Thoughts on Triathlon

(Editors Note:  I don’t think the author knows much about triathlon)  I know a few Triathletes, they are amazing people and among the most fit that I know.  I don’t like them.  I mean, I like them fine as people, I just don’t like them as cyclists which of course they aren’t, they are triathletes.  My point is they don’t cycle right, you know the way I do.

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When I have had the opportunity to ride with triathletes I’ve noticed they have one speed, fast, or what I might call riding tempo.  Riding at a level that is well below their threshold.  Even more annoying they hold this level of effort with complete disregard to the world around them.  A hill approaches, same effort, someone attacks, same effort.  It’s like riding a trainer.  Sure, after the hill, the attack, or whatever, they end up catching back up, seemingly unfazed by the obstacle and passing, but so what, their heart rate probably never went over 130 bpm.

Another thing about triathletes, they’re so busy, with all that training, they don’t have time to take 5 hour mountain bike rides that covers 9 miles.  So what’s up with triathlon anyway, why are those specific sports all combined together?  What if someone invented trigeeklon where competitors engaged in a chess match, followed by a round of some first person shooter video game, and ending with a judged debate to determine the most powerful comic superhero. Hey that’s not a bad idea, I should copyright that.

Here’s another thing I don’t like about triathletes, besides being so damn fit, they are so freaking organized.  I mean downright obsessive about details.  It’s like someone invented a sport that caters to obsessive engineer types.  It’s all about pace, power, marginal gains, balancing complex training schedules, and having a pristine bike that DOESN’T FOLLOW UCI RULES!  It’s not right. People shouldn’t be that organized, and they shouldn’t be allowed to have tubing with a height greater then three times it’s width, it’s not right and they know it!

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Second Story Addition

Luke recently built on to his house.  I was there to help, and ride a scooter.  It’s a pretty awesome tent, was easy to install and frees up his cargo van for more… cargo?

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Poor Kids, Too Many Standards /Rant

poorbikefitTwo topics today.  Shauna and I were walking on the rail trail yesterday and encountered a large group of boys out for an “official” ride.  I’m guessing Boyscouts.  I knew it was official because everyone had a backpack and a helmet. It’s awesome to see an event like this, since so few people ride, but something kind of bothered me.  Now I know my opinion on helmets is out of the mainstream, and I’m not saying that wearing helmets is wrong, but the stupid, insane and damaging standard that everyone should be wearing a helmet at all times on a bike is a farce.  These boys were moving slower then most runners and they were on gravel rail trail with no vehicle traffic.  I’m certain they are in more danger of head injuries when they are on the playground.

What really made me sad was the fact that just about everyone I saw on the group had their saddles inches to low.  Everyone was on some kind of geared mountain bike, mostly Wal-mart bikes, and most of them looked brand new.  I’d also be willing to bet many of them won’t be ridden again.  Riding a bike with the saddle inches to low is an exercise in frustration, it’s so much harder to generate and keep momentum.  It’s not only slower but painful.

I think that there is some kind of general rule that people are taught that says correct saddle height for a bike is where you can comfortably put a foot flat on the ground when you come to a stop.  This is a guaranteed way to have a saddle far to low for decent pedaling power.  So why is “real” cycling such a niche activity?  It’s so dangerous you need to wear a helmet and yet the average person doesn’t have enough experience to ride fast enough to make it dangerous.

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Cycling in Copenhagen, don’t see too many helmets?

My second topic is the silly number of standards that have been developed by the bike industry.  I’ve been shopping around for a new suspension fork for the SCUD.  The Reba that I’ve been using is trashed, the stanchion tubes and bushing are so worn that it will no longer hold oil.

So what kind of options do you have when buying a fork.  Well you’ve got 3 wheel sizes, 26, 27.5 and 29, though I can’t imagine to many people still buying 26 inch forks, they are out there.  Then you’ve got 3 different ways to attach a wheel, the old standby 9mm QR, and they new fangled 15mm and 20mm thru axles.  But wait there’s more, does your frame use a standard 1.125 steer tube, or does it need the fancy pants, tapered steer tube.  That’s 18 different options for a single fork model.  Now of course every model doesn’t come in every variation, but take the Rockshox REBA, it is available in every option except 20mm thru axle.  That’s alot of REBAs.

