The Boys of Spring

Another beautiful day in Flanders

Another beautiful day in Flanders

Some people call it a Flemish Facial. Others call it Belgian toothpaste. It’s the beginning of spring cycling in Belgium. A perfect day calls for something between drizzle and torrential rain, [wet snow is always an option], mud and secteurs of ancient cobblestones. The season began with the  69th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in the the Belgian province of East Flanders. The 198.4 Km contest was won in the aforementioned soggy conditions.

There’s some history here. These races are woven into their nation’s story. Even in the midst of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Iron Curtain, cycling somehow transcended hardship and war. During the Nazi occupation of Europe there were no Olympic games, but a number of cycling races endured. Where else can such a rich mix of regional and national pride be found? For a few weeks the little country of Belgium becomes the soul of cycling…though Belgian’s would argue that they’re the soul of cycling all year long. Insane crowds stand in the mud to catch a 60 second glimpse as a grimy peloton roars by. The intensity builds as the season moves toward the biggest of the Spring Classics:

badgerThere’s a couple of warm weather stage races in France and Spain – but the true recognized monuments are the one day events that match absolutely wretched conditions to an already demanding course. There’s a good reason why so many great climbers are Belgian. It’s not that the Bergs are so high, but that the cobbles and wind deliver such a flogging, that cyclists from this region learn to cope very well with suffering. This also goes a long way toward supporting my theory that cyclists racing in mud, snow and rain are Minnesotans at heart.

Unless roads are impassable from snow or a mudslide, cycling races don’t get cancelled due to weather. Cold? Put on some knee warmers. Wet? That’s what rain jackets are for. Soldiering on in conditions that scream at us to quit is what makes for a ride to be remembered. It’s why cycling fans discuss the spring classics in hushed tones of reverence.

1977-op-de-koppenbergWe come uncomfortably close to our own mortality in these spectacles of suffering. Rightly understood, they provide perspective. Maybe getting caught in traffic or getting a crappy cup of coffee from sixbucks isn’t the end of the world [?]. The images of hollow-eyed racers coming unhinged on a 21% cobbled climb, digging deep, and chasing back on, have power to inspire. They redirect us to the simple lesson that many valuable things  are found in hard work and sacrifice. Leaving our comfort zone – whether through endurance sports, or by some other means – creates a renewed appreciation for the fundamental good things. It leaves surprising little room for boredom.

So, get out on your bike. Don’t wait for a sunny day. There’s much waiting for us in a so called BAD DAY FOR A BIKE RIDE. Don’t be satisfied by just watching someone else. Go get some grit in your teeth…find your limit, and exorcise your demon of doubt. Sometimes we blow up and limp home, but more often than not we find something special.

It’s worth it.

Here Comes the Sun

sunny-bike-photo-2010It’s 7:46 am. The curtains are open as write with my feet up on the couch. Golden sunlight spills into the room: the neon tetras in the aquarium are tiny swimming jewels. There’s warmth on the back of my neck.

Little darling, it’s been a long, cold lonely winter. Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here. Here comes, the sun.

I got an email this morning: PS-hope you have finally said goodbye to the incredibly severe winter you guys had up there! I didn’t really need a reminder, but to south-landers what we have is something of a novelty. On the phone friends ask me, Hey don’t you guys still have a bunch of snow up there? UP THERE really sums it up.  All I can tell you is that yesterday morning was the first morning above freezing in 5 months.

And I say, it’s all right.

Minnesotans are a hardy folk – I mean the ones up in the North Country. We manage to be mostly happy when we suffer. Suffering is the key to our philosophy about most things. For example, we’re not fancy. Fancy folk live in warm places where they have time to think about other things besides avoiding cold injury. Fancy folk think about malls and eat at bistros - they wear colorful clothing. When I’m dressed in four layers there’s no fashion statement intended…unless our lack of statement is meant to state how we in the North Country do not consort with fancy people or have any truck with fancy ways. Many a well dressed person have been found frozen stiff. Up here we get by, doncha know.

Nevertheless, there’s been joy in Grand Rapids as the sun has returned and the thermometer is nudging 50. Pasty faces emerge into the light of day. Eyes squint as they take in a bright landscape of crusty snow and emerging mud. Flannel shirts are unbuttoned and flapping in the breeze as people enjoy the novelty of a walk. People park at the grocery store and no longer leave their cars running for an hour while shopping. Cheerful waves and driving with the passenger side window cracked. Oh, the glory of it all.

