My name is Jason and this blog is about bikes and biking, plain and simple. I don't claim to be a gear head, a former pro, a hipster or an afficionado. I just like to ride my bicycle.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lookout...the end

On the 12th day of Lookout, the mountain sent to me: 12 days of climbing...

Today actually summarized my entire Lookout climbing escapade over the past two weeks. I woke up this morning and it was snowing. Later the snow turned to rain. Then by the time I headed home to face the dreaded mountain for the last time it was sunny and pleasant. Once I started riding pleasant turned quickly to windy and cold. It was like reliving the past 12 days all at least meteorologically speaking.

I'm not sure what exactly was gained by riding Lookout Mountain 12 days in a row. I certainly don't know if I'm any more or less prepared for Saturday's race than before I started. I'm sure I am... However at this point I feel strangely like I'm back in school...feverishly studying for a test, living solely off of orange soda, Doritos and Pez; its 2:24am and I've hit that point where you realize nothing more will go into your brain. I've done all the climb-cramming my legs will hold without crossing the line into severe overtraining. I'm definitely over trained...just not severely so quite yet. With the jury still out on the effectiveness of last minute hyper training, I can say that I've enjoyed the experience regardless of my fate on Saturday. My mental block on training seems to have dissipated. Having a goal helped me focus enough to start riding with more regularity and push my fitness levels more than when I was just piddling around avoiding the subject. I worked through some of my descending issues, and at least now on Lookout I feel like I'm close to descending and cornering with the same level of confidence I had last year.

I think I also realized some things about my riding. I certainly enjoy my opportunities to ride to work each day, but beyond that I enjoy being out on my bike (especially when its not taking me to work.) At some point, even during the crappiest of riding days there's always that moment where you feel like a kid again. When your bike was your passport to new places and adventure. You could get on your bike and take off on your own for a while, cruise down hills, pedal hard and never know quite where you'd end up. While I knew at least for the past two weeks that I'd generally end up at Lookout at some point, there was always that moment: I'd feel gravity sweep my bike and pull it through a turn; I'd experience that first push of tail wind driving me faster; that instant where the sun pulls from behind a cloud and returns warmth to cold extremities. Damn, cycling is fun...even after 12 days of climbing its still fun.

So after a nice soak in the tub with some Epsom salts and after a bit of work on the legs with the recovery stick, I should feel right as rain again. And there's no climbing tomorrow so that will be a relief.  To sum up the nuts and bolts of my experience here's some Lookout Stats:

Days of Climbing: 12
Trips Up and Down the Mountain: 14
Miles of Lookout Climbing: 63
Miles of Lookout Descending: 63  (I know that's some pretty hard math)
Total Miles on Lookout: 126
Total Miles To and From, Up and Down etc:  314
Miles of cheating due to driving out one rainy day in the Vanagon: 16

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lookout You Just Got Served

One thing I’ve come to truly appreciate after my 11th day of riding Lookout is this: people on bikes love to race. Sure not everyone on a bike wants to race or likes the idea of racing. But when standing around the parking lot at the base of Lookout (as I did yesterday for a while) one picks up on some interesting conversations. People get keyed up to ride their bikes and everyone deep down wants to feel like a superstar. And so yes, while it may seem surprising, the mid 40’s woman replete with jacket tied around waist, riding the hybrid comfort bike is also very interested in her finish her and place within the pecking order of the band of cyclist comrades she will accompany up the hill. Other riders just wear their race-obsession on their sleeves for everyone to see.

This is particularly apparent with the 20-30 something male, out to somehow prove how exceptionally strong he is against everyone else on the hill. And if you happen to be wearing a team kit of some kind, you might as well have a target on your back. You are the yardstick that this ambitious foe would love to measure himself against. I’ve seen dozens of these Tuesday night racers on my rides up Lookout over the past week. Lookout on a good day is crawling with these hammer heads. And yet while there’s some great competition to be had on Lookout, one must be careful not to bite off more than they can chew. Here are two examples:

On Sunday while cruising out to Lookout I came across some 20 something guy on a Specialized, rocking his Assos or Castelli (I don’t recall) jersey and shorts just like the guy in the advertisement. He was moving well enough. I came around him on one of the hills heading into Golden, said my hellos and spun onward. Hitting the second light at Washington and 13th in Golden my new friend pulled right up behind me in a huff. The light turned and he was a mess of hasty clipping and shifting: I suppose I’d been served. We didn’t take the same route up through the School of Mines but as luck would have it I encountered him again at the light crossing to begin the climb up to the infamous Lookout pillars. Now, for as tough as Lookout is on its own, the climb up to the actual parking area, while short, is equally tough: straight up a steep grade. My new race buddy had something to show and took off, leaving the collection of riders also waiting at the light in the dust. He probably toasted himself on this initial hill…but that’s jumping ahead a bit.

My goal for the day was to put in a sustained, consistent effort up Lookout pushing a big gear and then spin my way up around Boettcher to recover before heading out to 40 and down to other locales for more climbing. I had this plan before I finished my pancakes at breakfast. I wanted to put in some miles and get a hill workout in, so that’s what I settled on for the day. Nearing the pillars the grade eases. I shifted into my big ring and started grinding onward. A little sustained power, big gear equals adequate speed.  Lo and behold a quarter mile up the road I came across my friend, weaving and passing riders, flailing his knees and putting the hammer down on those unsuspecting, weak bastards. As I neared him I simply slid over to the middle of the road and passed. From behind I could hear a flurry of shifting and heavy breathing. This persisted until the mile and a half point where it became eerily quiet. That was the last I heard from my friend.

