100MoN Race Report: Divvy Bikes Division (by Nick Charles)

12.18.2015 | 1:04 pm

A Note from Fatty: Today’s 100 Miles of Nowhere race report comes from Nick, whom everyone should follow on Twitter. For reals. 

Also, I should mention that I’ve been hoping someone would send me a completely insane race report.

This is that report.

I’m not a cyclist. I’m a bike rider. I’m not even an athlete. My idea of “getting serious” about an ultramarathon was to switch to light cigarettes and to go from whiskey to beer.

I’ve missed out on the 100 Miles to Nowhere the last several years and finally was able to register for it.Sure, I could ride 100 miles on the bike at the gym but that’s not funny enough. I live in Chicago and we have a bike share program called Divvy. And what’s funnier than attempting #100MoN on a bike like this?  

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That’s a $1600 piece of high tech machinery with three — count ‘em, three —gears.

Look at that sexy not-composite frame! I pay a yearly fee for unlimited rides — providing they are less than thirty minutes. And being a cheap jerk, I’d want to swap bikes every thirty minutes to avoid getting extra charges. I honestly figured that I would do 25 miles on Divvy and then finish up at the gym because my butt hurts after two miles on those bikes. 

I figured that my best bet for doing the #100MoN course-wise was Chicago’s lakefront path: eighteen miles of nearly-flat asphalt, in pretty good condition. I’ve biked and run along it hundreds of times over the years and I can close my eyes and describe every quarter of a mile. 

What could possibly go wrong?

I set out at 4:30am without the benefit of coffee and proceeded north from Navy Pier. As I proceeded north and finished my first mile, I realized two things that I had forgotten about:

  1. No matter which direction you ride or run, you’re heading into the wind. Someone should probably consult a scientist about this. 
  2. I’m less than 30 feet away from an angry piece of glass 50% larger than Switzerland. Waves, water, wind. In summer there’s no finer place to be, but after Labor Day it becomes your cruel mistress.

Right now I hate my life – and I just left my house. 

I hit the top of the lakefront path for my second bike change after about an hour of total time. I knew the distance but wanted to live in denial. But I glanced at my watch anyway and saw that I was a bit over 8 miles.

In an hour. 

Heading south was wonderful with the wind to my back. At 5:30am on a Saturday, I had the path to myself except for the occasional solitary runner. It was in the low 30s and windy and I was getting a bit cold.

Two more bike changes put me back to where I started:

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I’ve only gotten 17 miles under my belt after 2 hours of cycling, with no snacks or coffee.

This is going to be a long day. 

It was nearing 7am and I was enjoying the stillness. By my count I’ve only encountered 4 runners and some late night pot smokers who wanted to get lifted and watch the sun come up. But I hit my favorite stretch of the path – from Monroe Harbor to the Museum Campus that houses the world famous Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium. 

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I felt my body kick into an instinctual mode and reacting to the terrain, unconsciously shifting gears.

The further south I went, the more people I encountered. Generally the reverse is true — head south and once you’re past McCormick Place, the path is a ghost town.

But it’s Saturday morning and the runners come out…but I didn’t see the slender runners; I saw the Clydesdales. Those are my people. I would rather encounter and support those grinding out 15 minute miles than deal with Boston Qualifiers.

An hour later I made it to the Museum of Science and Industry – the famous Hyde Park institution a stone’s throw from the University of Chicago. For the last 2 hours I’ve been making good progress – over 9 mph! But the weather and the bike was taking its toll. 

I looped around Jackson Park – about a mile and a half south of the MSI and headed back north and ran into the dreaded wind. It immediately killed my optimism about making it back to Navy Pier so I could get above a total of 35 miles on Divvy. After all – this is like the Olympics with the “degree of difficulty,” right? Surely 30 miles on a horrible bike is worth like 70 on a proper road bike? It’s about 10 miles north back to Navy Pier and I was huffing and puffing to stay above 7 mph. 

But more importantly I needed coffee, so I found the nearest Dunkin with a close-by Divvy station for a recharge and a sit down. 30 miles in and my butt hurts. It made me realize that my road bike seat was worth every penny. 
Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood is rather interesting – awesome architecture and home of famous people like trumpeter Louis Armstrong. 

