for a flat change because he can't talk to the car? Cry me a river. That's racing! It sucks sometimes, but that's the way the game is played.

I'll keep watching and rooting for my favorite riders, with or without race radios. Without, though, would make things a lot more interesting to watch.

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Update from the Masquerading Cyclist

For inquiring minds who want to know: Yes, I did get back on the treadmill. Yes, I did stretch and swallow ibuprofen before starting. Yes, it still hurt. Although the pain wasn't as intense as before, I think this is due to the fact that I slowed down and speed-walked when the pain became intense.

I'm starting to think my sister and Dad are right; I might not be cut out to be a runner and I should stick to my bike. Well, I'm not giving up. As I told a fellow athlete who's running the 10-miler with me on Halloween: I going to run my best and go 'til I puke or my legs refuse to move.

Oh, and who turned the thermostat around here down?! The average temperature for this time of year is 66 degrees F and it has yet to clear 55 degrees this past week. Riding on Wednesday night felt like early spring, complete with a stiff wind and what seems like a lot of rain. Granted, I should be used to riding in all sorts of weather, but we've had a cool(er) summer and thus, we've been spoiled with lovely riding weather.

Ah well, here's hoping for warmer temperatures for this weekend and the coming week!

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Cyclist Masquerading As A Runner

The weather has taken a turn for the cooler here in the northland. Windy, temps in the 50s and clouds. Not the greatest riding weather.

So, I've started running on the treadmill. I've got a 10-miler at the end of October to prepare for, and it isn't going so well. Something funky is going on with my left knee. Sharp pain that starts on the outside of the joint, and creeps upwards and downwards, and after only about a quarter mile. How the heck am I supposed to get ready for a 10-miler, when I can only do two before the pain has tears in my eyes?!

Eh, I'll try a few more times this week, and see what happens. Have I mentioned that I really don't want to go to the doctor? Even for this?

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubberside down.

Friday, September 11, 2009

To Dance with a Bicycle

I know that people who ride fixies exert an amazing amount of control over their bikes and themselves. Track racers, bicycle couriers, commuters... If you've seen the movie "Quicksilver" (and I have, many times), you know that people can do some crazy cool stuff on fixed gear bikes.

But what about these guys? I bet you didn't even know this was a sport!

Cool, huh?

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber side down.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Take: A Review of "A Dog In A Hat"

"I did tell Joe Parkin to go to Belgium. I did not, however, tell him to stay" (ix). After reading that, I knew this was going to be an interesting read.

In the spring of 1986, Joe packs two bags (one holding his bike, the other holding everything else) and flies to Belgium rather than stick around to race regionally. And when Joe arrives in Belgium, he doesn't know the language, or really what he's doing; he's just one more amateur hoping to catch the eye of a team director and a pro contract.

The chapters are more or less laid out chronologically and are a selection of stories of Joe's five year pro career in Belgium. The stories are told with plain, spare language that makes it easy to imagine the slick roads, crazy riders, and crazier, fair-weather cycling fans that Joe encounters.

These stories are told with an insider's view. I mean that, while Joe is an American, he comes across quite European in the way he deals with quirky teammates, insulting team directors, hard riding conditions, and the overall suffering of being a professional bike racer.

Parkin doesn't gloss over the hard stuff, either. The way he and others dealt with drugs, doping, cheating, and deal-making are all confronted with the same frank 'this is the way it was' style (I found it refreshing). "It wasn't always pretty, but that's what happened," is the author's tone through these parts of the book.

Overall, I'd have to give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars. And I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in delving deeper into cycling culture and the history of the sport.

A note on the title: "I had heard a lot of the old Belgians use the expression 'een hond met een hoed op,' which means 'A dog with a hat on'. In the context in which I heard it, I took it to mean that you see a dog in a hat when a normal situation changes, when something looks out of place" (102).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Scattered Thoughts On Balance

I went into the coffee shop where I work to cover part of someone's shift this morning. Since it was only two-and-one-half hours, I decided a trip to the library was in order afterwards.

