March 24, 2008

The Price of Incredulity


Surely all that read it were saddened and moved by the recent death of Kritsy Gough and Matt Petersen in Cupertino California. A simple, beautiful Sunday morning struck down needlessly at the hands of authority. Whether accident or malice will certainly be a question for the courts and the public forum. I can only see it as an accident of tragic proportions. I am so sorry for their families and teammates.

In his most recent article on cycling and the law, Bob Mionske paints a disturbing picture of a seemingly pervasive attitude amongst both law enforcement and the media responsible for it’s oversight, namely a perceptual and institutional bias against cyclists. Mionske lists several condemning examples of an attitude by police and media that seems to lay blame for accidents like the one in Cupertino at the feet of the cyclists, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It happens subtly and without vindication.

It was a great article.

As I rode with the procession along foothill expressway last Saturday remembering the lives and tragic loss of Kristy and Matt I was impressed and humbled by the show of solidarity in the local cycling community. Between 1200 – 2000 people were on that ride, each reinforcing the importance of cycling in their lives and the subtle family to which we all belong. As I considered the tragedy and the varied reactions to it (ranging from heartfelt sorrow for most, to getting flipped the bird by a motorist passing the nearly mile long processional going the other way), I was struck by a simple, undeniable truth. We are responsible for the police, public and media bias against cyclists. All of us have a part to play.

Please, hear me out and reserve condemnation.

I ride quite a bit, maybe 10-12 hours a week. Not as much as some, more than others. I’ve been doing it for over 20 years. On any given ride I dare say that I, and probably most reading this, take license with the rules and laws of the road at some point. I soft pedal through the three-way light on Foothill most times it’s red. I’ve passed slow moving cars on a twisty and thrilling descent like Highway 84 because staying behind them takes a little longer and isn’t as much fun as testing my skills in full flight. I’ve certainly rolled a red left turn signal before. I figure I probably bend or break at least a rule or two on each ride, and I consider myself a safe and responsible rider. I’m a coach for goodness sake! With a 3-year old! Now if I’m a middle of the road transgressor and there were 1000 riders at the memorial ride representing each end of the bell curve then it’s safe to say that on any given day there are somewhere between 1000 and 3000 minor and major infractions of the law committed in the name of cycling, or worse yet entitlement. 1000-5000 ‘events’ that are often viewed by at least one vehicle. And that’s just for the ones who were at the ride. Northern California has somewhere around 5000 licensed racers, and who knows how many other riders of recreational to competitive inclinations. On a conservative (very conservative!) estimate that makes over 5000 traffic infractions per day in the greater bay area alone, viewed by at least 5000 people who aren’t cyclists. That’s 1.825M chances for John Q Public to get the wrong idea about cyclists. John Q Public is a police officer, a reporter, a cycling hater, and a cyclist. Is it any wonder that public, media, and police perception seems so ‘extreme’ to those of us who ride? It’s simply a matter of exposure. Do you think a driver who runs a red light is irresponsible, nee crazy, every time you see it? You may only see it a few times a year, but still your perception is set for that event. Now what if each time you saw it the person was driving the same type of car? Is it a stretch to say that you’d feel anyone who drives said vehicle was a scofflaw? That’s what we’re doing to ourselves and each other everyday. Every time you blow a stoplight you’re “just another cyclist” breaking the law. “They all do it”. Just as all “insert generic cultural/racial/social reference here” are bad drivers, or smart, or cheap.

Another thing struck me during the memorial ride. As ubiquitous as our solidarity can be at times, so too is our ambivalence. I knew lots of the people at the ride, saw lots of tangible grief and regret and applaud those who have undertaken to raise awareness and change their relationship with the general community. I applaud the Third Pillar and Roaring Mouse teams for so ably paying tribute to their fallen comrades now and in the future. I’m sure the private remembrances and efforts to raise awareness continue, as they must. My question is when do we, as individuals, take the reigns of public perception and throttle them back? When do we disallow groupthink to pervade on rides as we roll through the stop sign so we don’t lose momentum or miss the break? What will each of us do to try and change the public perception. Who will write their local paper to express outrage at the irresponsible regurgitation of a police report, or wanton idiocy of stereotyping cyclists as bringing it on themselves for their actions? It will stop when we, as the community of cyclists, act together to change public perception by our actions, to demand equal accounting, and to over come the all to convenient “us against them” mentality we have. I’m not naive, I know it’s a battle out there every day to stay safe and avoid accidents, bad drivers or the truly malicious and yet still tragedy comes on a brilliant Sunday morning for no good reason. I’m not on my soap box either – I passed the car on 84 three days AFTER the memorial ride. I’m just wondering what it will take to ignite us individually, to unite a community as diverse and politically un-interested in fostering change as the cycling community seems to be. I’m also wondering how to do it. I think I’ll just start with me.