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So I eventually got back on the lake, feeling better but running into a headwind. I just wanted to cross 40 miles on the Divvy for the day. As I got back near the Museum Campus, I realized it was close to 10am. I did the mental math and realized in the time it’ll take me to do the full 100 miles, people do triathlons. 

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The stretch between Roosevelt Road and Navy Pier was a lot more crowded – tourists, Weekend Armstrongers, fashionable runners and other assorted characters. I looped around Navy Pier, vaguely aware that my butt at one point had sensation to it.

Heading north, I was on my least favorite stretch – between Navy Pier and Oak Street beach. Less than a mile of pure torture, with intense wind, waves that will splash you – along with the path being at a sideways angle. 

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At this point I gave up and powered through a few more miles and dropped my bike off at Fullerton and decided that brunch and a nap is in order. I’ll do the rest tomorrow at the gym. 

Total damage: 45.29 miles with 20 bike changes. 

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I’ll get you next year, #100MoN.

But in a funnier way that has me avoiding the lakefront. 

 

Bill Strickland, Editor-in-Chief of Bicycling Magazine, on the FattyCast

12.17.2015 | 11:08 am

A Note from Fatty: If you’d prefer to skip straight to the links to the podcast I’m talking about today, here you go: You’ll find the episode on fattycast.com, on iTunes, and as a downloadable MP3. You can also play it directly on this page, but you’ll have to scroll down a little bit to see the player.

NewImageWhen I decided I was going to do a podcast, one of the first things I did was start making a list of people I wanted to talk with.

Bill Strickland, Editor-in-Chief of Bicycling Magazine (shown here kissing the statue of Tullio Campagnolo at the top of the Croce d’Aune,where he, according to legend, got the inspiration for the quick release) was right at the top of that list. 

Why? Because I identify with him in a lot of ways. We’re about the same age. We both love bikes. We both love writing about bikes. We both have written books. We both have made our living for most of our careers in magazine publishing. We both have been through some very tough times.

But also, because we’re really different in a lot of ways. Specifically, Bill is insightful and wise and sought after for thoughtful analysis, while I’m…ridiculous.  

So I thought it might be interesting for us to get together for an hour to chat.

Then we wound up talking for almost exactly two hours.

Yeah. 

As it turns out, Bill and I had quite a bit to chat about.

Here, have a listen (or subscribe in iTunes): 

What We Talked About, With Links and Stuff

A couple weeks ago, I read Bill’s book, Ten Points. And it was an extraordinary book. A great story. A tragic story. A beautiful story. It was one of those books that made me think, “Hey, I need to be a better person.” 

So of course I talked with Bill about Ten Points, in spite of the fact that it’s been published for almost a decade.

We talked about magazines in general, and about his favorite writing from Bicycling in particular. And about writing about riding. We talked about Lance Armstrong — Bill’s history with Lance, my history with Lance, and about the time I was super angry with Bill about what he had said about Lance. 

We talked about his quest to have no more than three bikes (we did not talk about how many bikes I have, which is for the best).

We talked about where he has ridden, and where he’d like to ride.

Basically, we talked all over the place. It was a great conversation, and I think you’ll enjoy listening to it.

Here are a few links to things we talked about:

A Note About Podcast Fever 

Earlier this week I talked with Burke Swindlehurst and Diane Lees; I will be editing and posting these conversations very soon. Today, I’m recording a conversation with Janeen McCrae (aka The Noodleator). Tomorrow, I talk with Neal Rogers. Saturday, I’m talking with Sonya Looney.

That’s six interviews in one week. And there were two more interviews that I would have done but need to be rescheduled.

Why am I suddenly podcasting like a madman? Because I enjoy it. A lot. I’ve been writing about riding for about eleven years now, and I’ve covered a lot (most?) of the ground I can cover. But having long conversations with other people who love riding (and focusing on them instead of me) — that’s new, and it’s fun, and I’m loving it. 

I don’t have any plans to abandon this blog, but you can definitely count on me featuring more of this kind of conversation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT

12.16.2015 | 12:16 pm

A Note from Fatty: This review contains lots and lots of spoilers about the new Star Wars movie, which I have seen, and which I hated.