As I was hunting through the stacks, it occured to me that I hadn't really done this since college, that is hunt randomly through stacks of books for anything that struck my fancy. I had complete freedom to choose any book regarding any subject that I wanted. To have that kind of freedom is exhilerating.

So, why talk about reading, writing, and libraries in a blog usually dedicated to cycling? Because I believe that life is best when it's in balance. Part of the reason I haven't been here in a few weeks is that I couldn't articulate my thoughts about the bike, but I had plenty to say about other subjects. When I was in college, we used to have long discussions at the dinner table in the cafeteria and in the classroom (Recreation major) about balance between work and play.

Using my brain in this way balances out my activities on the bike. Lately, I've felt like I'd rather re-read Joe Parkin's Dog In A Hat, than ride a few extra miles. Perhaps, it's because I've focused so much of my leisure time on riding this summer that I've neglected the other parts of my life that are important. Like reading, listening to live music, going to festivals, and hanging out with friends.

While I'm in great physical shape, my life has been a bit out of balance.

Where's this scattered, long-winded rant going? While I'm going to try to focus this blog on my thoughts on anything I can think of cycling-related, don't be surprised if you see a book or film review posted, either.

Cool? Oh, good. So glad you agree.

By the way, I can now ride no-handed. It only took all summer to learn. *huge grin*

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bike Needs A Bath, Badly

Ahh, hello again!

A "heavier-than-usual" work schedule and riding my blue bicycle have both consumed me to the exclusion of nearly everything else, except eating and sleeping. Well, I haven't been sleeping enough, either...

Last week, I finally got sick of my bike being a crusty mess. There was mud caked to the underside of the downtube, dried Gatorade on the downtube, road dust on the wheels and brakes... yuck. So, I decided to give it a bath.

It's a surprisingly easy thing to do, and it doesn't take long. Here's how I did it:

1 old one-gallon ice cream bucket, filled with warm soapy water (used dishsoap; it's cheap, available, cuts grease well, and is gentle)

3 cleaning rags: One for the frame and wheels, one for the chain, crank-set, and cassette, and one for polishing the frame

1 ParkTool Cyclone Chain Scrubber, plus citrus degreaser

1 bottle of Pedros BikeLust frame polish

I cleaned my chain with the Cyclone and a wet rag to cut the degreaser once the chain had run through the scrubber's brushes a few times. This was to make sure that the chain lube would stick once the chain was dry. I used this same rag to "floss" between the cassette rings, once I took the back wheel off (I love quick release).

Once I put the back wheel back on, I took an old toothbrush to my crankset chainrings. A toothbrush is great for getting bigger bits of sand and dirt out of crevases, and then used the wet rag to clean off the dirt and old lube that the toothbrush wouldn't get.

After the crankset, chain, and cassette were shining silver again, I turned my attention to the wheels and frame. I made sure to clean the dirtiest parts of the bike last, so I didn't spread the rest of the grim around. In addition to cleaning the wheel spokes and axles, I made sure the rims were clean, as well as the brake pads. The brakes no longer shriek!

The nice part? All of this only took one hour. And now the bike is clean!

The cool part? I rode with the women's group out of a local shop the next day and one of my buddy's asked, "Did you get a new bike?" I smiled and said, "Nope, it's just clean."

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

NVGP: Stage 5 - Mankato Road Race

I might be nuts for doing this, but I hauled my carcass out of bed at an insanely early hour, loaded up my bike, and drove down to Mankato to help with the race set-up. Unfortunatly, I couldn't stay for the race; as someone else had a previous claim on my afternoon.

Mankato is a college town, housing at least two major universities: Minnesota State Universtiy, Mankato and Bethany Lutheran College. Since it's summer, the downtown area was pretty quiet. But, then again, it was nine o'clock on a Saturday morning.

