If you had asked me, one year ago, which topic would garner more interest from RKP’s readers, the Giro d’Italia or the new Rapha Sky Kit, I’d have laid my lira on the Giro. Rapha’s general nattiness notwithstanding, it would have been hard for me to foresee the conversation-inspiring value of a single kit, especially as compared to a Grand Tour, a GRAND TOUR people!
But this is a different time. As Padraig noted the other day, pro cycling might be stuck in a sort of purgatory after the hell of the EPO-era. Many fans, myself included, feel far less passionately about the races than we once did. These are days when dedicated cyclists are retreating a bit into the deep pleasure of their own riding, including a renewed interest in the ephemera of the cycling life, the bikes, the stuff.
So, folks who want to talk about the Giro can step back to last week’s Group Ride. Please do. This week we’re going to talk about helmets.
I am in the market for a new noggin hugger myself, and I seem to be surrounded by riders in the same market. Helmets are a funny old thing to buy really. Very few people would say their helmet is fun. And of course, the helmet is one of the few cycling products you hope never to learn how well it works. That leaves fit, form and style as the chief criteria by which to evaluate.
Then we get into shape and ventilation, the form of the helmet, whether or not your sunglasses slot neatly into the holes in the front or tuck neatly into the back. This too is subjective and random. You have awful taste in sunglasses probably.
Finally there is style. There is no accounting for style. Have we discussed your sunglasses?
Here’s what I will tell you about my recent history with helmets. I wear a Giro Prolight. It’s light, like its name implies. It fits me well. I like it. There is a high likelihood, because I tend to be brand loyal, that I will get another Giro, probably the Aeon, but I am also somewhat suggestible.
This week’s Group Ride asks: What are you wearing? Do you like it? Why? What would you consider switching to? There are so many choices now, from the conventional to the esoteric. Has any of them saved your life? Let’s not get into the larger helmet debate. Let’s assume, for the sake of the discussion, that we need to wear helmets, and we just need to pick one. Thanks.
The blinds made their metallic flutter in a breeze that hadn’t breached the window’s sill since some time last September. Dust whorled in the bright sun. The dog raised his head and looked askance before settling back into his mid-afternoon siesta. Were it only, as they say, a dog’s life.
The weather in New England is finally begging us to ride our bikes. Oh, it had allowed us to ride previously. It had granted permission, but it is now fully knees-to-ground begging.
So we rode our bikes. Not the tepid, slow roll of the early season where you’re just gathering at the meet-up to bolster one another’s resolve, but the lung bursting, leg hollowing runs of which mid-summer form is made. I had not ridden as hard as I did last night since before winter’s first snow flakes fluttered to the ground last year.
I could feel the tension rising as we threaded our way out of the city, a prison break that might actually succeed. Once we’d scented that freedom, we lost our heads a little. The Wednesday night ride is the one with tacit, albeit silent, agreement that we will try to break each other. It’s a full gas ride. It is not a race. We always come back together before the end and roll into town as a group, but the middle is a frantic, tongue-lolling scramble over pavement and packed gravel, really the only opportunity I take to ride this way.
At the halfway point, I had swallowed enough dust that the hunger pang bouncing around my hollow gut over the opening 20 miles finally settled. What is the caloric value of New England farmland dust? Or does it just convert readily to adrenaline when mixed with the sight of your buddy going over the rise in front of you, in the drops.
That my lungs burned would be easily enough attributed to the same swirling grit, but I imagine they would have been burning similarly had I been wearing a surgical mask, such was my desperation to take in more air. I was flying along, my good speed only occasionally sapped by loose patches of sand. It felt awful/fantastic.
I had the distinct sense that I was burning off a winter’s worth of lethargy, that I was airing my lungs in much the same way my wife throws open the living room window to let the couch breathe, the dog smelling, child-battered couch, transformed by a bit of sunlight and oxygen.
This ride was more than the first hard ride in the spring shine though. It was a celebration and a protest, an airing of grievances against nature and against ourselves for having let it all go so long without riding this route in this way. Winter has been over for some weeks now, but we needed to get it off of our chests.