Mountain biking places far greater demands on equipment, especially the guys riding off ledges, I know that many people benefit from thru axles and stiffer head tubes, though my guess is that most of us don’t.  Road biking on the other hand, I just don’t see it. You may notice I’m not even delving into the truly crazy world of bottom bracket standards. Sure it’s nice to have options, its good that they are trying to make better stuff, but the retro grouch in me thinks that most of these new standards, and disc brakes on road bikes has alot more to do with selling new bikes then it does with making better bikes.

 

 

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My Experience With Obamacare

affordable-care-act-logo1(Editors Note:  Please be advised the following post has nothing to do with cycling)  A few months ago I swore to stop posting political opinions on facebook, and more importantly to stop commenting on others.  I posted political opinions infrequently but all to often I felt like I needed to offer an opinion or “fact check” other peoples posts.  Turns out that is a good way to tick people off.  I eventually realized how much time I was wasting with nonsense on facebook and stopped.  So rest assured, this is not a political piece, in fact I’m going to avoid expressing an opinion as much as possible.

As the Affordable Care Act is making such headlines I’ve begun to think that most people debating it really don’t know much about it.  In all honesty I’m not expert on it, but I do know what it was like to purchase insurance on the exchange using healthcare.gov with a government subsidy.  So here’s my experience with Obamacare.

Lets first go back to 2002, I had been hired to teach art full time in CUSD #1 Galatia.  To my surprise I couldn’t afford the healthcare they offered.  It would take one of my bi-monthly paychecks to afford the healthcare plan for me and Shauna.  They also offered a catastrophic plan that would have cost about a third of one of my checks, but would only be useful if, as the name implies, something catastrophic happened.  Considering we were both young and healthy I opted for the third choice which was to get my insurance benefit put into an annuity.

We attempted to purchase private healthcare.  I remember a salesman coming to the house and showing us this plan which would cost about 200 dollars a month.  I don’t remember the details, but do remember it seemed good.  Unfortunately Shauna was smoking cigarettes at the time and they refused to cover her, though they were happy to cover me.  Since I hadn’t been to the doctor in years we didn’t pursue it.

A few years later I began teaching in Marion and enjoyed a healthcare plan which I could easily afford.  In 2012 I was laid off during a round of budget cuts and found myself with no job and insurance.  We didn’t have health coverage for over a year and during that time we were lucky not to need it.  We also found, at least at some providers, that those without insurance can get a substantial discount for services if they pay promptly with cash.

So finally we arrive to Obamacare.  I avoided the early sign up on Healthcare.gov when the site was experiencing technical difficulties.  With the prospect of a fine for not having insurance, and the fact that I was eager to get some form of affordable coverage we signed up.  I can’t remember exactly when we signed up but I think it was near the end of 2013.  I found the website to be user friendly and didn’t experience any issues.

I remember entering some financial information, some health information, and then being offered a selection plans on the healthcare market.  There were various tiers of government assistance and tiers of coverage.  I went with the cheapest one available, which cost about 70 dollars a month, while the government chipped in the other 340 dollars.  Since all plans had to meet ACA standards it was a great plan that covered everything, with one small problem; the 6000 dollar deductible.

Had I stepped up to a higher tier plan I could paid around 120 dollars a month for a plan with a smaller deductible and the government would have paid a larger chunk of the cost, but it was still a higher deductible than I could afford.  The truth was to purchase a plan with a deductible that wasn’t greater then the amount of money that I currently possessed I needed to spend about 300 dollars a month.  I remember being annoyed that if we’d made less money we would have qualified for a higher tier of assistance and been offered a plan with an affordable deductible at an affordable premium.

So what is the point of having insurance that you can’t afford the use?  I suppose that is debatable.  One way to look at it is that I wrote a check for 70 dollars a month and the government paid 340 for nothing because I’m quite certain that the entire time we carried that insurance we never had more then the occasional doctors visit.  It never paid out a cent.

Another way to look at it is that we were covered.  If some horrible health problem would have occurred then we would have been treated, sure we would have ended up with a huge deductible to pay off, but considering that the cost of cancer care is 10,000 dollars per month it would have been in out favor.