I was ten years old when I saw the original Star Wars. Now I’m pushing fifty. I’ve grown up a lot in the intervening years. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the latest film in the Star Wars saga.

Boring Plot

The title of the new Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens,” can only have been penned ironically. A more appropriate title might have been “Forced to Stay Awake.” As in, the only way you’ll possibly stay awake through this snooze-fest is if you are forced to, through liberal ingestion of amphetamines, frequent dunking of your head in water, and occasional electric shocks.

Don’t believe me? Fine. Here’s what happens, from the beginning of the film to the end.

The movie starts with a closeup of a stormtrooper named Finn, who isn’t even Finnish (I have lived in Finland, speak Finnish, and am pretty darned good at recognizing Finnish accents, so I’m not just speculating here). Inaccuracies like this make me so mad.

But anyways, back to the story. “Finn” (who isn’t Finnish) has crash-landed on a desert planet. He looks scared. Fine so far. Who’s in pursuit? What danger is he running from? How do you even put that outfit on, and how much work is it to get off when you need to use the restroom?

Unfortunately, two of those questions are answered in short order. He’s not running from anyone. He’s just lost,  and is prone to anxiety when he gets lost. And the uniform is fastened in the back, with laces (which is pretty disappointing, not to mention difficult to properly adjust).

For the next thirty-two minutes he just wanders around in an ever-widening circle, yelling “Hello?” in an increasingly panicked voice.

Not Realistic 

And then he finds and enters a bike shop. Now, I can apply suspension of disbelief as well as the next guy, so don’t have any problem accepting that bikes might exist in science fiction movies. Frankly, in fact, I have always wondered why bikes (or wheels of any kind for that matter) hadn’t shown up in the previous Star Wars movies. 

I can even believe that Finn might want to buy a fat bike, to make it easier to get around on that sand dune. 

But when it turns out that the bike shop had the brand, build and size this Finn character wanted, and that the bike was built and ready to ride…well, that strains my credulity past the breaking point. 

Anyway, by now we’re about forty-five minutes into the movie, and I’m getting restless, but Finn pays (using ApplePay, in only the first of an astonishing number of blatant product placements) for his bike (a Sidious Fat Bantha or something like that) and rides out the door.

Bad Message

And he’s not even wearing a helmet, which is a terrible message to today’s children.

After a while, he runs into a decrepit Chewbacca. As it turns out, the near-complete lack of ergonomic accomodations for Wookies in the Millenial Falcon have done terrible things to Chewbacca’s back, and he is forced to ride a recumbent, which is even more embarrassing to Wookies than it is to humans.

And that’s the only time we see Chewie for the whole movie. One stupid cameo, on a recumbent. Sheesh.

Confusing

After this, Finn enters a bike race, where he meets Rey, which would be fine if not for these three facts:

  1. Star Wars keeps giving its characters confusing names. Like, Darth Vader’s nickname is “Annie.” (And in the first movie he’s a little orphan. Yes, George Lucas made Darth Vader into a sly “Little Orphan Annie” joke.) Now we have a woman named “Ray,” and she’s doesn’t even remotely look like one of the hosts of Car Talk.
  2. The movie never accounts for the intense discomfort Finn would feel while trying to ride a bike while still wearing that Stormtrooper outfit.
  3. They don’t even try to explain why there’s a bike race happening on this planet (which is called “Ratatooine” or something equally ridiculous), unless they did that during the opening all-caps yellow crawl, which I missed because the popcorn line was long.

Anyway, during this race, predictably, Supreme Leadeer Snoke (played by Gollum) catches and passes Finn and Rey (who are working together for no sufficiently-explained reason), riding a bike made of lugged light sabers. Which totally would not be UCI-compliant, I can assure you.

Predictable and Confusing

And then Snoke takes off his mask and it turns out he’s Kylo Ren. And then he takes off that mask and it turns out he’s Luke Skywalker. No big surprise. But then he takes off that mask and it turns out he’s Lance Armstrong. 

Okay I admit that caught me off-guard, because I’m pretty sure Armstrong would at least have been wearing a helmet. 

Then Armstrong pulls off that mask and reveals he’s actually Hayden Christensen. This was the best moment of the movie, to be honest, and explains a lot.

They then have a light saber battle, but the batteries drain before it really goes anywhere.

