It’s not About the Bike or the Clothes, but it Is

A couple of weeks ago, I forgot to pack my jersey. Bibs, yes. Helmet, yes. Gloves, yes. But there I was in my office with no jersey and not enough time to ride home and get one before I had to meet folks for a quick after school/work ride. And then I remembered the bag full of old jerseys, bibs, etc. I keep in my office for college kids who don’t have any and who want to try cycling.

Rifling through the bag, I ended up with an old Pearl Izumi jersey from the late 90s. Visually it’s pretty similar to the Quest with the white epaulet type things with the PI logo. It’s blue. Kind of Sky blue before the was Sky. Maybe it’s digital blue. Whatever it is, the girlfriend likes it after she overcame her suspicion of its origins. It was a fairly high end jersey from the late 90s, but wow how times have changed.

Forgot a 3/4 zipper, this thing has a 1/4 zipper, which may have been fine back in Ohio, but 1/4 zipper ain’t cutting it in south Louisiana. And that’s just the start of it.

I’ve spent the last few years riding fairly high end kit–mostly by Hincapie, Biemme, Girodana, and Garneau. Ok, so not Assos. And not top, top of the line but good race kit level stuff. After a few miles in a heavy, scratchy, and meh fitting jersey from the 90s, I realized how much I’ve been taking my good kit for granted. How much, in not having to pay attention to my kit, how it basically disappears, good equipment makes the ride better. Makes the experience better. I was reminded of this yesterday in a different way as I sat on the wheel of someone with skipping gears and alongside someone with a creaky bottom bracket. Bad equipment gets in the way of Flow. Just like riding with faster or better handling cyclists make you better, good equipment makes the experience better (and yeah I’ve had horrible days wearing my best kit).

When I bought the PI jersey in the months before leaving the bike shop for grad school, and in the years of grad school wearing it, I never noticed its shortcomings. It was one of my favorite jerseys. But now, despite the girlfriend having washed it and hung it with care–saying again how much she likes it, the chances of it getting worn again are slim. The hems of the sleeves are tight but not tight enough: they don’t move with me. Instead I move around them. The fabric is rough (this might be from all the washings). The already mentioned zipper. And then it just didn’t feel like it breathed very well. It was there and in a bad way.

I wasn’t any slower with the old jersey, but the experience of the ride wasn’t quite the same. There were other reasons why the ride didn’t reach Flow state, but the jersey was part of it.

So yeah, it’s not about the bike, until it is. And I’ll keep shopping for my off the bike clothes at the thrift store so I can ride in a nice kit.

–VagabondCyclist

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Rituals, Habits, & Routines

Some like Padraig at Red Kite Prayer call them rituals, some call them habits, and others call them routines. If you’ve ridden bikes for any length of time, you’ve got ’em. It doesn’t matter if you’re mostly a commuter, a racer, a club rider, or some combination of all of the above, but you’ve got rituals, habits, and routines. Maybe you call what you do a habit. Or a routine. Or a ritual.Or you reserve ritual for certain types of rides. It doesn’t matter what you call ’em, you have them if you ride a bike.

Padraig’s post got me thinking about rituals, about habits, and about history. Mostly about how our rituals, habits, or routines define us, create our histories. And how our rituals, habits, and routines are the result of our histories.

For some, rituals are about time. For others rituals are about places. And for others still, rituals are about people. I’m not much of time person. Sometimes, I think cycling is ruined by early mornings (and since I live in south Louisiana where riding at the crack of dawn is a must in the summer, it can be hard for me to enjoy cycling in the summer). What that means is for me, rituals are about places and people. Mostly about places, because people change. They move away. They grow as cyclists and sometimes you and person who you’ve established a ritual grow differently. Sure places change, but not as much or perhaps they change at a different pace.

Laurel Valley Road is one of my rituals. It started as a gravel road. Then the parish paved it. It runs through sugar cane fields and then briefly through some woods/swamp. In the winter and early summer it’s flat and open to the wind. In the late summer and early fall it’s a tunnel of cane and sometimes reminds me of riding through the corn fields of Ohio. Even when the cane is high, LVR is a wind fest. In the summer, there’s a tail wind on the way out and head wind on the way in. Or there’s a nasty cross cabins3wind on both legs. In the winter, it’s reversed. Unless it isn’t. And since we’re so close to the Gulf of Mexico, the wind will switch and be in your face on both legs.

LVR is flat. Dead flat. Ok, there are a few little burps, but they are microscopic and really only become apparent after you’ve put a few thousand miles on the road. It’s an easy road, but then it isn’t. The wind can kill you. The two 90 degree turns–one just past the slave cabins and one in the swamp can challenge you, especially when you’re in a pace line.