Thankfully, I still know my way around Mankato from the four years I spent there (GO MAVERICKS!) and found parking without any trouble. The next order of business was coffee. I'd left the house without "real" breakfast and a latte seemed the perfect fix. Off to the Fillin' Station! The Fillin' Station Coffeehouse is, in my opinion, the best independent coffeehouse in downtown Mankato. Some say The Coffee Hag, but that's in Old Town and a bit far to walk most days from campus. On top of the hill, the best place to go is The Hub. They've got really good omelets. But, I digress...

As in Minneapolis, I was putting up tents, unloading gear from trucks, and zip-tying banners to the course fencing. A surprising number of the set-up volunteers drove down from the Cities to help put stuff up. What better way to spend a Saturday, than to help with a bike race?

Since I could only stay until two o'clock, I don't have any pictures of the race itself, or the finish, but here are a few shots of the pro races:

The men at the starting line at Hickory Street
And they're off and riding for 92 miles!

The women took off about a half hour after the men. I was one of the lucky volunteers who go to hold the rope that "corralled" the riders, so they didn't hit the start-line too soon. I was supposed to drop the rope once given the signal and the riders would take their starting positions. Yeah, it didn't turn out that way, they jumped the announcement and went under the rope. Thank goodness Matt (one of the volunteer director guys) was on the other side of the fence and was able to lift the rope with me so the riders could keep going under.

The pack, from the rear.
Hanging out, waiting for the gun.
And they're off!
Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Friday, June 12, 2009

NVGP: Stage 4 - Minneapolis Uptown Crit

A crazy afternoon and evening in Minneapolis! I'm not sure I've ever seen so many people packed into Uptown, but then, it was Friday night.

I got to Minneapolis early and rode around Lake Calhoun a few times (it's a 3.2 mile loop) just to stay loose. Riding around Lake Calhoun is rather like a three-ring circus: Although the path is one-way and marked as being only for bicycles, people do run with their dogs, inline skate, and ride their bikes the opposite way. I recommend leaving the iPod at home if you're going to ride down there.

Uptown was already hopping when I arrived at the volunteer tent and locked my bike to a sign-post. Again today, I was unloading gear from pallets, setting up tents, and zip-tying banners to the course fencing. There were plenty of willing hands, but a few of us were a little confused as to what we should have been doing and in what order. My only complaint is that the bike corral people were a little late showing up, so we had to turn people away, even though the corral was set up. Oh, well. Everything got done eventually and before the race started, and it looked great.

While I was heading back to the volunteer tent to find out if there was anything else I could do, I noticed that there was a yellow-shirted cyclist sitting astride her bike on the sidewalk. I walked up beside her, intent on just passing by, and who was she? Yeah, Kristin Armstrong.

"Oh, hello again," I said, with a grin.

She looked up, "Hi there." She sounded a little tired, the road stage in Cannon Falls yesterday must have taken a bit of a toll.

I was intent on my destination and I was sure she had something important to do, she is Kristin Armstrong, after all. "I've gotta keep going. Have a good race, Kristin; good luck!"


Sweet! I just had another tiny conversation with a pro racer and didn't sound like a complete idiot.

The OUCH team parked themselves right behind the volunteer check-in, which was just fine by me. It dramatically increased my chances (and my courage) about finding Floyd Landis and asking him to autograph my copy of Positively False.

The women lined up a little before 6:30, to race for an hour. The course was a little less than a mile, flat and 'L' shaped. Makes it a little technical and definitely more interesting, not taking left turns all night.

The weather was absolutely perfect. That's the way this race always seems to shape up. The first two days are rainy and a little cold, and once the race moves into the third through sixth stages the weather warms up and the sun comes out.

I, of course, spent the race walking the course with my camera. Here are a few shots:

Brooke Miller (Tibco) won the stage, which is fitting. She is the national criterium champion, after all.

