It occurs to me that before long, people are going to stop answering when I call. Why? I call people I have only met online or on the phone and ask them to do strange things in the name of helping Team Fatty fighting cancer.
One of these people whom I have never actually met in person — and I am given to understand that nobody else has either, for he wears a mask and a flowing velvet cape that conceals his appearance — is Bike Snob NYC, who is best described as my evil, more famous blog twin.
Anyways, not really knowing BSNYC at all, I asked a large favor of him.
“I know you value your privacy,” I said. “So how about we run a contest where the winner gets to come over and totally violate that privacy. You know, hang out with you for a couple hours. Ride bikes with you. Stand too close to you and ask you personal questions you don’t want to answer.”
And so, beginning right this moment, you can enter the contest to fly out to NYC and meet, talk with, make lots and lots of blog entry suggestions to, and otherwise hang out with Bike Snob NYC.
What You Get
So what fabulous prizes do you get with this contest? Read on.
First and foremost, you get to meet BSNYC. In person and for real. No hijinx or anything. You’ll actually get to see what he looks like. Once you’ve met him, he gets to decide what you do next. Maybe you’ll go on a bike ride. Maybe you’ll go for lots of subway rides. Maybe he’ll spontaneously embrace you. Maybe he’ll hit you with a cudgel and take your money. As you know, New Yorkers are as volatile as they are unpredictable. I recommend bringing both chocolate and pepper spray. It’s best to be prepared.
Second and Secondmost, you get a ticket to NY and back, with US Air. Yep, the Co-Captain of the Philly Team Fatty — Jen Yuan — has arranged for a plane ticket with US Air for any day this year. Of course, this means you have to get yourself to an airport that US Air or one of its affiliates services. So you BSNYC fans in Sri Lanka may be out of luck.
Third and Thirdmost, you get a Bike Snob Seal of Disapproval t-shirt, lovingly (?) hand-delivered by BSNYC himself. It may be in your size. It may not. Do not ask if you can exchange it. As you can see here, Lance got one that is three sizes too large, and he didn’t ask for a different size. He’s wearing / swimming in it, and is happy about it.
Finally and Lastmost: In addition to the grand prize of a plane ticket and meeting BSNYC, there will be 4 second-prize t-shirts given away to random winners. I have one of these and I never wear anything else. But in all honesty, that has more to do with my proclivity to always wear a given clothing item exclusively until catastrophic failure. But hey, this isn’t about me. It’s about the hard-to-find, can’t-be-bought t-shirt you’re going to parade in front of your friends.
What You Don’t Get
Please note carefully that this is not an all-expenses-paid vacation. It is, frankly, much closer to a plane-ticket-and-nothing-else vacation. Meaning you’re on your own for hotel. And food. And cab fare.
And everything else, actually.
And don’t you go expecting BSNYC to foot the bill. In fact, maybe you should consider buying him lunch. Would it kill you, just once, to offer to buy?
Yes, all the money in this contest goes directly to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, to help them fight cancer. It’s that easy. Besides, we cannot be trusted with money.
This contest is open starting right now and will run through next Wednesday, April 22. The winner will be announced on Thursday, April 23.
General Rules and Restrictions
Here are some rules you must obey, so keep them in mind just in case you win this contest.
Timing: You need to do this on a day that works for BSNYC. He travels (to exotic and wonderful places you couldn’t even possibly imagine) frequently, so the two of you will need to work together to figure out a date that works for the two of you.
Be cool: Seriously, BSNYC wants to keep private, which I don’t understand at all but am trying to respect anyways. So: no photos of him, no smothering, and no poking. And keep what you learn about him to yourself.
Flight Restrictions: Here’s what you need to know about the ticket:
Even though there are no blackout dates, there must be “X”-class seats available on a given flight in order for someone to use the voucher (kind of like frequent flier miles). As the voucher says, “Seats are limited and may not be available on every flight.”
Also, the flight only needs to be *ticketed* by Dec 23, 2009. Travel can take place all the way up through late November 2010. Flights can be ticketed a maximum of 340 days in advance.
The voucher can be used for “open jaw” flights — fly into one city (say, NYC to meet Bike Snob) and out of another (say, Philly after cheering people at the Livestrong ride).
If the flight someone wants does not have an available “X” class seat, the voucher is good for $200 towards the total fare.
Good on US Airways, US Express, America West Airways, America West Express.
Frankly, that’s a lot less draconian than it could have been. Although the term “open jaw flights” scares me very much.
But What If I Already Live on the East coast, the Way 90% of Americans Do?