The days are longer, and smiles are returning to our faces – replacing the look of grim determination we’ve become accustomed to these past five months. We are ready for our annual 16 week reprieve from the cold. Oh sure, there’s still 36 inches of ice on the lakes, but this too shall pass. We shall neither cogitate nor ruminate upon winter, for it is now the springtime of the soul in the North.

New Beginnings

It's a good day of early season riding when you can see the pavement

It’s a good day of early season riding when you can see the pavement

I like new beginnings.

Today was my first day on the road. I slid the plastic tote out from underneath my side of the bed this morning – where it has lain next to a tipped over pile of cycling magazines for five months. Inside were my insulated tights, assorted weights of arm and leg warmers, neoprene shoes covers, light and heavy full fingered gloves, and my fleece helmet liner. You might think I was staring at some sacred icon – so moved was I that my early season bike clothes had seen the light of day.

firstday2014I reassembled my road repair kit, first aid essentials, and managed to find enough Hammer Gel to fill half a squeeze bottle. After rubbing a liberal dose of embrocation cream into my legs, I pulled on a pair of knee warmers and then my tights. Call me vain, but I’m not nearly as fat as I was last year, and the struggle to pull on skin tight spandex [ankles to shoulders, mind you]  was over quickly.

Getting out onto the road, I was immediately reminded of what I love and what I don’t. Crossing the median as I leaned into a left turn, I felt the surge beneath me as I put power to the pedals. I settled into a rhythm, relaxed and thought about how much I DON’T  love riding indoors. The bike is so much more alive on the road. Changes in wind, climbing and descending, even traffic bring a world of variation.

Don’t get me wrong, indoor training has massive benefits. I reaped these benefits as I pulled 16 miles into a headwind, mostly up hill. I was pleased to ascend 1000 feet and average 15.8 mph. I spent the second half of the ride in a fast run through rolling hills as I pushed my average toward 18 mph. Though it was 39 degrees, the bright sun made everything pretty comfortable. My nemesis has always been cold toes, even with insulated shoe covers. That’s the glorious difference the sun makes: warm toes.

Tomorrow’s forecasted high is somewhere around 50. Even though this was supposed to be a rest and recovery week, I’m going to ride again. Monday looks like 6-12 inches of heavy snow…my rest will wait until then.

Each year the miles write a new story. I wonder what it will be this year?

 

First Impressions: Pactimo Raptor bib shorts

bikebuttThere are only three points of contact for the human anatomy on a bicycle – and only one that spells the difference between a good day, and a not so good day. Pactimo’s Raptor bib shorts may be the difference between a good day, and a very good day.

Until recently, I’ve been a die-hard Castelli man. After discovering their Free Aero Race bibs I thought my quest for a happy tush had come to an end. Though comfortable, there have been a few durability issues unbecoming of this price point. Most irritating is that the Castelli logos begin to peel off after a few months – leaving an unsightly mottled white circular glue patch that attracts lint and hair. Everyone knows that sharp kit makes you go faster, and this resulted in a speed reduction of 2 Kph. On the more serious side, I’ve also had chamois seams blow out after only 3 months of use. But to give credit where it’s due, Castelli quickly replaced the garment NQA.

Enter Pactimo…a cycling clothing manufacturer based in the Denver metro area that offers both custom and retail lines. After campaigning to be one of their brand ambassadors Pactimo sent me a very generous 30% off coupon: which I used for my 2014 kit purchase.

raptorFIT: Trying on the shorts for the first time I immediately noticed the compression: firm, but not restrictive. The XL size was perfect fit for my 6-4 and 228 lbs.  [I know...10 more pounds to riding weight] The mesh shoulder straps were just long enough, and the garment moved with me as I squatted down and stood up again. Being rather tall, the compromise I’ve had to make for length has often resulted in bagginess around the navel. Not so with the Raptor bibs.

QUALITY: The construction is excellent, with flat seams – clean and precise stitching and finishing inside and out. I was unable to find a single stitch out of place. The fabric feels substantial, heavier than the above mentioned Castelli’s, and leads me to believe that durability won’t be an issue for this season’s scheduled  6000 miles. Will the heavier fabric be an issue in the summer heat? According to Pactimo it shouldn’t be. They claim that their flash technology efficiently pushes heat and moisture away from the skin. The chamois is firmer than most, and is Pactimo’s anatomic endurance model. I suspect that the firmer pad will be more comfortable and supportive over long distances than softer pads. The size of the chamois seemed a little large to me – time will tell if  that’s still noticeable after several rides.

