Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Life - What Got Me Started Racing

This was a thread response that I wrote sort of stream of conscious like just now. I just added pictures for the post.


I grew up in Holland. Ironically I don't remember ever seeing a drop bar bike there. Never saw a race, a cross race, nothing. Saw rally cross (race cars - there was a track in our town), watched some rally racing coverage on the very limited TV. In Holland a the time it was 2 channels, noon-11 PM or so, that was all that was broadcast, and weekends were pretty dead. We didn't watch a lot of TV.

Moved back to the US. Saw a guy on a road bike going around a corner. I later learned the guy was a strong Cat 2 (Scott Donovan). I couldn't believe how skinny the tires were on his bike. Started looking for books about cycling in the library. The only pro racing picture I saw was one of Eddy Merckx. He became legendary because of the 6 or 7 books, he was the only racer mentioned.

I decided I wasn't the big thighed racer the Bicycling guy kept describing. I forget the guy's name but he always wrote about touring and his search for the perfect drivetrain for a bike (half step + granny). I was dreaming about a 14-28 and 52/48/24.

I was 13.

Bought a road bike (Schwinn Traveler III, red) when I could finally ride one. Short legs, 19" frame was a bit big. Wrote the gear chart (52/40, 14-28) and taped it to my stem. Practiced double shifting. Got toe clips.

Second bike, Dawes Lightning, dark/light green fade. Changed gearing to what I thought was ideal, 48/34, 14-21 or 14-23 (for either "flat rides" or "hilly rides"). Eight usable gears out of ten. Got 700c wheels. Learned that a kid (Ken Bowler) in a bunch of my classes was an actual bike racer. Peppered him with questions 4 of 7 classes for a fall and winter.

I was 14.

He told me that in a race he'd have climbed Wolfpit (Wilton, CT) in a 53x15. That's basically the same as my max gear 48x14, and that blew my mind. I asked him repeatedly to make sure he wasn't telling me he'd descend down Wolfpit, not climb the thing. He kept insisting that he was referring to going uphill.

I tried it in the spring, going up the hill in a 48x19 or 21 first and working my way up. I got to a 48x15 but all the efforts made my legs fold in the 48x14 and I had to pull a u-turn halfway up the hill to avoid falling over. A kid Kurt in our school, who got a pro triathlon contract ($16k back in 1983?), got clocked and ticketed for going 50 mph down the thing. It's steep.

Shortly after my Wolfpit experience I went riding with Ken and his dad. I was absolutely shocked at how fast they went on the flats. Appalled, really. I thought the flats were the easy part when I rode, but the reality was that climbing was always hard and the flat stuff was ultra fast. Fortunately his dad got stung by a bee and required medical attention, else I'd have been dragging them down for 80 out of the 100 km ride we'd started. I think I still have the badge from that ride, the Bloomin Metric.

That winter I used all my current savings, my birthday present, my Christmas present, and some extra earned stuff, and ordered a Basso with Campy and Excel Rino on it. $550, $585 with tax. Campy NR derailleurs and shifters, Modolo brakes. And Excel Rino? Excel Rino had to be good, Lon Haldeman won the RAAM on it.

I was 15.

Basso in action, 1984.

Excel Rino was horrible, it was cast aluminum with the density of styrofoam.

But the bike was built by a mechanic who got 2nd in the Jr State RR. He asked if I wanted to join his team. He built my bike with Junior gears, laced over GP4s, put Clement Futurox tubulars on, and I raced that bike for two or three years.

I rode to escape all those teenage angst things. Lots of long rides deep in the boonies, roads I'd never seen before. All my friends through high school were my cycling friends and teammates. There were a couple Juniors (including high school classmate AgilisMerlin) but most of my friends were in their 20s and 30s.

My favorite days to ride are the gloomy 45-55 degree overcast possibly raining days. I guess that's sort of Holland weather. For some reason it really calls to me. Just pounding the pedals, rolling, feeling the tires dance over the pavement. I also hate riding in that weather, it's tough, it can get unpleasant, and it's always a bit iffy if it's wet or sandy.

Back in the day taking a picture cost money.
I wanted these pictures so bad I was willing to pay for them.
It's because I went for a ride in wet, gritty, gloomy weather, and I loved it.

Now it's a bit different. I train indoors most of the time. But my last ride was in 50 degree, rainy-at-first weather. We were on flat roads next to fields lined with trees, wind blowing hard, rain falling sort of sideways. My head was pounding from the cold, I could feel the wind piercing my long sleeve jersey just past the wind vest. It really was just like Holland. Horrible. I loved it.


fastk9dad said...

Enjoy reading how people got started in cycling, yours is no exception especially when it involves local roads I know!

I've never even tried Wolfpit in the big ring! LOL

Aki said...

Well to be completely clear that was back in the day that a 42x18 was a normal racing low gear and a 21 was for hills. And maybe a 23 if it was a crazy hilly race.

I went back and tried it a long time after, maybe 25 years?, and I thought, "This is ridiculous". I could see it if the finish was at the top of the first steep part.

Still, though, the important thing is that it taught me to think outside the box. I never thought climbing a (short) hill was possible in bigger gears. My talks with Ken made me realize that I was limiting myself.