My second story also starts on the way out to Lookout. It was Monday and I was again rolling out getting the legs going. After I got past the I-70 bridge I heard the sound of a rider behind me. He made some indication that he wasn’t coming around and sat in for the ride. As the road widened he pulled around and starting chatting. He road comfortably, strongly and was barely breathing hard. He wore a local team kit and was riding an old Independent frame. He pulled back in behind me as traffic demanded and when the lane freed he came around and resumed conversation. I did most of the pulling for the way out and heading up the long gradual hills outside of Golden still had the rider on my wheel, occasionally pulling even to talk a bit. The interesting tidbit about this guy is that he couldn’t shift into his big ring. Something broke on his derailleur while out and he was left with his 9 gears and small tooth chain ring. So while I hammered my 53 he spun his small ring, and kept pace enough to shoot the shit all the while. When we pulled up to the light and parted ways, he said that I about gassed him there on the descent past Coors. Gassed or not, he hung in and kept with me. I was more than impressed.

The moral of these stories is that as much as cyclists want to get out on the road and smoke other riders around them, believe me I was one of these guys not too long ago so I know how this works, you never know who you may or may not be smoking. Especially in Colorado where the field of cycling talent is quite deep, you never know who might be waiting to serve you some humble pie in return for your hubris. Colorado boasts literally dozens of local race teams with rosters of strong talent. We also play host to many pros who like to train here at altitude. And you never know if the unmarked rider pulling up next to you is a former 3 time Iron Man or former Junior World Champion. So while it is great to race and get all geeked up on how many people you passed on the road, before jumping in to wage battle sometimes it is better to get a feel for what your competition is really all about. Coming up on some rider, team kit or not, you don’t know if they’re on a recovery spin, if they’re doing intervals, if they’ve been riding Lookout for 25 days, if they’re ramping up for a big stage race, if they’re hopped up on EPO. You just never know, that is unless you ask. “Where you heading?” “How far you going?” “Mind if I sit in or trade pulls?” Any of these simple questions can help create a sense of mutual acquaintance and set the stage for some fun at a later point. On the other hand, if you pass someone going up Lookout and think you’re a hard ass, you might be severely disappointed to know that they’re also riding another 75 miles or they plan to do Lookout 4 more times...whereas you only have the cajones to do it once.

I suppose my point is, if you really want to race then go out to the ACA site and pick a race and actually race. Or go join a group ride and get to know riders who have similar abilities or interests as you. There are entire group rides for guys who want to race but don‘t want to pay to race. They talk shit, they sprint, they crash its all fantastic and totally free. Or, for the non-joiner then at least strike up a conversation with your fellow rider and see where it gets you. Don't hop on people's wheels and flail away because to you that is some form of competition and you just might 'beat them.' Its one thing to find a rider and have them push you to work harder and get stronger, its another thing entirely to notch your belt by wheelsucking on some team rider, picking off old men and schooling people on hybrids: what fun is that really? Then again, I know some guys in their 50’s who run sub 4 hour marathons and know their way around a bike…they also like to lie in wait for younger guys to try and pass them. Or in the classy dialog penned by one Quentin Tarantino, “The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps.”  Well I guess pride might help get you served!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lookout Day 10: A tale of 2 Lookouts

I think my looking out has finally started to catch up with me. Sunday I rode up Lookout (surprise) and continued on past the normal stopping point, looping up around Boettcher Mansion park and out to US 40. From there I elected to take the screaming descent down into Morrison and cruise down through Red Rocks to Bear Creek. It didn’t snow…not once….or rain for that matter so I’ll go ahead and call it a great day for a ride even though it was a bit windy, cloudy and cool. I felt great the entire time out and came home pumped.
Yesterday I wanted to push myself a bit, one last time, and so I made a quick pace out to Golden and after spinning the first mile or so of Lookout set about ramping it up. I didn’t go to any extremes, but I felt good, comfortable and my heart rate was in a great place for the entire ride. I was amped up the ride home and ate tasty chicken and salad for dinner: excellent. Today my plan was to head out to Lookout and meet one of the guys from the team to ride and talk a little strategy. I was a bit late getting out of work and that didn’t help my cause. I pushed it on the stupid Surly to get home, change and get on the road out to Golden. I felt sluggish on 32nd making my way out to Golden; probably poor nutrition, or over training, or being a dumbass or all three. My teammate never showed, so after waiting a bit I took off up the hill. I felt like crap.  At more than one point I thought about just turning around and going home.

With Thursday being my 12th day of this nonsense I intend to cruise until that point. Its not a proper workout and recovery regimen but I think it will do. I’ve pushed myself with my Looking Out and now I’m at the point where I’ve done what I can do. I need to chill out, spin and wait to get killed on Saturday.  Cheers.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tour of MO Survives Appropriation Debates

Here's an interesting article by the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation recounting the several attempts by various Missouri state legislators to cut or reduce funding for the 2010 Tour of Missouri. Interestingly the budget for the tour ($1.5 M in state tourism dollars) survived each attempt to carve it down or eliminate it altogether. There's a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of bipartisan support for the event, however the funding still hasn't been finalized by both houses just yet. So the Tour still needs support from cycling and race fans alike. Take a look at this article, and take some time to send a friendly email of support to these fine MO representatives and ask them to continue supporting one of our nation's few ProTour cycling events.

MoBikeFed article.

Third time's a...lot like the second

With the prospect of a 3rd straight day of foul weather in front of me I sucked it up and started out for Lookout early. I wanted to get it over with. A constant stream of drizzle followed me out to the mountain and about a mile up before turning to large snow flakes. While cold and damp it didn’t feel insufferably cold and damp like the previous days. The road didn’t cling to the moisture from the flakes the way it had with the rain. I passed two guys on mountain bikes at the start and a runner about half way up the route. I saw two cars on my climb, that’s it. One passed me very gingerly shortly after I saw the runner. The second passed me towards the top and as if having read the comments on my post the other day, promptly stopped at the entrance to Buffalo Bill’s grave at the top. Not quite turning in and not quite going straight. I scooted by them and stopped to take these pictures.
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The orange sign in the background warns driver's of the up coming closure next weekend for the Lookout Hill Climb. Hopefully by then the scenery has changed.

