Off to Ride RAWROD ‘06

04.28.2006 | 4:28 am

Sorry, not much time to write right now — truly busy week at work, and then tomorrow afternoon we’re all headed to Moab for RAWROD ‘06.
Story to come on Monday. Provided I finish.
Oh, also: I used a large font in this entry to make it look like I wrote a lot. Were you fooled?
(Oops, sorry I called it RAMROD — now edited to say RAWROD)


When Bad Rides Go Good

04.26.2006 | 5:59 am

I got a piece of good news during the weekend: Kenny, Chucky, Brad and I all got into the Cascade Cream Puff.
There’s only one little problem: I am fat. And I have been riding only occasionally. I suspect most people would give me some credit for the quality of my excuse — I just changed jobs and have been busy selling my house, buying a house, and flying back and forth between where I live and where I work until the move is complete.
The thing is, though, the Cream Puff trail won’t care about excuse quality. I’ve done this race one time before — when I was much lighter and fitter — and barely finished (right around 14 hours, I think). It was, in fact, the only time I have ever seriously considered quitting a race.
So. I now have a really good reason to get in really good shape in a really short period of time.
Yes, I know I already had lots of really good reasons, but this one puts a knot in my stomach in a way Leadville no longer does — maybe because I know that even in the condition and weight I’m in right now I could still at least finish Leadville. I don’t think that’s true of the Cream Puff.
And that’s my long-winded introduction to why I did interval climbs on Monday.
I’ve been picturing a good climbing interval course for some time: from my house on the Sammamish Plateau, descend and then climb each of the roads that drops down off of the plateau. That’s six climbs, each between half a mile and a mile, each fairly steep.
Monday, I finally went and did it.
The first descent is practically out my front door, so I don’t really get warmed up until I begin climbing back up (the road is 244th or something like that, for those of you who live in the Sammamish area). It’s a good first climb because it starts off very steep to force some intensity out of you, and then gives you a quick rest before dialing up the steepness again. As expected, I did this climb with no difficulty at all. Hey, it’s the first climb. I’m always a good climber on the first clmb.
The second descent and climb, though, is Inglewood Hill. This is just over half a mile at a 12% grade (that’s what the warning sign at the top of the hill says, anyway). Back when I worked at Microsoft, I did this climb every day as part of my homebound commute, and it’s a good gauge of my strength and fitness.
As soon as I reached the bottom of Inglewood Hill and turned around, shifting into my small ring and the third biggest ring on my cassette, I could tell I was in trouble. It was a harder climb than I remembered it being. Could it be that I was already tired out from just one climb?
I looked forward, putting into practice my new riding philosophy: don’t look at your pedals, look at where you want to go. I looked up, suffering, and kept pedaling. I wanted to go into my second gear, but I didn’t. "I should be able to do this climb in third gear," I told myself. "A month ago, I was doing it in third gear with my messenger bag on."
But I was suffering.
I focused on turning a smooth stroke, pulling up with one leg even as I pushed down with another. But it felt like I was about to fall over at the top and bottom of each stroke.
And then, finally, I was at the top. I had made it, but only just. What was wrong with me? I let my head drop down, looking at my pedals.
And that’s when I discovered I was in the big ring.

Self-Importantly, I Agree to an Interview

04.24.2006 | 5:41 pm

Several months ago, the good folks at Dahon loaned me a Flo to review. I liked it so much that I have so far accidentally forgotten to ever return it (and plan to continue to accidentally fail to return it). Their (incredibly patient) marketing guy, Christopher Hess, tried to recoup something out of the terrible mistake they made (sending me the bike in the first place) by asking me to do an interview for their newsletter.
Celebrity that I am, I said "Yes, as long as you clear all the questions with my agent." Quickly, I had to decide: should I ask my wife to pretend to be my agent, or should I just do my Jimmy Stewart impression and hope that fools him?
I went with the Jimmy Stewart impression.
"Weeaaahhhll," I drawled, "So you wanna talk with the Fat Cyclist, doya?" I asked Christopher.
Christopher, I suspect, was not taken in. But he agreed to my demands, and we proceeded to do the interview. It was, as you’d expect, pure gold.
Ten Questions: Dahon Interviews the Fat Cyclist

1. Thanks for your time Elden. Tell us a bit about yourself and your Fat Cyclist blog?

Okay. About a year ago, I did an epic mountain bike ride — the White Rim Trail, near Moab, Utah — and just barely survived it, what with the 40 pounds of blubber I had managed to acquire during the previous couple years. Sooo, I thought, “Hey, while I try to whip my sorry butt back into shape, how about I embarrass myself by writing about the whole thing?

