I Have Three Tour de France-Related Questions

07.11.2009 | 6:27 pm

Like everyone else in the United States, I have been watching the Tour de France with a raptness that can only be described as “moderate.” Or perhaps it could be described as “quite interested, but not to the extent that I’m not fast forwarding through half-hour chunks of it at a time.”

As I have been watching, a few questions have occurred to me.

1. The Bob Roll Pronunciation of “Tour de France.” Since the beginning of broadcast journalism, Bob Roll has pronounced “Tour de France” so that it rhymes with “Sewer say pants.” Everyone knows this is intentional, but the gag has gone on so long that we expect it. This year, Bob’s pronouncing it correctly. Is it that he’s grown weary of the joke? Or is there something more contractual at play here?

2. Helmets. Watching the Tour this year, I suddenly realized that it now seems totally natural that everyone wear helmets all the time, not even discarding them for mountaintop finishes. I thought that pros could ditch their helmets for the final climb in mountaintop finishes. Is that no longer the case, or has everyone finally just gotten used to leaving their helmets on?

3. Polka-Dot Podium Girls. For Friday’s stage, I stuck around to watch the awards, because the stage was a thing of beauty. And as always, the podium girls were beautiful, as were their dresses.

And then…there was the Climber’s Jersey:


These outfits give rise to a whole host of questions, including the following:

  • How do you think the podium girls reacted upon first seeing them?
  • How do they manage to smile?
  • Did anyone else make the following association?


Yeah, that’s what I thought.


Good Things of the Weekend

07.10.2009 | 12:55 pm

I have no arc, no unifying story for today. Just lots of good things. Like I’m Martha Stewart or something.

Good Thing #1: Congratulations to Team Fatty-San Jose: Team Champions!

Tomorrow is the LiveStrong Challenge event for San Jose, and with $61,801 earned, Team Fatty is — for the second event in a row — the top-earning team. Congratulations to everyone in Team Fatty who worked for this. I consider it — in addition to a tribute and honor to all those you individually know who are fighting cancer — a very meaningful tribute to Susan.

Good Thing #2: Your Birthday Present Bought Me the San Jose “Individual Messenger” Award

If you remember, back on June 18, I asked everyone to buy me a birthday present — a $5.00 donation on my LiveStrong Challenge page. And more than 400 of you did. This was enough to make me (by a huge margin, actually) the person in the San Jose LiveStrong Challenge who had received the greatest number of donations.

So your present turned out to be two presents. Thanks!

Good Thing #3: A Video of Susan

I won’t be able to go out to San Jose to collect either the Team Champion or the Individual Messenger award — Matt Chapek, Co-Captain of Team Fatty-San Jose will handle that — but the LAF folks said I could send a video over, like I did in Seattle.

This time, I made Susan scoot over, and we made the video together. Here it is:

Good Thing #4: Congratulations to Team Pedalout: Team Messenger Award

Earlier this week, my good friends at Twin Six did an incredibly awesome thing: They donated enough to make sure that every Team Fatty-San Jose member had at least $100.66 (I love the “66″ at the end of each of their donations). This, they thought, would guarantee that Team Fatty-San Jose won the “Team Messenger” award for the San Jose LiveStrong event.

But then, right at the last possible hour, Team Pedalout beat us at our own game, donating $100 to their dozens of formerly-zeroed team members.

An excellent surprise sprint, you’ve got to admit.

Kudos to Team Pedalout, especially when you consider that between our tactic and their countertactic, we raised a couple thousand dollars to fight cancer that otherwise may not have been raised.

Of course, I’d also like to point out that Team Fatty-San Jose — with our smaller team — raised $25,000 more than Team Pedalout.

Good Thing #5: Today’s Ride

It’s become a tradition for a group of us to ride to the summit of the Alpine Loop each Friday morning. In the group email that circulates, yesterday Mark and I announced that we’d be making an attempt on doing a sub-hour climb (starts at the toll booth ends at the summit parking lot turnoff).

And we did it.

The group acted as incredible domestiques, pacing Mark and me past the Tibble turnoff, which signals the beginning of the climb in earnest.

From there we shed everyone but Sam, who continued to pace us like we were paying him or something.

