…to make a 4-year old frame with 8-year old components feel like a brand new bike!
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013
…to make a 4-year old frame with 8-year old components feel like a brand new bike!
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013
For a time, bike racing was something that I needed to do. Not only was it a lot of fun, but coming as it did later in life it was also the first time that I’d ever really tasted athletic success. For seven years I lived a disciplined life – training hard, eating right, and putting other interests on hold. I went from a fat, middle-aged dad to enjoying a level of fitness that few people my age ever experience. I became a new person. Eventually, however, racing stopped being fun and became a chore. I’d always told myself that if it stopped being fun, then I would quit. So I did.
That was two years ago, and for a time I didn’t miss racing at all. Instead I enjoyed the life of an avid, non-racing road cyclist, doing fast group rides, epic solo rides, and lazy lunchtime rides. As I did when I raced, I continued to ride almost every day and routinely logged anywhere from 100-200 miles each week – only without the intervals. My only goals were to maintain fitness and have fun. For awhile I continued to chronicle my riding on this blog – a holdover from my racing days, but by the end of last year I’d begun to lose interest in that as well. I just felt like I’d run out of things to say – that riding had become, for me, an experience to live but not to document.
In the beginning of the year, however, a funny thing happened – I started training again. My wife and I had made plans to go to France this year and follow the Tour de France, and as part of the deal I signed up to ride l’Etape du Tour. I could’ve bagged it and just done what I needed to to make the time cuts and finish the course, but the competitive person inside me would not settle for something like that. I wanted to do well – real well. So I began training again – hard! I used the same training program that allowed me to do well in my first Etape in 2007. A few weeks before leaving for that trip, an even funnier thing happened – I started racing again! I had seen Joe Walsh at one of the Monday Night St. Charles group rides, and he urged me to come out for the Wednesday Night Time Trial series that he and PJ were putting on. I told him I’d stopped racing and didn’t even have a time trial bike anymore. He said “No problem, we started a Merckx class this year.” Sounded interesting, so I gave it a try. That first week, toeing the line was almost as exciting as the first time I ever raced, and I had a blast. My time was decent – not great – but I knew immediately that this would be a fun way to experience a little racing again without the pressure and commitment of a full schedule. I couldn’t do every Wednesday night, but I did as many as I could, and despite missing the first six weeks and two of the last three weeks of the 15-week series I secured enough points to finish 3rd overall in the Merckx.
That probably would have been the end of the story, but shortly before I left for France, Joe convinced Mike at Big Shark to include a Merckx class in this year’s Missouri State Time Trial. I had tinkered with the idea of doing the State TT anyway – just for kicks. My friend Vince told me he’d let me use his TT bike, and I figured between the Wednesday Night series and two weeks of riding in the Pyrénées and Paris I should be on pretty good form. I didn’t think I could win, but maybe I could medal. When the Merckx class was announced, however, I knew I had to do it – if for no other reason than I had been such a big supporter of the Merckx class at the Wednesday Night series. So I went to France and rode the Etape (worth at least a separate blog post or two), got back late Tuesday last week, rode the final Wednesday Night TT the next evening (jet lagged and on my backup bike – my good bike was delayed getting back with me), and drove to Jefferson City Friday night for my scheduled 9:15 start. It was my first ‘official’ race since the 2008 State Time Trial debacle, but this time was different. I didn’t think I could win – I was just going to have fun, hopefully put in a good ride, and maybe make the podium. I was relaxed, not at all nervous, and quickly settled into a good rhythm. When I made the turnaround in 30:08, I began to entertain thoughts of breaking the hour, and these thoughts were strengthened when I hit the 30-km mark right at 45 minutes. However, the last 5 km were into a tough headwind, and I realized I was going to be off the mark a bit. I finished just 28 seconds over the 1-hour mark, but I was completely happy with my effort – I hadn’t maintained a 24.8-mph pace during any of the Wednesday night TTs this season. I had reason to be happy, since it eventually proved to be a winning effort.
