Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Story - Karma, or What Goes Around...

When I first started riding, I had very little money for cycling. My parents, having grown up under wartime hardship, were very frugal. Nothing wrong with it - I've taken after them, albeit from a middle class point of view. I had my period of struggling to eat from day to day but it was nothing permanent. For example, I lamented about scrounging for food. The thing though was that there was food out there, I just had to get it. It's different, I suppose, when there isn't any food at all. Your priorities get straightened out pretty quickly.

This didn't mean I went without. In fact, my parents never skimped when it came to helping the kids. We may have been driving around in a somewhat beat up Toyota but we were going to violin and piano lessons, judo and tae kwon do, swim stuff, who knows what else, and we all got a good education.

1888 Gemunder, my "red" violin. Relatively speaking, I was a much better violin player than a bike racer.

My parents also let us chose our hobbies. The kids sort of migrated into them. For me, at first, it was building plastic models. Living in Holland encouraged my fascination with World War 2 history - the local zoo had a Sherman tank (short barrel, with welded on links for extra protection), a midget sub (essentially a torpedo with hollowed out sides so it could carry two torpedos - each as big as the sub itself), and across the highway was an abandoned bunker. Wassenaar, this particular town, happened to be the site of the first V2 rocket launch. Unlike here in bucolic New England, fighter jets (F-16s mostly) regularly flew overhead.

I suppose it's like living near Camp Pendleton. It's hard to forget military presence when it's an every day thing to see choppers, jets, and various military ships.

When I realized I enjoyed building plastic models, I didn't just build one or three or a dozen. I had a virtual battalion of 1/72 scale soldiers and equipment - 1000 or so men, all painstakingly painted with boots, guns, belts, uniforms, and flesh (they didn't require assembly but came in packs of 46-50). They were surrounded by dozens of tanks, anti-tank guns, half-tracks, and a few jeeps. Their support came from an air force of perhaps 50 planes, again all carefully built, each model selected for their role in a particular battle.

Eventually a non-regulation ping pong table became my battle ground. Paper mache landscape, painted green and covered in fake grass and bushes, became the scene of a continually fluctuating battle - the Axis attacking the Allies one day, the next day the roles reversed.

(I wish I had a picture but I don't - sorry.)

I mention all this because my parents never actually pushed me to do plastic models. In fact they were worried that the fumes would affect me. Who knows, maybe they did. Holed up in my room, the windows often closed, gluing and painting models for hours on end... I'd walk down the stairs lightheaded afterwards.

I earned money for models by doing chores and I also asked for them for any special occasion - a baby brother arrives, a baby sister, relatives visit, things like that. It wasn't a case of "Wow I want that one" and I got it. It was more a case of "I really, really want that" and saving money for a week or three and then buying it.

I did spend a lot of time dreaming about other toys. I always wanted a slot car set - to the point that 30 years later I visited a slot car place (conveniently in the same space as CyclArt, a great painting shop) and ooh'ed and aah'ed over all the different things done nowadays. For years I pored over the Sears catalog, checking out the various tracks, the lengths, the realism (I didn't want loops - because they don't exist in real racing). At some point slotless cars came out - and now there was the whole element of passing!

Alas, these toys were pretty expensive and I never got a set. I dreamed and begged and pleaded for something like 6 or 7 years (and for a kid between 6 and 12 years old that's a long time!) but to no avail.

My bike interest, then, probably shocked my parents from a fiscal point of view. A plastic model was $5 or so, paint something like $2 per color. But bikes... Just the bike was $200 (Schwinn Traveler III). Toe clips, I forget the actual price but about $4 or $5. Toe straps ("What, they're not included?") might run $10 more. Bottle. Cage. Kickstand (yep I had them for a while). Rack. The funny clothing.

Right, the funny clothing.

I saved granola bar UPC codes and sent them in, along with $19.95, to get my first jersey, a yellow jersey with black side panels. That disintegrated many years ago but I have my second ever jersey, a yellow and red one.

Note the high-tech collar.

Buttons on the pockets? Yep.

I eventually asked for, and received, after a lot of negotiating and a few years of serious cycling, a real racing bike. It was a combination present - everything I could possibly think of that happened in the latter half of 1982 - birthday, Christmas, finishing middle school, doing a lot of chores, practicing, whatever I could think of, I banked that gift amount towards this bike.

And boy was it expensive!

$585 with relaced wheels (GP4s with Wolber tires). Campy Super Record rear derailleur, Nuovo Record front and shifters, Modolo Speedy (or maybe worse) brakes, Excel Rino cranks. Custom gearing, 53x42, 15-21, in preparation for Junior racing.

