Friday, June 29, 2007

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Lance Feeling

Among the annals of cycling, few cyclists have talked about the experience of being a professional cyclist with the level of detail and intimacy of experience as expressed by Lance Armstrong. For a guy so known for his taciturn intense nature, he seems an unlikely source for insight into what it means to devote your life to bicycle racing. His press conferences are famously brief. His interviews were timed even before he won his first Tour.

And yet, there among the pages of It’s Not About the Bike, and Every Second Counts are details fine as grains of sand. The miracle is his unembellished objectivity. Losing weight means suffering. For all the world, losing weight is this great mystery, a riddle even the Sphinx cannot answer. In the media Jane Q. Smith tells the reporter how she tried every diet, every new system, every drug and all to no effect. What you never hear the unsuccessful admit was that hunger gnaws at you like a guilty conscience.

Lance was one of us. Post-cancer, he was a bit of slacker. Beer and golf aren’t really the training regimen of a PRO cyclist. He made the choices that any of us might make on a Saturday afternoon. But then he got serious.

There is no way to sugarcoat what he did year after year. He lost weight because he ate fewer calories than he burned. He operated like our government—at a deficit. He’d come back from a training ride and skip lunch. As he said, “I was hungry all the time.”

At first, that sensation is disconcerting. Your body says, “Something’s wrong. We need calories.” You have difficulty concentrating. But after a few days, there is a familiarity; the diet is just part of the routine. And then the scale starts to drift.

Lance embraced that feeling and made it just another form of suffering no different from lactic acid. He spoke of a “sweet pain” that comes with fitness. Weight loss was just a mundane task to be ticked off like taking out the trash. Just one more “to-do” before winning the world’s greatest bike race.

It’s that time. For all those with mid-summer ambitions, this is the time for the sacrifice: small meals, no snacks, skipped desserts, refused beers. Less you is PRO. We know the secret; it’s as simple as suffering. This is the time for the feeling.

Padraig is feeling the pain as he walks the razor in preparation for some huge mid-season events. Padraig found the strength between hunger pangs to share his thoughts and compile this report.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Ego

In the mid 90s, while working in a bike shop in Southern California, I had one of the funniest bike shop moments of my 20+ years in the industry.

It was a Monday and things were quiet. The staff is down to three: myself, a sales guy, and a mechanic. A customer came in whom I recognized from the past weekend. He had been in on Saturday and talked at length with one of the sales guys about a sweet Trek 5200. Today, he was prepared to test ride the bike he was after. After some small talk and and a change of clothes he realized he had forgotten his license. Test ride policy clearly stated that a license was a must and there was no way around this. Well, the sales guy working that day was also a roadie and a bit of a hammer so he thought it would be fun to tag along with the customer to talk with him about the bike, answer questions, and, ultimately, sneak in a ride on the clock.

In a short time, both riders were suited up and ready to was time for a test ride. It was just before 11:00 AM when they rolled out of the shop. At 1:30 PM, our ego-maniac, hammer, sales guy came riding back into the shop, alone and looking troubled. The test rider and the new Trek 5200 were gone.

Dejected, sweaty, and embarrassed, our sales guy went on to tell us the story: They had ridden into some of the smaller hills just outside of town. There, the customer was doing some hill repeats to get an idea of how the bike would climb. First in the saddle, then out. Now our sales guy was quite the racer, fast and aggressive when on the bike, and fiercely competitive and after a few climbs, got in on the action, first keeping pace with the customer, then pushing it a bit, and eventually trying to out sprint the customer. Somewhere between the bottom and the top of the climb and probably just below our sales guy's lactic threshold the customer (and the 5200) had simply hung a left and disappeared. Our sales guy had spent the remaining time speeding around the area, up hills and down hills. Everywhere. There was no sign of the 5200 (or the customer). Evidently, Mr. Sales' ego had taken over, taking with it an expensive machine.

Who knew if the customer had originally set out to steal the bike or if the opportunity was simply to great to pass up. Either way, to me, it was so damn funny. Even though his ego got the best of him in this situation, he certainly wasn't an accomplice to the theft, and he was really sorry, and really embarrassed. The shop felt the cost of the bike was certainly worth the rights to tell the story repeatedly, and to never let him live this one down.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Live like a PRO

Remember when the French press began their whole "anti-Armstrong" campaign, insinuating that LA cheated in order to win the Tour? Lance and company fired back at critics with this simple and effective piece emphasizing Lance's dedication to training and preparation.

The message extends beyond Lance to other cyclists who take their sport seriously. I am too old to dream of turning PRO, however, I continue to take my riding seriously. I am careful of the types and quantities of foods I eat, I monitor how much sleep I get, I listen to my body, and I focus on my machine and the equipment I choose. I make sacrifices in life to get the most out of my body. I enjoy reading about the lives of the PROs and I look to them for training methods and practices that I believe make me a better cyclist. This is why I am drawn to insight about teams and their preparation and the reason I seek out information written by the mechanics, DS, coaches, and the doctors who care for the riders. The PRO cycling world is out on the front lines testing and refining methods. Teams are broadcasting much of this information for us to receive, analyze, and implement.

