Tuesday, December 23, 2008

One on One Studio

Inevitably, when the cycling discussion turns to which shops "do it right," One on One Studio is always mentioned. For years, I've heard about the magic going down in Minnesota and often the buzz is hitched to One on One (OoO). If you were a mountain biker in the late 80s or early 90s, then you have heard of the shop's founder, Gene Oberpriller. Gene is as much a part of early mountain bikes as Tioga's tension disk and Suntour XC PRO. Through his years in the sport, the industry, and the city of Minneapolis, Gene understands his clientele and the local cycling scene. In a word, Gene gets the importance of creating a community environment. With so much talk about the bike scene in Minneapolis, it was time for BKW to hit the road again, this time in an effort to get some One on One time.

As I stepped foot into the shop, I was greeted by the creak of the worn wooden floors and the growl of an espresso machine's milk steamer. To my right sat a row of tables and a couple sharing a bowl of soup. Upon first glance, I had to wonder: Where are the bikes?

The shop is divided into three distinct areas: the coffee and sandwich bar, the studio, and the service area. Each section acts as a stand-alone space. As I passed through the sweet aroma of the daily brew and then through the bike inventory, I landed in the service area that buzzed with activity. To my right, running the full length of the space, rested every incarnation of Bianchi's single speed MTB and to my left, was a wall of printed memorabilia and current events. Upon my arrival in the service area, new inventory was being diligently entered into the database and repairs were underway.

One on One is a curious mix of coffee shop, bike shop, ecelctic art gallery, and junkyard; a bit of a museum of useful things, if you will. In many ways, One on One is the bike room that you dream of and, to a cyclist who loves Bridgestone and its history, this shop just can't be missed. Herein lies the evidence that Gene knows a thing or two about what makes a cyclist tick: sweet machines, all the tools you could imagine, never-a-bad-cuppa espresso machine, cool art, and all the keepsakes from your years of racing. What more could a cyclist want?

A walk through OoO:

When I first entered the door, I turned around and resting above the front door is Gene's orange X0-1 from '93, the very bike Gene rode to victory at the famous Chequamegon 40. This piece of history remains outfitted with all the bells and whistles from the era: a Softride suspension stem, Shimano 737 SPDs, moustache bars, and even an orange Silca frame pump. For a rainy October day, the shop was alive with the sights and sounds of a traditional bike shop.

Light Fare
The first third of the shop is a fully functioning coffee house, complete with artwork and a menu of delicious items. The coffee is excellent, the treats fresh, and the soup is good enough that you'd be proud to call it your own. Sandwiches round out the menu and prove that One on One is good for more than replacing a broken spoke.

The Studio
Gene's studio portion of the shop displays bicycles as the works of art that they are. Featured on waterfall type racks, each model is represented only once. Here, there's no "big box" approach where the inventory is spilling out of every nook. Whenever I visit a shop where the bike display emphasizes the bicycle itself, I'm reminded of how beautifully simple the bicycle is, and how it's certainly worthy of the prime space above your fireplace. The "studio" feel of Gene's shop is the idyllic backdrop for the aesthetic beauty of a Bianchi, and whether it's the pedigree of their high-end road machines or the smooth swoop of the Bergamo's handle bars, One on One provides the right canvas for these masterpieces.

The service area is located in the rear of the building, which provides those seeking service with a direct alley entrance. This area was the gem of my entire experience and I spent the majority of my time closely eyeing it's very facets: cabinets housing both old and new bike components and frames, CD collections, historic machines, and a selection of handlebars that would make a stem rattle with excitement. Among the treasures I uncovered was an old velvet lamp, a fallback to the edifice's previous life as a sizzling "massage parlor".

The Basement
Words can not do justice to describe Gene's basement. Floor to ceiling. Wall to wall. Get yourself to Minneapolis and see it for yourself.