That brings us to the Crux of healthcare insurance, it’s really only affordable when everyone is contributing.  People should think of it as sitting aside money now for when you’ll need it later, something that most Americans can’t grasp.  What’s increasingly clear is that healthcare is incredibly complex, as our President has recently learned.  Best of luck fixing it, but I won’t hold my breath.

 

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Crazy Cheap Disc Brakes = Junk

Well I did it again, I bought some stupid cheap bike junk online and paid for it.  I needed a new mountain bike brake when the rear Hayes disc failed recently.  While searching for a new disc brake online I came across a deal on Amazon that seemed impossible to beat.  Calipers, levers, rotors, and cables and all associated hardware for 27 bucks.

The levers and calipers came in a slick white color, and from the pictures they looked pretty nice.  I knew they were were cheap knockoffs of Avid BB5s; they have single side pad adjustment and use BB5 pads, but I figured how can they mess up a simple cable disc brake?

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Installing these was pretty nice, they come all set up on brackets and ready to go.  I installed the rear caliper and did a few runs to “break in” the pads.  Soon I was stopping with mild authority.

Sunday we hit The Back Nine for some excellent Shawnee style trail riding, which is to say rough and dirty.  The new rear brake was a bit wimpy at first but after a few downhills it had easy wheel locking power to spare.  I bragged to everyone about my awesome new 27 dollar brakes.

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Right before the halfway point of 7 miles I grabbed for some rear brake and felt “POP” in the lever.  My rear brake was gone.  I held everyone up for the next 15 minutes while I tried to figure what happened.  My cable hadn’t slipped, the actual calipers weren’t working.  When the brake arm was halfway through it’s travel the caliper piston would snap from being halfway engaged back to zero.  It was impossible to get any rear brake no matter how I adjusted it.

For the next 8 miles I rode with just the front brake.  This isn’t really a big deal, I’ve done it before, it just means that I had to take it extra easy on the downhills and switchbacks.  Bummer.

Luckily Amazon’s policy means I can return it for free.  I decided to bite the bullet and buy a brand new set of Avid BB7s. I’ve never really used an expensive disc brake, I had some cheap hydraulic Maguras for a long time that worked fine, and a cheap Shimano hydraulic which is currently on the front of my bike.  It Stops the bike, but it’s never felt that great.  I did have a set of very old BB7 that I bought used and gave away awhile back.  When they had good cables they were just as good as any other brake I’ve used.

So again, my friends, there are sweet deals to be had, but you often get what you pay for.

In some better news this weekend’s mountain bike ride was the first ride I’ve been on in a weeks where I felt good.  I had lots of energy and at least until my brake failed I was handling the bike pretty well.  I was also climbing far better than I have been.

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Dirty South Roubaix 2017 SUCCESS

What is This All About?

So back in 2012 a group of us got together for what I’m sure wasn’t the first gravel road ride in Southern Illinois, but the only one with a catchy name, The Dirty South 100K.  The next year we branched out with a ride on the West side that was even more well attended.  Last year when we had a massive group for this casual group ride some riders were treating it like a race and our fearless leader Moe, decided to make it a race this year.

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His expectation was maybe around 50-60 racers to make it break even.  We ended up with 90 something riders toeing the line for what for some would be an epic gravel challenge, and others a mere training race.

Nahh, not this year

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I did not ride, instead volunteering to take pictures.  This will be the first winter I haven’t done the Dirty South West in 4 years.  There are a few reasons for this, first I’m not in shape, my legs are smaller and my belly is bigger.  I think the ride would have hurt me bad.  Secondly, as a race in my mind there is an expectation to actually race, this would have probably caused me to blow my doors off in the first 20 miles worse then I normally do and end up in a ditch somewhere around mile 40.  Thirdly, I really preferred to take photos of the event.

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“So you’re really going to this thing without a bike?” Shauna asked as we drove over. Shaundo graciously came to help with the photo taking yesterday.  “You are going to be so sad you’re not riding,” she said.  It turned out she was right.  As I talked to people who were feeling the excitement of a bike event, I felt a deep sense of sadness that I wasn’t about to enjoy the suffering with them.  Then I thought about some of the painful leg cramps I’ve experienced at the end of this thing and a slight smile did creep across my face.