2000 Masters Nationals - Road Race

Road Race:
Finally on Sunday came the last event – the vaunted road race. As I’d ridden the course the day before I felt confident that I’d be able to stay with the field at the minimum and maybe make the right tactical decision too! The race started off fast and easy…100 guys rolling along flat roads is pretty easy to sit in on. There were a few attacks, but as most riders were strong and motivated nothing stuck. It stayed this way for the first hour or so. I kept a steady rhythm near the front, trying not to do too much work in the wind and saving myself for the coming crux. The course only had one climb to speak of, the feed zone, but it had a nice set of rollers about 6 miles prior that could prove to be a good launch pad for a winning move. Sure enough up the first of four or five rollers a group rolled off hard, I knew it was dangerous and was well placed near the front as it was brought to heel as we turned onto the next small climb. Boom! Another attack, but I’m ready and jump it straight away. Just like everyone else. Then a third attack, this one gets a small gap so we bring it back and I’m starting to feel the accelerations. Just like that three guys roll off the front as I’m sitting there in a lactic acid haze. I just knew, knew that was the move so I dropped the hammer to try to get across, but my hammer was more of a ball peen than a sledge and I was quickly put back in the fold as we rolled towards the inevitable surges and covers on the feed hill. The three riders were working well and had a couple of teammates to block. As they hovered in the 1 minute range it became clear that they weren’t coming back. As frustrating as it was, no one wanted to chase and so we just let ‘em go. Onto the feed hill and a flurry of half hearted attacks never pushed to the limit – a nice stretch of the rubber band, but no snap! After that the field just rolled in everyone arguing about who should do the work, but with probably 60 guys left it was inevitable that we’d have a field sprint. Ok, no problem, I can sprint. So as we charged down the final mile or so of dead straight road to the finish I started looking for “the guy to” follow. Sure enough at about a kilometer to go here comes this HUGE dude rolling hard to the front (I was about 20 riders back). I jump on his wheel just happy as can be. He’ll take me right up there and it’ll be perfect.” Well no one told him so he charges straight through the front and lays down a nice solid lead out from probably 600m, only problem is he dropped me off with probably 300m left! Arrrgh, what are you gonna do – can’t really sit up and start looking for wheels at that point so I punched it as hard as I could. It went great for about 150m, then everyone and their mom started coming by saying “thanks” for the great lead out! Blast – a great race blown by two tactical errors. I was like 38th or something. Whatever, that was some fun racing

2000 Masters Nationals - Criterium

Criterium –
Usually crits are my forte, my thing. Over the years I’ve developed a pretty savvy racing ability that keeps me in contention and out of trouble on most any course. The course in Indiana seemed a natural fit. Narrow and short it would favor the rider who could hold their place at the front of the field and navigate through a field with aplomb. Hey, hey I thought….that’s me! Most crits have distinct corners but this particular course had more of a track and field radius to turns one and two, while turn three was a sharp, narrow mess of a thing and the final turn was a decreasing radius blast onto a short finishing straight of about 150m. The race started fast and I was holding my own near the front. Took a few pulls and managed to stay out of trouble for about the first 15 minutes or so. All along though I knew something wasn’t right. When you’re riding well it’s not a problem to stay at the front, move around and generally feel ok with hard exertions…but not today. It took tremendous effort to get forward in all the traffic and I just didn’t have the snap to stay at the front for more than a lap or two. A classic rule of thumb is to attack when you feel bad so off I went…straight off the front and straight back through the field and out the back, all inside of about 2 laps. Ouch!

Race Notes: A good friend had ponied up the cost of my airfare on the presumption that I could make a decent showing of myself in a National Championship and I felt pretty bad about my performance. So what’s the greatest way to ease your personal pain from a terrible ride? That’s right – Budweiser and karaoke in a small country bar in the middle of Indiana! So off I went to sample the local nightlife. As it was Friday there were plenty of people in the bar already and it was pretty easy to start up a conversation or two. There were lots of people interested in “the bike riders” who were in town (though I was the only one I saw in the bar…weird huh?), especially when I told them that we shave our legs intentionally – boy did that get some looks from the cowboys and cowgirls! Soon enough they fired up the karaoke machine and, with a bit of cajoling, I was up tearing the house down with a Red Hot Chili Peppers tune, followed by a crowd pleasing Bruce Springsteen. It was a blast! I drank too much (but was walking distance to my “hotel”), sang way too badly, and made friends with most everyone in the bar by the time the night was over. Great way to forget about the days horror.