After the first year of racing (and the obligatory team jersey purchase) I maintained a pretty serious winter training schedule. During the week I mainly rode a Racer Mate 2 wind trainer.

My backup bike posing on that same RacerMate 2, 24 years later, along with the resistance unit from a RacerMate 1

On those winter weekends I did a now-defunct group ride out of Oscars Deli in Westport.

Winter meant it was cold. But having blown all my money on the bike, race entries, two new tires, and various other things, I had no money for winter gear. Instead I made do with specifically bought regular clothing.

For example, when my mom took me shopping for a sweater, I suggested that I'd like a black sweatshirt instead. I chose one that was a bit tight and suddenly it ended up being my base layer (black made it look pro). Some pajama shopping turned up snug fitting black sweatpants - they were somehow recruited as biking long pants. I used garden gloves (no kidding) for long finger gloves - they were windproof and had fuzzy insides. And since we didn't train with helmets too much (they weren't even ANSI approved) I wore a knit hat.

Well, sometimes I wore a couple.

You can imagine that the gear didn't work well. My base layer, soaked in sweat, became wet, damp, and cold. No wicking. No wind protection. Well not until I used the trick always described in pro racing - the newspaper up the shirt. After staining various jersey/t-shirts, I migrated to using plastic bags instead.

Actually, when hard pressed, I still use plastic bags.

One day, at the ride, one of the regulars named Dan presented me one day with a brand new set of booties. I was shocked. For me? He laughed and said it made him cold looking at me ride in 25 degree weather with only socks and shoes on. I told him I didn't mind - my feet were numb after 10 minutes and it didn't make a difference afterwards. I didn't want to mention the thawing agony once I got home but I figured it didn't need mentioning.

He gave me one of those looks that you can really only give to teenagers who think they have the world at their feet.

I accepted the booties. My feet were toasty! What a revelation!

I ended up with some donated tights too. Although they weren't the best, they fit better than the sweats, covered my ankles, and had no seam down the middle. My uncle, who lives in Milan, sent a Basso long sleeve jersey.

I wrecked it in my big crash.

Over the course of time I've received a lot of gifts. One friend who raced pro in Europe gave me one of his team kits - tights, shorts, jersey, gloves, and even a thermal jacket! I wore the kit everywhere for a while - now they're all threadbare and relegated to trainer use.

My friend also accumulated bike travel bags. I borrowed one, didn't return it for a while (like a year), and when I called him to let him know I had it he asked me if I could do him a favor.

Sure thing, I told him.

"Could you keep it?", he asked. "I have two other cases and my dad's getting on my case about where to keep this stuff."

Well now. I suppose I could do something like that.

I can tell you that bag's been used for many years, received a roller-wheel upgrade (courtesy Home Depot and me), and it's been a great bag. I've flown to California a few times, Florida a few times, and never had a problem.

For many, many years I was the receiver of such gifts. Schwag is one thing - that's someone trying to sell you something (or get you to sell it) so they give you things to make you like them more.

But these were different. It was more than just trying to keep friends or to get something out of them. These were friends trying to help me out, giving me stuff that I really appreciated.

I found myself trying to contribute my bit. I'd drive a lot since I love driving. My ex-pro bike case friend didn't like driving his red Honda, I really liked it, so when we carpooled, I'd drive the car. When he got the car it had perhaps 10k-15k miles on it. We drove it everywhere and he drove it even more. A great fun car, you could pile in the racers, throw the bikes on the roof, and putt-putt away to the races.

When my ex-pro friend bought a nice, new Mazda3, I bought red Honda from him. Paid him what he wanted (and perhaps needed). It was 12 years later and the odometer read 246k miles. I expect tomorrow to hit 270k miles.

Shortly after I bought the car...

There was this kid that hung out at the shop. When first came in, perhaps 12, he loved BMX bikes. But after an all day trip on one, he realized the limitations of one speed, a weird seat position, and 20" tires. Converted to the Road Side, he bought a Cannondale road bike and immersed himself in the sport.

Eventually he started working at the shop. After work we'd go for a ride, usually with a few other riders, do our 30 or so miles, and then come back to the shop. There we'd spend a couple hours degreasing our bikes, polishing anything shiny aluminum, detailing our bikes, and prepping them for tomorrow's ride.

And we'd do the same thing the next day.

Three of us agreed to meet for an early morning race. This meant a 5 o'clock meet at a commuter lot. One teammate, whose car we took, was there. I piled my stuff in and waited for the other. But our friend, the ex-BMX'er, didn't show up. After giving him as much time as we could afford, we called him. Woke him (and his family) up. Told him we'd pick him up. He begged us off, told us to go race, not to be late on his account.