Well, then you can go visit Bike Snob and then use the plane ticket to go somewhere else. See, this ticket is actually a round-trip ticket to anywhere in the US that US Air and its affiliates service.
So, for example, you could go hang out with BSNYC for a couple hours, then fly over to Salt Lake City, and I’d take you on a ride. Road or mountain, your choice. I’ll take care of getting a bike for you. And then I’ll grill brats or burgers, your choice.
Seriously, I’m throwing that in the ring. Which may or may not be an enhancement to the contest. You’ll have to decide.
As it often happens, I wish I were eligible to enter this contest — from his blog and the several email conversations I’ve had with him, I can tell BSNYC is a very smart, funny, and good guy.
A Note from Fatty: Many of you have been asking whether the100 Miles of Nowhereis still on. Yes, it’s definitely still on. I’ll be giving more details and opening up registration next week. Meanwhile, I thought you’d like to get a sneak peek at the very cool design Twin Six has come up with for the event t-shirt. Seriously, could those guys get any more awesome?
Another Note from Fatty: Tomorrow I will be announcing a different contest. I will say no more about it now, other than that I think there’s going to be huge interest in winning, and not just from the readers of fatcyclist.com.
The core team is made up of nothing but married men, all of us with children still living at home. That’s not a requirement for admission; it’s just the way it is.
And of course, we all enjoy telling our respective wives about the rides we go on. Why wouldn’t we? They’re exciting, close, more-or-less in cell phone range, and no more unsafe than, say, driving a car or eating a corn dog with cheese. And mayo.
Here, for example, is a little video I just put together of Brad, Jamie and me riding Corner Canyon during an unseasonably warm couple of days in early March:
Who wouldn’t want to show that to one’s spouse?
This is likewise true of the other local MTB rides: Frank, Tibble, Timpooneke, Hog Hollow, the Zoo, Lambert, BST, and so on.
All good clean fun, and worth recounting.
But we tend to get a little vague when describing Grove Creek.
Grove Creek — which we just call “Grove,” because it’s just too darn much work to say that extra syllable, is the hardest-climbing uphill I know of. I don’t even dare hazard a guess as to how much climbing there is in its short three (or four? Maybe five?) miles to the bridge, but I would bet it’s closer to 2000 feet than 1000. And it feels like 5000.
Grove may also be the most beautiful of all the rides we do. Or more accurately, it may be the most beautiful of the rides we fail to do, because it’s so hard we mostly pretend it doesn’t exist — even though the trailhead is no more than five miles from my house.
My point is, though, that Grove is beautiful. But the nature of its beauty is its curse: Grove is a freakishly dangerous trail.
Oh the Pain
Oh, sure, Grove starts out harmlessly enough. You ride along on the nice, flat jeep road for a few minutes, dodging mud puddles (there are always mud puddles in the first section), chatting with your friends, trying to keep your mind off what is next.
And then the “what is next” part arrives. The jeep road turns sharply upward, and you know it’s not going to level off for a good long time. On a geared bike, I will try to ride most climbs in the second or even third gear, with the granny unused — an insurance policy.
On Grove, however, I just immediately go to the granny gear. No questions asked, because they’ve already been answered.
Until yesterday, I had never attempted Grove on a singlespeed. Which shows that until yesterday I had some common sense. Which is to say, I walked a lot of the trail yesterday, and have no plans to try Grove on a SS again until I have magically transformed into Brad or Kenny.
Then — in the one piece of mercy Grove shows to the rider — there’s a short piece of swoopy, buff, fun downhill singletrack, letting you recover for a moment.
Before the really hard part begins.
Stay on Target
While the first part of Grove is brutally difficult, I hardly ever think about it, because the insanity of the second part of Grove just blots the first part clean out of my mind.
Everyone regroups at the top of the first climb — there’s a nice little flat spot where people sometimes set up camp — and then everyone looks around at each other, hoping someone has a flat or another really good reason to delay.
In the absence of a good excuse to turn around, negotiations begin on the riding order. These negotiations are very important, because — and I may be tipping my hand about the trail a bit here — there aren’t a lot of great places to pass on the second part of the Grove clmb.
And then the clmbing begins.
Immediately, the transformation of the trail is as complete as it is terrifying. Suddenly you are not riding on buff singletrack. You are riding on rough, sharp shale, embedded into the ground in a technical trail with what I like to call a “significant penalty for failure.”
And by “significant penalty for failure,” I mean that you’ve got a cliff wall going up on your left — you can literally put your hand out to lean against it when you need to stop and rest — and another cliff wall going down on your right.