2000 Masters Nationals -

Time Trial –
Wow, it sure is hot here! Well, as they say in this neck of the woods, it’s not the heat it’s the humidity that’ll kill ya! True enough it was in the 90’s with lots of extra water in the air as I rolled out to start my time trial. I could tell straight away that it was going to be a slow day. My legs were heavy straight off the bat and I never got my breathing or pacing to even out. In short it was a 40 minute suffer fest for no real gain. The course itself was very pretty as it rolled along country roads lined with corn and nicely kept farm houses. I don’t recall getting passed, but I don’t recall passing anyone either – a sure sign of a bad day. In the end I had a mediocre race, but I can't find a result or time - probably something around the 1 hour or more mark! Oh well, hopefully it’s a blow out for the other events.

Event notes:
I decided to sleep in the van instead of getting a hotel. This was in part due to financial constraints and also because I like the adventure of it all! The trick to sleeping in your van is to find a nice quite spot that won’t attract any attention, doesn’t have any extraneous lights glaring in at you during the night, and is sufficiently near where you want to be that you don’t have an epic drive the next day. Well it took a day or so to get it all squared away, but let me say that I did find a couple of tasty little spots. Now, it’s best to have at least two places so the local constable isn’t as apt to notice the same car parked in the same place for the thirteenth night (this is particularly true in small town America where the police have lots of free time to investigate such anomolies).

2000 Masters Nationals - Redux

Similar to the last post about my '99 Road Trip, I ran across this set of shorts from 2000 Masters Nationals:

Trip Out – No matter how many times I do it, the process of getting ready to travel to a race is always exciting. As long as there are bags to be packed, bikes to be prepped and a destination I’m a happy camper. I love the anticipation of an upcoming event, the feeling of dedication and commitment that it brings to the fore. As I climb on the plane, water in hand I feel like an athlete. That and I get to skip work and live on “expense” account for a few days! Nothing finer…

The 2000 Masters National Championships were held in Indiana and presented the kind of course that I excel at – FLAT! With only a couple of small hills in the road race, none in the criterium, and some rollers on the time trial course I knew it would be a good event. So as I stepped off the plane I was ready to take on the world. Quick trip to the rental counter to catch the shuttle and pick up the van before the 2 hour drive to Linton. The rental guys were nice enough to pull the back seats so I could drop all my equipment in the van without any trouble. Of course the fact that it would double as my personal hotel room for the better part of a week was also well served by the removal of the seats.

March 22, 2008

'99 Road Trip - Installment #4

Why Colorado Rules! / Location: Durango, CO (yep, still on vacation!)

Personalities: Matt M & Matt M, Steve Wexler, Allison (see above), Lots of Beer!

Steve Wexler used to Own Cambria Bicycle Outfitters. MattMe tells me he was quite an asshole during that time. You’d never know it now though! Steve took us on the single best ride of the vacation, a 21 mile mostly downhill single track epic (and I hesitate to use the word since it’s become cliche) known as ?? Creek. Of course it rained on us so we had to slide and slosh our way down, but even still the trail was great and the traction I got off my WTB NanoRaptor tires was impressive. My brakes and pads even held out for the duration of the ride. Back to SW’s for a shower and a bike wash, then out on the town for a bit of revelry.

The next morning we met up with Allison, whom we’d ridden with in Park City. She and two of her friends took us on a great 4 hour ride that included tons-o-climbing and some great singletrack descending. At the bottom of the decent we had a 5 mile road ride back into town. Geeze, you’d think we had to cross the Sahara to get home judging by the reaction of the crew! Talk about complaining sissies! Allison and I set a good tempo and had fun pacelining back into town while Matt and the other two rode an angry tempo about 200 meters behind us. Fortunately the beer tasted just as good at the car as it did later that night at Steve’s house.

One more day to go in Durango and off again we went on a great ride. Allison took me and one of her friends on a cool little loop that followed a river for awhile then climbed up this steep ridge and dropped in the back side. On the way up the clouds kept getting darker and we knew rain was imminent! At the top of the climb, with tremendous single track beckoning we made the fateful call: “I think the rain is gonna hold off for awhile!” NOT. As soon as we were, literally, 1 minute down the trail the rain poured on us and turned the fun into a slippery effort to stay up and not die. After the initial slippery seciton we hit the mud and all hell stopped, clogged and impeded our progress to no end. If you’ve never carried a mud encrusted full suspension weighing at least 40 pounds up a series of switchback hills, well then you haven’t experienced epic my friends! Many laughs and impromtu bike cleaning later we were again at a descent. This one dropped back to the car and was suprisingly fun given the overall lack of performance of the bikes.