At first, I mostly just wrote about my weight loss efforts and riding, but soon I ran out of things to say. I mean, think about it: how many different ways can you say, “I screwed up my diet again, but still really really really love riding my bike?” So to add a little variety, I started doing some bike satire, the occasional contest, and stories about biking.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up a good-sized audience (about 4,000 people per day), with some terrific commenters — I expect a good portion of the Fat Cyclist readership comes by to read the conversation that happens after my initial post.

2. Could you tell us a little bit about how long you have been commuting and what sort of bike(s) you ride?

I started bike commuting when I moved out to Washington and started working for Microsoft. Before that, I had never worked more than a mile from my home — and usually worked in my home. So having any commute at all was sort of a new thing for me.

My bike stable:

  • Ibis Ti Road: I’ve had this road bike for nine years. Titanium becomes more beautiful the longer you have it. I will never part with this bike.
  • Dahon Flo: I initially got this bike to review, but fell in love with it and decided to keep it. It’s not just a great bike for traveling; it’s a great mountain bike for tight, twisty, technical trails. The fact that you can pack it up and take it with you is a great bonus, but I’d love this bike even if it didn’t fit in a suitcase.
  • Gary Fisher Paragon: My first 29”-wheeled mountain bike. I’m still getting used to the way it feels, but love the way it hooks up in the loose stuff.
  • Bianchi Pista: I bought this for track racing; it turns out that I love it for fixed-gear road riding, too.

3. You live in a beautiful part of the world, with all the trimmings western cities seem to provide in terms of being ‘car-friendly’. What influenced your decision to start cycling to work?

I started bike commuting for a couple reasons. First, I was trying to multi-task: I didn’t have time for a “real” bike ride, and figured I could get in some kind of workout by biking to and from work each day. Second, the streets in the area around Microsoft are phenomenally congested. The number of cars trying to get to the main campus in the morning cannot be expressed with conventional mathematics. Bikes get to ignore all this traffic. I sometimes amuse myself by counting the number of cars I pass as I bike to work. Often, the number is greater than 200.


4. And just how long is your commute each way?

Well, eleven miles if I go the shortest way possible. But on nice days, the route somehow manages to wind up being closer to 20 miles.

I just started a new job in Utah, though, where the house I’m buying is about 20 miles from work…with a big mountain pass in between. I can hardly wait to start making that commute daily. Seriously.

5. How is the Flo treating you? There is quite varied terrain where you live, so how does the Flo handle its mountain bike duties?

The Flo is the best-handling mountain bike I have ever ridden. I mean, a steel, Joe-Murray-designed hardtail: what’s not to love? Well, actually, I don’t love the seatpost / saddle combo that came with the bike, but that’s nitpicking. You guys hit a home run (or the cricket equivalent thereof) with this bike.


6. What do you think are the benefits of more enviro friendly transport solutions and less cars in urban centres?

Actually, I think there will shortly be more and more cars in urban centres (you British are so adorable the way you spell!) — it’s just that they won’t be going anywhere, what with gasoline and gold costing the same amount per ounce. Cars will come to be regarded as exciting obstacles cyclists can use in trials maneuvers and in urban mountain biking, which I believe will be the next big thing.


7. So… any ideas on how to fix the world?

I recommend first loosening it up with a judicious squirt of WD-40, then take after it with a 5mm hex wrench and a 15mm box wrench. Between those two tools, you can fix just about anything. If you find you’re in over your head, though, you should take it (the world, I mean — not your head) to a good mechanic and tell him it broke while you were “just riding along.”


8. Aside from commuting, what other riding do you enjoy?

I love both road riding and mountain biking. My favorite thing, though, is heading out on a big ol’ all-day mountain biking adventure with my friends. At least, that’s my favorite kind of biking when I’m not actually out on an all-day adventure with my friends. When I’m out on such a ride, my favorite kind of biking is a quick ride to the El Azteca Taco Stand.


9. Has the regular commute helped your other riding, your overall fitness?

I’m pretty sure it has. I’ve still got plenty of blubber to work off, but after biking to work all through the winter, I’m entering this season without that terrible soreness I get after my first long ride of the year. So that’s worth something, I figure.