Just Here to Have Fun

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So as you might expect at this kind of event there were all kinds of bikes and all kinds of riders.  Gravel racing doesn’t have the stigma that road races do and mountain bike races for that matter.  It’s a far more laid back atmosphere.  While some may have shown up to win, most are just here to have fun.  Speaking of having fun, how could anybody find doing a 62 mile road ride fun on a single speed fatbike.  My hats off you crazy bastards that went for it, but seriously, that’s crazy.

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TAKING PICTURES

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So I took a few pictures at the start with my new super wide 14mm lens that doesn’t auto focus and auto exposure.  This turned out to be a mistake as my exposure and focus was off on every shot.  In my defense it’s almost impossible to focus a 14mm lens without some kind of aid.  After that failure we loaded up the van and followed the race.    This was dumb since there was no way we could pass through the race to get to the Pine Hills.  The next failure was my Garmin GPS on which I had loaded the race course.  Though I thought the batteries were good it kept turning itself off.    Luckily I ran into Pat and followed him backwards on the course.

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We drive up into the Pine Hills and stopped at what is probably the most dangerous corner, a nearly 180 switchback.  I was considering this may not be the best place to take pictures and thinking about moving up to the next pull off when suddenly the race came through.

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I ran to grab my trusy 1D which has super fast autofocus and 10 frames per second speed.  In the process of getting a lens on I popped out the focusing screen inside the camera somehow.  Luckily Shauna was on hand to take pictures while I sorted it out.  Sadly I missed getting good shots of many of my pals.  I was able to warn riders of the approaching tight turn.

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Next we went to Rhine Road where there is a creek crossing with a beat up old car that Moe thought might make a good photo opportunity.  This was 54 miles in the race and I estimated that the first riders would be by in about 3 hours ride time.  Almost like clockwork at 12:05 Scott Williamson came steaming by.

Keep it Smooth

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Watching Scott ride this gravel road was a lesson in humility.  Despite being 50 miles in on a tough gravel course his form was perfect.  His back was flat, his pedal stroke was fast and smooth, his upper body was motionless.  I couldn’t help but think of Peppy Le Pew, the cartoon skunk who made his chase look so effortless.  His expression didn’t reveal a hint of suffering, just calm repose.

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The next rider who came through was Mt. Vernon rider, Wayne Brown, and he appeared at first glance to be moving far faster than Scott was, his form was good, a little rougher than Scott’s, but the big difference was the striving look of dedication in his face.  He was turning himself inside out and putting in a hell of performance.  Sadly he was was nearly 15 minutes behind the leader and nothing short of a total failure for Scott would allow Wayne to win.

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Over the next hour riders came by mostly solo, but occasional groups.  Some appeared to be at the end of their ropes, even having difficulty with the slight dip in the road, while others came through looking much like Wayne.  No one looked like Scott.  Even though several folks I knew were still out on the course we headed back to Alto Pass to see the finish and say goodbye.  I knew it would be a couple hours before some folks were coming through.

THANKS!

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So in conclusion, huge thanks to everyone who came out, most of you nuts came from so far away and we love you for it.  Thanks to Moe,Pat and the Bike Surgeon for putting it together, thanks to SoILL racing for the support.  Thanks to all the volunteers who made it possible.  I think we’ll see this again next year, and I’m guessing that we’ll see 200 riders show.  It’s going to be HUGE!

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One Horse Gap February Fun

We got a sizable group together for a ride at One Horse Gap, and again despite incredible weather for a day in February we didn’t see a single horseback rider.  Surprisingly though we did see a hiker, the first one I’ve seen in a long time.

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We rode new benchcut to the Gap then bombed down “Avalanche” to ride up the “New Coon” From there it was back to the Gap so that the guys could play around on the rocks.  I got a few good pictures but I was wishing I had my Canon, I would have got some great shots.

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Sadly I wasn’t in the mood to enjoy the second half of the ride.  The issues that plagued me on my last mountain bike ride were worse.   As the ride went on several times I had to get off my bike on stretch out my lower back as the pain of pedaling became to much.  My lower back felt so strained that I struggled even on downhill sections that normally would not bother me.

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It’s becoming obvious that the trainer isn’t doing it for me this year.

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