are sometimes smooth and silky, and other times tired and tight.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Lucky Charms II

Keeping with the topic of the day, I thought I’d post some photos of pros with good luck charms.

Here are a few that, in my opinion, are stranger than most.

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Lance Armstrong wore a pendant that was a silhouette of Texas, which makes sense - after all he is a Texan.

The fact that he's an admitted atheist and also wore a crucifix is what strikes me as somewhat odd. I believe the story behind it, was that it was given to him by a woman who worked for his foundation, who later died of cancer, and he wore it in memory of her.

Or maybe it's the literal translation of the cross he has to bear, being a Texan and all?

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Who can ever forget Tyler Hamilton, wearing the dog tags of his recently deceased dog Tugboat, at the 2004 Tour de France.

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Perhaps the strangest pendant in the professional peloton is worn by Michael Boogerd.

I've tried to find some back up of this in writing, but I can't. You'll have to trust my memory, and my limited Dutch.

If I recall correctly, when asked what his medal was after kissing it when he crossed the finish line after winning the Queen's stage of the 2002 Tour de France to La Plagne, he told the Dutch TV crew that it was a vial that contained the baby teeth of his then Fiancée. Vodoolicious.

I guess his baby teeth were too big?

If you're interested in getting yourself a cycling specific charm, look no further than Graham Watson's website.


Lucky Charms

This week, during the first Tuesday night group ride of the year, I was at the front, on a narrow road when I heard a shout that a car was behind us. Just as the car came past, at speed, I heard a familiar clunk: it was pulling a horse trailer. Before I could react, I felt my left hand get whacked, and felt my bars pop up in the air.

In those nanoseconds of sheer panic, I wondered what would happen next? Would I do a face plant? Would I get pulled under the trailer? Would I get run over by the 12+ riders behind me? Fortunately none of those scenarios came to pass. Don’t ask me how, but I managed to keep my balance, and get the ‘rubber back on the road’.

This near brush with death and destruction made me think of the things cyclists do to ward off the evil spirits.

I’m neither terribly superstitious, nor religious, but when it comes to cycling, I make a few exceptions. In my early days of riding, I had a conversation with a guy, as we were doing a warm up lap before the pack ride in Central Park. I noticed that he had something dangling from his handlebar, off of a cable, and I asked him what it was. Turns out he was a fan of pugilism, and likened it to bike racing, so he had put a boxing glove charm on his bike as a lucky charm.

I decided to get my own ‘lucky charm’. A few days later, after a little research, I bought myself a Saint Michael medal, and promptly put it on my bike, as I’ve done with each bike since. Some might find Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers, a more fitting choice, seeing as Saint Michael is the patron Saint of Soldiers and Cops. Considering the nature of bike racing, especially the nature of bike racing as a Cat 4 in New York – which is what I was doing at the time - who better than a patron Saint for protection in battle?

For the most part, I think I can say that I made the right choice. At least it worked out for me on Tuesday. Maybe the Saint Christopher medal around my neck did the trick?

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Saint Michael on my now-deceased Pinarello.

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Saint Michael on my ancient Cannondale.

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Saint Michael on my current steed.

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Saint Christopher (just in case).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nothing gets between me and my Assos

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I received an email from a friend yesterday that had all of the info on Assos latest offerings for the summer of 2007. My reply back to him was something to the effect of "why are you trying to make me spend money I don't have?"

Sure, I could just look at it, like he suggested, but that's easier said than done with Assos.

I started riding my bike, for real, in the summer of 1990. Back then, “dressing up” for a bike ride meant putting on a pair of cotton ‘bikers shorts’ that I bought as casual wear a few years before. Yes, casual wear. Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.

After a summer of wearing “shorts” that were the equivalent of underwear I picked up a pair of real bike shorts, to wear on my first 100 mile ride, the TA New York Century. Oh what a huge difference those Team Z shorts were, with their genuine, old school, natural chamois. So much better, especially after I realized that you shouldn’t wear underwear with them.

I thought that it couldn’t get any better until I made the move to bib shorts. Who would have even considered that suspenders could make such a difference? No more tying the drawstrings so tight that I’d lose feeling below the waist, no more plumbers butt when the drawstring came loose, no more unnecessary movement ‘down there’. To top it all off, the bibs had a synthetic chamois! No more slathering lanolin on to the chamois, then slithering into my bibs, and squirming as I felt the chamois cream ooze around as I mounted the saddle.

Years passed, and I went through a variety of different brands of bibs: Santini; Nalini; Cannondale; Pearl Izumi; Performance; and a bunch of smaller companies that made my various team kits. To be honest, as long as they fit, I wasn’t that bothered.