One on One Studio is an unparalleled and unprecedented shop for the cyclist who relies on his machine for transportation, livelihood, or just plain 'ol mental wellness. With all the cycling-centric activities offered in Minneapolis, it would be easy to time your visit to catch a handful of memorable cycling events both on and off the bike, year 'round.

One on One Studio
117 Washington Ave N. - Warehouse District
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Phone: 612.371.9565

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ham and Swiss

My dad is full of great stories, stories about the PROs, stories about the local cyclists and of course stories about the people who were his customers for over 30 years. One of my favorite stories centers on the old school technique that defines my father's 60+ years of cycling.

When my dad was in his mid-sixties, he was a strong rider; riding just shy of 300 miles a week. One summer he and a group of his buddies/customers got together for a spin. Out and back, 70 miles, nothing too crazy, just a few friends on a gentlemanly cruise. At least that is how it began. As the ride rolled north and out of town the pace began to pick up. There were a number of hard efforts and the wind was blowing in, strong and consistently. Some of the greenhorns were tuned-up for the early season races and were lifting the pace above the agreed gentlemanly level, turning the screws in an effort to demonstrate their prowess.

As the group hit the half way, the greenhorns decided to stop for a quick bite and a refill of the bottles. The plan for a quick stop turned into a plan for lunch and then a table for six. There were still 35 miles to ride and a full meal at this point would be too much. As the group began to order, my dad and his best mate looked to each other and both knew there was only one way to play this.

The waiter took everyone’s orders: milkshakes, an omelette, a double cheeseburger, pancakes, and as the orders rounded the table they came to my father. Ham on white bread, a slice of Swiss, nothing else. No bacon, no lettuce, no sausage links, no strawberry milkshake. Nothing. And a water. His best mate replied with a devious smile, "I will have the same." Once the group had finished eating it was time to head back. A slow rollout as the legs began to divert the blood from the stomach and the group began to get back into the homeward effort. The group began to get playful and the efforts began to increase.

My dad sat in right behind his mate, as the tempo increased. Almost as quickly as the heavy breakfast went down, it began to come up. The riders who had eaten the breakfast fit for a king were beginning to take on a pale, greenish color in their faces. Once the green began to show, my father and his mate lifted the pace. As the pace lifted, the greenish color began to fade into a ghostly white color. One more attack was all it took for the breakfast club to scatter in search of some privacy. The greenhorns had proven they were strong; they had proven they could bring the pain. But bringing the pain is about more than steady, hard efforts. The pain is brought with brains as well as brawn.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Joe Parkin: A Dog in a Hat

Always keep the Belgian knee warmers away from the private parts.
—Joe Parkin

So goes the inscription on my copy of Joe Parkin's memoir of racing in Belgium, "A Dog in a Hat." It's a simple truth to be sure. Some of the greatest books are built on a succession of such observations. However, it is just such an observation that stands for the very nature of Parkin's look back.

I've known Parkin for more than 10 years, since he was a pro mountain biker for Diamond Back. He spent a winter racing 'cross in my neck of the woods and we crossed paths each weekend. Arguably, one of the best images I ever shot of cyclocross was of him with his bike on his shoulder running like a looter. If I can find that shot, it will run here.

Later, he graciously shared his experience with me as a trusted talking head any time I needed a quote from a former Euro-pro for an article. I respected him because he had done Europe the hard way. To me, going to Belgium and joining a European team is tantamount to climbing Everest without oxygen. While meaning no disrespect to the riders of 7-Eleven and later Motorola and U.S. Postal, in my mind his deep-end jump had PRO style in spades.

These days, my trip to Interbike is incomplete until I catch up with Joe. What I didn't fully appreciate back when I was requesting quotes was the depth of his experience, so I was eager to read his book to find out more. I expected good, but what we've been given is much, much more.