More happens, but someone had posted a funny video on Facebook and I got caught up in watching it on my phone, then I read the comments. By the timeI finished and went back to the movie, there was a space battle going on, intercut with a musical number for some reason. 

I’m pretty sure I saw Han Solo in there somewhere, but it was just for comedy purposes. He just yelled at Princess Leia to “get those kids offa my spaceship” and then went back to watching Larry King, which is apparently available throughout the universe. Strangely, Larry King looks just as old in this movie as he does right now in our galaxy, even though this is supposed to have happened a “long time ago.” 

Conclusion

I’m glad Star Wars (finally) brought bikes into their storyline, but am vastly disappointed by the movie.

Four stars.

New FattyCast: Chatting With 2015 Dirty Kanza Winner, Yuri Hauswald

12.15.2015 | 2:00 pm

20141109 065 0095I am having a lot of fun with FattyCast, my new podcast. It’s a chance for me to do something new, which doesn’t happen all that often after ten (closer to eleven now) years of blogging. I’m talking with very interesting people. I’m hearing amazing stories. I’m learning a lot.

The latest episode of the FattyCast is with Yuri Hauswald, the winner of the 2015 Dirty Kanza. But Yuri’s a lot more than a pro cyclist. He works full-time as the cycling community manager for Gu Energy. He writes. He raises money for good causes. 

He’s strong, like bull.

I really enjoyed talking with Yuri, and I’m confident you’ll enjoy listening. For reals. 

Here’s where you can find the FattyCast with Yuri:

Who’s Next? You Tell Me.

I’m really excited about the guests I’ve got lined up in the upcoming weeks (I’m actually conducting an interview every day this week, so will have quite a few backlogged for editing). And I’m tempted to tell you who they are. But I’m not going to, at least not yet. 

However

So far people have been really generous with their time. When I reach out, it’s been pretty rare for people to say “no.” So. If there’s someone you would like me to reach out to, let me know. If I think to myself, “Yeah, I’d like to ask that person questions for an hour or so,” I’ll do it. Especially if you have contact info.

Meanwhile, enjoy this episode (and please, if you’re using iTunes, do me the favor of leaving a review, OK?)!

100MoN Race Report: 100MoN Jersey Confounds Man and Machine Alike

12.14.2015 | 8:40 am

NewImageA Christmas Gift for You from Fatty: I am very lucky to have a lot of readers, and even more lucky to be able to think of all of you as my friends.

But what do I get so many friends for Christmas?

Well, how about this: for now through Friday, I’m making the Kindle version of my two “Best of Fatty” books free.

No conditions, no gimmick, no plea for money. Just free. Because You’re awesome.

Click here to get my first book, Comedian Mastermind.

And click here to get my second book, The Great Fatsby.

Now, I would have liked to make these free all the way through Christmas day, but Amazon.com will only let me make them free for five days.

So don’t wait. Go get them now. Tell your friends to go get them too. 

I hope you enjoy them. But if you don’t, please let me know and I’ll promptly refund your money.

Merry Christmas,
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A Note About Today’s 100 Miles of Nowhere Race Report: This race report comes from Jeff Dieffenbach, who you might remember as one of my teammates at Boggs last summer. I predict you will enjoy this report very much. 

100MoN Jersey Confounds Man and Machine Alike

Curious Cycling, Curious Math
by Jeff Dieffenbach 

I rode my first 100MoN in 2012–200+ miles down the length of New Jersey. Because what says nowhere like 200 miles of New Jersey?

2015 marked my second 100MoN. The announced November dates fell squarely in the middle of cyclocross (CX) season. One hundred miles asks a lot during CX season–perhaps I could find a Sat-Sun event, enter multiple races each day, and wrap a number of preride laps around the races to piece together some sizable mileage.

I checked the Massachusetts schedule–the Plymouth Festival of Cyclocross spanned Sat Oct 31 and Sun Nov 1. Based on my age (getting up there) and ability (not really up there at all), I qualified each day for one race in the morning and two races in the afternoon.

A Digression About Cyclocross (CX) 

Failing to sense much of a CX presence in Fattyworld, I’ll digress a bit to provide some context. Amateur CX races typically last around 40 minutes and consist of 4-6 laps of one and a half or so miles on a mixture of dirt, grass, sand, and a bit of pavement.