Then, shortly before the Pine Hollow hairpin, I felt a surprising thing: like I could go faster. I rode forward from the back, figuring I’d pull for a while.

But Mark and Sam didn’t grab on. So my ride became a solo breakaway.

My gap was never more than thirty seconds, but I held it the whole way to the top, finishing first and alone at 57:45. Mark was right there, ten seconds behind. And then Sam — even after doing the lion’s share of pulling at the beginning of the ride — just 15 seconds behind Mark.

Aaron’s story was one of heartbreak: 1:00:09.

It felt good to be the fast guy today.

Good Thing #6: Susan’s Out of Bed Again

Susan continues to amaze me with her resilience. Wednesday afternoon she said she wanted to get out of bed, so we worked it out. I could tell it hurt, but she did it.

And everyone in the family was so happy to have her back in the family room, in the mix with all of us.

Susan and I watched stages 2-5 of the TdF together. Wow. I’ve been intentionally not following what’s been going on, so seeing a big chunk of it all at once has been astounding. Very exciting year.

Tonight, we’ll watch yesterday’s and today’s stage. Don’t anyone dare even mention today’s stage in the comments today. Not as a joke, not as false information.

Good Thing #7: We Have a Sidis Winner

Bert J of San Francisco is the very lucky winner of any pair of Sidis he wants. But there’s someone even luckier than Bert, it turns out: his wife (and fellow Team Fatty-San Jose member), Kathleen.

He’s going to get the shoes for her, as an early birthday present, thereby earning him Awesome Husband of the Month award. And no small number of brownie points, I’ll bet.

Congratulations, Bert and Kathleen!

Good Thing #8: We Have a Trip-to-Italy Winner

A huge congratulations to Ken H of Ohio, who will be taking a dream cycling trip to Italy.

And I have to say, I’m especially excited for Ken to go since I got his email detailing his plans:

“For the past two years my daughter and I have done the week-long Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure, apparently it was training for this trip.”


“The Italian hotels look much nicer than tents in the middle of county fairgrounds.”


“This 2009 picture is right after we did 50 miles on a 90+ degree day. I’m beat, but my 11-year-old stoker is ready for another 50. She is the happiest girl in the world when we bike together.”

I seriously cannot think of a better team to go tour Italy together. Congratulations, Ken!

PS: [Late Friday Night Update] Good Thing #9: The combined total for Team Fatty just crossed $400,000. Yeah, I’d say that qualifies as a good thing!

Fighting LIKE Susan

07.8.2009 | 7:39 am

You know you’re living a different sort of life than most people when you stop checking to see what bone your wife has just broken.

But that’s where we are.

Last week — just a couple of weeks since her left collarbone broke — when I was helping Susan sit up, planning to transfer her to the wheelchair, something gave. It was probably a rib (or might have been a vertebrae), but we don’t know which one.

We do know that this establishes a pattern: the narrow structural bones — the ones that get lots of stress on a daily basis — are the ones that are going first.

And since Susan’s right collarbone is starting to ache, I’m officially terrified to move her. Not that she’d let me anyway: any position but flat on her back triggers the pain that only a freshly-broken bone can bring.

Which means that I’m currently totally stymied. Every day, several times per day, I ask Susan, “Is there anything I can do for you?” And she knows I don’t mean get her something to eat, or read her a book, or massage her scalp. I mean, “Is there some way I can fix you? Or at least rig something together to make your life more comfortable or convenient?”

But nothing comes to mind.

The Story So Far

To understand my frustration, you need to see that doing something to help has been my coping mechanism through this whole process. Back in Christmastime of 2003, when Susan first found a lump in one of her breasts, my reaction — odd as it might seem — was to start looking in earnest for a better-paying job with better benefits. With better insurance, I’d be able to get Susan better treatment. I did what I could to fix what I could.

And that worked. I found a good job at a company with a great health plan. But we’d have to move.

Of course, that meant that while Susan was recovering from a mastectomy, we were also putting the house up for sale and packing and moving across the country…while taking care of twin toddler girls and two young boys who did not want to move.

Then there were a couple of temporary houses and the house we finally bought — all while Susan endured chemo.

The chemo, though, had a surprisingly common side effect afterward: depression. Think about it: your body’s weak from enduring weekly poison. You’ve been through a huge emotional and physical experience but will have to wait for resolution. You’re bald and probably puffy from steroids. Most oncologists, I understand, plan on depression as an after-effect of chemo.