Fast forward to 2003. I was getting back into cycling after a lengthy break. I hadn’t been riding regularly for awhile, and I didn’t see the need to invest in anything new, so I rode through that summer wearing 10 year old bibs. One pair was so old and worn that friends begged me to stop wearing them. Apparently they left nothing to the imagination if you happened to be sitting on my wheel.

Revealing shorts aside, I was also developing some saddle sores, most likely caused by a chamois that was well past it’s prime. I’m sure it also didn’t help that the bibs were stretched to the breaking point thanks to the extra 30 lb I had put on since they were last put to use. Regardless, I kept on wearing them, and complaining.

Then something magical happened. A life changing experience. Thanks to the generosity of a friend – whom I will always be indebted to – I was given a pair of Assos bib shorts.

It is a gift that keeps on giving. No more saddle sores. No more unnecessary movements below. Nope, all you get is a beautifully cut, exquisitely constructed, well thought out garment, with a chamois that is so perfect, I hear that it was developed at the Swiss equivalent of Area 51.

Many people will say that Assos is too expensive, and that they’re not worth it. Those people are wrong. They obviously have never tried them.

Yes, I will admit they are not cheap. I will admit that when I was a twenty-something racer, my take on Assos was that it was bike clothing for middle-aged men with too much money. Yes, I am currently entering the middle age bracket, but having too much money is something that will never be said about me.

To put this post in a nutshell (no pun intended): if you like to spend time on a bike, get some Assos!



Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Everything you need to know about shaving your legs (but were afraid to ask)

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Despite the title of this blog, I don’t plan on spending a great deal of attention to the minute details of “my shaved legs”. Regardless, I feel the need to give some tips to the future leg shavers out there, specifically people like me – men.

I will skip over the “to shave or not to shave” argument, because if you want to get serious about cycling, you have to shave your legs. There is no argument. I am right, you are wrong. Is that understood?

Good, now on to the how to.

What you will need:

Hair Clippers or Beard Trimmer.
Shaving Cream.
After shave lotion (optional).

Step 1. The Buzz Cut.

If you’re lucky, you will have some hair clippers in the house. This is where all those years shaving your head will come in handy. Take your hair clippers (a beard trimmer will suffice, but it will just take a little longer) and proceed to shave off the hair on your legs. This will save you some blood, sweat, and tears, not to mention several razors.

Now, many a hairy legged virgin has asked “how high do you go”? I believe the pros go all the way to the top, so they look like they’re wearing wool briefs. I’m guessing that’s because professional cyclists receive daily massages during stage races, and there’s nothing a masseuse likes better than a pair of clean shaved legs.

I learned this the hard way. Back in the day, at a stage race in Vermont, I went to the ski-lodge, which was the race’s HQ. Some enterprising masseurs set up shop, and you could get yourself a 10$ massage, or a 20$ massage. I spoiled myself with the 20$ job, after placing 3rd on the second stage. Jean, the masseuse, was this old, balding Hippy, with a bandanna and a scraggly gray beard, who looked like his diet consisted entirely of tofu. Basically a skeleton with a beard. He clearly knew the ins-and-outs of cycling massage. He worked his magic on my sore legs, but berated me the entire time because I had 5 days worth of stubble. I suppose that would grow old quick, rudbbing your hands raw on some lowly Cat3 racer's legs. When I went back the next day, he looked at his scabby hands, and passed me on to some guy who looked like a body builder gone to seed, who had no idea how to massage a cyclist's legs. Now that was a waste of money.

I digress. Back to the Buzz Cut. Some people work the wool briefs look, some work the wool boxers, and only shave up to where there bike shorts go. It’s your choice.

Step 2. The preparation.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a dry shaver. I need to shower before I shave my face, and I need to shower before I shave my legs.

These days, after watching countless episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, I know enough to use a facial scrub before shaving my face. While I’ve been tempted to try that with my legs, I don’t. Too expensive. But hey, some people out there like spending 100$ for a carbon fiber water bottle cage that's 5 grams lighter than an aluminum one, so maybe you'd like to try a facial scrub to soften your 'leg beard'. If you do, then there's the economy route: Nivea for Men Energizing facial scrub, or... if you really want to get fancy, you can use Kiehl's Facial Fuel Energizing Scrub. Personally I love Kiehl's, but I save it for my ruggedly handsome face.

OK, next step - take my shower, and soften the hairs. If you have the time and a bath, then that’s really the way to go. Nothing better than soaking your legs in a bath, then shaving your legs lying down. Nice!

Step 3. The shave.

If you know how to shave your face, then you should have an idea about shaving your legs.

The key here is patience.