At first glance, CX bikes look like their road counterparts, but a closer inspection reveals wider, knobbier tires and either cantilever or disc brakes. The tire and brake variations accommodate the often slick or downright sloppy course conditions that the fall/winter season often offers.

Racers maneuver their machines around laps spotted with numerous technical elements. These elements include technical sharp and off camber turns, power straightaways, and barriers or steep climbs that force riders to dismount and carry their bikes.

A day of CX features multiple fields starting at hourly intervals. Ability, age, or both define the makeup of each field. Regarding ability, as with road racing, CX uses the “Cat” system: Pro and Cat 1 at the advanced end and Cat 4 and 5 at the lesser end. Brackets of ten years typically make up the age groups.

As a 50 year old Cat 4 racer, I qualified for the 9am Cat 4/5 race, the 1pm Masters 45+ race, and the 2pm Cat 2/3/4 race. Even two races a day is a lot–there was no way I was doing three.

Still, I owed Camp Kasem the miles, so I opted for Cat 4/5 and Cat 2/3/4 on Saturday and Cat 4/5 and Masters 45+ on Sunday.

Race 1: Saturday, Cat 4/5 

Resplendent in my 100MoN jersey (thanks, DNA Cycling, for the expedited shipment!) and 2015 Team Fatty bibs, I lined up in the starting grid with 86 like-minded knuckleheads and waited for the starting whistle.

A Digression About How Cyclocross Points Work

Unlike road racing, which finishes with a bunch sprint, cyclocross STARTS that way. The objective: be first to the first turn (the “hole shot”) and avoid the inevitable bottleneck that quickly builds up behind.

Winning the hole shot pretty much requires a start in the first row, or maybe the second row for a particularly strong rider who gets a lucky break. So what determines a racer’s starting row? Cross Points, or CXP.

Every CX racer carries a CXP designation based on prior results. The best male racers in the world cluster from 100 to 150 or so CXP (lower being better; at present, the top 12 are either Belgian or Dutch, with the top-ranked American, Jeremy Powers, sitting at 34th).

A strong Cat 2 rider might be at 250-300 CXP. By comparison, a back-half-of-the-pack Cat 4 racer such as yours truly naturally falls around 600-650 CXP.

Cross Points earned in a given race depend on the relative strength of the field (be thankful that I’m sparing you the detailed underlying formula). By selectively choosing one’s field for a given race, it’s possible to game the system a bit and artificially lower one’s CXP.

And exactly that sort of manipulation explains why I’m currently sitting on 562 CXP, almost 100 better than I deserve.

I find myself several rows ahead of riders who match my ability, including teammates DavidG, MaxG, TroyK, DanS, and JasonW. The whistle sounds–aiming to widen my starting position advantage, I put everything I can into the opening sprint to get as far forward in the hole shot bottleneck as I can.

At Plymouth, that hole shot consists of a sharp left turn up a curb off the pavement and into a narrow, curvy descent on dirt. We jostle our way to the bottom at a walking pace, dismount, shoulder our bikes, and navigate the Plymouth course’s defining element–a steep run-up.

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Photo Credit: J.Daniels/muddydogbikes

At the top, it’s back on the bike, knock the mud out of my cleats, clip back in, make a few turns, and dismount for a pair of barriers.

A Digression on What a “Cyclocross Barrier” Is

A cyclocross barrier is a 12 to 15 inch high plank set perpendicular to the course. Barriers come in pairs separated by 12 to 15 feet.

Safely over the barriers, I remount, then just as quickly dismount to run the short sand pit leading into the woods. On later laps, I’ll ride the sand, but congestion makes that impossible on lap one.

Back on the bike, I navigate some fast technical turns through the trees before reaching a fire road for the course’s first real power section. The slight uphill grade coupled with the dirt and rock surface takes its toll and I slide back a few positions.

I pop out of the woods onto playing fields, navigating hairpin turns through trees before the next power section, this time on grass. A short set of steps interrupts the power section, forcing a dismount/run/remount.

The lap finishes with a straight paved path through more woods, a few turns around a tennis court, and finally a few more turns before the paved finish straightaway. Now I just have to suffer this ordeal four more times.