Towards the bottom of the hill I encountered a piece of radial or staple of some kind and had the pleasure of changing a tire with cold, wet hands, in the cold wet air. When finished I was shaking pretty badly and done with Lookout for the day. As if sensing my defeat Mother Nature decided to turn tables on me and the clouds started to part. The road on the way back dried almost instantly. I started to see riders passing me on 32nd on their way west to Golden. Lucky bastards. I suppose I shouldn’t have been so eager to get going; patience would have afforded me a better ride…oh well. Suffering builds character, at least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lookout Day 6

For today's slog through the elements I didn't mess around:  Surly Long Haul Trucker with fenders, rain pants, jacket, lights if needed...the works. A side note to this excursion: the works is freaking heavy and really slows you down...but I was dry. I took the window of precipitation-less conditions and left work in route to Lookout. I don't have much of a story of today's events, so I'll let the images speak for themselves. I will say I picked one hell of a week for this little project.

Thursday's trip up Lookout (4/22).
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The net result of Thursday's storm and Friday's continuation of it (4/23).
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The view out towards Denver...sort of (4/22).
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Today's view, snowier but improved (4/23).
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Warning Lookout May Be Hazardous For Your Health

Day 5 of Lookout. It rained on the way to work this morning. It rained a bit on the way home. As I pedaled my way home I could clearly make out the peaks of the foothills in the distance. The sight gave me hope that like yesterday’s ride I might be able to sneak in a quick trip up the mountain in between cloud bursts. No such luck today, the rain found me in a big way. Taking the coward’s way out I opted not to take the ride out to Lookout this afternoon…I drove out to Golden instead. To drive home the sheer laziness and hypocrisy of this act let me point out that I’ve already railed on in a couple of blog posts on this very blog about driving to rides. I also happen to live like 9 miles from Lookout…so driving 9 miles to avoid getting ‘wetter’ is somewhat lame, though today it proved fortuitous. The ride up Lookout Mountain this afternoon was quite perilous. Exactly how so? Let me elaborate via the 9 lives of this afternoon’s Lookout cyclist.

Slippery When Wet: It was raining considerably hard by the time I pulled into downtown Golden and unpacked my bike. Slick roads make for a dicey downhill descent. Soaking wet wheels and brakes are the icing on the cake.

Bend Over and Take It: This is what they tell you if caught out in a lightening storm, bend over and stick your rear in the air or huddle in a ditch. As I passed the 1 mile mark the heavens decided to commemorate the occasion with a flash of lightening and a teeth rattling boom. Almost instantaneously I went from “happy ride in the rain” to “get me the f@!% off this rock.” If there’s lightening during the Lookout Hill Climb I’ll race really fast; I apparently do well with a little motivation.

Avalanche: I’m not talking NHL playoffs folks, I’m talking about rock slides. After my thunder shock I heard another disconcerting sound; an odd banging along the guard rail. I didn’t think anything of it really until I rounded the corner and noted debris (sand and rock) in the roadway. Then I put two and two together: wet+loose rock+wind+2+2= the 4th way to go…getting popped in the head by an errant softball size piece of mountain.

FOUR!: This is what they shout in golf when teeing off to warn people on the fairway of the incoming projectile. I yelled a similar 4 letter F word when a VW Golf came careening around one of the corners near the mid section of the mountain while I was heading up the other lane. Presumably pumped full of Mountain Dew and lame techno music, the driver must not have appreciated the slideyness of the road. His wheels squealed slightly, he over corrected a bit and then hiss-hiss of sweet turbo bye-bye. I hate the Tokyo Drifters, especially in the rain.

Now you see me: As the pictures below indicate, it got a little foggy on the mountain as the clouds descended into the area from the north. On my way down I hit the series of switch backs just below the trees and came upon a neat stretch of clear air just before the clouds rolled up the hillside to sack it in with fog. I took this picture of the sign before it became completely wrapped in grey; then I realized your average Lookout motorist likely wouldn’t be able to see me if they came bolting around the corner: time to make a movie.
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Switchbacks just below the trees.
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Pausing to look back up towards the windy saddle on Lookout.

Sub Zero: The temp was in the mid to low 40’s when I hit the top of the mountain and began the descent. Although I made my way cautiously, hitting speeds of 25 mph while soaking wet in 40 degree weather gets the teeth a chattering.

Well I guess that’s about all I got…doesn’t quite add up to 9 lives. I suppose I can keep the other 3 and save them for tomorrow when it looks likely for rain again. But for people who need resolution, here’s 3 more (albeit far fetched) perils of Lookout:

One might get attacked by a deer suffering from mad cow or chronic wasting or hopped on EPO. After getting thrashed in the Giro Atmos you end up sick with deer disease and croak weeks later as you protest to your wife about how you feel better and just want to go out for a ride.

A kamikaze hang glider could sweep down from the heavens like a nylon clad pterodactyl and knock you and your carbon rims off the mountain side. "Death from above!"

There’s always the time tested, stress induced embolism (like in Clerks…chick dies while swimming laps in the pool…story line linked to Mall Rats where TS apparently told the girl she was fat…I'm a dork...anyway) Not very dramatic but certainly effective.

Safe riding all!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lookout Day 4: No one to lookout for

Technically when I left my house this afternoon for Lookout Day 4 rain was falling. Fortunately I ignored my better judgment as the ride up this afternoon, despite the cold, humid air was really enjoyable. Upon reaching the pillars I found the road still wet but drying, and looking up towards the mountain top the clouds loomed but remained content to simply look ominous without actually dropping any rain. This happy twist of fate left a wide open road before me with nary a bicycle or car in sight. It wasn’t until the mid section of the mountain that I finally saw other cyclists. It surprised me how many cyclists were actually out on the mountain in the face of the cold wind and dampness, but the number barely amounted to half of the number on the road on Monday or Tuesday. And the absence of vehicle traffic was almost eerie, as if at some point zombies were going to appear around the corner waiting to eat my brains. A couple cars passed me on their way down, but I was almost to the top before one passed me coming up the mountain. This is almost unheard of given the norm for Lookout.

As I’ve said before, Lookout attracts a myriad number of people to its recreational offerings. Today, without any of said hordes in sight, it was easy to reflect on just how many people actually use the mountain...and how nice it was to not have to share it with them for a change. Here’s a rundown on the list of Usual Lookout Suspects…if you see some of these folks you just may want to Lookout!