We drove to his house, picked him up, and took off.

Once on the way he admitted that his dad had yelled at him.

To go race.

"Your friends respect you, you're important to them, that's why they want you to go with them. You have to go with them. It's the only thing to do."

Probably not as polite but you get the gist of the message.

He eventually left the shop to help his dad with their family business, a successful high-end classic car restoration shop. A couple years later he dropped by on a day off to say hi. He couldn't help but notice that the shop was busy. He asked if he could help. Took an unused workstand. Set up his workspace. And ended up slaving away for 5 or 6 hours.

No pay. Nothing.

Just a "Hey, I gotta get going. I hope this helped."

And he was off.

A few years later, when I worked locally on an odd three day week (12 hours a day doing IT support), I asked him if I could help out around his garage on my off days. I'd get there sometime after everyone else arrived and do grunt work - sweep the floor, take stuff to the dumpster.

Sometimes I got to do interesting stuff - machine the cup spacer things on a Lotus Espirit 16 valve engine (they have solid lifters and need a valve job every so many thousand miles). I mounted and balanced a lot of tires. I helped take out a Mangusta's engine/tranny and helped put it back in. I even did a lot of work on his brother's Saab 900 turbo - help remove and install the head, do the shocks, axles, ball joints, brakes. Did brakes on a couple cars. Took inventory.

They tried to pay me something but I refused. I wanted to help out and I felt like I could. That was enough. My helping out let them focus on tough things like rebuilding a 50's Aston Martin. It was usually fun to help, but there's nothing fun about sweeping metal shavings off of an oily lathe or machining tool the size of a motorcycle.

Yet it was oddly satisfying.

I never left feeling used. Sometimes I left wishing I could have done more but I always left feeling good about what work I'd done.

Nowadays I drop by every now and then to mount and balance tires. Or order a few parts. Or ask him car questions. He recently got a bike and started riding again.

So last weekend I rode with another good friend of mine. I've known him since his wife was pregnant with their first child - a child who is going to college next month.

Makes me feel old.

Anyway, he's had some problems with wheels - specifically, a particular brand of hub would spontaneously freewheel in both directions. It happened once when he was cranking up a hill and he broke his shoulder because he flipped over the bars. He replaced the wheel with the same manufacturer wheel, just newer. It happened again on our ride.

Now just a couple days before that ride he had come over to help us out. He works with really big metal structures and when I asked him about how to get a really nice lock off of the PODS, he told me he had just the thing.

So as not to compromise all the locks out there, suffice it to say that in two minutes the $90 lock was off.

Unusable, yes, but off.

I have a lot of wheels. With my relatively new PowerTap, my standard repertoire of rear wheels was suddenly obsolete. This included my Campagnolo Eurus wheels, the most reliable wheels I've ever ridden. In fact they're pictured on the RacerMate up above.

The day after our ride, I gave him the rear Eurus to ride. No worries about the cassette body suddenly not catching - Campy is better than that.

And for good riddance I gave him my front TriSpoke (the clincher - the tubular has a flat). Worth a couple mph for sure and makes it easier to sit in a fast moving field.

He has two weeks to get used to the TriSpoke's handling characteristics. He reported today that he was flying on the wheelset. No insecurities about flipping over the bars. And the TriSpoke was fast.

It's a good feeling, being able to provide that kind of security, that mental boost, to be able to provide it to someone who is not in the position to blow a grand on a set of nice, fast wheels.

It's a good thing.

You know the two teammates that drove to that early morning race after the one overslept? Over the years they both helped me tremendously. They stuck by me through some pretty bad times. We have our lives but we still manage to hang out now and then.

Unfortunately, in about 10 years, we've never all gotten together. One simply lives too far away. Just me and the far one or me and the near one.

It's too bad because we were inseparable when we were racing together.

They'll be able to hang out in October though. At my wedding. Because they'll be standing by my side as my best man and groomsman.

Cycling, like life, has its flows and ebbs. It brings people together in a powerful manner. When things are good, give a bit. Share what you have, whether it's equipment, advice, or simply a shoulder to lean on (or perhaps push off of). When things are tight, I think you'll find that your friends are there for you.

I've found that the case with me, and I feel fortunate for it.

4 comments:

RayR said...

Rcermate just finished a contest looking for the oldest trainer of theirs that could be found - winner got a brand new CompuTrainer....

True Karma always comes back to you.

fasterjim said...

Great post

Aki said...

I sent the same picture to RacerMate but apparently I didn't win :(

thx both of you

suitcaseofcourage said...

I don't think I'll even do a WCW post today - this post is the epitome of WCW. Well done - Just wish I had written it.