On to the men's pro race! My opinion is that the race was a little boring, at least until the last few laps.

The Bissel squad sat on the front of the pack, keeping riders under control and protecting the leader's jersey, which is currently on the back of Tom Zirbel. If anyone attacked before the last lap of the race, I missed it.

Sebastien Haedo had the perfect lead out from his Colavita teammates and won the race this evening.

I wandered my way back to the volunteer check-in after the men's race, trying to come up with the nerve to walk over to the OUCH team area and ask Floyd for his autograph. I waited while other people walked up and lined up at the fence; I finally thought, This is ridiculous! He might be an internationally-known cyclist, but he's a person, too. I pulled my book out of my bag, found a place on the fence, and waited for Floyd to get to me.

He looked a little surprised when I smiled and held out the book for him to sign. He asked who he should sign it for and asked how to spell my name. I shook his hand and told him, "Thanks so much, Floyd; thanks for coming. It's good to see you racing."

He smiled, "Thanks."

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

NVGP: Stage 2 - Saint Paul Lowertown Crit

Okay, on to Stage 2! The Saint Paul Criterium was on Wednesday evening (the same day) as the Riverfront Time Trial, but across the river and up the hill in the Lowertown neighborhood.

The rain let up and the sun came out while myself and other volunteers worked on unloading gear and putting the course together. Everyone started out in sweatshirts and rain jackets, and ended up in shorts and t-shirts. A good thing, too. Working at and/or watching a bike race is about as fun as it gets in my book, but it can be miserable if the weather is cold and wet.

The course was a roughly nine block circuit with Mears Park in the center. This is a busy area with condos all over the place, businesses, and industrial warehouses close by. It was quite interesting to watch as we set up the tents for the expo and began "throwing fence" to block off the streets and set up the course.

I was walking the course while the pro women warmed up before there race started at six o'clock. Who do I notice zipping around, but Kristin Armstrong wearing the yellow leader's jersey, of course. Me being me, I yelled out "Hey, Kristin!" as she rode by. She looked up and right at me, "Hey there!" she yelled back. Cool, huh?

Kristin has won the overall race for the past three years (2006, 2007, 2008) and last year she did it with only one teammate. This year, she might have a little bit of a tougher time. Why? Because for this race, she is the Cervelo TestTeam! Yep, she's racing alone this week. While that was okay during the individual time trial this morning, it could hurt and probably will hurt later this week.

The women lined up, with the leaders' jerseys in the front row.
Bang! Went the starting gun and they were off for 40 laps.
Kristin set a furious pace right from the gun and was out front for a good portion of the race.
While walking/riding the course with my camera, I ran into Julia (GoBigGreen) who races for Verve Racing. She was watching the action with Rich and getting ready for her first half-Ironman triathlon. I'll be sending her good energy on Saturday!

Kristy Broun (Riverstone CDA) won the stage in a brilliant sprint, but not by enough to take the overall lead from Kristin Armstrong.

After the women's race finished, I saw a young lady speaking with the champ herself and thought, "Okay, this might be my only chance". I asked a buddy to watch my bike for a bit. I crossed the street, dodging riders warming up and walked up to Kristin.

"Kristin?" She turned her head and grinned. "I wanted to say hello and thanks so much for coming this year. It's great to see you racing."

"Well, thank you! Thanks so much for coming out and watching!"

"I was marshaling out on the course this morning, you were flying!"

She laughed, "Oh, was I?"

I grinned back, "Oh yeah! Zoom! 'What was that blur?' It was you... I don't want to keep you, just wanted to say hello and thanks for being here. Good luck this week!"


Wow, did I just walk up to one of my hero's and hold a coherent, if short, conversation? YES!