Parkin has written an eloquent and historic volume. It is an unflinching look at pro cycling that is marked by a most mature perspective. It lacks the indignation and emotion-laden rhetoric of those who have written in judgment about doping, which is to say Parkin wrote objectively about his experience. His views are made clear, but he condemns no one; we all have our views on the subject and his incredible grace allows the reader to watch without turning the author's experience into a morality play.

The book is also funny. Parkin has a gift for analogy and comedy that could be utilized should Will Ferrell ever make a movie about bike racing. I laughed out loud as he recounted an episode during the Tour of Switzerland. A hungry bike racer has never been funnier.

And while cycling is its main concern, the book's true subject is the pursuit of a dream. Parkin chased his ambition to be a great pro cyclist and whereas most of us can scarcely fathom the incredible success Lance Armstrong enjoyed, we have all wondered what we might have achieved if we had gained the opportunity to make that jump and pursue what talent we might possess. It is the story that would likely have been the rule for each of us seeking to punch our ticket. In the very uniqueness of his story, Parkin realizes a universality that gives his recollections a resonance with any cyclist.

What marks the book is Parkin himself. Not his story, but his perspective. His acceptance informs his choices, his prose and his immersion in the culture of Belgium. Parkin applies himself with humility to Belgium, to training, to his teammates, and you hope for him, all the while knowing that there is no glorious win, no big-time contract. In anyone else's hands, such an ending would be tragic, but Parkin reminds us what real success is: the acceptance of our friends. That's the true measure of a man.

Do not miss this book.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Art of the Attack

Some very well-oiled musical act was performing on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and all I wanted to do was watch a bike race. It should be impossible to turn away from the Macy's Parade. It is America itself. The recording the act was lip-syncing to showcased their virtuosic voices in flawless time. Their movements were choreographed to the 16th note. Their appearance epitomized the style of their chosen demographic. They were very nearly perfect. I felt like I was being force-fed a Twinkie.

The announcer called them artists. Performers, maybe, but artists, never. To a boy, they were selected in auditions. They'd been taught how to sing just right, taught the choreography step-by-shimmying-step. They'd been assigned a wardrobe. The last thing any of them had written was an e-mail.

There was a time when what you heard on the radio began with a spark of inspiration in the performer. It meant an interview with the band would give you insight into the song's creation, rather than the blow-by-blow of the producer bringing them the song in the studio.

I still prefer music performed by its creator; there's an authenticity that comes when the performer is also the writer. It's a little like eating organic foods; we know it's healthy, but more naturally produced foods usually taste better, too.

I don't mind the education; we all have our teachers. And I don't mind the idea of production; imagine The Beatles without George Martin. What I object to is the foregone conclusion, which is why I'll never be at a post-Tour criterium. If the riders are there to put on a show, how about a team-time trial with some hand-slings? Give us some polish, a little Cirque du Soleil on 700c wheels.

Which is why the Classics are so great. With 40k to go, there's no saving something for tomorrow. The team directors can scream in the riders' ears all they want, but at the moment of the attack, the move is nothing short of a creation, a force of will destined to leave a mark on the race. Whether it results in the win or not is beside the point; each attack is an important, necessary part of the race, the same way a Pink Floyd song needs a David Gilmour guitar solo. The solo isn't the point of the song, but it would be incomplete without it.

Those final kilometers of the race are a crazy, improvisational progression with each attacking rider trading eights in a jazz riff: first the guitarist, then the drummer, then the pianist, the drummer again, then sax, drummer, bass, drummer and head out. When you see a rider spring from his saddle and gun it, we cheer because he has just shown his hand, it's everything he's got, who he is.