  • There’s a fair amount of local traffic up from Golden to the neighborhoods atop Lookout Mountain. I feel for these folks as their commute has to be hell. You can easily spot the locals, they generally handle their vehicles confidently and know how to share the road.
  • Contrast this with folks who are heading up the road for the first time; usually readily identifiable by the non-Colorado plates. These drivers crawl up the mountain about as fast as the 50 year old Triple Bypass cyclists training for their annual bike holiday. The tourists are even worse on the descents where they initiate their turns poorly and ride their brakes until they melt. Getting stuck behind these stinky rubber smelling minivans (usually minivans) is the worst. Getting oneself unstuck often requires a bit of daring.
  • Along similar lines as the tourists are the Driving School kids. I don’t know what it is about Lookout but it attracts Driving School teens like the latest New Moon film. I had a car pass me on Monday all but brushing my elbow, and I looked over to see a driving school instructor frantically reaching across to grab the wheel, thankfully intervening to prevent my untimely death. God knows I fully appreciate the long arc that is the learning curve…but why does it have to the same curve where I’m riding my damn bike.
  • Then there’s the Tokyo drifters. These are probably the worst and most reckless of the motorists who use Lookout. These douche bags drive their Subaru/Volkswagen/Audi/BMW/Mitsubishi chainsaw-sounding pieces of crap up the mountain at unnecessarily excessive speeds. Playing out some scene from Too Fast Too Furious, they corner erratically, accelerate in an obnoxiously loud manner and obviously have nothing better to do with their time. If a 4 minute Lookout Peak climb is all they need to toss their rocks off, then I feel for the hoochie mama’s they’re often toting around with them. "Ain't my car so cool baby?"...." Oh yeah its real cool baby."
  • Last but not least are the big tough truckers. "Did you question how tough I am?  Well I'll just run you down to show you. Yeah those are giant steel balls hanging from my hitch."  Almost as dangerous as the Tokyo Drifters, these guys run their gigantor trucks up narrow mountain roads and get off on forcing everyone else (or generally just cyclists) out of their way. Usually discernable by the characteristic growl of throaty, diesel engines, its best to hear them coming and hug the shoulder.
  • Old school Harley riders love Lookout, and generally they cruise up to the top, kitted out in leather and frequently toting some chica on the back of their ride. Lookout offers a nice route up to some of the biker bars in the foothills...and I think they typically pick a different route to head back when finished. Generally, the Harley riders aren’t in a particular hurry as its better to allow badassness to marinate…you don’t want to spoil the effect by rushing around like a jackass Tokyo Drifter.
  • On the other hand, take a Tokyo Drifter and put them on a crotch rocket and you get suicidal speed and inconsideration revving at 60,000RPM. Usually traveling in bands of 3 or 4, these pricks like to ride fast and apparently don’t care who’s around the corner in front of them when they’re doing it. Even though it makes me somewhat of a sicko, I dream of a Tokyo Drifter meeting its 2 Wheeled Compatriot around a corner one day: the carnage would be horrifically karmic.
  • The last crew of motorized, two wheeled brethren are the Orange County chopper super fans. Often indistinguishable from the Harley riders, these guys generally command their vehicles with a similar devil may care spirit as that of the crotch masters…I mean riders…I mean crotch riding masters. These guys are usually never in leathers, preferring to ride helmet-less in muscle shirts and jeans. They generally can be counted on to throttle their glasspack straight pipes just as they fly past.
Thrill Seekers:
  • Lookout attracts legions of thrill seekers: para and hang gliders, downhill luge riders and equally psychotic long board skateboarders. I’ve seen a guy going down Lookout on a unicycle. I’ve almost been hit by guys in full motorcycle race leathers and helmets going down the hill at ridiculous speeds on skateboards. On a sunny day one can be assured of seeing at least one hang glider: I saw one take a really nasty landing into the hill on Saturday. Early in the fall one can sometimes see the School of Mines cross country ski team practicing on the road on their odd rollerblade/ski contraptions. There are climbers who park along the road and hike down to some of the craggy cliffs along HWY 6 on the north side of the mountain. I respect all of these wackos although I may not understand why they do what they do. Lookout is a thrill seekers paradise...if you've got to be home by 4:30 and can't get to Moab or somewhere really cool.  With the exception of some careless long boarders, most of them keep to their lane and don’t try to run you over.

  • For some strange reason people like to walk, jog or run along Lookout Mountain Road. There are a large number of trails running up and along the mountain, so often you’ll see folks wandering on the road trying to connect up with one of these.
And then there are cyclists…

  • Racers: the racers love Lookout like flies to honey or Cadel Evans to one day race victories. They do intervals, repeats, high cadence practice: every racer’s got a ‘workout’ in mind. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re putting in a great Lookout effort, only to get passed by some guy on a steel framed cross bike just out to ‘stretch his legs.’ The racers generally climb with authority and descend with some serious skill, capable of banking some of the turns well in excess of 40 mph. What the crotch masters have in fancy helmets and horsepower, the racer makes up for in riding the rails down hill on a thumb’s width of rubber, cornering at nearly the same speeds with nothing but spandex and a helmet for protection. The only thing better for a racer is repeat day, when you get to do it more than once!
  • Wannabe racers: these guys love Lookout too but often lack the mastery of it to avoid hitting the wall before the top. Generally you can spot one of these guys easily because they’re hammering the bottom steeps WAAAYYYY too hard to be sustainable. Anyone breathing heavy in the first mile is going to be near death by the 4th.
  • Mountain bikers: most of these riders are just trying to get to the trail. Occasionally, like a deer who wanders into a suburban neighborhood, the mountain biker finds himself on the road in between trails. I always feel sorry for them having to haul all that weight up the road, even with their low gearing. It just doesn’t seem right.
  • Triple Bypass Aficionados: these are generally 50+ year old riders wearing their Triple Bypass jersey from 1997, training for the coming year’s edition. They’re generally strong albeit slow and often inappropriately dressed for the conditions (read: overdressed for all conditions.) For many of these riders this will be their training for the Triple until Squaw Pass thaws out, at which point they’ll gravitate from Lookout to Squaw where they can again ride their bikes in 3 layers of clothing without suffocating to death.
  • Bike Tourists and Commuters: I’ve seen a handful of loaded up bike tourists and commuters on Lookout. I have to remind myself that they generally have low gearing, however hauling all that crap up Lookout is impressive even if you are in your 24X27.
  • Everyone else…fixed gear riders, recumbent bikes, penny farthings you name it, you could easily see one on Lookout.
So on any given Saturday you take a spattering of each of these groups and throw them all together on 4.5 miles of curvy, winding road. On an ordinary day the crowds don’t even factor in, the ride itself is fantastic without stressing everyone else out there with you. On a day like today however, in the absence of just about all of them, it really sunk in how great a ride Lookout really is and how enjoyable it is to have it to oneself for a change. I don’t mind sharing, but sometimes its nice to be selfish and not share but instead ride right down the middle of the road.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The 12 Days of Lookout

