Monday, October 19, 2009


i am an arrogant bastard.

while working with children and commuting on a crappy-yet-meticulously-dedicated singlespeed and hanging out at children's parks and generally observing 'the public', i have come to the conclusion that i am arrogant. i imagine that this arrogance was begun during my primary years, fostered further by my immigration to this glorious country and all its smalltown prejudice against my first country, capitalized upon during the undergrad years, and finally left to slow-burn in my hardwon adult idiocy. i think i'm better than all of this.

i think i'm better than most of this. i shouldn't be so poor. i'm smarter than the advertising that lines the roadways. television that i catch glimpses of is beyond categorization in its stupidity and profound lack of meaning. textbooks i work with provide no answers (kinda cool) and terrible questions (not cool). my employer has no idea how valuable i am. people in my profession get surplussed after 4 years of 'permanent' work. everyone else's bike is too fast, too slow, to shitty, made out of too much carbon or steel. no one seems to know how to inflate their tires properly. it's amazing that the drivers out there ever managed to get licenses. i can't believe that so many people ride on the sidewalk and think it's okay. i rent a mouldy house full of drafts and no insulation on a block of $600, 000 homes. my utlities bills are about to head through the uninsulated roof. i sell things on craigslist to buy groceries. i've had bronchitis for a month. i hate the suburbs. i think i'm better than so much of this.

i'm an arrogant jerk.

my arrogance, however, is not necessarily an attitude wherein i believe that i am always better than my own situation, but that i am more conscious of all of it than anyone else. i see more, feel more, understand more, and thereby, get pissed off at a lot more. my bike is amazing and nice and wonderful and custom and ti and a 'dentist bike' and full of italian components. my commuter is not nice in any way other than it does its job relatively well and doesn't cost so much that i'd be that pissed if it got stolen. but with either bike, i feel like i know and am conscious of more of their quirks and clicks than the chubby guy i pass on the way up yonge street, as he huffs and puffs his colnago through the lights. i hear that lady's tires squishing all over the pavement as she spins slowly to work and it bothers me knowing that she's running 20psi lower than proper pressure. i hear kids in the halls talking about what 'happened' on tv last night, and it saddens me that they think it's real, that it matters, and that they have authority over it because they picked the channel. doesn't anyone see?

regardless, it is a fine thing to be an arrogant jerk in this uber-conscious kind of way. even oscar wilde thought so when he said that thing about all of us being in the gutter but some of us looking at the stars.

Monday, October 12, 2009

rough translation.

once you got it up, keep it up.

i was a terrible bike racer in high school. i liked going up hills on my road bike, but i hated going up them on my mountain bike. i was also just bad at it, overtrained, and doing too many other things (girls, volleyball, girls, XC running, school, girls, etc.) to focus on excellence. but to be absolutely honest, the main reason that i was bad at going fast on two wheels: it never occurred to me to go faster. 

riding was a whole lot of fun. i'd get out there, cruise around the local four-wheeler and ski-doo trails in my lycra, feel like some kind of extreme athlete when i made it over a rock or root stretch or a 10-foot wide (and long) bridge over a picturesque stream. i'd take a break, eat half a powerbar (those things were too expensive to eat all at once!), and continue on, probably at a breakneck pace of about 2 miles an hour. sure, those trails were rough and not made for bikes or any kind of cyclical rhythm of human power transfer. those hills were steep. but really, i was slow, and i didn't really know it. i was enjoying myself, and going uphill seemed to hurt, so i must have been doing fine. right? right.

as part of my 'let's change the world with bikes' campaign of high school ridiculousness, i attempted to start a mountain bike team (i also had huge dreams of being sponsored by the local pizza pizza - imagine how sweet orange and white checkered jerseys would have been!). we went on a bunch of rides, and even competed and did well in the provincial high school championship series. but it all came clear to me on one 'training' ride we convinced the high school to drive us to in algonquin park. many many kilometers of rough ass singletrack and rock gardens and mud, and i learned everything i needed to know about reality and my failing mountain bike racer extraordinaire dream. 

we got to the trailhead, unloaded the bikes, got ourselves ready, and took off. i went at my usual pace, and was immediately left in the dust by all other 'team members'. 

they were gone. 

off and away. and not for any particular reason other than that was how they rode. fast. fucking crazy breakneck fast. and so i learned: you have to pedal faster to go faster. the curve has gotten a little less steep at times, but i continue to learn and enjoy my bike-based learning.

this past spring, i spent many hours pouring over old race videos of the spring classics. i bought lance's 'big six' dvd and have memorized every segment. i trained to sastre's/andy schleck's alpe d'huez 2008 stage (yeah, i can only stay on a trainer for the half hour they're on that climb). i watched people ride bikes fast until it became an unconscious expectation that scenery should go by that quickly, people should be blurs, and cornering is always tricky. i trained myself, once out on the road, to pedal quickly. high cadence, in a higher gear. 20mph should be average, and faster if downhill or with a tailwind. no dipping below 17 or 18mph in a headwind. climbing should be beyond painful, for as long as possible. this summer was the best shape i've ever been in for riding. i rode almost every day, hard, after a great base-building spring. i watched what i ate. i slept tons. i was relaxed. and i did hill reps all the time (not a lot of fun riding to do for long distances in toronto). i watched races and racers going fast. i rode fast. simple. no spinning easy, unless it was warm-up, warm-down, or inter-interval recovery. give'r.