Whether this marks a return to racing for me is hard to say. I have enjoyed sticking my toes back into the competitive waters this year, but I’m not sure I want to jump back in full-bore. These are not decisions, however, that need to be made immediately – right now I’m just going to savor this unexpected win and the good form I’m enjoying as we approach my favorite time of the year, the fall riding season.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010
In my last post, I pondered the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of Sam Sylar from the St. Louis cyclist blog scene. That was seven weeks ago – how ironic that I should follow such a post with my own ‘disappearance’ of sorts. Such extended absences are normally the kiss of death in blogland, where readership demands at least weekly updating, preferably more. My site stats tells me that I’m still getting traffic, but I suspect most of it lands here as a result of Google searches on the terms “Look 585” or “l’Etape du Tour” (or variations thereof). Whatever little traffic I used to received from those actually intending to visit this site (undoubtedly drawn by its witty, irreverant prose!) has likely completely evaporated by this point – I could, for all I know, be writing this piece strictly for myself.
Why the hiatus? I really don’t know. I started writing this blog more than three years ago, in the summer of 2006, to share my experiences and thoughts as a local-level bike racer. I didn’t know it at the time, but the bulk of my racing career was already by then behind me, enjoying early success as a Cat 5 and then struggling as a Cat 4 before finding my groove and putting together a good run on my way to Cat 3. My first year as a 3 saw the beginning of this blog, and a year later I was living my dream of riding l’Etape du Tour. I had lots to write about – race reports, group ride reports, training reports, and of course an account of that incredible trip to France. Ironically, however, it was also the beginning of the end of my interest in racing – after climbing the classic Pyreneean ascents, riding the Calanques white cliffs along the Mediterranean Sea, and cruising the centuries-old cobblestone streets of Paris, I found it increasingly difficult to get excited about the local 4-corner crits back home. I also found myself longing to resume interests that I had put on the shelf (bug collecting) while I did the biking thing. I tried to do both in 2008, but in the end I decided I’d had my fun and called it quits as a bike racer.
It’s been just over a year now since I became a recreational bike rider and not a bike racer. I cycled as much during 2009 as I ever did when I was racing and had just as much fun. I did group rides, bought (and gave my opinions on) cycling equipment and apparel, followed pro racing, kept tabs on my fitness, and made fun of the behavior of others. These are all still relevant topics, and I’ve had a number of post ideas that came to mind during my hiatus that I could’ve written about – crashes (both horrific and humorous), more bad behavior, stylin’ with cables, more winter cycling tips, and finally fixing that creak! But I didn’t, and I don’t know why. I guess time will tell if its just a funk or if it’s really the finish.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010
During the past year, Blazing Saddles, written by Sam Sylar, has become one of my favorite local cycling blogs. Cerebral but not condescending, irreverent but not rebellious, its writings eschewed the bland “Race Report” and “My Ride” brand of posts that are the staple of most local cycling blogs. From Things I Don’t Care About to Evolution of Style to The Little Tour That Could, Sam provides fresh, humerous takes on the politics, etiquette, and business of cycling. His latest post, Form, Fit, and Function – A Tale of Two Freds, was perhaps my favorite—an unusually perceptive examination of the impact of style and its adherents on cycling.