On the way back to the start line of the Haystack TTT one of my teammates, Lucas, informed me that we may very well be the only 3’s on the team in town for the Lookout Hill Climb race on May 1st. Most of the 3’s are heading down to the Gila in New Mexico, leaving a scant few behind to race the local events and try to mix it up for more Best All Round Team (BAT) points. Since our team is off to a great start this season, keeping some BAT effort going despite the absence of most of the team might make a difference in the long run. I felt the grim hand of fate now steering me toward the base of Lookout Mountain…it would certainly be a killing. Despite Lucas’s assurances that he’d help pace me up the hill as long as he could (it likely should be the other way around) I still had my reservations about doing it. While the only thing to lose is about $30 bucks and the ability to walk for the rest of the afternoon, it doesn’t make sense to enter events like this if you really don’t stand a snowball’s chance of making it. One should play to their strengths, and for the weak its better to just play with yourself or something like that. In any case, it was about at this point in my self-doubt and wallowing that I agreed to give it a shot.

The Lookout Hill climb is a 4.5 mile mass start race up the winding, steep grades of Lookout Mountain Road: from pillar to post just about 1,200 feet of elevation gain. I’ve done this race and it is brutal. An event geared strictly towards mountain goats, anyone without some serious base mileage and intense training doesn’t stand a chance in hell. So as I pondered this fate and my options for helping out the team, I settled on an idea, and a far fetched one at that. Bike racing is not like a History or Math test…you can’t cram for it at the last minute, yet with my proverbial test on the horizon that is about the only thread of hope I can cling to. So I decided that I will cram for the Lookout Hill Climb: over the next two weeks I will ride Lookout in some form or fashion at least once every day. Is this an advisable training plan?--absolutely not. Is it a good idea?--not really. Will it work?--time will tell. I only want to crack the top 10...15...ok 20. My odds may very well be better that only 20 people will enter.

I’ve already ridden Lookout a handful of times this year, but nothing like the regularity of last year when my training was certainly more focused and disciplined. It was also around mid May, when I was feeling my best cycling shape ever, I clocked a 19:47 time (measured unofficially of course, I’ve bombed both of my past officially timed Lookout efforts.) About a minute off the 3’s winning time for last year, I can’t help but think that lazy 2010 Jason is even more screwed if uber-motivated 2009 Jason didn’t stand a chance. I think I managed a 24:45 a couple weeks back, under extreme duress and self pitying. I have a long way to go.

On Sunday I set about my task at hand with great flourish and enthusiasm. I rode from my home out to Lookout and climbed the mountain at a steady tempo. Descending back down to the pillars I recovered and set about riding the first 2 miles of the route in a very difficult gear at a very slow pace. The theory behind this form of riding is to build muscle strength, power and a smooth pedal stroke. I repeated this 3 times, each time finding the effort increasingly more difficult. After the third effort I descended back down to the start, grabbed a snack and rode back to the top a final time. After getting home I figured I logged nearly 50 miles of total riding, much of which was done on the hill. I felt that this was a good start.

Monday I could feel the prior day’s effort in my legs and really didn’t want to make the trip back out to that damn hill, but I’m in this boat now. My goal for Monday was a near race pace effort up the mountain to assess the extent of my deficits. I rode up to the pillars and stopped for a moment, grabbed my stop watch and GO. I focused on riding the initial 2 miles smoothly and without burning myself too deep before the middle fast stretch. By the middle section I felt composed and my HR was in a good place; drink of water and more steep climbing. When I hit the last section of steep switch backs I could feel it but was still within myself to keep my pace and finish strong. Cruising past the ’post’ at the top of the climb I hit my stop watch and stopped the clock at 21:40. Ok, that is an improvement from my March time, maybe there’s a glimmer of hope after all.

Today I again hit the road back out to Lookout, this time bent on a Lookout “recovery” ride. I don’t know if that phrase has ever been uttered before, but on a diet of Lookout I needed to get a recovery in somehow. I again made my way up to the pillars and this time set about my climb with the deliberate goal of keeping my heart rate low…very low. I spun my legs casually and freely and made my way up the climb. It actually felt great to ride at a high cadence and low effort despite the grade of the road beneath me. When I got to the top my unofficial time was around 26 min (no clocks on recovery day). Considering my complete lack of effort for the entire climb, I also viewed this very positively. Tomorrow I’ll be back at the hill. The forecast calls for a higher likelihood of rain in the afternoon, so my ride could be interesting. I suppose if push comes to shove, I might have to dress the part and ride my Surly up…every day, in some form or fashion. I guess I’ll see about that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good Morning from a Grump

As I puttered around the house this morning I exhibited a less than enthusiastic mood about the prospects of going to work. My wife labeled it grumpiness, and indicated that both I and the dog were apparently grumpy: she lives in a house of grumpusses. You are welcome to feel sorry for her at any point. In any case, I got on my bike for the ride to work and after a mile or so felt much better, then I realized my riding was taking me to work and I promptly resumed my grumpiness.