FIRST RIDES: I tried out my new bibs with 10 hours of riding on the indoor trainer. Since there’s not much variation when grinding out the miles indoors, the benefit for this evaluation was spending most of the time in the saddle. The chamois was firm and supportive. Though I ride a medium-firm saddle, I was still quite comfortable at the end of rides exceeding 2 hours…with zero nether region numbness. I also noted that I was dry: validating Pactimo’s hydrophobic fabric tech specs. The higher level compression was noticeable [and MUCH appreciated] when tackling big intervals with short recoveries.

The Pactimo Raptor bibs are a sublimely wonderful piece of gear – especially if you put in long miles. They bring comfort, durability and very cool tech features together in a reasonably priced product. Check them out on the Pactimo website.

Reviewed: Castelli Mortirolo Due Jacket

RED frontRED rear

Castelli’s Mortirolo Due Jacket is designed for riding in the shoulder seasons of fall and spring when the temps are in the mid 40′s to mid 50′s. I’ve found it to be pretty darn ideal for these conditions when worn with a long sleeve base layer.

Out of the box the quality is evident. The stitching is clean, the panels cut precisely and the over-all construction durable. In cool weather cheap zippers and pulls that are too small to grasp with full finger gloves are a hassle. Castelli uses a quality zipper with a grippy pull perfect for grabbing with cold fingers. Other thoughtful features include chest zippers that help with venting and a soft stand-up collar for that part of my neck that gets chilled.

I originally purchased the jacket because cool weather riding in a waterproof shell is an adventure in nasty. Peeling off sweat soaked kit post-ride takes some skill as a contortionist. Castelli eliminates this by using windblock material only on the front of the jacket – leaving the back for venting. The very pleasant result is that your base layer remains dry and comfy while the rest of you stays warm. The fit is what is called race fit in the industry: close and aero with no room for flab.

The only downside is that the jacket is not cut for tall people. I’m 6-4, and though the 2XL fit me in terms of girth, I had to exchange for the 3XL to get the length I need. The jacket sells for as much as $199, but can be found for $150. If that sounds a little steep, consider Castelli quality and customer service. Last year they replaced a 6 month old pair of bibs for me NQA.

review1

TrainerRoad Brand Ambassador

trainerroad-logo@2x

Recently I reviewed the off-the-chart-cool indoor cycling training product offered by TrainerRoad. Well, one thing led to another as they say, and Alex from TrainerRoad dropped me a cordial note offering As The Wheels Turn our first brand ambassadorship. This is a very positive step forward for ATWT in getting my writing to a wider audience. Currently I’m also pursuing brand ambassadorship from Pactimo cycling clothing, Hammer Nutrition [which is in the bag as soon as I sign up for their VIP program], and have a sweet discount on kit and gear offered to Cycling House alums.

And now…DRUM ROLL PLEASE

The historic FIRST FREE OFFER from As the Wheels Turn

Contact me through this blog and I will send you a code for a free one month trial at TrainerRoad. Be sure to include your email address – and I promise I won’t be sharing it with anyone else. Supplies are limited, so act now!

The Good, Bad and the Boring

exhausted-cyclistIt’s come to this.

In an effort to to follow my training plan and teach my body to burn fat over carbs [for obvious reasons], I have one ride each week that exceeds 2 hours.

Normally a 2 hour bike ride would elicit some degree of excitement – and in this case, it kinda does…well, sort of. It’s an indoor ride. You know, the kind where you pedal hard and go no where. Its a ride where the GPS says you’ve climbed 37 feet over the course of 34 miles, but you know it’s some artifact in the data probably caused by solar flares. You didn’t just climb 1.088 feet per mile.

Not that it matters a whole lot.

It was 11 degrees today, and the roads are still snow-packed. This may sound like one of my yearly I’M GETTING SICK OF WINTER rants. I assure you that I’m standing strong in spite of 8 weeks in the grip of a polar vortex. Though I must mention that  one of my friends just got back from a week of cycling in Tucson. Even though they got sun tans and rode across breathtakingly beautiful desert vistas, I don’t resent them that much. [DARN THEIR BLACK SOULS] I won’t be getting melanoma riding in the basement. That much I know.

theuglyStill, there’s a lot about indoor riding that’s compelling. For one, I was able to watch the Olympics and make phone calls while riding with…get this…NO HANDS. Outside I can peel a banana and pedal sans hands – but no further multitasking is possible, or advisable. Another perk of cellar cycling is that you can most always have a fresh cup of ice water with a twist of lime. When running low, all it takes is a quick phone call upstairs. I can usually talk my daughter into stopping what she’s doing to make a delivery. And lest I forget, when it’s cloudy outside and I’m left with our marginal indoor lighting, the night-time feature is activated on my bike computer. It glows white on black. Quite fetching.

33.46 miles at 17.4 mph,  37 feet climbed with an average HR of 121.