Image: Matt O’Keefe
We’re into the final 24 hours of my Kickstarter campaign and I’m pleased to say it has gone very well. Pledges from good folks like you have helped me meet the pledge goal of $20k (and even surpass it). The book “Why We Ride” is now a reality. If you haven’t already joined the party, I hope you’ll stop by. We’ve got ribs on the barbecue and some great beer out back.
On behalf of my entire family, thank you.
Go directly to Kickstarter HERE.
Writing about cycling is a necessarily topical endeavor. From the latest gadget to the doping scandal du jour (année?), writing about cycling means keeping up with the times. I launched Red Kite Prayer with a mandate that centered less on the ‘who, what, when, where’ of traditional journalism than the ‘why’ of cycling itself. I’ve been more interested to publish good writing than to make sure we are the first to publish 300 words about the newest brake set out of China, but then that’s only because I believe that my job isn’t to provide data as much as it is motivation. You can find plenty information out there, but it’s harder to find work that helps remind you of why we stick with cycling even after Lance and the appearance of ghost bikes at an ever-increasing assortment of intersections.
We call those pieces that feed the jones and keep the off-the-bike demons at bay “evergreens.” For me, as a writer, they’re what I live for. They stand outside the typical focus of articles you’ll find on other sites during a given week. Evergreens matter because they find those opportunities to say something true about cycling, something that will be as true in five years as it is today. There’s a good chance it was true the year you found cycling as well. That chance to transcend time and get at experiences common to us all results in a far more satisfying experience for both writer and reader.
Such a book represents a pretty lofty goal. It’s not one I set out to swing at; it took a few years to realize I was circling this particular quarry.
I’ve wanted to pull together a number of my posts into a single volume for some time. While I talked to some publishers about releasing the volume with them, I realized that no one was going to be interested in offering a short run of hardcovers, an option I thought was important to present to my more dedicated readers. I’d been looking at ways to self-finance the printing of the book when I ran across Kickstarter. It seemed the perfect way to marry my desire to offer the collection to readers in both paperback and hardcover formats while hopefully realizing enough profit to serve my larger goal, which was to build a nest egg to move my family into a home in Santa Rosa.
Then the Deuce happened.
By “happened” I mean a couple of things. First, my wife’s search for a job in Sonoma County, which is essential to any move we wish to make, was put immediately on hold when we found out she was pregnant. You may wonder why we were even trying to get pregnant while she was in the middle of a job search. The easy answer is that because she was 41 and I was 48 at the time, we weren’t exactly sure how successful we would be. As it turns out, we’re crazy fertile, at least together.
By “happened” I also mean the Deuce’s NICU adventure. No one planned that, much less wanted it. My wife’s insurance coverage with Kaiser is pretty good, but in the inevitable calculus of health care, the interaction of deductible, co-pays, coverage limits and caps, the Deuce’s real-world value makes the sum the Beer Fund covered look like chump change.
Which brings me to the deeper why for the Kickstarter campaign.
The Beer Fund that my friends Robot and Eric put together following my crash last fall was a stunning outpouring of support. It re-ordered my world and taught me things about community I’d have learned no other way. Six months later and I need help, again.
But I can’t rely on charity. I can’t. That’s a well I drank from once, if reluctantly. I won’t permit myself to do it a second time, at least, not in the same year. But Kickstarter is different because it isn’t charity. The principle Kickstarter works on is patronage. It’s a way for a community of fans or followers to provide financial support that goes beyond simple commerce while still receiving something meaningful in return. It’s a way to further an artistic endeavor by a method that works for your wallet.
In what seems an unlikely event, should the Kickstarter campaign actually earn more than we need profit-wise, whatever is leftover will go toward that aforementioned dream of a nest-egg. One of the reasons we cut the Beer Fund off after only 24 hours is that we had earned enough to pay what turned out to be nearly all my emergency room bills. Ultimately, we were within a couple hundred bucks. Robot and I were of the same mind, that realizing a profit off of your kindness was untenable. Think Lance Armstrong flying on private planes at Livestrong expense distasteful. And that, dear reader, is why it’s so important for me to offer you something in return, something fun, something lasting, a concrete expression of both my gratitude and work.