The good thing about this cliff — the one going down, I mean — is that if you do fall off it, you have time to consider your options. The bad thing about this cliff is that the time spent falling off a cliff is not really optimal for option-considering.
In short, if you’re going to fall, it’s a good idea to fall left. (This statement is only true on the way up.)
Of course, it’s not shear cliff on the right all the way up. Sometimes instead you’re riding on loose shale. And sometimes you’re deciding whether you’re up to trying a not-quite-a-ledge move. Usually I’m not.
And a lot of the time, you’re looking around, completely stunned at how beautiful it all is. That dangerous cliff off to the right gives you a view of the creek at the bottom. And the canyon made by that creek leads to a gorgeous waterfall. And on the other side of the canyon, you see Mt. Timpanogos, covered in fresh snow right now and blindingly white up top.
I have found it wise to stop from time to time and take it all in. This is wise for two reasons:
I need to stop anyway, because I have exceeded what I previously thought was my maximum heart rate.
I find that I’m less likely to veer off the trail when I’m paying strict attention to aforementioned trail. On most trails, that’s good. On this trail, it’s downright necessary.
Eventually, you get to a bench, just before the bridge that crosses Grove Creek (and on the other side of the bridge is more excellent riding of a completely different sort, but that trail’s still covered in snow this time of year). Someone built that bench as a monument to a cyclist family member / friend. I cannot think of a better, more fitting monument, anywhere.
The first time my friends brought me on this climb, I was astounded and outraged. I really thought it was some kind of mean-spirited prank: “Hey, let’s take Elden on a climb that goes on forever, hurts constantly, and is life-threatening if you screw up.” Very funny, guys.
Of course, once you’ve made the climb, you’ve got to turn around and ride down.
I remember the first time I came down Grove, I actually dismounted and walked about a third of it, muttering darkly the whole time.
Meanwhile, Dug and Rick M flew down the trail. As if nothing could happen. It just seemed insane, and part of me wished I could keep up with them, just to see up close what it was like to defy death.
Strangely, though, yesterday as Kenny and I descended, I noticed I was able to stay with him pretty easily. And I actually felt like I was in less danger, not more, as I flew down.
Slower does not necessarily equal greater control. I’m finally learning that.
Most Disappointing Video, Ever
One of the big reasons I wanted to ride Grove yesterday was because I now have the VIO-POV.1 helmet cam, and I was picturing what a glorious five minutes it would be to do a continuous shot of the descent down Grove.
Kenny and I agreed we’d drop to the camp spot, switch the camera to be rear-facing, then continue from there.
But when I got to that regroup spot, I saw something terrible: my helmet cam was switched off. Evidently, the zip tie I had around the camera unit had punched the off button or something — and I’d find out when I got home that I had only got the first — and least spectacular — half minute of that whole part of the descent.
“Oh well, we’ll get the second part, anyway,” I said, and turned the camera back on. And then, once again, it turned off just a few seconds into the descent.
So now, belatedly, I’ve learned how to use the “keylock” feature, so the camera will keep going regardless of what buttons inadvertently get punched due to jostling.
So I went ahead and made a video anyway, so you can see exactly how freaky the trail is. Just understand that it’s pretty much an uphill-only video.
I’ll get the downhill view as a separate video, the next time my legs will let me do that climb.
Provided, of course, that my wife ever lets me ride Grove again.
They’re comfortable, regardless of whether I’m riding a road or mountain bike. The gloves last for about a season and a half, which is about what I’d expect from $35 gloves. And most importantly, the palm padding really does seem to help fight the numbness I otherwise tend to get in my hands on long rides.
So: well done, Specialized. Keep up the good work with those Ridge gloves. I’m your loyal Body Geometry gloves customer for life.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about your shoes.
I Am The Kind of Customer You Want
I need to give you a little background about myself, Specialized. When I like something, I am an absurdly good customer. I am ridiculously loyal, I tell my friends, and I buy again and again.
Take, as an example, Keen. They make shoes. Really comfortable, long-lasting shoes. A couple years ago, I bought my first pair of Keens. And here’s how many pair I have now:
To be fair, only the top row of those shoes are mine (along with the cleated commuter sandals at the bottom left). The middle row of Keens are my wife’s, and the two pair on the bottom row, right side are my sons’.
Oh yeah. There’s one more pair, not shown, because one of my boys is out of town visiting his grandma right now.