10. And finally, the Dahon Photo Competition is underway. A lot of people are talking about which bike they would build if they won. Whats your dream Dahon?

I’ve already got it, man. That Flo is sweet as pie.


Though I wouldn’t turn down an Allegro, either. My new job has me on the road a bunch, you see, and some of the places I go to have better road riding than mountain biking….

Epic Ride Checklist

04.21.2006 | 3:58 pm

A week from today, I’m heading to Moab to ride the 2006 edition of Kenny’s annual “Ride Around White Rim in One Day:” RAWROD ’06. For those who haven’t been keeping up with my blog since it began (that would be all of you, since when I started writing, the only hits I got were my own, along with a few sympathy clicks from family), it was RAWROD ’05 that woke me up to the fact that I was fat, in desperately bad condition, and needed to do something about it.

The number of people who attend this ride has exploded from the six or so the first time we did it to about forty this year.

Which brings up a question: How do you know when your annual group ride with a few close friends has gotten out of control? When you start doing t-shirts for it. (This t-shirt, by the way, will be the first place anyone will see the Fat Cyclist logo I recently had designed. Expect to see it on stuff I give away before long.)

So as I’m getting my stuff ready for the trip, I realize: this is one thing that I’m really good at. I have done so many long rides that I know pretty much exactly what to bring and what to eat for an epic ride. So here’s a little bit of actual useful knowledge. Use it to whatever degree you like.


Your Bike
Have a mechanic you trust do a serious tune-up. Tell your mechanic what you’re going to be doing, how important it is to you to not have any serious mechanicals while on the trail, that your life is in his/her hands. Have the mechanic thoroughly check the spots that, if broken mid-trail, could be especially problematic, including:

  • Bottom bracket
  • Hubs
  • Chain
  • Headset
  • Frame
  • Rims, rim strips and tires: Nothing is more annoying on a ride than getting a bunch of flats. If you’ve been getting a lot of flat tires on rides, like one flat every two or three rides, check (and if necessary, replace) the rim strips, and/or buy a new set of top-notch tires.
  • Shifting and brakes

Then make sure you tip that mechanic well. And if your bike rides beautifully the whole time, tip him/her again when you come back.


What to Wear

Wear what you’re used to wearing. Do not ever wear new shorts, new shoes, a new jersey, or new anything on a long ride. It’s not fun to discover during a long ride that due to the abrasive nature of your jersey, your nipples are now bleeding. Yes, I have had that happen to me. It looks stupid.

Anyway, here’s the checklist of stuff you absolutely must have with you. It seems silly to have to make this list, but I’ve arrived at long rides and seen people who have forgotten one or more of these.

  • Helmet
  • Glasses
  • Jersey (+ jacket if it’s cold)
  • Shorts (+ tights if it’s cold)
  • Gloves
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Camelbak or water bottles: full

Your Gear
It’s not easy to find the right balance between riding light and having everything you need. Since epic rides are (rarely) about being super fast, though, it’s better to have a little too much and ride a little slow than to die in the desert. Just an opinion, mind you. Here’s a basic checklist, which would need to be adapted for terrain and climate:

  • Water: 2 ounces per mile is a good rule of thumb, but can go up to 3 ounces if it’s a hot day. It’s a good idea to have water in a bottle as well as your CamelBak, so you can squirt water onto any wounds that need cleaning.
  • Food: You can get by with energy bars, but it’s nice to have a real meal some time on the trail. For myself, I like chicken soup.
  • Energy gels: Nothing can prevent–or bring you back from–a bonk like these. Carry more of these than you think you’ll need (at least 5), because one of your buds may need one.
  • Pump: Duh. If you haven’t changed a flat in a while, check and make sure that pump works. (You can go with CO2 instead, but for a long ride, a pump is the safer bet.)
  • Tubes: Two. Make sure they’re good before the trip begins (replacing one flat tube with another sucks).
  • Multi-tool: There’s a million different brands, lots of them very good. Make sure you know how to use yours.
  • Patch kit: Enough to change another two tires.
  • Extra Chain Links: If you don’t have extra links, fixing a broken chain shortens the chain, which means you may lose a few gears.
  • First aid kit
  • Money: You never know what you’ll need it for (food? water? a ride?), but it doesn’t weigh much.
  • Duct tape: It’s got a million uses. Wrap a couple yards around your seatpost. I promise, you will at some point use it, and when you do, you will feel incredibly smart for having that tape.
  • Chamois Butter, or other chamois cream: It feels creepy (or, depending on your tendencies, strangely erotic) when you first put it on, but it prevents saddle sores in a big way.
  • Sunscreen: Especially toward the beginning of the season, a full day in the sun can mean some serious reddening and suffering if you don’t slather yourself.
  • Camera: If you’ve got a small one, take it.
  • Map: If you don’t know the terrain.
  • Lube: If you use a wax-based lube, it won’t last for the entire ride, so you’ve got to bring extra. If you use Dumonde Tech, the lube will last the whole ride, so you can forget about it.
  • Extra clothing: If your ride has large changes in elevation, especially in spring or fall, keep a shell and tights with you just in case the weather turns nasty. 