I’ve come up with a number of different rewards so that there are options to fit anyone’s bank account.
Believe me, I’ve struggled with this. I’d hate for it to seem like I was profiting off my son’s personal calamity. What I’m attempting to do is profit from my work to pay for my son’s personal calamity; there’s quite a difference between the two. One I’m okay with; the other makes my skin crawl.
Check it out here.
Briefly, I will apologize for the FGR’s two-week hiatus. Technical difficulties kept us from sending our semi-fortnightly missive, and then a mad man on the loose on my home turf kept our minds otherwise occupied. But let’s leave behind weighty topics for a bit. All, now, seems back to normal, and so we push on with queries new and exciting.
While we were away, Classics season seems to have ended. Sadly. But as the Byrds (via Pete Seeger) sang, “…to everything, turn, turn, turn.” Grand Tour season is upon us. I call myself a Classics man, but Padraig prefers the Grand Tours. This we have hashed out in previous and ancient versions of the FGR.
And so the Giro, a race that has, arguably, been on the rise for the past decade. A confluence of great routes, closely-fought finishes and the dark star, self-destructive gravity of the Tour all coming together to the elevate the Italian affair.
As some indication of the Giro’s rise, last season’s Tour winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins, has opted to race for the Giro win rather than defend his yellow jersey. Team Sky will say that this Giro route suits Wiggins’ strengths better, while teammate Chris Froome will lead the squad in France, but it is hard not to understand the decision in the context of increased prestige for the Italian race.
Wiggins’ prime adversary is alleged to be Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali, a Vuelta winner with a better burst of uphill pace and a demonic ability to descend. Ryder Hesjedal, last year’s maglia rosa, remains a dark horse, which seems a bit cruel given the talent, guile and heart he showed in winning the 2012 race.
This week’s Group Ride opens our 2013 Grand Tour discussion, which also includes our own Charles Pelkey (Live Update Guy) doing live text updates throughout the race. Be sure to check in with Charles, a far keener analyst than I can pretend to be. So…the big question this week is: Who will win and why? Is Sir Bradley the man to beat, or will Sky’s disappointing season continue to disappoint? Who have we missed? Who else can win?
Images: Fotoreporter Sirotti, RCS Sport
Now that RKP has settled (more or less) back in to its traditional editorial routines and I am doing what is more typically thought of as my job, and that I can also report with no small degree of pride and relief that the Deuce is healthy, seemingly happy and definitely growing, I’m willing to take a moment to respond to a few emails that I’ve received in the last week or so. Not all readers caught the series from the beginning, and as content would get bumped from the home page it wasn’t easy to find, at least, not without a bunch of scrolling.
Below is the full collection of posts that relate to the Deuce. I should note that when I wrote the first post (Part I) I thought that there would be a follow-up, but not more than that. I really hadn’t conceived of a whole series of posts—not that I couldn’t imagine such a thing, but I didn’t anticipate that it would either be necessary for me or anything I could justify as an acceptable devotion of editorial space. Lucky for us I didn’t get a choice.
So for those of you who missed the opening, or simply want to revisit the series, here it is. Thanks for reading.
Very seldom am I anything other than middling. There are some cool summer nights that will see me pressing the strength of my usual riding companions, daring to dart off the front of our fast ride. And there are some dark winter nights when I can’t do any more than slog home, legs heavy as the night. The rest is just middling.
On a recent morning group ride, I spun along next to Mike while the guys on the front pulled (not so) slowly away from us. “Are we the laughing group now?” I asked. He laughed.
Sometimes, I imagine it would be nice to be that guy off the front, Hinault with his broad Breton brow and shitty scowl, putting the hurt on those behind. But I don’t have the forehead for it, nor the scowl. Neither do I have a great urge to leave behind my companions.
If we are the laughing group, the mini-bus, I am quite content as passenger, as fellow traveler. This is the general remit of the middling cyclist, to be among and between. Ours is the craic and the bottle passed. Ours is the steadying hand in the small of the back.