I’ve waited patiently since September 1 for a follow up to that post, but alas, Sam has fallen silent. Did he become bored with it all? Did he grow tired of wasting his talents on such a local, specialized readership, lacking the collective wit to appreciate his unique talent? Is he still even cycling? Or maybe he’s just gotten more involved with really important things such as Cub Scout Pack 316. I don’t really know Sam – never met him as far as I can tell (though rumor has it his tenure and mine on a local team overlapped), but whatever the reason for the abrupt end to his writing, I hope Sam someday decides that he still has something to say and gives us his perspective at Blazing Saddles.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009
November ended up being a rather nice month of riding – not at all what it promised to be coming after what had to be the crappiest October in history! Temps remained relatively mild, and although there was some rain there were only four days during the month that it actually prevented me from riding. I ended the month with 720 miles (plus I’ll get another 20+ tomorrow), and more importantly I got in a 70+ mile ride during all five weekends. Total climbing for the month was 41,000 feet, and total time in the saddle was 40 hours. These aren’t extraordinarly totals, and they aren’t meant to be (l’Etape du Tour is more than 7 months away still) – but it’s a good, solid start.
Please explain this to me. How can I ride 72 miles on the best roads that west St. Louis County has to offer on a day with no rain and temps in the mid-50s – and see only one other cyclist?
Wouldn’t you know it – just a few days after my post on passing etiquette, I get tested by the most irritating example of bad behavior that I’ve seen yet. I was deep into last Sunday’s BugMan ride and was waiting at a stoplight (eastbound on Wildhorse Creek Road, turning left onto Chesterfield Parkway) when a cyclist pulled up beside me. He was wearing one of the local cycling team kits – let’s call it “Vaginal Force” – and was somebody I recognized from my racing days but did not know by name – let’s call him… Kram… er, Kramer – yes, Kramer. The light turned green just as he was pulling up, so he mumbled some kind of greeting and then immediately shot in front of me as we began navigating through the turn. A little annoying, but he seemed to be in a hurry so whatever – if it was me, and I pulled up behind an obviously capable cyclist sitting at a stoplight, I would wait a little bit after the start to see what kind of pace he took starting up again and then gauge whether I needed to pass. I didn’t try to get on his wheel, but within a block or so I could see that I was closing and would have to decide whether I should pass. Fortunately, he turned right at Swingley Ridge before I had to make the decision, so I was spared the annoyance – I thought!
I continued on Chesterfield Parkway and turned east on Conway. After turning, I happened to look back and saw the same rider some distance behind me. Apparently he had used Swingley Ridge as a “shortcut” to get to Conway but it hadn’t worked out so well. He was pretty far back, so I figured I was safe and continued riding. I made it all the way to Hwy 141 but got stopped by the light, and before the light turned green he caught up to me. We exchanged pleasantries again, but this time when the light turned green he didn’t bolt in front of me – instead riding with me and striking up a conversation. Okay, this is cool. Unfortunately, he must have been hard of hearing, because everytime I said something, he either replied “Huh?” or said something that made it clear he misunderstood what I said. I tried speaking loudly and clearly, but this quickly became tedius, and since I really didn’t even really know the guy I found myself looking for an out. That out would come suddenly and most unexpectedly! We were approaching the stop sign at the bottom of the descent to Mason, and he had asked me if I was doing the Hwy 40 time trial. I was in the middle of answering when I began braking for the stop – and he just kept going! He just blasted right through that stop sign at full speed, with cars at the other stop signs no less! I watched him continue on in disbelief and noticed a similar look of disbelief on the face of the driver in the car waiting at the stop sign to the right. She looked at me like “Well, are you gonna run the stop sign too?!” before tentatively taking her turn. I was happy to sit and wait for her so that Vaginal Force Kramer could get up the road a bit and I wouldn’t have to deal with him anymore.