So again, I tried to fix things. I found a new job, closer to friends and family, and in the sun. We moved again, back to Utah.

Susan loved the house, loved the neighborhood, and felt better in general. She started working out, getting her strength back.

200907072308.jpgAnd then her hip started hurting.

Neither of us wanted to even acknowledge the possibility of what that might mean, so for weeks she just treated it like a sports injury.

Finally though, she went to the family doctor, who did some X-rays. And then he immediately called the oncologist.

And that’s where the news got bad. Susan’s cancer had metastasized, and was in her bones, lungs, liver, lymph nodes, and spine.

Honestly, I now can’t even remember the order of some of the treatment from that point forward. Did we do radiation and then chemo? Or was it the other way around? It almost doesn’t matter, because before too long, Susan couldn’t walk any more without crippling, crushing pain in her hip.

A tumor had destroyed it.

An excellent surgeon at the Huntsman Cancer Institute did a partial hip replacement, while I scrambled, fixing things around the house as well as I could. A stair elevator. Rails in the bathroom and shower. Furniture rearrangement galore.

200907072256.jpg Then there was more chemo, and for a while things were looking pretty good. Susan could walk using nothing but a cane (and even short distances without the cane), and she even had the mental energy to start writing a novel.

And then, a little over a year ago, Susan lost the ability to sleep. Three nights went by, with her getting no sleep whatsoever. I tried to help with soothing music, back rubs, sleeping aids and reading obsolete technical documentation I had written years ago out loud to her.

And then she had an MRI. Brain tumors. Too many to count. We did the radiation, and then chemo for a while, and that’s been about as much as we can do.

So now, as Susan’s become weaker, I’ve been adapting and solving. When she couldn’t sit up, I learned to swing her into position and move her into a wheelchair.

When she was uncomfortable being in one position in a chair all day, I bought an easy chair that can change positions with the touch of a remote control.

When one of her collarbones broke, I learned to do everything I had done before, but without pulling on that arm or shoulder when I lifted her.

Which brings me back to where I started this post. Stuff’s breaking faster and worse than I know how to adapt to now. Susan’s on her back, and when I tried to lift her into a sitting position a couple of days ago, I may as well have jabbed her with a knife.

Susan doesn’t complain, at least not very much. Nowhere near as much as I would. I would complain all the time. I would find new ways to complain. I would make it my primary function.

200907080752.jpgSusan, on the other hand, just wishes she could make jewelry again. Or get back to work on writing her novel (she’s working on the final chapter). Or drawing with the twins, who seem to have inherited their mom’s creative ability, and go through reams of paper per week.

Susan is fighting, in other words, with grace, courage and strength I could never hope to match.

At the time I married her, I would never have suspected it of her, but Susan has inner reserves I can only call heroic.

Team Fat Cyclist: Fighting For Susan200907072301.jpg

At the beginning of this year, I put together Team Fat Cyclist: Fighting for Susan for the LiveStrong Challenge in all four event cities (Seattle, San Jose, Philly and Austin), because — as is my way — I wanted to feel like I was doing something. Helping somehow.

Most of you don’t know how much time and thought I put into the “Fighting for Susan” phrase, though. I considered it pretty carefully. “Fighting for Susan” could mean that we’re fighting to help Susan. Or that we’re fighting because Susan can’t. Or that we are fighting in her place. Or as a tribute to her. I meant — and mean — all of those things.

But when I look back at what Susan’s gone through and how she is — in spite of everything that has happened and is happening to her — the same wife, mother, friend, and creative force she has always been — I realize something.

We can all fight for Susan, but there are very few of us — not me, certainly — who could ever fight like Susan.

Still, it’s definitely worth fighting. And if enough of us fight with even a fraction of the tenacity my wife has shown, someday maybe we’ll get to pick a different battle. Hopefully, before our twins are old enough to worry about this disease.

Thanks for fighting with us. And for us.

A Scientific Explanation of Why Cycling Hurts

07.7.2009 | 7:11 am

A Note from Fatty: If you missed yesterday’s post about how you can win a cycling vacation in Italy or a pair of top-of-the-line Sidi shoes, you should go back and read it, then enter before it’s too late. Both contests end tomorrow (Wednesday). And you really, really, really want to win these. Really.