So the tally of pairs of Keen shoes at Casa de Fatty is 15. And I’ll be buying more, in the near future (the boys need some good shoes for a weeklong hiking trip this summer). Why wouldn’t I? Keens have never let me down.
Can you tell where I’m going with this, Specialized?
Time for Some New Shoes
My two most recent pair of mountain biking shoes have been Specialized, Specialized. The first pair fell apart in fewer than two seasons: the soles cracked and the uppers tore.
However, they had fit well enough — you really do seem to be onto something with your “Body Geometry” system — that I gave you another shot.
So here are my current shoes.
From this perspective, they don’t seem too bad. About two seasons of frequent riding-worth of wear and tear.
But from this first picture, you can’t tell that I’ve already had to replace the ratcheting mechanism on both shoes.
And that first picture doesn’t show this:
Now, that might be an anomaly if it were just one of the shoes, but check out the match:
Same hole, other shoe.
And you know, Specialized, I maybe wouldn’t have called you out if this had just been me. But my friend Nick has the exact same shoes…with the exact same holes.
But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is the sole:
Yep, the crack goes all the way across the bottom, via the cleat, making the shoe flimsy and completely useless.
And there’s a matching crack in the other shoe’s sole.
I Want to Be Someone’s Loyal Customer
Specialized, you’ve sold me two consecutive pairs of mountain bike shoes that have failed in two years or less. As you can imagine, I am now looking for new shoes, and I am looking at other brands.
So here is my challenge, issued to any and all mountain biking shoe makers (including you, Specialized, though you’ve definitely got some ground to make up):
Turn me into a fan.
Send me a pair of mountain biking shoes, and I’ll ride with them and talk about them. Not just review them, but ride with them for a good long time, so people know how they hold up.
The thing is, I’ve been riding for fifteen years, and the shoe is the one piece of equipment I don’t feel like I’ve ever been perfectly happy with. I’d love to have a bike shoe that changes that. If you think you’ve got that bike shoe, email me.
The Fat Cyclist
PS: Readers, if you have an MTB shoe you love, tell me what it is.
PPS: If you’ve had experiences with Specialized shoes that either confirm or contradict what I’m saying here, say so.
Yesterday I got a big ol’ coffee table book in the mail: Paris-Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell, by Philippe Bouvet, Pierre Callewaert, Jean-Luc Gatellier, and Serge Laget, and published by VeloPress.
And after reading all 224 pages (OK, actually I mostly looked at the pictures, but there are a lot of pictures, and I looked at them very studiously), I had the following astute observations and questions:
This book has a lot of really cool pictures.
I didn’t know a tenth as much about this race as I ought to, and now I want to know more.
I am really glad that Versus is going to be broadcasting some of this race this weekend.
Does it really take four guys to write a 224-page book? I mean, did they need to get it done in one day or something? I swear, I got all tired out just typing the list of authors for this thing, and confess I briefly considered just saying it was written anonymously.
A Road Race That Should Be A Mountain Bike Race
Up until spending some time with this book, my clearest memory of Paris-Roubaix was watching A Sunday in Hell while riding my rollers a few winters ago. The thing is, while it’s an interesting documentary, there are big stretches where there is no riding at all. Which made it a difficult video for someone who’s only barely capable of forcing himself to ride the rollers anyway to stay interested.
I bring this up because this book captures the racer’s experience about as well as it could be captured without actually letting you swing a leg over and join in.
And I get the feeling that the Paris-Roubaix is a really terrific mountain biking race — or maybe a really, really epic cyclocross race — that for some reason is ridden on road bikes. In spite of the fact that calling a lot of the course a “road” is the very definition of “euphemism.”
I mean, you can bet Jacques Cadiou (1967, photo on page 89) wishes he had been riding with beefier rims:
A helmet probably would’ve been a good idea, too.
After reading this 224-page book, you know one thing for certain: the authors of this book love this race, and they feel their love pretty darned intensely. Consider the image / caption pairing here:
Belgian star Eric Vanderaerden’s legs are dead, his eyes coated, and his nose stuffed. he has trouble breathing. With his face a mess, he’s drawn like a magnet to the north, like a lost soul emerging from a Rembrandt canvas.
This writing is a little (OK, a lot) purple, to be sure, and the over-the-top verbiage goes permeates the book. I kinda suspect that this is a translation issue. Undoubtedly originally written in French, this kind of prose probably sounds about right in the source language. In English, on the other hand, it feels a little bit like a someone is standing too close to me, talking louder and louder and gesticulating like a madman, occasionally poking me in the chest: tactile punctuation. “Don’t stand so close, man,” I want to tell Messrs Bouvet, Callewaert, Gatellier, and Laget.
