Monday, November 23, 2009

mercer cup (cont.)

A couple of great shots from an otherwise bad day:

I like that first one a lot. (Click on it to make it big.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

apparently I now post in response to comments

An anonymous "Chuck" commented last night on my competition post. It's difficult to tell if his question is serious or if I'm being goaded. Here's the comment:

Hey Goat--

As a amateur cyclist I heard from my competitors that it may help to shave your legs. I know this may sound stupid, but my hair gets tangled at times when I am riding.

Looking at your legs they seem shaven in the pictures, just wondering if this increases your speed or what the purpose is?



It's a little suspicious... I'm thinking "Chuck" isn't really a cyclist at all (probably one of my students, actually, in which case he--or more likely they--will probably be disappointed with what follows), but I'll peck out a quick response anyway. It's good to have these sorts of things on the record.


There are about a bazillion discussions on leg-shaving available through the pipes (here's one, two), but from my perspective there are four main reasons, one of which is the most critical (I'll let you guess which one).

(1) You shave because you wreck...and you don't want to deal with hair on your legs when you're dealing with wound care.

(2) The stuff you put on your legs--like sunscreen, anti-itch cream (a big deal for me during pollen season), and, especially critical during the cx season, embrocation--all goes on and comes off much easier with shaved legs. And a massage, even if it's a simple self-massage, is easier and more pleasant (no hair-pulling) without the shrubbery.

(3) You feel like a cyclist with smooth legs. They just look better...and there's something to say for that tiny bit of vanity-induced motivation to push just a little harder in that ITT or climbing that hill that you get when you look down at your ripped pedal mashers.

(4) Finally, the social consequences (in the pelaton) of not shaving your legs. Leg-shaving signals commitment and competence. Well, I suppose it's the opposite that is more true: hairy legs signal incompetence and a lack of commitment. Let me explain.

Riding with a big group of cyclists on the road is a potentially dangerous activity. It certainly doesn't have to be, if folks are properly instructed and have some experience, but it also can be. And you learn, when riding with others, the nuances of your compatriots' riding styles. You learn who knows to soft-pedal through braking, who can hold a line through a turn, who is conscious of others' proximity...and those who ride seemingly oblivious to the fact that others' safety is dependent on their behavior. After riding with folks for a while you can predict their movements, almost subconsciously, in a way that makes riding with them safe and safe and natural as a stroll through the park, even if bumping handlebars during a spirited conversation.

However, when riding with people you don't know, you have to make judgments regarding skill and competence, judgments your personal safety depends on, and you have to do this with very little information. You rely on tells--subtle signals like the angle of a stem, the quality of socks, and a host of other hard-to-articulate signs that telegraph skill and experience.

If we model pack-riding as a multi-round, multi-party prisoner's dilemma, the Nash equilibrium is either everybody stays up (a feat that often seems nothing short of miraculous, yet, empirically is undeniable) or everybody goes down (the perception of mountain bikers and tri-geeks who are afraid to do group road rides). And as any of my students should know, in order to maximize utility in a prisoner's dilemma it is critical to signal (early and often) not only your cooperative intentions, but your capacity to engage in relevant cooperative behavior (in this case, pack-riding skill).

Leg-shaving is one way to do so. Or, more properly stated, not shaving one's legs is a powerful signal of an inability to cooperate.

I couldn't always articulate it as I have above, but I remember learning very early on (I started riding competitively at 14) that if a newcomer shows up to a group ride with hairy legs (or tri-bars) to give them w i d e birth, and whenever possible to stay in front of them (which, generally, wasn't difficult, because these same folks usually didn't know what they were getting into on a fast group ride, and were often quickly left on their own).

And so there you have it. The social functionality of leg-shaving: The real reason amateur cyclists shave their legs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

a thought or two on competition

In response to my brother's comment on a past post...

Well, who's to say what society values, but I can say with some confidence that I place value on competition...or I wouldn't be going to the races...

I've gone round and round on the 'why I compete' question. Is it about being better than others? Is it just a way of gauging personal growth? Maybe both. But clearly I also just enjoy it.

What can I say, I'm just a big kid... Bike racing is a game. Games are fun. And while simply playing the game is a good time, winning the game is better.


My disappointment at Fair Hill has to do with losing, of course, but also with losing by so little a margin. Having victory right there and not quite being able to pull it off.

There are financial and vanity issues associated with the loss as well. Had I finished in the top three I would have taken home a bag full of goodies. And had my picture taken on the podium. I admit, albeit sheepishly, that I value these things.

And there are other considerations. There are upgrade points (forth place w/ 25-49 competitors earns me two upgrade points, whereas first would have garnered five). There are series points (which would affect my call-up position if I were to race any more MAC races this year or the first of the series next year). And there's the ribbing I suffered from Moats for getting beat by someone he handily dispatched the week before.



There's a more serious response to this question as well. Thanks to Eric Liddell, I think I can come close to articulating it.

Eric, whose story is dramatized in Chariots of Fire, misses a church service because of his training. His sister gets upset about it, but Eric explains to her, "I believe that God made me for a purpose ... [the missionary work he'll later do in China, which his sister thinks very important], but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure."

I'm not sure that there's a better justification for sport than that.

Sport is the acknowledgment of human potential. It's the recognition that our bodies are good for more than carrying our heads around. I feel good when I ride. I feel good when I ride fast. And though there is an emptiness to competing just to prove yourself better than others, there's an unexplainable but undeniably righteous joy in being best. It's as if all creation rejoices with you in achieving that end for which you came to be.

You don't have to believe in God to find that religiously poignant. You just have to believe in sport.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

my (bike's) 10 seconds of fame: Mercer Cup

The day belonged to this dude...

...and this gal...