As a very popular, handsome, respected, and award-winning blogger, I am frequently asked questions regarding bicycles. Here are some I’ve received recently:

  • What kind of bike should I buy?
  • What are good foods to eat before, during, and after a ride?
  • Is it important that I stretch before riding?
  • How should I select the right saddle for my anatomy?

At first glance, these questions do not seem to have anything in common. However, if you will dig a little deeper, you will realize that these questions do in fact share a characteristic. To wit: they are all stupid and uninteresting.

Let us dismiss them from our thoughts.

Recently, however, I encountered a question that caught my attention, primarily because I am the one who conceived it:

Why does cycling hurt?

The answer is not obvious. Consider other activities, for example. Driving an automobile does not hurt. Watching television does not hurt. Eating nachos does not hurt.

But cycling — in particular, certain aspects of cycling — does hurt.


I am pleased, after considerable research which I suspect will garner me still more awards and accolades, to provide the answer.

Introducing…The Pain Pellet

As most of you know, there are four commonly-known elements, from which all substances on Earth are made. These elements are Earth, Wind, Fire, and Cheddar. The more cheddar the better, but that is the subject for another paper.

What most of you do not know is that there is a fifth element, and it is not the one starring Bruce Willis.

No indeed.

The fifth element is Pain.

Unlike other elements, which can be combined to form other substances (nachos, for example, are a combination of Earth, Fire, and Cheddar), Pain keeps to itself, clumping into small balloon-like spheres called Pain Pellets.

While difficult to see, Pain Pellets are nevertheless easy to detect, for when touched by a human, they (i.e., the Pain Pellets, not the human) burst, splattering you with a certain amount of pain. The larger the pellet, the larger the pain blast radius.

And if one encounters several Pain Pellets while traveling in a certain direction, one will experience sustained pain.

Pain Pellets: Properties and Proclivities

The reason, then, cycling hurts is because cyclists — due to some cosmic accident — tend to frequent places where Pain Pellets generally congregate. Specifically:

  • Pain Pellets adhere to slopes. As everyone knows, an upward slope is in tension with the magnetic forces that some call “gravity” (I will discuss the folly of the theory of gravity another time, but for our purposes today, we can pretend that such a force does exist). A byproduct of this tension is friction, which in turn creates static electricity. Pain Pellets, being very much like balloons in both size and texture, are drawn to this static electricity on upward slopes, and cling to it. The steeper the slope, the greater the density and size of Pain Pellets collected.
  • Pain Pellets settle at the bottoms of treacherous places. Pain Pellets are subject, to a degree, to the normal forces of “gravity,” and will settle where you might expect them to: just below slippery roots, at the base of a three-foot ledge, and just beyond a surprise hairpin are three good examples. Mountain cyclists are particularly adept at discovering these Pain Pellets.
  • Pain Pellets are attracted to heavier people. A surprising fact is that if two people — let’s call them “Brad” and “Fatty” for no particular reason — ride up a given hill, the heavier one (“Fatty”) will encounter more Pain Pellets than the lighter one (“Brad”). Indeed, the Pain Pellets will actually move out of Brad’s way and wind their way toward Fatty. It is almost as if the Pain Pellets are sentient and find heavy people especially attractive. Some of my less-credible colleagues assert that the Pain Pellets find me because I have a greater gravitational mass, but this (of course) relies on the convoluted — and thoroughly debunked — theory of gravitational pull to work. For now, let us say that Pain Pellets like heaviness, and leave it at that.
  • Pain Pellets grow back quickly. Cyclists often attribute the “drafting” effect of riding to the thoroughly debunked notion that the cyclist in front of them creates a slipstream. In reality, the rider in front is hitting a disproportionate number of Pain Pellets, allowing the rider behind to ride the route relatively unscathed. Unfortunately, Pain Pellets reform in their original location in a mere matter of moments.

How to Avoid Pain

Of course, some cyclists find the near-incessant encounters with Pain Pellets sub-optimal, even to the point that the Pain Pellets may impede the cyclist’s progress. “How,” the cyclist may reasonably wonder, “might I avoid the Pain Pellets?”

There are multiple strategies.