But of course, I was still not done with VFK, as I began closing on him on the climb to Hwy 270. I really didn’t want to catch him, because I was so pissed at him for what he did at the stop sign – it would take all the self-control I could muster to not chastise him for his stupidity. At the same time, I wasn’t willing to let him take me out of my ride and the way I wanted to do it. As I closed and weighed my options, I considered that maybe he was just waiting up for me, but I just didn’t believe it – if he was wanting to ride with me, he would’ve soft-pedaled or even stopped and waited after stupidly blasting through the stop sign. No, he was riding his ride and oblivious to the fact that the guy he had rode away from in mid-sentence was closing in on him. I decided the only thing I could do was go ahead and pass and hope he didn’t try to stay on me. I made my move halfway up the climb, and as I passed bit my tongue and just said, “Have a great ride!” I was climbing assertively (but not all out) to try to put some distance between us quickly so he wouldn’t think I was just trading pulls with him, but the phuquer grabbed my wheel anyway and sat there all the way up the climb. Near the summit he made the move around me, and I’d had it – I just stopped there in the road, drank some GU2O and waited until he got out of sight before continuing on. I thought my plan had backfired when I approached the stoplight at Ballas and saw him sitting there, but the light turned green well before I got there and even turned red again before that for extra safety margin. Never before have I been so happy to see a red light.
Is there something wrong with me? Why do these guys irritate me so? It almost seems like guys see my flash bike and race cut clothing and just assume I’m ready to throw down with anybody I meet on the street. I guess it’s possible that I’m just getting grouchy in my old age (although VFK was no spring chicken himself), but I really don’t think so – I love group rides, even of the “drop” variety (and even when I am the one dropped). I just like to pick the kind of riders that I ride with, and first and foremost they have to be safe! Rolling stop signs on lonely country roads is one thing – blasting them in Town & Country with cars waiting is another. It’s not a frickin’ race out there – geez!
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009
Even though I don’t race anymore, I still get in lots of time on the road bike. I also still ride pretty much the same way I did when I was racing – fast and hard! As a result, I regularly pass other cyclists during my rides. Not that I’m a super stud – the vast majority of cyclists I pass are recreational riders and weekend warriors who don’t have the benefit of years of racing in their legs. I try to be “polite,” not take them by surprise, and treat them with respect – racing types are often accused of “arrogance” towards non-racers, and I don’t want to be automatically regarded as such due to my flash bike and color-coordinated lycra. I suppose there are different ways to accomplish this, but my way is to announce “On your left” as I get within earshot, pass them at an even keel without standing or accelerating, give them a friendly nod and a “Howdy” as I pass, and then continue on my way at the same steady pace.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I was not like this when I first began racing. In those days, anxious to validate my abilities, I would chase down any cyclist I saw up the road and consider it a “victory” when I caught and passed them. I tried to ride by them as fast as possible so they could be really impressed at how fast I could ride. And if another cyclist caught and tried to pass me? Well, it was on! In the years that followed, I learned to appreciate the traditions and etiquette of road cycling as much as the act itself. After racing for seven years and achieving some degree of competitiveness, I eventually learned that it is the character and not the speed with which one rides that impresses others. Ironically, the better a racer I became, the less I felt the need to demonstrate those abilities.
It is with that backdrop that I share a few recent events that have left me chuckling. Both involve the reactions of cyclists that I had overtaken on one of my rides and remind me of my former, less mature self. The first happened a few weeks ago on my lunchtime route, when I passed a cyclist on Clayton Road. He was on a pretty good road bike and dressed in one of the local team kits – unusual compared to what I normally see on my lunch rides. I passed with my standard courtesies, and when I didn’t recognize him as anyone I’d seen before I continued north on Baxter. At the bottom of the hill I had to slow for a stoplight but could see that it would turn green again soon, so I scrubbed a little speed on the approach and then started picking it back up when the light turned green right as I was reaching the intersection. I had forgotten about the cyclist, but right as I was picking it back up again he came flying by me (I don’t know how he would’ve stopped had the light not turned green when it did) and headed into the short, stiff climb just past the intersection. I just kind of chuckled as I watched this and continued picking it back up, and then I could see him slowing rapidly on the climb. It was a pretty easy climb, really, and without any effort I started closing back in on him. “Great,” I thought, as I really wasn’t interested in playing games with him, so I eased up to let him get over the hump, and as he did he started thrashing the pedals to get going again, even looking back over his shoulder – presumably to check out whether he was still “beating” me? Fortunately, he quickly turned onto a side street, and I was spared any further annoyance.