Apply shaving cream, and break out the razor. I usually use a double bladed disposable, because (as should be clear by now) I’m too cheap to waste a Gillette Mach 3 razor on my legs. If you’re shaving for the first time, make sure it’s a fresh razor.

A brief note on shaving cream. I use your standard, foamy, shaving cream, i.e. nothing special. Perhaps you prefer shaving gel, it will work just as well. What I wouldn’t suggest is using something high end, like Kiehl’s Ultimate Brushless Shave Cream. It’s the only thing I use on my face, but there’s just too much real estate to cover on your legs. You’d be wasting a fine product, but it’s your money, do what you want with it.

Back to shaving.

I break down the task into three zones: shaving below the knee; above the knee; and on/behind the knee.

Below the knee is straightforward, but you should exercise some caution around the ankle, and on your Achilles tendon. Those areas are prone to nicks. Also be careful when you shave the front of your shin. If you rush, you could scrape it like a carrot.

Above the knee goes quite quickly, since there are no bones sticking out, so the only thing that slows you down is the need to rinse your razor after every stroke, to get ride of the stubble/hair.

The most difficult area is the knee. Take your time. Shaving the kneecap is a bit like shaving your chin. You have to work it from a few angles. Behind the kneecap is tricky because of the tendons. I relax my legs, and work away, slowly. Once again: do not forget to regularly rinse the razor.

The 4th (optional) zone, if you choose to go the ‘hairy briefs’ route, should be done every so gently, ever so slowly, because there’s nothing worse than razor burn around your own personal “Green Zone”.

Step 4. Rinse off excess shaving cream, towel dry, and if you’re feeling really, really fancy, throw some aftershave cream on your legs.

I hope this has answered any questions you hairy legs Freds may have.

Now get to work.


I've come to find Nivea's Active 3 as my shaving cream of choice. I use it after I've showered, apply to legs, and shave. It's not too thick, and if it starts to dry a simple application of warm water will 'reactivate' it.

BTW - If you have any other questions, this link may be of some help.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Saturday Afternoons

As a typical product of the New York City racing scene, I’ve done my fair share of races in Central and Prospect Park. Those frigid early mornings, pinning your number on to your winter biking jacket, dropping the safety pins because you had lost the feeling in your fingers, then couldn’t find them because the sun had yet to come up. Yes. Been there. Done that.

In the Netherlands they have a much more civilized approach to early season Saturday races: they have purpose built bike circuits, with club houses. Yes, club houses, with insulation, heat, electricity, and if necessary - internal plumbing. Nice.

About 8 km south from Amsterdam’s city center is Sloten Sports Park. The park is home to soccer fields, a baseball diamond, a Velodrome, and a 2.5 km purpose built bike racing circuit.

The races start at the end of February, and run through early October. On Saturdays the races are organized by WV Amsterdam, and start at 1 PM, with the “Trimmers" (non-licensed, recreational riders), lasting 1 hour and 6 laps, followed by the licensed racers departing at 3:00 PM., lasting 1 hour and 9 laps.

The Start/Finish

Unlike Central Park, you pick up your number in the comforts of the club house.

Once you park your bike.

It cost a stunning 2€ to race, working out to be +/- 1.45€ an hour of fun.

The ‘mini-museum’ is free of charge.

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After the race you can get a coffee, or beer if you like, and talk about the one that got away.

If you're curious to hear about how some of the races go, and know some Dutch, you can check the reasonably regular race reports from the Trimmers races.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I'm a Punk Rocker, yes I am

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As i was waiting at the line for the race to start, with about 70 guys behind me, I thought never again.

No more beer sessions in smokey squatter bars with 70s punk, and 80s post punk, until 2AM the night before a race.

While I was busy making this resolution to myself, one of the local hard men pulled alongside. I used to refer to him as van der Moser, because he has a similar profile, and is strong as hell. He made some small talk that was nigh impossible to understand. This was partly due to the fact that i was still groggy from my late night, partly because it was in Dutch, and partly because this is a guy of very few words, Which made it all the more surprising that he was saying anything at all to me.

He was asking if i was a conservative/smart rider. I asked him how do you say 'rhetorical' in Dutch, because we had spent 20+ mins off the front together the week before. It was an odd chat, maybe he was trying to say something to me?

The race started and, for some reason, I attacked 1 meter from the line.

I almost always ride a few meters off the front at the gun, to test the legs. It's easy to do because this race always has a sluggish start.

My initial impressions were pretty good. Surprisingly good. I looked over my shoulder, expecting/hoping the field to be right behind me. Nope, but there was someone riding up to me. Yep, it was van der Moser.

We started working together, I figured "what the hell, we'll be caught soon enough". Incorrect.