  1. Slow down. When riding up a hill, one notices a surprising amount of pain. Further, the faster one rides up that hill, the more it seems to hurt. It is therefore worth noting, then, that one generally will encounter the same number of Pain Pellets, regardless of whether one is going up the hill very fast or very slow. However, since when going slow one encounters the Pain Pellets at a slower rate, the perceived pain may be decreased.
  2. Weave. When climbing a hill, one may reduce the frequency of Pain Pellet encounters by “paperboying” up the hill. Some theorize that Pain Pellets grow in long uphill strands and that by weaving one’s way up the hill, one may avoid at least some of these strands of Pain Pellets. In reality, though, one is actually encountering perhaps more Pain Pellets over the course of the climb, but since one is hitting them at a slower rate the perceived pain is again reduced.
  3. Don’t fall. One universal truth about Pain Pellets is that they remain on the ground. When one remains upright on one’s bicycle, one is merely splattered by the exploding Pain Pellets as one’s bicycle wheels burst aforementioned Pellets. However, when one crashes off one’s bicycle, one is almost certain to land directly on several Pain Pellets, soaking the cyclist in pain. It should be further noted that Pain Pellets do very little to cushion the cyclist’s fall.

In summary, Pain Pellets and the cyclist seem to have a strange mutual attraction. Cyclists are drawn to inclines and treacherous locations, which are the natural habitat of Pain Pellets.

And in short, the question “Why does cycling hurt” has a sensible answer based on pure physics. Cycling hurts because cyclists are drawn to pain.

Win a Dream Cycling Vacation in Italy

07.6.2009 | 9:57 am

200907052349.jpgA Note to Team Fatty-San Jose Members: One of you is about to win a pair of Sidi shoes. Which kind? Any kind you want. That includes the $500 Ergo 2 road shoes or the Dragon 2 MTB shoes (a pair of which I both own and love). Mmmm. Handmade Italian cycling shoes. Smells like love.

How do you win, might you ask? Well, you have to be a member of Team Fatty San Jose, first of all. (If you want to join as a virtual team member and start getting people to donate right now, that’s totally cool with me.)

Second, you’ve got to raise money in your personal LiveStrong Challenge between now and this Wednesday at Midnight.

The more you raise between now and Wednesday, the better your chances of winning shoes that will make all of your riding friends’ jaws drop with a combination of lust and envy. And the best part is, you’ll have won these shoes by doing something really, really good.

That’s all there is to it. Now get out there and hit up your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Tell them you want an early (late?) birthday present, and that present is a donation to your LiveStrong Challenge page. You don’t have to tell them what’s in it for you. That can be our secret.

Huge thanks goes out to Veltec Sports and Sidi for providing this very sexy prize.

Win a Dream Cycling Vacation to Italy200907082324.jpg

Dorothy Gibson takes the fight against cancer very personally. She should. She lost her mother and her father to it. Her two brothers are both survivors.

She also loves riding her bike.

And so, after coming home from a once-in-a-lifetime self-guided cycling tour through the heart of Tuscany, Italy with her friends, Dorothy didn’t just put the memories away. She looked for a way to share the experience, while helping Team Fatty with our LiveStrong Challenge.

And that, combined with the generosity of several Fat Cyclist readers who have volunteered their frequent flier miles, is how we have arrived at this contest.

Win the Terre di Siena Self-Guided Bike Tour With Cicloposse.

I’ll get to Dorothy’s story of her tour in a moment, but first, here are the details of how to enter:

  1. Go to Dorothy’s LiveStrong Challenge page and donate any multiple of $5.00. You’ll automatically be assigned a random number for every $5 you donate.
  2. Deadline for donations is Wednesday, July 8, at Midnight Mountain Daylight Time. That’s just three days, folks. Don’t put off your donation.
  3. Cross your fingers and hope you win, because this looks pretty darned incredible.

What You Get

If you win, you get the Cicloposse Terre di Siene Self-Guided Bike Tour for two, plus roundtrip airfare for two to Italy. Of course, you’re going to need to bring some money for handling buying stuff along the way.

Cicloposse supplies the bikes, pedals, and helmets, as well as pumps, spare tube, patch kits. You could also ship or take your own bike if you prefer. Dorothy and her crew went with a compromise route of bringing their own pedals, saddles, and helmets. Which seems like a good call.