Cycling is one of the few sports where, as a fan, you can be as close to the PROs as possible. A cyclist can watch a race and relate to the pain felt and understand the effort put in during training and the sacrifices made during the season. I have no idea what it's like to get hit by a 181 kg linebacker or to travel at 560 kph in a drag car, but I do know what it feels like to run empty during a long ride, or to suffer during a 40-minute climb. I have seen 205 flash on my heart rate monitor while bridging a gap or while trying to hang on the wheel of the local TT king. So, whether you are screaming in a PRO's face on Alpe D'Huez or riding the exact same bike as your favorite rider, cycling is a sport that allows the fan an up-close and hands-on experience.

The parallels between the average (serious) cyclists and the PROs allow us to have an understanding of what is required to compete at a high level and gives us the ability to truly be in awe of these great athletes.

Live like a PRO was originally posted on 12-30-06

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Frame Pump

The frame pump is a thing of the past. Like a pay phone, the frame pump has been replaced by a smaller, lighter, and more convenient technology. Over the past 10 years, mobile phones have become the standard and so have the lovely, petite, CO2 cartridges. CO2s make the art of a flat change a more rapid and efficient process, getting a ride back on the road in seconds, and without the elbow and shoulder stiffness of yesterday. The frame pump was genius. It passed through many iterations: from a device capable of only low pressures and one's defense against the occasional country dog to a high-tech device that is smaller, lighter and capable of pressures above 120 psi. But like the pay phone, today the frame pump is only great in a pinch. This weekend, perfect in its execution, the frame pump was my savior. I own a black Silca frame pump with a Campy head. This trusty frame pump has aided me in several jams. At the time of its retirement I had perfected the art of the quick flat change complete with 110 psi. I had even requested a pump peg on my then new, custom steel frame to accommodate my trusty mate.

Traditionally, the frame was the mounting location for the "frame" pump. Seat tube, top tube and even tucked in behind the seat stay. I thought I had seen them all. In 1999, one hot summer morning, a long-time friend rolled up on the ride start presenting a very curious mounting location for his frame pump. In all the years of cyclists coming and going, dropping off their bikes for service, me selling pumps and even riding with frame pumps, I had never seen this frame pump trick. In my mind, I could not define what I was seeing. What is that?

Then, before he could respond, I realized I was seeing something completely new:

I was in awe. The frame pump had been a staple of the cycling world for so long that it seemed a stretch that I would see it carried in a new manner. After I took in the peculiar placement of the pump, I took to figuring out how this placement would not cause any functional issues, first confirming that turning the bars would not interfere with the pump or cables.

This weekend on my ride, I placed the frame pump in the QR/bar position. Oddly, it seems that my streak of flats ended this weekend with the implementation of my trusty frame pump. Is there a rule that when the monetary value of a flat drops so does their frequency? With the frame pump I eliminate the cost of a CO2. Later this week, I plan to replace my wasted CO2s and eventually go back to using them as my primary source for on-the-road flat repairs. But for now, I am enjoying carrying my frame pump and sporting in it as an ode to my old friend who taught me this unique style.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tubular Tires

The tubular tire is a thing of absolute beauty. It's as traditional and steeped in lore as the drop handlebar itself. It was the tubular tire that carried many of the sport's greatest PROs of yesterday to victory and it continues to be the choice of PROs today.

The PROs continue to use tubulars for both the ride and the security they offer. A puncture at speed becomes less of a hazard since the tire is glued to the rim. For those of us who are not part of the PRO Tour, tubulars work well as a race tire and are a special treat for all those hours of training. The feel and speed of a tubular becomes a boost on race day, providing a welcomed alternative to your training wheels.

The clincher tire has been revolutionized in the last 10 years and it rides wonderfully. But there's something magical about a tubular. I rock the tubulars in the warmer months; after the roads have been washed clean by the spring rains and most of winter's damage has been repaired. I have ridden tubs from the beginning of my love affair with the road and, over the years, I've developed a few tubular guidelines.

Never ride tubulars immediately following a rain - Following even a light rain, the small and sharp debris will be washed from their hiding places in the crags of the road and deposit themselves (usually sharp side up) on its surface. Riding tubulars immediately after a rain all but guarantees a flat. After a rain, opt for the clinchers and do your wallet a favor.

PRO shops will stretch their inventory - The pre-stretch helps with installation and the aging will give the tires a more supple ride. When in doubt, smell the tire. If the rubber remains pungent, wait to use. Do it right, do it like Julian. If your local shop does not partake in the stretch, purchase your tubulars in bulk (four at a time) in the off season and pre-stretch the tires on some old tubular rims away from direct sun and in the cool damp confines of your basement. (Store them right next to your finest wines and your award-winning truffles.) There is some debate over the aging of the tubulars: Julian favors the aging of the tire while Jobst Brandt says this is hogwash. I learned that the ride of the tire is more supple as it ages; however, there's a limit. Age the tire too much and you'll end up with a brittle hoop of garden hose.