The men's pro race was also extremely fast, right from the gun.
A four man group got away early and stayed away for most of the stage.
Sebastien Haedo (Colavita) beat out Tom Soladay (Mountain Khakis) for the stage win and Haedo's teammate Alejandro Barrajo rounded out the podium. Tom Soladay was in the break group and nearly rode the cranks off his bike, only to be caught by Haedo on the final sprint.
Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

NVGP: Stage 1 - Saint Paul Riverfront Time Trial

The Nature Valley Grand Prix has come to Minnesota. This is one race that I wait for all year because the pros are right there, walking amongst us mere mortals.

The first stage was a short, 4.5 mile out-and-back time trial along the Mississippi River in Saint Paul. The morning dawned rainy and wet, I was quite glad I packed my rain jacket and a cap when I rolled up to the volunteer sign-in.

They put me on the straightaway in the middle of the course where a bike path crossed the road. My job was to raise my flag and blow my whistle whenever a rider came by, thus stopping any riders on the bike path from crossing the road during the race.

These racers were moving fast and I mean fast. Zoom! There went one rider down the course. Zoom! There went the rider before her/him coming back up the road.

There were some patches of the course that were sketchy with rough pavement, thanks to our Minnesota winters, but everyone got through okay and there were no crashes.

The problem with being on the straightaway was the road was only two lanes wide, one out and one back with little to no shoulder. So I had to keep my head on a swivel so I would know when someone was coming from either or both directions.

I did recognize a couple riders as they rode by: Kristin Armstrong is the defending champ of this race, so she was the last of the women to ride the course. She was also the only rider with the distinctive "e" on the shoulders of her Cervelo TestTeam jersey.

Floyd Landis, who is riding for Team OUCH is wearing number 4 for this race and working for Rory Sutherland, the defending men's champ. Yep, that's Floyd zipping by on his TT run.

This is going to be a fun week!

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dirty Jobs: Mountain Bike Trail Builder

Mountain bikers have had a bad rap over the years. I'm pretty sure the reason is because back when mountain biking was first becoming popular in the late 80's and early 90's, very few people were maintaining trails for bikers to ride on. Also, any place that they did ride tended to get trashed quickly and not cleaned up.

These days, mountain bikers are some of the most active trail builders, maintainers, and volunteers in Minnesota. Today was National Trails Day and I got to spend the morning helping build and clear trails in Saint Paul with 84 other volunteers. It was cold, wet, muddy, and a heck of a good time.

Not that we were complaining about the rain. It has been really dry in Minnesota this spring. To the point where if you hadn't been running the sprinklers, your lawn looked like late July. Besides, we had to wear pants and boots to protect ourselves from the tools and terrain, so the cooler temperatures were a bonus. The rain also kept the dust down.

A good portion of the trail was already cut, to a certain extent. Our job was to cut the trail to roughly three feet wide, grade it to a maximum of about 10 degrees, descard any rocks, roots, or other organic matter that could make the trail hazardous, and take care of any low-hanging branches.

I'd say it was a morning well spent.

There is still a lot of work to be done to finish this trail and maintain it. But from the sound of our crew leaders, they were quite happy with the work. For more information about mountain biking, trail crews, and volunteering, visit International Mountain Bicycling Association.

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Volunteers Make the World Go 'Round

It was a busy weekend for me. Saturday saw me up and out the door before I would usually consider a humane hour (read 7:30am). Why, you ask? Yep, for the bicycle!

There was a race sponsored by my old bike shop and the women's racing team they support. The amateur racing scene in Minnesota is pretty big, and we live (and love) to race on the weekends.

I spent four and a half or five hours out in the sun and wind, "marshaling" the third corner. Being a corner marshal means you keep an eye out for and direct automobile traffic, and warn the riders if there is oncoming traffic in the far lane. I couldn't be happier that I did. The nasty sunburn on my face and legs was worth it to see the peloton of riders zooming through at nearly 20 mph and the smiles that I got from the organizers.

