Archive for March, 2009

World’s Greatest Cyclists?

Monday, March 23rd, 2009
Original Wright Bros. bike.

Original Wright Bros. bike.

If you enter the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, the first exhibit you come across is not an airplane. You will find airplanes there in a beautiful and bewildering variety, of course, WWII planes with grinning shark’s teeth, a Sopwith Camel from the Great War, helicopters from Vietnam, and even a Stealth fighter and Predator drone.

But the very first exhibit is a modest, black, townie, bicycle. Dayton is the birthplace of aviation but it’s also the birthplace of the Wright Brothers, the bicycle designers/mechanics/shop owners who taught the world to fly.

Printers by trade with a reputation for mechanical wizardry, the Wrights bought their first bicycles in the fall of 1892. By December of the same year they decided to open a shop, The Wright Cycle Co., and within a few years they were selling a line of bikes they’d designed themselves. Orville was even a racer, competing in and medaling in some local competitions.

The bicycle contributed to the Wright’s conquest of the air in very direct ways, like the chains and cogs that drove the propellers on the early Wright flyers. But it contributed indirectly as well; it is said that a small, flexing cardboard box from an inner tube sparked the insight into how the wings on an airplane needed to flex in order to maintain controlled flight.

The Wrights were geniuses. They not only figured out how an aircraft should be controlled, they also discovered that the accepted mathematical calculations for lift were in error. So they went ahead and invented a wind tunnel so they could test wing designs and then re-wrote the mathematical calculations for lift. Then they designed the propeller, which was another matter altogether.

The lesson is, if you’re a bike shop owner, wrench or rider, you can do anything.

You can visit one of the Wright’s original cycle shops at the 22 S. Williams Street in Dayton. Park tools are noticeably absent from the turn of the (19th) century workbench. The chainrings have widely spaced teeth. The chain guards have beautiful scroll work. But the bikes and rims look fairly normal. And the counter looks like the counter at any bike shop today, with tubes, pedals and hubs behind the register.

Strackacobra drove up through the thermocline from company HQ in Florida to Ohio to pay tribute to the Wright Brothers and highly recommends the trip. Best of all, both the Wright Cycle Shop (part of the National Park Service) and the National Air Force Museum are free.

Mountain Biking while in Dayton. We stopped by John Bryan State Park just east of town but unfortunately the trails were closed (“too wet and muddy”) but what little we could hike of them looked like good stuff. There are only about 7.5 miles of trail, but in our short walk we passed through two tree openings tight enough to shave handlebars so that bodes well for anyone looking for a good time. Great eats can be had at the nearby Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs. Renowned for their homemade ice cream, the place also makes a righteous BLT.

HAILE YES! SERC #1 Mountain bike race at Haile’s Trails in Gainesville

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

The Haile’s Trails course is a usually a shit-ton of fun and this time was no exception.

Haile’s is a short 5.5 mile mountain bike course that drops into two quarries and climbs over a dozen of the short, maddeningly steep hills that central Florida is famous for. In between is twisty singletrack which gives the course its wonderful flow. If you’re afraid of heights you may not like riding that rock gardens that skirt the edge of one of the quarries…it looks like about an 100-foot drop from where I was standing.

Haile’s Trails took over as the spring opener in the Southeast Regional Championship Series (SERC) after Razorback closed in late 2007. It’s only open for a spring and fall race (it’s a private course) so there’s always a good turnout. While the course location is given as Gainesville, it’s actually several miles west at the crossroads known as Haile, thus the name.

Blue skies and 75 degrees with a slight breeze made for great race conditions. The course was a shade sandy in a few of the early turns but firmed up after the first section of singletrack. The course was run counter-clockwise this time with a few changes in the transitions…two new, steep drops and some changes in the approaches to some of the climbs.

Strackacobra overheard one of the other riders commenting that it was the most difficult Florida course he ever raced. The thing is, conditions for the Haile’s mtb race are usually much worse. The last two times we raced at Haile’s the temperature was in the high 80′s with a heat index and humidity in the high 90′s…kinda like pedaling as hard as you can in a sauna while breathing through gauze. No one ever begged to be put out of their misery after a race, but that’s because all the struggling riders were too far gone to beg. They just lay there on the ground, still clipped in, baking in the sun. You didn’t just need to change water bottles after every lap, you needed a fresh change of clothing too…if you’re cycling jersey wasn’t drenched in sweat it was drenched from dumping water over your head.

And those of us in the know remember that Razorback was worse. So thank heavens for small favors. Though we all really, really miss Razorback.

Trek Demo on Saturday. Trek was out at Haile’s for Saturday practice and Strackacobra got to demo some of their new offerings. As all the Top Fuels were out on the course we tried the EX trail bike. The EX was super plush on the drops, soaked up the curves like a pro, and absolutely couldn’t climb like we’d like it to. We thought it might be rider fatigue so we took it around a second time and yep, it’s not a great climber. A few things: it might have been suspension set up and/or tire setup so we’re not ready to write the bike off yet. We typically like to ride with rear shocks pumped into the 200′s for a firm ride…the Trek was set somewhere near 110 for riders in the 150 lb range. They’ll be back again for the Fat Tire Festival at Santos in a few weeks so we’ll give it another shot. And we’ll get a run on the Top Fuels.

Post Practice Lunch.The most wonderful thing in a cyclist’s monk-like existence is the day prior to a race when you get to eat like a pig. We hit Harvest Thyme in downtown Gainesville and discovered a great sandwich called the Alachua Club Wrap…turkey, ham, pineapple, melted montery jack and cheddar cheeses with veggies all rolled in a sundried tomato wrap. They had me at “pineapple.” The only downer was we didn’t realize they had fountain drinks before we ordered the Snapple.

Then we went a few blocks south for a second lunch at Louis Lunch at 436 SE 2nd Street. Louis’ is a dump but it makes a great burger, small and crusty with cheese that just oozes over the meat. You’re eating it and thinking, “not sure why everybody thinks this is such a great burger,” but afterwards it’s strangely satisfying, like a Wendy’s double stack.

Suffer/Euphoria

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Suffer/Euphoria sounds like the name of a club filled with latex clad ladies, techno music booming through overly large speakers, and men with delicate chains hanging from their nipples.

For all I know there may be a club like that somewhere, but the Suffer/Euphoria I’m thinking of is filled with spandex wearing masochists pedaling to the sound of blood pounding through their ears and the the fast intake of breath.

Case in point, last week at the 12-hours of Santos. Over four hours in to a six hour mountain bike race I am questioning my very existence. Why did I ever get into racing? Who would ever be stupid enough to call this fun? Why am I here doing this when I could be anywhere else in the world not suffering like this? Oh, great, another hill, W-T-F am I here for!?!? And the only thing I could think of during those last laps was the finish line and blessed release.

Then this week I have a 55 mile training ride on my road bike. I get over to the coast and hammer in the big ring with a tailwind the entire way. Under clear blue skies I’m hitting speeds by myself that I usually only see in a group. The ocean is off to my right bathed in sunlight. The temperature is in the high 60′s, perfect, and my cycling jersey is barely tinged with sweat. I am euphoric recalling everything I love about cycling, then I think back to the previous week and laugh. Suffer/euphoria indeed.