Glue them properly - This is always a tough subject and there are many ways to stick a tire on a rim, like glue tape, 3M™ Fast Tack, and trim adhesive. I've always been of the mind to use genuine tubular glue and follow the gluing techniques I learned a long time ago. If you have any doubt in your ability or your knowledge, seek professional help. Screaming into turn four of your local crit is the wrong time to learn that your glue job was sub par. Take it to the local PRO shop and let them work their magic. The confidence you gain will be worth the $30-$45 bucks they charge you to glue some tires. And you won't have to worry about gluing yourself to your couch, your truing stand, or your rear wheel.

Securing the valve - If you are riding a deep section wheel, make sure to test your valve extentions prior to gluing your tire. Discovering a leak at the valve after gluing will be a messy, time-consuming error, and one that can be easily avoided.

Carry a spare - Naturally, you're going to be one of a few cyclists, if not the only one, on a ride with a tubular so it's your responsibility to bring a spare. Again, if you're riding deep section wheels, attach a valve extender to your spare and roll up the spare tightly so that it doesn't monopolize the storage space in your jersey. Another option is the under seat tubular bag. "They're boxy, but they're good."

Brush and glue - Glass and debris on the road are your biggest hazards. Given that a flat with tubs is a high stakes repair, watch for glass and brush your tires after riding through broken glass because this will help remove the sharp pieces before they have a chance to burrow into the latex tube. Check your tires for cuts and holes and apply a touch of super glue to any breaks in the rubber. This will help keep debris from making its way into the tube via the existing holes.

Experiment with pressure - The tubular tire delivers the smoothest, dream-like ride, capable of riding at a lower pressure without risk of a pinch flat and they're comfy, even with 140 psi. However, the extent of a tubular's benefits are not properly realized without the correct pressure. Use a good pump with a good gauge and experiment with the pressure that gives you the best combination of comfort and performance.

Tubulars remain on the fringe of cycling, reserved for those who prefer the ride and performance, appreciate the history, or are willing endure the additional labor of love. Flatting a tubular is a pain in the ass for everyone involved, but with the tips above I've been able to manage the task. Thus far, this season, I've done my best to ride my Carbones as often as possible. I've flatted three times this season and the cost for replacing a tire is damn expensive, but the ride is amazing and there is no sound like that of a hard, out-of-the-saddle acceleration while riding atop a tubular tire.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Sportsbalm #3 Warm-Up, Cajaputi Oil

The summer temperatures are in full swing and with them come white handle bar tape, white socks and, of course, a lighter, gentler embrocation. My first choice for the summer months comes from Sportsbalm: #3 Cajeputi Oil, a product that Sportsbalm claims is ideal for temps in the 23ºC - 30ºC range.

Sportsbalm has been a fixture in the PRO peloton for many seasons and was the embrocation of choice by Lance and the U.S. Postal team. If it's good enough for the boys in blue, then it's certainly good enough for me. provides an excellent product breakdown, and outlines the benefits of each one. The Web site claims Cajeputi Oil is preparation oil, perfectly suited for application prior to race time. The #3 is formulated using two ingredients: vegetable oil and Cajeputi Oil. Both reduce the risk of cramping and keep the muscles supple and well fed.

Today's conditions: Sunny, mild at sign-in, 20ºC, no wind, expected high of 26ºC

So, how does the Cajeputi Oil perform? This stuff is the shiniest embrocation I have ever used. And let's face it, the shine is PRO. The Cajeputi Oil begs to be applied heavily because the oil is so thin it literally leaps out of the container (and with the squeeze bottle there's no way it's going back in once it is out). The vegetable oil base means that applying too much #3 will give your legs the flypaper effect. (Who knew there was so much debris at shin level?) The smell is light and a touch on the medicinal side, but it's a subtle effervescence and you need to be up-close to really smell it. As a side note, if you're looking for the warmth so common in embrocations, then I would suggest bumping up to Sportbalm's Start Oil.

In sum, if you like to sport the embrocation on every ride, then the Sportsbalm #3 Cajeputi Oil is the perfect choice for the warmer months when a standard embrocation is simply too hot.

Overall Heat Rating - Low to non-existent
Euro-Style Rating - Insanely high, mirror-quality sheen
Smell - Light and sweet, PRO
Durability - Extremely high (despite its thin base, this stuff goes on and stays on through sweat, rain, and extremely humid conditions. If you are not careful you will be rocking the flypaper style.)

Now...I saved the best for last. As a cyclist, I am a huge fan of equipment and equipment to help care for my equipment. I love Giro's helmet pod and a great gear bag that separates my dirty gear from clean, and I am a total sucker for a bag designed to carry my embrocations. Does it get any better? Make certain that when you buy the works from Sportsbalm, you order yourself one of the Sportsbalm logo bags so you, too, can rock the PRO Soigneur style.

Friday, June 1, 2007


The Cupertino bus is a fixture in the Northern California cycling scene. So much in fact that it appears on Google Earth when you type in Cupertino's address.

Cupertino Bike Shop

Lance Armstrong Alpe D'Huez 2001