A few days later I was stopped at a light on Chesterfield Parkway and saw a cyclist turn right onto the Parkway and continue on ahead of me. Like the previous guy, this guy was also on a racing-type bike and wearing kit, though not from any local team that I could recognize. Again, in my younger days this would have been like a red cape to the bull, and I would have started chasing him down as soon as the light turned green. However, I was in the last 15 miles of a hilly 70-miler, so even if I had the notion the smart move would’ve still been to chill. Nevertheless, as I continued on the Parkway I could see him on the climb up ahead, and by the time we reached Wildhorse Creek it was clear that I was closing in on him. When I was fairly close, I had to gauge whether I really wanted to pass – he was carrying a decent pace, but just a bit too slow. I made the move on a slight rise, but then got held up at the stoplight. He pulled up behind me, and I turned and said, ”Hey.” He replied in kind, but something about his tenor said, “Don’t talk to me.” So, in awkward silence, I stood there waiting for the light to turn. When it did, I started off and got up to speed, but I could ”feel” him on my wheel. I’m sorry, but it’s just really presumptuous to ride somebody’s wheel without at least asking them if it’s alright. Regardless, I kept my pace, and he followed me for the next mile or so until we hit a climb. He continued pacing me on the bottom half, and then about midway up he moves around and passes. It was a harder effort than I wanted to do (much harder than what he was doing on the previous climb when I passed him), so I didn’t try to up the effort at all. As he passed, he kind of gave me a look but didn’t say anything, and then continued on ahead. Unlike the previous guy, I didn’t have to worry about what to do with this guy once we crested the climb, as he continued jamming a hard pace for the next half mile or so before turning off on Kehrs Mill.
Who are these guys? They’re me. When I was younger, more insecure, and less appreciative of the finer points of cycling etiquette. I’m sure both of them were much more impressed with themselves than I was, but I can live with it. In fact, maybe in a few years, having become sage veterans of the road, they’ll recount the experience themselves and feel the same twinge of embarrassment that I feel when I think back on similar events in my earlier days of cycling.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009
October sucked! There is really no other way to put it – I don’t think I’ve ever seen as cold and rainy an October as this one. I try not to be too much of a wimp when it comes to weather – wet is fine, cold is fine, wet and cold is a drag! The first 10 days of the month were mostly off the bike due to travel, and the three weeks since have been much more touch and go than I am used to or happy with. Still, I’ve managed to get in a good BugMan®-type ride each of the past three weekends, and while the first two were fun, I would have enjoyed them more had the weather been a little sunnier and the roads a little drier.
Well, November is here, and this weekend has ushered in truly spectacular fall weather – dry, sunny, mild, and with tolerably light winds. Best of all, it looks like it might actually stay with us for at least the next week or so. What a glorious weekend I had for weekend 3 of my Étape du Tour 2010 training plan. The BugMan route has gotten a little longer lately, as a bridge replacement on Hardt is forcing me to take a long detour from my house to pick up the route on Melrose, but I have taken advantage of that opportunity to incorporate a climb up Woodland Meadows (the easier westward climb – not the insanely brutal eastward climb!). Today’s route was made even longer still by flooding from the Meramac River on Marshall Road. I did not want to cut out the Marshall climb, so I detoured along Dougherty Ferry, added the short but sharp Highland climb up to Big Bend, then blasted down through Timberlake to pick up Marshall right at the foot of the climb (with the Meramac waters lapping just a few yards away). I ended today’s ride at 72 miles, with 12 big climbs and 4,600 feet of ascent in just over 4 hours. I felt good to the end, although it’s still a far cry from the 109 miles and ~14,000 feet of ascent (but only 3 climbs ) that I will have to do in the Étape next July.
To the throngs of cyclists that I saw on the roads today, I have only one question – where have all you sissies been the past few weekends?!
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009