Did I miss anything?


04.19.2006 | 5:03 pm

Last week, BotchedExperiment joined a group of friends I was riding with. It was a perfect day for mountain biking: 76 degrees, and the desert mountain singletrack was in that state where it’s dry enough not to stick to your tires, but hasn’t yet become dusty.

Intrigued to finally meet a guy who consistently has some of the best comments on my blog, I rode most of the way with Botched: talking with him, getting suckered by him (he briefly had me convinced that he was a convicted felon), and frequently falling off my bike for his entertainment.

Also, I noticed that Botched has a fluid, easy style on his bike. He was easily doing tight hairpin turns. He was doing little jumps off rocks. He was doing effortless wheelie drops. He was comfortably hopping sideways across gullies. And he was doing this all in such a way that made it look like he wasn’t really working—like he and his bike had just come to an agreement on what to do, and now they were doing it.

It made me think: my relationship with my bike is not quite so comfortable. I tend to whine and wheedle with my bike, begging it to please—just this once—do what I want it to. “Look,” I say to my bike (sometimes aloud, sometimes in a furtive whisper), “would it kill you to keep traction while I ride up this loose section with the waterbars and boulders? Is that really so much for me to ask of you?”

When you think about it, practically everyone has some kind of relationship with their bike, and it’s pretty easy to tell what it is just by watching them.


Master and Servant

When Bob’s on his bike, you know who’s in charge. Bob is, that’s who. Watching him approach a tricky move is vastly entertaining because you get the sense he wants to punish the bike, bash the stupid thing against the rock ledge. Show it who’s boss. Bob wrenches the handlebars side to side, lunges over rocks, lands hard. If the bike ever had a will of its own, Bob soon crushes it.


Dance Partners

Brad is the exact opposite of Bob. He rides with gravity-defying grace, not so much riding up ledges as flitting. Obstacles cease to be obstacles when Brad is nearby, and instead become props on the stage for his ballet. A tight, twisty series of turns looks like a waltz when Brad’s on his bike. Sometimes Brad leads, sometimes his bike does.

It doesn’t look as fruity as I just made it sound, though.


Enthusiastic Readers of Steven Covey Books

Rocky and his bike seem to be imbued with a “can-do” attitude. They’re highly effective. They’re both firmly in quad 1 (“This move is both Urgent and important!”), and work enthusiastically and efficiently to accomplish their primary objective: to clean the current move. Then they modestly act like it was no big deal, because modesty is a desirable attribute of highly effective people, too.


Bickering Old Married Couple

That’s Kenny. He’s on his bike so much that it’s developed aches and pains—I’ve been with him when a frame has cracked (“Oh, my aching back!”) and earlier this week I mentioned how a crank dropped off (“I think I broke my hip.”). Still, they understand each other better than anyone else ever will, and you can’t imagine them away from each other.


Indifferent Strangers

Dug doesn’t care what bike he’s on, and it shows. He barely acknowledges that the bike exists, and when asked how he likes his bike, he says, “It’s fine,” regardless of what he’s riding. The bike, for its part, does what is asked of it, sort of the same way a stranger will scoot over for another stranger on a bus, perhaps giving a mild, noncommittal smile: “Well, since we’re together for the trip, we may as well make the best of it.”


That About Does It 

I’m pretty sure that covers it for bike/rider relationships. In fact, i’m so sure, i’m willing to wager a Banjo Brothers Pocket Messenger Bag that nobody could possibly come up with a better one.

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