...while I didn't make it two complete laps before this:

Consolation prize? My bike featured in a VeloNews photo gallery:


It was a tough day to be an amateur cyclocross racer without a pit bike or crew. Most of the pros were making bike changes every half lap. I made it nearly two laps (yes...only! two laps) and then this--one cleanly sheared derailleur hanger. (I wasn't the only one, btw. Kabush had to run half a lap and consequently lost any chance at the podium due to an identical problem. And there were others...)

The crew from Specialized was there with their team and demo bikes, which was cool, but they didn't have any hangers. The SRAM support dudes were there, but they didn't have a hanger that fit (but, to their credit, they tried for a good 15 minutes to find something that would work), and Knapp's (sp?) Cycling was there (one of the title sponsors)...well, they were supposed to be there, but it turns out they weren't anywhere to be found--at least in a capacity to do anything about my mechanical.

So that was that.


Reuben had an MRI in Philly on Friday so we decided to head to the coast and make a weekend of it. Coincidentally, the US Grand Prix of Cyclocross was making a stop in Jersey the same weekend. How lucky. But less than two laps around the stickiest, muddiest course I've ever ridden and that was it for the racing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

fair hill

A couple of pics from Fair Hill last Saturday:

(I'm kind of hiding back there to the left, between the heads
of the dude in yellow and the Guy's Racing dude in green.)

(Another barrier shot... Why do photographers think barrier shots are so cool?)


A really nice day at the races last Saturday. It was a beautiful morning, a great course, and I was in a sunny mood to match the weather.

But the race could have gone better than it did. (I suppose it also could have gone much worse.)

After a season of really pretty good starts I really blew this one. I overestimated the size of the gear I'd want to be in and lost a lot of ground, from an already mid-pack start position, right from the gun. Forty-four riders started, and into the first turn I was sitting 30th or worse. Arrgh.

But the course suited me--lots of power sections, plenty of room to pass--and I rode the long sand pit section surprisingly well, generally gaining ground on those around me through it. So halfway through the race I had made my way up and was riding somewhere around 5th or 6th place.

I also had the first set of barriers pinned. Most rode the final 180 prior to the barriers. I dismounted before the final turn and came out of the barriers about 10 feet up on whomever I was riding with at the time.

Well, somewhere in there I got passed by a few folks (one had the audacity to ask if I was a lapped rider...yes, I was insulted) and I was sitting seventh going into the final lap. But I found my second wind and on a longish uphill section I put in a beautiful effort, coming around three riders (including the jerk who thought I'd been lapped) even though they were each spaced about 20 feet apart from one another.

That last lap I really felt great--shifting up and out of the saddle on all the straightaways--and by the second barriers I was just seconds behind the second and third place riders. But I couldn't catch them. I crossed the line fist-pumping in frustration at having been so close, but not being able to close the deal. (One spot off the podium...again!) I finished two seconds down on third, four seconds down on second, and only 18 seconds down on first.

The moral of this story (as it almost always is): ya gotta nail the start. Had I hit that first corner in the top 10 I'm confident I would have won the race. Eighteen seconds? That's next to nothing given the time and effort it takes to pass 3/4 the field during a 45 minute event.

Oh well. Disappointment may be why I keep racing...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

cell phone companies: the new corporate evil

I can't remember if I've blogged on this before, but cell phone companies are really starting to chap my hide. And it's all David Pogue's fault (well, not all his fault...I've also way too much experience arguing with impotent customer service reps over billing errors and other service problems).

And now this.

People tell me all the time that they're waiting for the iPhone to be offered through Verizon before making the leap. Think again. At least AT&T has agreed to do something about the 15-second voice mail scam. At least. (Though I've had my share of negative experiences with AT&T billing and customer service.)

I really hate these companies. And I hate that I hate them, because all that negative energy...well, it takes a toll. But you know that there are real people behind all these decisions, people with kids and dogs who are sitting around a conference table discussing these scams. And they likely have convinced themselves that they aren't bastards for running them. But they're wrong. They are bastards. Unethical, disingenuous, and unkind.

And the thing that probably drives me the craziest about these folks is that I have no access. I know they're there, but I don't know where there is. I can call and complain until my voice is horse and I wear out the phone line, but there are miles of bureaucratic morass between the people who I can access and the people making decisions. And that really bothers me. It's a reminder of my own impotent role in this play, and there's no feeling quite like that of being so poignantly aware of your own powerlessness.

I imagine that this is the kind of thing that practicing yoga would be good for...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

health care (overdrive)

About a year ago I wrote about this woman, who I at the time described as mildly insane. She's in the news again...

...stirring up others who, at worst, may also be delusional, but, more charitably, are probably better described as naive or uninformed. You can read about it in The Times here.

My favorite bit:

"Ms. Garloch, like many in the crowd who while visibly angry, could not articulate the main problems in the health care system or how they should be solved."

And that really about sums it up, doesn't it? A lot of people mad about...well, mad, but they can't say really what about.


"Mr. Hershberger, like many of the demonstrators, repeated some of the most common conservative and Republican talking points heard repeatedly on Fox News. 'It’s not bipartisan,' he said, standing outside the Capitol wearing a Texas Longhorns baseball cap. 'They are doing it behind closed doors.' He added: 'It’s going to drive us into a super-deficit.'"

Ah... Now I understand a little better. They're mad because someone else was mad. Or mad because they were told they should be mad.

"Asked what he thought about the three-month effort by Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, work with Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee to draft a bipartisan bill, Mr. Hershberger dismissed it, saying the resulting legislation proved the process had failed. 'It doesn’t reflect what we want,' he said."


With a crowd like that (angry, active, committed, non-thinking folks), there's no wonder Michele Bachmann's at the podium. These are her people!