But still: you know for certain that these guys care more than just a little bit about this race.
And now they’ve got me excited about watching this race this weekend. So this book’s done its job.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Paris-Roubaix but are curious to see what it’s about before the race this weekend — or if you know it very well and want to relive the punishment — Paris-Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell is a good way to get caught up.
As an award-winning blogger, I know the rules of blogging. And two of them are: “Don’t talk about politics or religion.” I have broken this rule once before, by making what I considered to be the most innocuous political post of all time. It still started what passes for an argument around here.
Up until now, I have not talked about religion.
And today, I will continue that grand tradition. Which is to say, this is not a religious story, but I will mention religion, because there’s no getting around it if I’m going to tell the story I want to.
How I Ruined Two Suits In One Second
From 1985 – 1987, I was a Mormon missionary, living in Finland. For those of you wondering how I wound up in Finland, no, I did not choose it. Mormon missionaries have no say at all in where they go. However, back in those days prospective missionaries were given a language aptitude test. Those who did well often wound up going to China, or to Navajo reservations. Or to Finland.
The problem with this test, of course, was that it was actually a lot better at discerning whether someone has an aptitude for taking tests than for learning and speaking languages.
Wow, I’m off-track already. I can tell this is going to be a hard story to keep reined in.
Anyway, about a year or so into my time in Finland, I found myself in a little town called Kemi. Kemi’s main claim to fame was its delightful-smelling paper mill. (And, when Chernobyl melted down, it’s proximity to Russia. “Don’t go out in the rain,” townspeople were told…and I’m already off-track again.)
My missionary partner — “companion” in Mormon jargon — and I lived a few miles outside of town in a farmhouse upstairs apartment with only cold-running water, though we did have access to the sauna in the basement. And the rent was cheap, so we figured we had it pretty good.
After I had been in Kemi a few months, I was assigned a new companion: Derek White. Derek was a great guy to be around, and made the long days riding around on bikes going from house to house or apartment complex to apartment complex downright fun.
A natural ham, Derek knew several tricks on bikes. He could sit facing backward on the handlebars and backpedal, riding down the street that way. He could ride a wheelie. And, it goes without saying, he could ride no-handed for any distance, and in any situation.
At first, I was wary, and would keep my distance as we rode. I was certain that with all these hijinx, eventually Derek would crash. But he did not.
And so we began to ride side-by-side, so I could listen to him tell stories, gesturing as he talked and rode, un-self-conciously, no-handed.
The thing about anything done well is, it doesn’t look difficult. It looks easy, natural. Now I realize this as I watch my friends fluidly clean mountain bike moves that I know I should never attempt.
But back then, I just thought, “Well, I could do that.”
And so, one time as I was telling a story of my own, I did. I pushed off the handlebars, moving into an upright position. And there, for one glorious moment, we were. Two teenage Americans, each wearing cheap business suits, riding no-handed down a bike path in Kemi, Finland.
Really, what could be more natural?
And then, of course, I veered into Derek. And before I could get my hands down to correct myself, the “veer” became more of a “plow.”
The next few moments are confusing, and quite possibly subject to interpretation. But I’m pretty sure that he reacted to my plowing into him by leaning into me (his theory). Or maybe our handlebars just locked (my theory). Regardless, we didn’t just crash. We crashed into each other.
I am quite certain that I was the first to hit the ground, because I distinctly remember how the ground-up layering went: my bike, then me, then Derek’s bike, and then Derek.
Sort of a Mormon-missionary-and-bike club sandwich, if you will, With a generous side-order of blood.
I learned at that moment that — at least up to a certain point — embarrassment is a stronger and more acute sensation than pain.
It probably really only took forty-five seconds for us to disentangle ourselves from our bikes, but during that time, a pair of old women trudged by, one using her wheeled sled as a walker / grocery cart.
“Mormons,” she said, shaking her head both wisely and disapprovingly. Then she pushed her sled around us and kept going, not giving us another look.
At which point Derek observed that my front wheel was tacoed (though neither of us knew the term at the time) and the tire was blown, and then he started laughing. Derek has the infectious kind of laughter, and before long we were both sitting down on the ground, considering ourselves:
Two American teenagers in cheap, torn, bloody business suits, sitting in and laughing like fools beside their mangled bikes in Kemi, Finland.
Really, what could be more natural?
PS: I do not remember for certain, but I believe we did not win many converts that day.