Volunteers make these races happen, actually. Without volunteers, there wouldn't be anyone at registration to hand you your number or help with the racing licences, there wouldn't be anyone to sweep the corners free of sand and grit, no one to call people/companies and ask for sponsors... Wow, that's a lot. Even the Nature Valley Grand Prix, a domestic pro race put on during the Great River Energy Bike Festival every June, depends on volunteers at all levels.

So, next time you roll up to the start-line, please remember to give a thank you to the officials and volunteers, they make all the fun possible.

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bicycle Computer Install = Not so hard, really!

I've had the same bike for five years. And with the exception of the seatpost, cassette, chain, bar-tape, pedals, tubes, and tires, everything on the bike is original. Thus, it didn't come as too much of a surprise when the computer quit working all together this past winter. I was surprised that it had lasted as long as it did.

I picked up a CatEye Strada Wireless at REI with the last of my birthday money. The computer cost $60, and I knew if I took my bike to the shop, one of the mechanics could put it on in under a half-hour. But, rather than cough up money to have them put it on (sorry guys, money's tight), I thought I'd install the computer myself. After all, I'm pretty handy, and I've seen a number of computers installed on bikes over the course of nearly two years (total) of bike shop employment.

CatEye's instructions for installing the computer were quite easy to follow, with pictures and a trouble-shooting guide. I do have to say that I'm very glad I don't need reading glasses, the print was a little small. Another good note, the directions were also printed in Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese, and a few other languages that I didn't recognize.

From start to finish, the install took me 31 minutes. Here's what the finished project looks like:

I'm heading out on a ride later this afternoon. I'll let y'all know how it works!

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Pre-Ride Check

I thought I'd start with something simple: The Pre-Ride Check. Everyone probably does this before a ride, but here are some things to think about doing before you swing your leg over the frame and start spinning the cranks.

-Check tires for damage & inflate tires to maximum recommended pressure
When you ride on paved roads and bike paths, you encounter all sorts of road debris. Glass shards, sand, gravel, sticks, branches, etc. can all conspire to make your tires deflate halfway through your ride. Look for large cuts in the rubber and for potential problem spots, like embedded glass or gravel.

-Spin the wheels
Make sure your brake pads aren't rubbing on the rims and that the wheel is trued.

-Squeeze the brake levers
If your brakes don't work, it's best to find out now, rather than screaming down a hill at 40mph.

-Spin the cranks and run through the gears
Again, you'll want to know if your bike is shifting sloppily now, instead of when you're climbing that monster hill in a high gear and blowing up half-way through.

-Inventory your saddle-bag
That little bag is under your saddle for a reason: USE IT. It's a good idea to carry a spare tube (make sure you have the correct [presta or schrader] valve), tire-levers or Quik-Stick, patch kit, pump, and a multi-tool. I love my little CO2 pump, so I also carry an extra CO2 cartridge.

-Check your helmet
Your helmet is your insurance policy. Look for any cracks or weaknesses in the shell and the foam. If you see any, REPLACE IT! The same goes for if you've crashed with your helmet. A bike helmet is meant to be impacted once and then replaced.
Some helmet companies have a crash replacement policy, so check with your helmet manufacturor or your local bike shop before you cough up for a replacement helmet after a crash.

-Inventory your jersey pockets
Always carry some form of identification, cash and/or credit card for a mid-ride snack or post-ride coffee, health insurance card, and of course, your cell-phone. I carry all of this in a zip-lock bag so it doesn't get gross from sweat or wet from rain.
It's a rare day that I don't ride with my iPod. But that being said, I limit myself to low volume and using only my right ear-bud, so I can hear what's happening around me. Music helps performance, but it can be dangerous if it distracts you from your surroundings.

-Remember your water bottle(s) and your sunglasses
Fill with water or your favorite flavor of Gatorade. If you use Gatorade or Powerade, you might want to water it down to half-strength, otherwise it will be too sweet to drink under effort.
It's a good idea to wear some form of eye protection. Speaking from personal experiance, gnats and errant sunbeams at just the right angle can make it really hard to concentrate on where you're going.

Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.