That night MattMe, SW and I headed out for a luxury dinner. Great food, good conversation and a bit of the sour mash was very memorable. The next morning Meier and I headed for California, straight thru,ahhh!

NOTES from the return: OK, matt next trip get the stupid &(*& blasted &(*^ light and dinger fixed BEFORE the trip. We listened to that stupid door adjar tone for at least 3 hours. It would sometimes run in sync with the song on the radio and occasionally you would just eliminate the sound from your mind, but in general it was 3 hours of “ding, ding ding ding ding dign ding ding ding ding ding….Mothertrucker I hate that thing!

'99 Road Trip - Installment #3

Installment #3: Summer In Colorado! / Location: Crested Butte, CO (still on vacation)

Personalities: The Matt & Matt show and an AA Convention!

Report: The drive over Cottonwood pass is spectacular! Topping out over 11,000 feet you get a true feeling of altitude here. The same is true for the climb over Fremont pass from Copper Mountain to Leadville, CO. The majesty of that view is marred by the Climax Molybdenum Mine. Basically in the quest for minerals the miners there have dismantled a 13,000 foot mountain so that only a hollowed out core remains. Sad the travesties we push in the name of power and development.
Ripping along Highway 24 towards Buena Vista you pass the Collegiate Peaks, a series of 14,000 foot mountains that includes Mt. Elbert (highest point in CO), Mt. Princeton, Mt. Massive, Mt Harvard and Mt. Yale. There is a great natural hot springs at the base of Mt Princeton in case your in the neighborhood sometime. In all there are over a dozen Fourteener’s in the region.

Once checked in at the Marriot we took some time to clean up our bikes and clothing which hadn’t been touched since Park City. While looking for the local waterin’ hole we were dismayed to learn that we were sharing the hotel with an Alcoholics Anonymous Convention. Note to self: don’t stay in a hotel with 750 AA’ers, it kills the nightlife!

The next morning we headed out towards the town of Gothic and the legendary 401 trail. The dirt road climb to the top of Schofield Pass (10,707) was pretty easy compared to the climb up Steamboat Mountain. After turning left off the road we encountered a 15 minute hike a bike section that takes you to approximately 11,000 feet. The high alpine fields sported carpets of yellow and red flowers and numerous patches of Columbine, the purple beauty that is the state flower of Colorado. Just as we started the single track traverse to the downhill mother nature offered us her version of a cold shower. Fearless and laughing we rolled on.

As the rain thickened we started the plummet towards town. I’ll never forget the experience of railing down narrow single track high on a mountain in driving rain. The edge of the trail was lined with large yellow sunflowers, each blackened center highlighted by a ring of sunshine and gold. The sunflowers inevitably hung out onto the trail and each time you’d clip one with the edge of your bars or hand a big splash would erupt from the undamaged flora. Snap, snap, snap, explosions erupeted on my right and left. After 10 minutes of clipping flowers my hands were becoming slightly sore, those little buggers are solid! Brake performance was going away fast as we shot through steeply bermed corners, rocketed across small streams and gullies and generally enjoyed ourselves immensely. Of course the really technical parts of the trail were sure to arrive as the brakes completely disappeared. Sliding headlong into a sharp lefty switch back unable to scrub off any speed was hilarious, primarily because the resulting crash was of minimal damage! After a few more off trail excursions and a really big stream crossing we made it down and headed directly to the local bike wash to start the recovery process. Both bikes needed new brake pads and both riders needed baths! After cleaning our bikes and selves we opted to stay in Crested Butte another night. Once again we ate to excess, drank to mild excess and enjoyed the ramblings of a local hippie/mountain biker. He actually knew his stuff pretty well and was fairly entertaining while we stashed Guiness down our throats. If we’d had more time he wanted to show us lots of great local trails but we had fish to fry in Durango

Notes On CB: Rain sucks! Especially at 11,000 feet! The Porn Station at the hotel was exceptionally mediocre given the $8.95 cost! It’s hard to find beer on Mt Crested Butte after 9pm on a Tuesday! Not quite as many cute girls to chat with, but still a great place.