Those late-K attacks are the real deal; it's no time for a probing move. And the final, race-winning move is the grandfather of all attacks, the piece de resistance in the classic sense—the move that defines the race precisely because it results in the win. The riders themselves understand this, which is why when they describe a race as beautiful, we know it to be true: That final attack is a masterpiece.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

1992 Milan-San Remo: King Kelly Wins Again!

Attacking on a descent in the rain and drifting both wheels on your way to catching '86 World Champion Moreno Argentin and beating him in the sprint is stunningly PRO.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Blue Sky Taunt

Each year the list of things to keep you off your bike grows longer. When you're 21, you don't need much more than clean cycling clothing and food. The chores increase, the job takes more and more, the girlfriend becomes the wife, you start the pint-sized team, and pretty soon you're no longer fitting in the responsibilities around your riding, but the riding around the responsibilities.

The structure we'd give our training gets usurped by the larger architecture of everything that's not cycling. No matter how much we'd like, we can't periodize the job or the bills. The miles take a backseat. And even when we think we'll get the miles in there's the dreaded OBE—overtaken by events—that can turn two hours of intervals into two hours of interminables.

Worse yet are those days when the time is there but the legs or heart aren't willing.

Inevitably, there comes the point in the day where we step outside and there it is: the blue sky. The key turns in the cylinder; I should be out there … riding.

Whether we get the miles or not, we're going to suffer. The sky's silent siren call holds the promise of mile after amazing mile. The longing we have for a simple turn of the crank is worse than being dropped. At least when we're dropped we're still riding. Not being out there—the lost miles—hurts worse than throwing money away. It hangs above us, the pull easing only with the darkening sky.

When I was in grade school the nuns always told us to take our sufferings and offer them up to the Lord. What God would do with my seemingly incessant childish sufferings, let alone why God might have any desire for them, I could not figure. Needless to say, I never got comfortable with the idea of offering my mental backwash to my maker, but the concept left an impression on me.

I save the suffering. There are lessons in the suffering. Those toughest moments in the rides give us our strength and the ache we feel for each missed ride is a chip we cash each time we need to dig just a little deeper.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Friction Freedom Chamois Cream

The fall is my favorite time to try out new products. When my mileage and intensity are down it is a good deal easier to incorporate a new variable into my routines. This fall we were introduced to a number of new chamois creams.

Radio Freddy and I came up old-school, applying Noxema to the undercarriage to ward off saddle sores and miscreant chafing. Back then my issues were always chafing and saddle sores in an around my perineum. Somewhere along the line, pads improved and my trusty Noxema fell out of use.

And then I began using a wardrobe's-worth of team shorts that were poorly cut. As a result, I experienced chafing in some new places and on some pretty sensitive instruments.

Now chamois cream users fall into one of two camps. Either you put it on the pad, or you put it on your skin. I prefer to lather up my personal contact points as it were. I briefly went back to the old standard bearer of Bag Balm, for the simple reason that while I liked the cool feel of Noxema, I had never put applied it to the reproductive apparatus. The menthol effect felt not just alien, but a bit wrong. After being reminded that the active ingredients that produce the Vap-O-Rub feeling are natural antibacterial agents, I knew what I needed to do: Get over it.

The upside to the minty zing is that I know instantly if I missed a spot. The feeling does make for a lively start to the morning.

Since getting comfortable with the magical menthol experience, I've tried a number of new chamois creams. And while I never thought I'd get excited about a new chamois cream the way I can for a new embrocation, Friction Freedom changed my outlook.

I've noticed that a few of the chamois creams out there get absorbed fairly quickly and that my skin ends up feeling like I put a hand lotion on it a few minutes ago. Not so with Friction Freedom. I was three hours into my first ride with the stuff when I made a bathroom stop. I had some trouble with my grip.

Friction Freedom is paraben-free, and while I don't know much about parabens, I'd like anything that's going to be on my skin for longer than it takes to watch a Francis Ford Coppola movie to be controversy-free. These preservatives are cause for concern for estrogenic activity and as carcinogens, so leaving them on your skin all day might not be the healthiest option.

Getting to the end of a 5-hour ride with a surface slicker than a politician's pitch is just my idea of comfort. I kinda wonder if this stuff might not have a second life in a, uh, more amorous application.

Check out Friction Freedom.