In the broad middle I can hang onto a faster wheel, but I can never be sure how long I can hold it. I can make big efforts early in a ride, in say the opening 30 miles, and then sometimes I am good all day, but other times not. The thing about the middle is that it is unreliable. Will it hold? This is our conflict and our denouement.
In high school I was a C student. This was mainly down to a disinterest in hard work and an abiding affinity for trouble. As a cyclist, I stay true to form. I’d rather be sharing a joke at the back than gritting my teeth on the front.
From this middle place, I can be inordinately grateful when I find the strength to ride hard past 60 miles, but also the grace to slink away humbly when I can’t.
For some reason, when I think of myself as a cyclist, I envisage wildebeests on the Serengetti, massive packs of anonymously identical animals churning across the plain in some ahistorical drive for water or food or relief from the summer heat, and there I am in the midst of the horde, sweating fervently, moving forward as I can, well insulated from the danger, predators of every stripe lurking at the edges.
I am really lost in how to think about this thing, like an algebra problem with too many variables. I was scared, but only briefly, as you are when something unexpected and violent happens in your comfort zone. Bombs going off on Boylston Street. A firefight in Watertown. These are aberrant events in locations that are deeply familiar to me.
I thought to write last week, when bombs first exploded downtown, but couldn’t get my thoughts together well enough to attempt it. Even now, I feel confused, struggling to fit the thing into its correct context.
The brief fear that welled up in the heat of the moment was quickly supplanted by a deep sadness, certainly for the victims of the violence, also in a strange way for the perpetrators who must have been very frightened, angry people. And then also the sort of sadness you feel when a thing you thought was safe and fun turns out to be dangerous and scary, an accident on a summer roller coaster, a shark attack at a favorite beach.
One of the cool things about living in Boston is the sense of living in a space where history has been made, the knowledge that big ideas have sprung from this soil and the tides of change have surged from what is, today, only a badly organized city, perched on the edge of a cold, northern ocean.
I came here nearly twenty-five years ago, a college kid with no clue how Boston would lay claim to me. I spent a year trying to understand its haphazard geography by train and foot before a bicycle presented itself as clearly the best solution to a difficult problem. Subsequently, I have ridden nearly every inch of this place from Harbor to western suburb.
To cruise past the Common late on a summer night and think of the dramatic events that transpired there generations ago, town meetings and riots, the hanging of witches, the grazing of cattle, right there in the middle of everything. This is how you get to know Boston. The stray patches of cobblestone that dot downtown, they take you to the Boston Massacre and to the shifting of American sentiment that preceded the Revolution. You can’t ride the city without feeling that history.
For nearly a decade, before I switched jobs, I rode into town every day, my wheels spinning the path down the river into Back Bay. My commute took me across Clarendon Street, which runs behind the big, old Trinity Church. It’s a narrow artery through the heart of the city. The Marathon finishes a block west on Boylston Street, where the massive Boston Public Library sits at the other edge of the Square facing the church. That’s where the bombs went off last week, another mark on Boston’s timeline.
Days later, in a maniacal car chase/shootout, the young men who apparently planted the bombs met their end in Watertown where I work now, the second kid, the subject of a massive manhunt turning up, bloody and finished, under the tarp of a trailered boat right down the street from my office. That’s Franklin Street, our cut through to Watertown Square, where lunch comes from. A casual cruise around the neighborhood turns up cars and houses bearing the obvious scars of an intense gun battle. There is a blood stain in the street.
I had a text from work in the early morning on Friday saying, “Don’t come in. Check the news.” I went to the Guardian site and saw a picture of a SWAT team filling the main intersection around the corner. History seemed to be happening in the streets I live in.
And as I watched the news and worried about how it would all change the city, my city, I kept thinking, these are the streets I ride every day. How do I process this? How will I go on riding there?
The word aftermath refers to the consequences of a disaster, the period of time when we’re left to contemplate what’s different now. It might as well mean the math we have to do after the lesson, the part where we apply what we’ve learned. Having ridden the city up and down, studying its history, I’m left wondering just which lesson to apply.
Perhaps it will occur to me in time. Or maybe the lesson is the same as all the others,and the answer is just go on doing what you’ve always done, but try to do it better, more gently, more thoughtfully. To borrow a line, there has been chaos. Keep pedaling.