On an unrelated note, I once read in some magazine or blog that when biking you should keep your knees covered if the temperature is less than 50. That person was all too correct in his or her observation. This morning it was 43 and while I felt very fashionable in my shorts, the ligaments and tendons around my left knee are fomenting rebellion. So on this glorious Monday, keep those head’s down, noses to the grindstone and knees covered. Its just better that way.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

TTT or Synchronized Swimming

On Saturday, April 17th I got out of bed propelled by thoughts of the Haystack Team Time Trial to come that afternoon. I laid my morning out to allow sufficient time to eat, take care of some chores around the house and ready my bike and gear for the Haystack TTT. I love the TTT. The fluid motion of riders exchanging pulls, the intense level of exertion dosed out in exacting means over a challenging course, and of course the really cool gear, make Team Time Trials quite the spectacle to behold.

As I mowed the lawn and fought my weed eater, a heavy layer of clouds began filling the Front Range basin, creeping over the foothills west of Denver. The temperature, in my opinion, was a perfect 62 degrees under sunless skies and still wind conditions: perfect for a time trial. Right on schedule I packed up my skin suit, TT bike, helmet, food and energy drinks and casually tossed my full finger gloves, arm and knee warmers into my bag; kind of a ’just in case’ measure. I loaded the Vanagon and made my way out to HWY 93 in Golden for the drive up to Boulder.

Upon hitting some of the high points of 93 west of Arvada I was afforded my first chance of seeing the dark blanket of cloudy tendrils wrapping the area around Boulder. Drops appeared on the Vanagon’s windshield. “Ah shit” I thought to myself. That would not be the last time I’d think that this afternoon. I continued on and for each mile the spattering of rain on my windshield increased. I tried as long as I could to not turn my windshield wipers onto the regular cycle, preferring to just cycle them on periodically manually; my way of convincing myself the rain really wasn’t that bad. Heading into Eldorado Springs, however, the wipers were on full bore and the road made that heavy, wet, rushing sound like waves on a beach as cars passed.

I pulled up to the start area and parked near the rest of the team. At this point there was a slight reprieve from the rain, and I made my way to the registration tent; apparently the rain hadn’t arrived at the north Boulder region…just yet. Upon returning to my car to pin on my number and change, the rain finally found us. Huddled under our sponsor's, Primal Wear, tent a dozen cyclists on trainers warmed up their legs and eyed the falling rain with trepidation. It was cold, cold and wet. Riders sat in their cars, forgoing much of a warm up. Others sought warmer layers to wear. Like many, I left a dry and warm Denver and foolishly didn’t bring much more than my emergency knee and arm warmers: thank god for that much. Forgoing our on-road warm up and practice, not the best of ideas, we sat under the tent, occasionally pushing the pooling water from underneath so the weight wouldn’t build on the nylon canopy. Time to go.

Would it be too much of a pun to say the race was going to be a wash out? On a quick warm up run to the start line we were disorganized and scattered. You couldn’t see through grime covered glasses, spattered by the spray of water and debris from the tires in front of you. To execute a TTT you must remain tight together, rotating behind eachother's wheels; difficult to do when you get a mouth full of spray and sand every time you cross lines with the rider in front. We had 5 min to stand shivering at the start. I swung my arms to keep warm and bounced my legs to keep the muscles from tightening. We started the 12 mile course at 2:22 pm (MST) heading north into a headwind and sheet of rain and spray from cars passing on the highway. I couldn’t see anything, but with the clear communication from the guys on the team things seemed to be going relatively well. I pushed my glasses to the end of my nose so I could see over them heading into the first 90 degree right turn. We had some mistiming coming out of that turn and things somewhat unraveled from there.

With only 4 of our planned 5 riders present at the start, we needed to get 3 to the finish line to score our time. Heading down the long sweeping downhill rollers on the back stretch of the course one of our riders, who struggled with his bike during the Individual TT earlier in the day, dropped his chain. We couldn’t stop and waste the time so the remaining 3 of us pushed forward to the line without him. The downhill sections were sketchy; hitting speeds in excess of 40, rotating a line of speeding riders all the while in an onslaught of splash back and rain. We were moving pretty well until one of the remaining team members started to cramp; now we had to slow as we needed 3 guys. The humid warm up under the tent and dehydrating, sapping rain pulls moisture out of the muscles and tightens them: cramping is practically an inevitability in conditions like this unless properly fueled up and topped off on electrolytes. We slowed down, encouraged him onward but ended up losing time on the clock.

Finishing 7th of a handful of CAT3 teams we were disappointed with our result, but pleased to have made it through the race with everyone upright and intact. Wet roads, speed and narrow slick tires (toss in some slimy road paint) make for a potentially treacherous event: a miscue could have sent our whole line to the ground. On the way back to the cars the rain was clearly finished for the day. The road spray was no where near as intense and when we approached our cars seemed practically nonexistent. A layer of dirt, sand, brown stains and grime covered the faces and kits of every rider. Bikes were practically unrecognizable under all the filth: it was a mess. But in the end it will prove a memorable mess and will likely make for better stories than many of the other races that will come and go off without a hitch or so much as a cloud in the sky. Here's some video taken of the Primal/ 1st Bank elite squad getting it done in the rain. (Click for video) Some video was taken of my team too, so when it gets posted I’ll link to it, so everyone can see and experience the fun of the Haystack TTT.

My Dirty Bike and Kit after the Haystack TTT in Boulder, CO.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"We Are Traffic"

Today I pulled up to the light at Federal and 14th and chatted with a rider about broken glass on the path just south of the intersection. In his 50’s, outfitted in shorts, nylon jacket and riding a mountain bike with slick tires, rear rack and double panniers, he was heading downtown this morning. Other than his frustration at the insensitivity and rudeness of others, he seemed to be in high spirits. Yesterday I pulled up to the light at 17th and Federal and exchanged pleasantries with a fixed gear rider on the topic of my Surly frame, which lasted the following two blocks until we headed in different directions. He indicated that he has been considering getting a Long Haul Trucker frame to build up for touring and was curious about the weight and quality of the stock components. These types of exchanges are not uncommon when cycling. I’ve never had someone say good morning to me while driving but when riding it happens quite frequently. My most social interactions with other motorists (on the positive side at least) only occur when I’m driving my Vanagon and I pass another one: the other driver almost always waves.