LVR is smooth new pavement, but it’s slowly changing. It’s a good cut through road for some folks and in the late fall it sees heavy truck traffic–cane trucks full of sugar cane. But it’s still smooth. One of my rituals is watching the road change. The last time I rode it with one of my collegiate cyclists and an alumni supporter, I had the presence of mind to really notice the road–Padraig’s first ritual post fresh in my mind. I spent most of the ride in front or I was on Vance’s wheel. He’s steady. We weren’t pushing the pace. That gave me the chance to be mindful of how the road moves. How I know how to find the nice line through the cabin curve. The line that lets me miss the gravel. The line that lets me rest for a few seconds.

After the cabin curve, I pulled off the front at just at the same point that Jonathan, the kid (no longer a kid) who started the collegiate club with mecabins4 always would. Sitting in, I noticed how the small line caused by someone dragging a trailer chain is getting wider. More pronounced. I remembered the Saturday I first noticed it–the late 90s Nissan pickup truck passing us and hearing the tink tink of its trailer chain hitting the still new pavement. Now two years latter the small divots are a nice scribe line. When it happened, I pictured how one person’s inattention would slowly destroy the road. It hasn’t yet, but I can see the day when there’s a series nice cracks running just to the left of the fog line. I’m not annoyed (ok, just a little), but aware.

As we slipped towards the woods near the end of the cane fields, I thought of the road kill we were seeing and thought back back to the day years ago we saw families of raccoons running across the road. And then how over curvethe next week we saw lots of dead raccoons on the road. The newly paved road and its traffic impacted what was clearly a migration route for small mammals. And then I thought of the series of winter mornings I saw two bald eagles fighting in the sky, then hunting and feeding in the newly harvested cane fields, and finally mating. Perhaps one of the males had run off the other to claim the hunting grounds and a mate.

LVR is just a road, but for me it’s a ritual. When I ride it, I notice the slow changes of the seasons and the slow changes wrought by time on the road, the cane fields, the old slave cabins, and the woods. I also think of the people I’ve ridden with and come to know without talking a lot. The quiet hours Jonathan and I spent on it when he was still in college. The hours we spent with KitKat as she grew from a just fast to an eye watering fast collegiate racer. Or the hours I spent riding with Allan, or Jose, or whatever the hell his name is talking about bikes, cycling, his plans to be an archaeologist, then a public historian, and how about how passionate he’s about life that even his faux hipster attitude can’t hide it. Or the hours Michael and I spent riding and talking about literature, poetry, and life as he grew from a squirrely hot mess of a rider to fast, smooth monster. And the hours I’ve spent riding with Jonathan’s dad, Joey, being pushed again and again by his competitiveness. I think of all I’ve taught and learned about cycling and life on LVR. For me, it’s a ritual. It’s a place I go to think. To learn. To challenge myself. And to grow. And to be.

–Vagabondcyclist

 

 

BMC Teammachine ALR01 Review

  • A quick, stiff, and well mannered bike
  • Not too innovative in a good way
  • Does just about everything a good road bike should
  • Good bike for fast club rides, getting started in racing, or bad weather bike
  • A little buzzy

Earlier this summer, I had the chance to test ride a BMC Teammachine ALR01. Or what is kind of an ALR01. It’s an ALR01 frameset BMC sends to dealers for test rides and built up with a mix of Shimano Ultegra, an FSA K ForceLight crank, Vittoria Elusion Nero wheels and Rubino Pro Endurance tires, a Syncros RR1.0 Carbon Aero 420 Bar/Stem, and some kind of Syncros saddle the less said about the better. Rod from BG Bicycles of Houma, LA built the bike up with his usual eclectic and smart mix of parts. (Disclosure, BG Bicycles sponsors the team I race for and is a sponsor of the collegiate club I advise.)

BMC Teammachine ALR01

Overall, it is a very nice package despite my struggles with the mechanical Ultegra after spending a year and half riding Ultegra Di2. There’s not a lot of innovative stuff going on here other and for a lot of folks that’s a good thing. Sure there’s a pressfit bottom bracket and tapered head tube, but other than that, BMC has stayed away from some of the current bicycle industry fads. Tubes are shaped and butted, but they aren’t aero. There’s no pivots or elastomers or any other new fangled stuff. Just “smart welded” aluminum tubes and well-thought out geometry.

The matte black, yellow, and white color scheme is fetching (though not available for purchase). The performance of the frame matches its looks. If I had to describe the ALR01 in one word it would be monolithic. That’s not a bad thing. The ALR01 does one thing and it does it very, very well. It’s a fast bike. It wants to dive into corners in a very controlled way. It reacts to rider input. It’s stiff (and here the Syncros RR1.0 Bar/Stem combo didn’t soften things up at all) and precise. A quick shift of your hips or arms and the bike reacts. And it reacts when you push on the pedals. It is a bike that lacks subtlety. It goes. And you feel it–both in good and not so good ways. 

I spent two days on the fairly good roads and compared to my 2014 Fuji Altamira with a Zipp SLC2 bar, I felt a bit more road buzz on the ALR01 than I’d have liked. Maybe with more supple tires and more forgiving handlebar or stem, the road buzz wouldn’t be so noticeable (at the time I was riding a set of Vittoria Corsa G+ clinchers on Zipp 303 wheels on my Altamira). But the ALR01 gets down the road quickly and even though it’s not billed as a full out race bike (it has a higher head tube then the carbon SLR versions), it turned faster than my Altamira and seemed to want to react to steering inputs of all kinds in a fast though not twitchy way. It is a lot of fun to ride. I never felt like I had to watch the ALR01.