now i'm at the back side of my peak. it's fall. it's freezing here in toronto. skinny tires will soon give way to skinny knobbies on the cross single speed, and the neck gaiter and goggles will come out. i peaked a long time ago. now i'm just putting in miles. i went for a ride yesterday, full of bronchitis and phlegm, and still managed to enjoy myself on a sunny thanksgiving spin. sometimes it's okay to plateau. sometimes it's okay to sit up, eat an apple that your daughter picked in an organic orchard miles away from the bustle of downtown, and say good morning to roadies (who actually said goodmorning back. every one of them! amazing...). i got it up. i kept it up. now i coast. now i spin easy, try to recover, get dormant for a while, build for next spring. i set myself up for so much success, now i revel in the aftermath. it's a sticky sweet hangover with no headache or vomit. i should start wearing some rapha or something...

Thursday, October 1, 2009


the last post was two weeks ago. i guess it's been a busy month. no. i know it's been a busy month. there will be plenty of time to share my observations over the next few pages worth of typing, so maybe i'll try to pace myself like the last entry, and leave things hanging until i have a bit of breathing/typing room in the daily schedule.

where was i? ah yes, things i learned over the course of a hundred miles on a windy day in september...

i learned that if i have nothing nice to say, i probably shouldn't say anything at all; i should just save it and blog about it later. honestly: no one wants to be grumbled to or about, unless it's suffused with humor, eloquence, and some form of self-deprecation. my time suffering under marshall lee was not sufficiently humorous or eloquent, and i was too angry to self-deprecate. i was, moreover, pleading my case as a capable cyclist (though many would likely slot me into the 'avid' or similarly demeaning 'enthusiast' category) just out to have fun, not ride in a prescribed paceline to the halting rhythm of gruff commands by marshall lee. sit back. relax. don't take everything so personally. enjoy the view and the fact that i can ride a bike. it's a charity ride for kids with cancer - think about the kids and what they have to suffer through. that's enough to shut anyone up for a long time. 

machismo is fun, and will consistently get me into trouble, particularly with the powerful and strong women with whom i've chosen to surround myself in my life. blasting out of the starting gate, blowing through suburban turns, catching up to and sprinting past a much stronger little brother, giggling raucously while doing it, challenging, laughing, challenging again, stretching the legs, sniffing for points on the climb, bombing the descents in full tuck - all of these things are truly and genuinely fun, fun like kids on bikes in the summer time fun, and they are all things that got me into trouble. it's fun to go out and see who's got legs today. but it's not part of the 25km/h pace. it's fun to easily slide past people of lesser body mass on those open country road descents. but passing them involves breaking up the two-by-two imperative paceline. giggling is fun. yeah. marshall lee, the lady i was riding with, and i'm sure some other lady in the group were certainly not impressed with these elements of bike-based fun as enjoyed by myself and my brothers. stick to the rules. challenge later. let's all just keep the pace and we'll have a great day. yeah fuckin right.

i learned that everyone has a different code for different situations, and sometimes codes take hierarchical arrangement, canceling each other out, or dictating less than optimal outcomes. i take a general code of survival of the group - no one left behind. it's an attempt at honor, an attempt at doing what we set out to do: ride bikes together. we could go out and hammer a hundred miles by ourselves, but it wouldn't be the same, it wouldn't be the point. the point of the whole ride was to hang out together, and we could've done that sitting in adirondack chairs and drinking creemore. after buddy's flat and our prompt dropping by the marshall lee group, everything dissolved into random groups and odd mood undercurrents that would shape the rest of the day, for better or for worse. one lady rode up ahead, afraid that if she didn't, she would never be able to keep up a finishing pace (going alone is generally a bad idea if one is worried about 'keeping up'). buddy with the fixed flat set a blistering pace, as a matter of honor, feeling bad about having made all of us get dropped because of our pseudo-sub-group status. he dropped half the group. feeling fine and trying to keep everyone together, i worked to bridge the widening gap in the paceline, but another group member was under-fueled and over-hungover, so we lost that pace group too. then there were three. i could have chased. i could have hammered through the wind, up the hills, through the beautiful scenery, right up on marshall lee's ass, just to prove that i knew how to ride a bike and could hold a pace if i wanted to. i could have set up in a paceline and gotten my breath back, saved my legs, preserved myself until the 60-mile lunch rest stop. no one left behind. i stayed back. i pulled like i've never pulled before. listening for my companions. easing up when someone got dropped. dropping back to give up every caffeinated gel i had. offering water, support, mutual suffering, a slipstream. no one gets left behind. and this was no longer fun.

i learned that riding bikes is not always fun. even riding bikes for fun is not always fun. hills are fun. searing pain ripping through the capillaries in quadriceps is fun. rapha styles epics are fun. pulling a couple of hungover hard-heads through miles of farmland headwind while trying not to drop them on hills and after being called an asshole for joking around at the start..this is not fun. it's like treeplanting: it's all in your head. you could be the fittest fucker out there, just ready to enjoy the day on the nicest bike you've ever ridden, then someone you care about calls you a jackass for being silly at the start of a charity ride and all of a sudden the day becomes gray and windy and smells like cow shit and corn.

i learned that i still like bikes. i still like riding. and i might even do it with people again, but i will be prepared. i learned that knowing the game plan is better than going in and doing improv. i know how i ride. no one gets left behind. and we all have fun. one rule is better than marshall law.