And like the cult of Happy Vanagon Drivers, with the weather finally proving to be reliably pleasant, bicyclists are out in mass and generally seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. The other day I passed three riders heading up 20th on my way in to work. I almost always see bicyclist on the way home, usually in route to or from the quality hill climbing around Golden. In the morning I now see several riders around work navigating the mess of RTD construction detours which have the Platte River Trail routed through the neighborhood. Most people seem very pleased to be out riding and it is not uncommon to get a “Hello”, “Good Morning”, a simple nod of acknowledgement, if not a full on conversation even if just for the cycle of a stoplight.

I don’t begrudge this mass of fair-weather new riders, even the one’s who use these fine days as an excuse to once again emerge from hibernation to plague the rest of us with their poor bike handling, traffic navigation and riding skills. I wish more folks saw the feasibility and practicality of riding throughout the winter season, but in any case it is good to see so many people out on their bikes: even the tools and douchebags. There is something about being in the company of other cyclists that represents a kindred spirit of sorts and makes one feel a little less alone on the road. In Jeff Mapes book, Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities, he discusses how safety for cyclists improves as a result of an increased presence on public roadways. The central contention is that it is not necessarily improved bike lanes, road ways or signage which will ultimately make roads safer for cyclists, it is increased numbers. The more riders who take to the streets for recreation, sport or travel purposes, the greater the presence cyclists have in terms of contributing to the natural flow of traffic. One bicyclist is an exception and easily regarded as an annoyance by motorists, whereas dozens if not hundreds of cyclists become an equally substantial component of road volume as vehicles and traffic. For examples of how this plays out in reality one need look no further than European cities in Belgium or the Netherlands.

While there is certainly value to being unique or exceptional, there is some level of comfort derived from being part of the group. Previously, I compared cyclists to wolves in the sense that a wolf needs its pack for protection and survival. The more riders we have in the fold the stronger our pack and greater our presence and legitimacy amongst other users of the road. So to that end I am glad to see other bikes on the road. It has been a long, cold winter riding alone and the extra company is a welcome change of pace. And that even extends to those two guys out for their “training ride” the other day who blatantly blew the stop sign by my work and nearly ran me down as I, who had stopped by the way, was starting to turn left. I’m glad you’re out riding your bikes with me…even if I called you illiterate douche bags and wanted to beat your wannabe, poser asses with my U-lock. Its nothing but brotherly love, honest.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Roubaix Sunday

Today marked the running of the 108th Paris-Roubaix, the ‘Queen of the Classics.’ What makes Paris-Roubaix such a seminal event is not the excruciating distance, often harsh spring conditions--biting wind and rain. It is the cobbles. A quarter of the race’s grueling 259km takes place on cobblestone farm roads. Frequently rutted out, dirty and slippery the cobbled sections present the challenge and the allure of the event. Today’s winner, Fabian Cancellara, rode away from the lead group with nearly 40km to go to the finish. The time trial champion soloed in for the win over two minutes ahead of the chasing group. While this annual highlight of cycling was drawing to a close, halfway around the world in Boulder, Colorado our own local version of this event was just getting started.

In the spirit of the French, cobbled Queen, much of the Boulder-Roubaix road course occurs on dirt and gravel roads (American Pave’). This year’s Boulder-Roubaix course boasted a longer format for the circuit loop that riders would race. At 19 miles, the race would start on a section of dirt road and would alternate after a mile or so to pavement before quickly returning to dirt; repeating this way the entire 19 miles. Over 50% of this year’s course, just over 30 miles, would occur on wash boarded, dirt roads. While not as long as the French counterpart, for riders attempting Boulder-Roubaix the course would nonetheless present a challenge.

For some bizarre reason I thought this event to be a suitable starting point for my 2010 race season. After an extensive ‘off-season’ and piss poor spring training effort I apparently felt like flinging myself into the deep end of the CAT 3 pool. By way of preparation, I pre-rode the course on Saturday with 3 other Primal First Bank teammates. While the preview helped give me some confidence in my bike handling skills on dirt, I still had knots in my stomach much of the evening. I’ve been out of the racing game for a bit now, my head not quite into it, but for Boulder-Roubaix I’d have to Harden the Fuck Up (the team’s quasi mantra) or get spit out the back in short order (that result likely would be inevitable anyway.)

Sunny, warm, and dry the weather apparently didn’t feel like making Boulder-Roubaix worse than necessary. Our race started at 11:15, so I arrived at the start area around 9:30 to get my number, check in with the team and prep for battle. I arrived at the start line early, but not early enough to get a good slot in the front row. I found myself three rows back tucked in with some Junior 17-18 year old riders who’d also be racing with the 3’s. Glancing at the bandaged arms and legs of the ‘kids’ next to me I should have guessed what was going to happen next. At the gun the junior right in front of me took off but missed his clip and stopped with me right on his wheel: no harm done but I was not off to a great start from go. (His buddy, bandage arm, blew a pavement transition on the second lap and wrecked in the ditch.) My mission initially was to hang on to the leaders and try to navigate the first two somewhat technical dirt sections without much ado. One rider rode clear past the first turn and crashed. Within the first mile there were 2 or 3 flats and heading through the first transition from pavement to the second dirt section another rider overshot the turn and ended up in the ditch.

I held my position towards the back and rode with a fellow teammate and some other more cautious riders. We picked good lines through the turns and didn’t have to work too hard to manage the accelerations of the pack. I was racing again and feeling pretty good. Heading into the last stretch of dirt road the group approached a series of sharp, rolling hills. I found a good line along the left side of the road and worked my way up into the lead bunch of the main pack. I probably burned a match prematurely with this effort, but I found myself working in the main group and riding with our team leaders: I could move up well enough, now I just needed to hold my position. Lacking some of the confidence to keep pushing forward I drifted back again as we ended lap one. The pack was trimmed but seemed to have held on to many of the starters as we began the second lap.