The prospect of spending the entire 1 hour plus 6 laps of the race on the pointy end of the stick was not really appealing, but I figured that as much as it sucked to be out in the wind, it was better to be out in the wind with a gap, then out in the wind with a bunch of schmucks sucking your wheel, which would have been the case if I was in the field. After that thought passed through my head, I thought of advice that I've been told, and have given, about situations like this: DON"T THINK, RIDE. So, whenever I started thinking of the situation I was in I started singing the Teddy Bears (featuring Iggy Pop) "I'm a Punk Rocker" in my head.

Coz I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Well I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Coz I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Well I'm a punk rocker yes I am.

20 minutes into the race, I saw that there were some riders coming out of the corner of my eye. Hmmmmm... relief. Now I can hide in the field. Incorrect.

One of the two is the best sprinter in the category, and has obviously done some good winter training because 2 weeks ago he rode away from an 8 man break I was in with 2 guys on his wheel, never to come back. The other guy I had noticed just before the start, only because he was there with what looked to be his parents. They were both... well fed, and had cigarettes dangling from their mouths. Seeing as it's been 14 months since I quit my beloved smokey treats, the cigarettes are what caught my attention. I could smell the smoke, and found myself tempted to ask for a drag.

So, there we were, four of us, off the front. That's when I started to realize that this might work.

We were working well together, apart from the occasional overzealous pull by van der Moser. At 30 minutes we heard that we had a 30 second gap, and my kidneys hurt a little.

Coz I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Well I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Coz I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Well I'm a punk rocker yes I am.

There was a prime, and surprisingly one of the 4 said that we should ignore it and keep working. Shock horror, someone was actually thinking besides me.

I started taking some heart at the sight of guys OTB. They were spread around the course, in groups of 2 to 5. Some just soft-pedaling back to the strip, some trying their best to catch the field again. At one point one of them jumped on to the back of our group. The four of us kept taking our pulls, and the guy just sat there. Finally, i turned around and shouted (in English) - "Work or Fück Off!" In retrospect, not the smartest thing to do. It threw off my concentration, and for some reason I found myself rolling off the back, almost getting dropped. Then I realized that I was yelling at one of the guys in the break.

Coz I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Well I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Coz I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Well I'm a punk rocker yes I am.

At 50 mins, we were told that we had 1:40 on the field. We kept working.

Time passed, we kept it rolling. There was one stretch where we would go from 43-44 kph to 47-48 kph, then turn, hit a wall of wind, and then grind up a 20 meter long walll, which I've heard is 22% (not sure why anyone would ever measure the percentage of bridge that spans a single car lane). The wind, and the hill, were starting to grind me down a little. A couple of times I almost lost contact, not in the wind, and not on the hill, but just as we crested the hill, and rolled down into more headwind. I kept digging, thinking of a line I read on a cycling internet forum, that went along the lines of 'even when you think you don't have anything left, you do'.

We passed the start/finish and I noticed that a friend who was in the race was now watching. There's a Dutch saying "twee vingers in de neus", or two fingers in/up the nose. It basically means that "it's easy". On the next lap, as I rode by, I stuck two fingers up my nose. WTF - it's not like I was getting paid to be there.

At one hour we got the signal that there were 6 laps to go. Surprisingly there was no Mickey Mouse stuff going, and we kept working together. That was all good by me. I started throwing up a little in my mouth with 5 laps to go.

With three laps to go I started skipping pulls. I'd like to say it was because I was being tactical. It was, and it wasn't. I was shattered, and my calves started cramping a little. Nothing major, just warning signs. Why did I have so many beers the night before?

Coz I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Well I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Coz I'm a punk rocker yes I am.
Well I'm a punk rocker yes I am.

Two laps to go and I was letting a gap open when van der Moser was pulling, because he was so strong, and the sprinter was behind me. I didn't want him entirely fresh for the end.

On the last lap, van der Moser tried an attack. Man was he fast after spending well over an hour in the wind. The sprinter caught on, and I was gapped. I dug deep and bridged back on, while the FNG with the chain smoking parents then proceeded to sit on me.

We hit the last wall of wind, and the last climb, then it was 500 meters to the finish. I was on the sprinters wheel, sitting pretty, thinking that I just might be able to pull this off.

Wait... wait... wait... wait... wait...

And that was the problem. I waited too long. Should have gone myself. The sprinter jumped, and I had his wheel, then the FNG, who was on my wheel, jumped past me.

Fück me. Blew it. Blew it so bad, that even van der Moser - the worst sprinter ever - even managed to get past me.

Only managed 4th for the day, after 1:22 off the front, finishing 2 minutes ahead of the field.

In the words of Beck:

Soy un perdedor
I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?

That is all.