'99 Road Trip - Installment #2

Altitude Burn / Location: Steamboat Springs, CO - Vacation

Personalities: Matt McNamara & Matt Meier

Report: This picturesque town in north central Colorado is one of the finest places on earth for riding. Home to Moots Cycles and the Mercury Tour, as well as a stop on the Colorado Off Road Points Series, Steamboat revels in cycling during the summer. We cruised into the Comfort Inn around 4p on Monday afternoon. After a quick lunch/dinner and some rest we headed out to explore.
Our first ride was at the resort. After climbing up the main trails to the mid mountain chateau we were ready for the downhill push and the cold beer waiting at the bottom. Down magical singletrack that wound through Aspen Groves and across steep ski runs we had a solid 20 minute descent back to the base area. What a great way to blow out the legs after a long 5 hour drive from Utah.
The next morning we got started pretty early (10am – hey it’s vacation!) for the torrid climb to the top of the ski area and the resulting HUGE Downhill! 4,000 feet is a lot of climbing anytime. When your start elevation is 7,000 feet and you’re a seaside dweller from Northern California, it’s even worse! To truly push the envelope Matt Meier lugged his Santa Cruz Super 8 DH bike, all 38 pounds of it, all the way up that hill! He even rode most of it thanks to an added triple chainring and his fierce determination. Way to go Mattie! I was aboard my Ventana Marble Peak FS, which was the perfect bike for the conditions at 26 pounds with 3 inches of travel front and rear. After a bit of a respite and recovery session at the top we headed down Pete’s Wicked Trail. Now I’d been hearing about this trail since a good friend had spent the summer in Steamboat in ’94. Everyone talked about how “epic” it was and what a thrill. Whatever! I didn’t really think it was that good. Granted, I crashed pretty hard about 30 seconds into the descent, but still the trail was unimaginative, not that steep and not really that beautiful (of course this is a relative observation!). Valley View, on the other hand, was everything you’d expect from classic Colorado single track. Easy sweepers followed by unpredictable switch backs made for a truly raucous ride. It keeps you on your toes and rewards that diligence with some great launchers, for those into getting air. All of this occurs in the midst of a thick, tree lined forest that had more shades of green than an envious cyclist looking at Matt’s DH Bike. Once at the bottom we grabbed a quick lunch and headed out for Crested Butte.

'99 Road Trip - 1st Installment

I just dug up a write up I did in '99 for a sweet road trip....
Installment #1: Racing Days / Location: Deer Valley, Utah NCS Event

Personalities: Matt McNamara, Matt Meier, Brad Halcomb, Kenny Burt, Mark Weir, Brian Culp, Marla Streb and Lisa, Tori, and Allison (rad CO MTB chicas we met).

Report: After an arduous 12 hour sprint from the bay area the Matt & Matt show arrived at our plush digs in Park City. Brad, Mark and the rest of the gang had come straight across from Mammoth the week before and secured us penthouse accommodations (two Jacuzzi’s, hot tub, 3rd floor views) right across the street from the venue. We had the perfect vantage point from which to watch the goings on.
An hour after arriving we’re in the back of a box van headed to some unknown destination to go downhilling with Brad Halcomb, Mark Weir, Kenny Burt, Brian Culp and Marla Streb. This killer crew, bedazzled in full DH regalia, took to the upper slopes of Park City with reckless abandon. Unfortunately for the M & M show 12 hours of driving, no food and little sleep added up to numerous over the bar excursions within minutes of the start. Of course trying to keep up with Pro and Semi Pro Downhillers on a 3 inch travel FS-XC bike is hard enough without the other considerations. Back to the condo for some much needed food and rest before I headed out to pre ride the XC course. 19 miles later I drug my tired carcass through the door just in time for a delicious dinner!

Down to the race action. I competed in the Expert 30-34 XC and finished a respectable 29th. I say respectable because I had completely blown my self in June preparing for a couple of triathalons and was basically way overtrained when I arrived at Park City. I’d have to say I rode a good race and pretty much stuck to my plan (ride mellow til the 1 hour point then GO!). I rode a sweet WTB Phoenix Ti hardtail complete with Hayes disc brakes, a SID on the front end and a RS suspension seat post to cool off the rear. The bike was flawless. I will no longer ride anything but disc brakes no mater the weight! Thanks to Brad and Mark from WTB for hooking me up with the sweet ride and the killer tires (WTB Experimental Raptors). The combination was perfect and I passed a ton of people on the downhill section of the course, whee!

Notes on Park City: Toby Henderson is OVER! Lisa, Alison and Tori rule for showing us some good eats and great local single track. Pistol Pete is a riot to hang out with and a truly down to earth guy. Don’t mess with Weir when he’s crashing a lot! Sitting on top of the world watching the activity at the NCS is awesome! The lookie-lou’s were in full swing each day from high atop our perch. There are more hot women in Park City than anywhere else in the world!!! We danced with more great looking gals than you can possibly imagine!