I again found myself hanging on to the back of the group, this time with three teammates, navigating the corners with ease but beginning to feel the rubber band stretching a bit more. With a pivotal uphill, paved section of the course nearing, I told myself that I needed to move up or this would be it. Along the road the pack lined out and left an alley open on the left side near the median. I started moving up to the front. Finally feeling like a racer again I soon found myself again with the lead riders, many from my team. At that moment one of our strong riders made a break with another on his tail. I thought this was my chance! I looked ahead and saw two riders up the road, clearly this must be a break away and our leaders are trying to join. Someone in the pack shouted my name and told me to go (or maybe they said ‘No’ or ‘Way to go’), so I surged forward and gave Grant the ‘What’s up’ on my way to Michael Hanna who was leading away. I wanted to pull him up to those riders more than anything. Unfortunately drawing close to the two riders (and looking back at the somewhat perplexed expression on Hanna’s face) I saw that the riders were in fact not from our group…and they were moving pitifully slow by the point I pulled in behind them and practically stopped. Now at a crawl, I watched as the entire peloton, not an opening in sight, passed by me in a blur. Finally a gap opened and I pulled out from behind my imaginary break away companions and found myself gassed and on the back again heading into the grueling roller section.

That was pretty much my race. I survived the rollers and held on to the leaders as we began lap 3 but was pretty spent and unable to continue matching the accelerations: here’s where training would have come in handy. Bygones being bygones and all that, I sat up and caught my breath. For much of lap 3 I worked with a group of stragglers from the main pack trying to catch the group… or just finish with dignity. Frustrated with the lack of cooperation amongst my chase buddies, I eventually sat in until the long climb where I surged forward and left all but one wheel sucker who I’d soon drop in the rollers. At this point I don’t know where I ended up in the finish: 40th or worse? Michael Hanna, who obviously did not need my help on his breakaway won the race. We placed two others in the top 20.

I do know that up until my stupid move on the hill I was feeling good, and I was getting my senses back…if only for just a little while. Struggling with my mental block on racing has been a frustrating part of my off-season. Earlier in the week when I thought about entering this race I thought that I needed to have my head examined. But I got good advice from Kate and my team captain: just go out and do it and try to hang on as long as you can. That’s all I really had to do: just do it. As Kate put it, I needed a little ‘fire in my belly,’ and she was certain that getting dropped in a race would be just the medicine I needed. And thinking back on the day, underneath the pile of dirt and dust I choked down while racing, there just may be a little fire.

My Boulder-Roubaix Stats:
57 miles (30 or so of dirt)
Average speed: 23.4 mph
Total time: 2:26 and change
Average heart rate 168 bpm

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Thank You Note

Dear Mother Nature,

Boy, you are one messed up lady; very schizophrenic this time of year aren’t you! This is Jason: I ride my bike a lot to work and around town and stuff. I just wanted to write and thank you for the torrential downpour yesterday morning. That was really entertaining. I could swear it wasn’t raining when I left my house…but I could be wrong (silly me!) I’m sorry I missed the hail though, that would have been a real hoot. I guess I got to work too early for that. But your 40+mph headwind last night on the ride home really gave my thighs the much needed workout they’ve recently been missing. I fought pretty hard on that downhill along 26th to Kipling and still only made 17 or 18 mph. That Surly Long Haul Trucker just isn’t aero enough for your gale force winds: I need to get some TT bars and slap them on it, maybe that will help!

But really, the snow today was top notch; really a great touch. It picked up just enough to smack me full on for my entire ride to work: I’m glad I didn’t miss any of it. You know that wet spring snow, its so tenacious: I had rain pants and full shoe covers on and my socks are still wet! Very well done MN! I do however wish more of the snow would have stuck to the roadway. The slush helped a bit, but really the snow didn’t stick...fortunately that left plenty to stick to my drive train components! The Surly makes a great single speed once you freeze up the rest of the cassette with ice and slush. Good thing that happened on the long downhill along 20th so I would get to enjoy my 11 tooth cassette ring the rest of the way to work. I now appreciate the full heft of a laden, cromoly steel, touring bike even more after today: thanks again MN you’re swell! I’m glad I brought that towel to wipe my bike down, too bad you can’t wipe away frozen slush from in between the teeth of cogs—I guess it will just have to melt naturally and rust my components even more; golly that will be great.

Well, I’m sure glad you’re having fun with yourself. You really look to be in rare form this spring. If I’m lucky maybe there will be locusts this afternoon or it will rain toads like in a cataclysmic biblical sense. That would be the cherry on top for sure.

Bye For Now!
--jason (of the Surly—surely—wet sock and boxer clan)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Colorado Spring Commute

“Mostly Cloudy and 30…” This is easy, long underwear and shorts, long sleeve shirt and t-shirt with hat and full finger gloves.

“…with a high of 65…” Alright, scratch the long sleeve shirt and t-shirt for jersey and arm warmers. Trade the full finger gloves for half fingers with thin liners. Tough it out and wear shorts with a knit hat for the morning and nothing in the pm.

“…gusty winds likely; 30 mph…” Hmm...ok, switch back to long underwear and shorts, t-shirt, arm warmers and maybe a vest. Definitely keep the full finger gloves. Knit hat for morning and maybe a bike hat for the afternoon. Ditch the vest if it gets windy but stays sunny and warm.

“…and a chance of rain.” Mother f#$%@!... Toss the shorts and go with: trusty old thrift store khakis (which can be rolled up if dry and kept long if wet), keep the t-shirt and arm warmers, knit hat, toss in a rain jacket, bike hat for the afternoon. If it is dry, the jacket can go in the bag or be worn with the t-shirt if wet but warm, or with the long underwear shirt if it wet and cold, or with both if wet, cold and windy…ahhh screw it just bring everything.