A Digression on Why I Love Cyclocross, Even Though It’s Awful

Cyclocross is raced pretty much at heart rate threshold for the full 40 minutes. Yes, a few sections afford recovery, but for the most part, it’s all out. With one lap down, four to go, and my heart rate pinned, I once again question why I love CX so much.

Several reasons:

  1. The camaraderie. I train and race with a great group of friends always ready to  trade a tip, a beer, or in tight turns, the occasional elbow.
  2. The competition. In road racing, a rider of my “talent” quickly finds himself off the back and alone; in CX, the slower speeds and lack of the peloton’s aero benefits means there’s almost always a rider ahead to chase and another behind who’s chasing.
  3. The course. Racing CX bikes off road is a melt-away-the-years blast without the imminent death risk of full-on mountain biking.

The next four laps see essentially a repeat of lap one, so I’ll spare the description save for the finish. As I come out out of the woods after the fire road midway through the final lap, I spot a rider a hundred yards or so ahead. Too far for a catch, I think, but I give it a try. The gap slowly closes, and as we round the final turn onto the finish pavement, I’m right on his wheel.

I’m built more like a sprinter than a climber, but my 1×11 gearing gives up a lot at the high end. No time for gear regrets, I go full throttle and upshift to my top-end 38-11. I’ve got more left in the tank than he does and cross the line ahead by several bike lengths.

The results would later show that I took 61st out of 87, a pretty typical outcome for me, earning 659 CXP in the process. Better than that, though, was holding off my teammates. Without my starting position advantage, I likely would have lost to Troy and been in much more of a dogfight with David, Jason, Dan, and Max.

Cumulative miles: 3.4 for preride, 7.4 for race, 10.8 total

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Post-Race

Race 2: Saturday, Cat 2/3/4

Fear not, I won’t spend nearly as much time describing races two through four. I’ve got no business being in a 2/3/4 race, and this particular edition proves the point. I’m quickly off the back and riding solo, demonstrating the occasional fallacy in my point above a rider behind who’s chasing.

I finish 42 of 45. On paper, much worse than the morning effort. But the strength of field comes into play in determining my CXP–I end up with 492, my best ever by 30.

Cumulative miles: 4.6 for four more prerides, 7.4 more for race 2, 22.8 total

Race 3: Sunday, Cat 4/5

Overcast and hints of rain replace Saturday’s sun. Saturday’s 40 degree temps at 9am give way to Sunday’s 50. I’ll take the trade. But just barely.

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Photo Credit: Kristin Brandt/Steve The Bike Guy Velo Studio

A few changes to the course, as is typical in a two-day event at a given venue. Only one friend with whom I’m competitive today: TomP, whom I’ve never beaten, but against whom I’m close. Maybe today’s the day.

Tom and I spend the first few laps trading positions–I’m better at the technical stuff, he takes me on the power sections. On the final lap, he pulls away. For me, 65 of 88, good for 650 CXP.

High point of the race? Just as the starting whistle blew, the organizers tried to pull me. They’d tell me after the race that the black “100″ on white field of my 100MoN jersey, adjacent front and back to the race number pinned to my right side, was wreaking havoc on the human scorers and finish line camera.

Cumulative miles: 2.6 for preride, 8.6 for race, 34 total

Sunday: Masters 45+

Black duct tape covering the 100MoN “100,” I’m ready to go, and ready to be more competitive than Saturday’s Cat 2/3/4 effort.

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Typically, compared to a 2/3/4 or 3/4 field, a Masters race will have equally good talent at the front of the race. But the falls off faster across the typical Masters field. I should finish better than yesterday’s 42 of 45.

I don’t. Twenty-two of 23. And only 668 CXP, not even as good as the 4/5 race.

Cumulative miles: 7.5 for race, 41.5 total

Not even 42 miles? I’d fallen well short of the target 100. Or had I?

Applying the universally-accepted dirt-to-pavement multiplier of 2.5, my 41.5 became an eerily Leadville-like 103.8.

And, despite never placing in even the top two-thirds of a field across my four races, I nonetheless eked out a position on the top step of the podium in the 100MoN-Clad, Half-Century-Old, Sub-300-Watt category.

Victory declared, I headed for home.

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