Now, you may wonder, what does “self-guided” mean? Here’s how Dorothy describes it, at least in context of this trip. Self-Guided means you:

  • have your luggage in the lobby at the appointed time for transport to the next location
  • enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel
  • carry your raingear, money, passports, snacks, tubes, tools, etc, to take care of yourself on the way (no sag wagon)–just like your regular road rides
  • follow the detailed map and route descriptions, odometer, and road signs (good map reading skills a plus, but Cicloposse makes this very easy)
  • ride as fast, or slow, as you’d like
  • stop when you’d like, eat when and where you’d (they have fabulous suggestions)
  • call the hot line number if in need of emergency support
  • arrive at your next hotel with your bags already there

I don’t know about you, but this sounds pretty much perfect to me. And from the way Dorothy describes them, Marco and Guilianna Mulas — the owners of Cicloposse — take great care of you and are excited to help out with the fight against cancer, too.

And now, to whet your appetite for this trip, here’s Dorothy’s story, along with a few photos.

Dorothy’s Terre di Siene Trip

We are tough, independent women…and are passionate cyclists. We’d also like to think that we ride too fast to be with an organized group, but, truth be told, we really just wanted to stop for gelato, pastries, or chocolate anytime we wanted. Terre di Siene was perfect for us!

We met Marco and Guilianna Mulas in the courtyard of our hotel, Relais il Chiostro (The Cloister), for our bike fitting and orientation on Day 1. This fabulous hotel is a renovated 15th century convent, adjacent to the church in the town square in the heart of Pienza.


A few streets away is “Via del Bacio,” or “Street of the Kiss” (just one street up from the “Via dell Amore”). We were only slightly disappointed to find neither there, and loved exploring this Renaissance town.


After and unbelievable breakfast the next morning, we started out into the Tuscan countryside, a patchwork of vineyards, fields, and orchards, punctuated by cypress trees. We circled back to Pienza the first day… our destination the summit in the distance.

Joy is reaching the town limits of Pienza.


They actually like cyclists here! We found the hospitality of motorists strangely refreshing.

That evening we dined in what is now one of my most favorite restaurant in the Northern Hemisphere. We were delighted we listened to Marco and Guinliana’s recommendations here–this is their hometown; they know what they are talking about.

The climb into Montepulchiano burned most of those calories…


Montalchino’s medieval fortress is impressive. We loved exploring the many castles along the way.


The ride into Siena was one of our favorites of this trip. We encountered some wet conditions that day, but loved the climb through quiet olive groves to Monte Oliveto Maggiore (Mount of Olives) to the Benedictine Abbey there. Here Joy and I were dropped hard, and were grateful to each have our own sets of maps and detailed instructions! It was blissful to arrive at our Siena hotel (another cloister/convent) to have our luggage ready and awaiting us, and to be clean and dry for our evenings out.

Siena was amazing. The heart of Tuscany.


We fell in love with this town, and came back again after our cycling was finished…one day here is just not enough! The Duomo is one of the most magnificent cathedrals in all of Italy, and not to be missed.

The Chianti wine region offers more splendid landscapes. Those that imbibe in the fine wines of the region may take a little more time on this leg than others.

Last, but certainly not least, was San Gimignano. Castles, towers, fountains, vineyards, art. How soon can I go back?

This trip was a dream… incredible cycling, scenery, history, art, food, and friends. It was educational, too.

A few of take home gems:

200907052336.jpg1. Gelato, enjoyed anywhere in Italy, is the best recovery food. Ever. We kept a commitment to have at least one gelato a day.

2. Climb any turret, tower, or Duomo you may come to in Italy. The views are spectacular, and may burn enough calories to have another gelato. Maybe.

3. You can never have too much memory for your camera.

4. Learning a little Italian can be very helpful.

5. Cinque Terre is a trip extension that is a “must do.” If, I mean when, I return there… I will mountain bike, as well as hike that.

So, Once Again, What’s The URL to Enter this Contest?

With those pictures and that story, I don’t feel like I need to give you a hard sell on entering this contest. You’re fighting cancer. You’re having the vacation of your life. Seriously, what could be better? Nothing comes to mind. Click here to donate and enter now.

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