Last Monday, the day of the bombing, I rode home by a route that crosses a park that overlooks the city. The sun shone brightly in the soft-stirring air, and the skyline was unaltered, the Prudential building and Hancock Tower standing off to one side, the lump of downtown jutting grayly into the horizon. You would never have known what had happened down on Boylston Street.
This week I resolved to throw my leg over the top tube and go on about my business. I rode straight into Watertown, past the same houses and schools I pass everyday. The potholes, I noticed, are all still where they were before.
Image: Susan Margot Ecker
I took some time out from my visit to the Sea Otter Classic last week to speak with Diane Lees of The Outspoken Cyclist radio show. It was a chance to discuss the implications of the Boston Marathon bombing for cycling as well as (much more pleasant) spend a bit of time promoting the Kickstarter project for my book “Why We Ride.”
Most of the world’s cyclists don’t actually live within the broadcast range of Cleveland’s WJCU, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hear the show. Diane’s a delight to talk to and this particular episode serves up the Bike Snob as well, who was promoting his new book, “Bike Snob Abroad,” which I look forward to reading.
You can check out the podcast here.
BTW: The Kickstarter campaign is doing well and as of this writing has just passed the $17,000 mark with six days to go. I’ve put some great rewards together and if you haven’t checked the project out, I encourage you to drop by. I hope (and suspect) that you’ll find at least one of them appealing.
The Kickstarter is here. Drop by before time runs out!
Our friend and yours, Charles Pelkey, the Live Update Guy himself, will not be able to lend us his reportage or insight for this year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege due to a health issue. Our very latest communication from him, by text, was “I am not dead yet,” which we take to mean both that he is not dead AND that his sense of humor remains largely intact.
We apologize to those of you who had planned their morning around Live Updates from the race.
Your Friends at RKP
Image: Pelkey Family archive
Sometimes we ride for community. Sometimes we ride to escape.
Our kids ride out of love and wonder.
After a day spent cheering the Boston Marathon’s athletes at mile 16 with friends, we returned home to our quiet street in our neighborhood well outside the city.
“Ride bikes?” said my three-year-old daughter, hopped up on enough orange slices, potato chips and fruit juice to tackle the Cauberg.
What kind of cycling parent can say no, particularly to a girl who the day before began riding a bike without training wheels? I’ve stood watch over her older sister riding in front of our house during the middle of winter, harping about slippery ice and slippery road grit. And still she would ride until her fingers ached and turned red.
“Of course!” I said.
The car wasn’t even unloaded before she was being launched down the road. One moment my hand was firmly on the cheap white vinyl of her princess bike’s seat. The next I feel that distinct loss of contact as she is on her own.
This was one of the best weekends of my life. It was also one of the worst.
A few minutes later our neighbor across the street quietly mentioned there were two explosions downtown near the marathon’s finish line.
My thoughts raced to our friends who should be finishing right at that moment. I contrived to dash inside to check in with my wife, and then helped my 3-year old get back on her bike.
Up and down the street she rode, me a step behind. The steady tattoo of my footfalls betrayed my anxiety. I ran ready to pounce in order to protect her from her own inattention or a careless driver or a curb. I know there is so much I can’t protect either of my girls from, no matter how well they learn to ride their bikes. We can’t protect our friends either.
My oldest daughter and I spent the weekend practicing leaving skid marks on the dirt path along the Charles River. She can handle her bike. But can I handle her world?
There is a particular nausea when listening to your first-grade daughter recount her first lockdown drill at grade school. Legs pressed to her chest, nose buried between her knees, all on display at the dining room table as she unconsciously recreated the posture that I know could be a final position.
She recounts the boys who didn’t listen and the teacher who secured the classroom door while the local police involved in the drill rattled the handle to see if it could offer protection against the unspeakable.
In the coming days many of us will turn to our bikes for solace, for comfort and for strength. Ride together. Ride with your kids and let their joy, as they bat away stray hair with one hand and confidently hold the handlebar with the other, steel your nerves and warm your heart.