Now on to the quickness part. Maybe it was because I wanted to get off the saddle (I really should have swapped out my regular one), but I came within a second or two of beating my personal best time on Strava segment without really trying. The ALR01 is stiff and seems to transmit power very efficiently.

Beyond the Frame

The Vittoria Elusion Nero wheels are equally nice and stiff. As expected for wheels with ceramic coated brake tracks, they offer great braking, though I didn’t ride in the wet or down any hills (it’s really, really flat in south Louisiana). In terms of durability, they seem stout, though a guy I ride with had the rear hub on his set break after about 2,000 miles. Vittoria was good and sent him a full set without seeing the broken pair. They said it was only second failure they’ve had.

BMC ALR01
BMC ALR01

The Syncros RR1.0 Bar/Stem combo is a nice bit. It’s stiff and the drops have a nice radius. I wasn’t crazy about the tops. The edge facing the rider have a bit of angled rectangular edge to them that didn’t get along with my hands. Others may like them though. They seemed to offer good stiffness and may have contributed to the quick and precise handling of the ALR01.

Overall

If you’re looking for a fun bike or even an inexpensive crit bike, the BMC Teammachine ALR01 will suit you. If you’re looking for bike for leisurely fondo type riding, look elsewhere. For spirited club rides, crits, and road racing, or even as a winter/rain bike, it’s a great choice.

You can get a BMC Teammachine ALR01 built with Ultegra, 105, Tiagra, or Sora. All of them use the same frame and SLR 03 full carbon fork and basic cockpit.

–VagabondCyclist

 

 

Breathe. Recover. Drink.

I’ve had a tough summer on the bike. I’d like to say it was the extreme south Louisiana heat (July was the second hottest on record), but really it was the old combination of not riding enough, not doing enough of the right kinds of riding, not eating right, and lack of confidence.

Last week I was on an easy ride with some hammers. I was doing ok until I wasn’t, which has been the story all summer. I hit my limit and just collapsed–off the back and left to finish the last 10 miles at 16 mph with short bursts of something resembling a respectable speed. While I was feeling good I had some time to think. I had just tucked back in line after taking a pull, which had followed a bit too soon after chasing  the lead two riders out of corner.

As  sat in, I patted myself on the back for not blowing up on the front and told myself to recover and relax. I reminded myself to breathe. After a few good deep breaths while telling myself to breathe, I told myself to recover and then reminded myself to drink. These three words–Breathe, recover, and drink became my mantra for the rest of the ride. As the pace slowly picked up on the way to the turn around, I kept telling myself, breathe, recover, and drink. It worked more or less until I did a stupid thing and rolled up to the front when Keith, the college kid I’m trying to teach how to race bikes, didn’t quite keep the pace when Jonathan, the college kid I did teach how to race, picked up the pace in the last 500 meters. Despite being within sight of the turn around, I was stupid and rolled up to the front and spiked my heart rate. It wasn’t a fatal mistake, but given the heat and the quick turn around, that stupid move set me up for getting dropped 8 or so miles down the road.

As we headed back, the pace picked up. The easy ride wasn’t quite as easy. Sure no one was attacking and the pace increase was done slowly, but I was starting to feel the pace. All the way to the turn onto Sanchez, I keep telling myself, breathe. Stay on Clark’s wheel, just a bit more until the turn, and a bunch of other positive bullshit. It worked sorta. And then once we made the turn, I forgot about breathe, recover, drink. Sure I slowed and tried to recover and I did drink as we waiting to make sure everyone made the turn–there was a bit of traffic, I didn’t really believe it. I drank, but didn’t recover. Instead I focused on how I knew if Clark kept the pace, I’d be cooked. Instead of picturing the blinking stop head sign that signals the end of the ride, I started picturing the turn off of Sanchez. Or the convenience store just past there. Telling myself not breathe, recover, drink, but just make it to the turn. Just make it Mike’s. And off course that’s what I did. I made it to the turn off of Sanchez and pulled out from behind Clark. Instead of breathing, recovering, and drinking, I let the line of eight hammers roll past me. I didn’t even try to get back in line.

And then I pedaled back at 15 and then 16 mph. And then as I was coming out of the Cabin Curve I saw Joey’s blinking headlight. I got in my drops and picked up the pace. And then there was Clark making a uturn. I got on his wheel. We rolled to the blinking stop head sign at 20 mph.

And then I got home and did the Strava upload. And yeah. I was bit gassed on Sanchez. But not that gassed. I could have recovered. Clark would have dropped the pace back to what we said we were going to do as we rolled out of the parking lot. But instead, I gave up.

Breathe. Recover. Drink.

 

–VagabondCyclist