Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lessons from the Saddle: Part III Scene II

Plan for Possibility

In the last Lessons from the Saddle post, I contrasted two approaches to cycling, one ends-oriented and another means-oriented. When one has a particular end in mind, lets say an outcome, the bicycle factors as a tool to enable pursuit of that end. A cross race bike is a good example. Outcome: podium at the local cross race on Sunday. Most efficient and effective tool for the job: lightweight dedicated cross frame (no bottle cage bosses) and fork shod with high end components, tubulars, razor thin saddle, as little bar tape as possible, one chainring. Great tool.

Contrast against the means-oriented approach to cycling, where the bicycle is the catalyst of possibility. The practice is open ended, no outcome is prescribed, though intentions certainly factor: ride for the day, a few hours, an hour, whatever; pursue whatever seems interesting; ride as hard as it feels good to ride; stop when you feel like stopping; look around; be in the world. When we consider the good of cycling to lie in something else, something derived from the practice, we miss the value of cycling in-itself, its intrinsic value, the certain something most cannot articulate in words, the rightness felt while experiencing the world on wheels.

It took at least four years of hammering as a teenager to acknowledge the centring rightness of my cycling practice. I was on a local trail, pounding away as a always did, having ridden 30k from home already. Approaching a familiar lookout I never stopped at, I had a novel thought: why not stop and take it in, pause, think, breath, just enjoy where you are for a few minutes. I stopped, sat down on the bench, and looked around. I took it all it. I think this was a turning point, a moment where I finally came to really appreciate nature for what it is, wonderful and awe-inspiring. My ride that had been unfolding according to a clear plan had been cracked, and possibility bled in. I didn't have to form a plan and stick to it to the letter. I could adapt on the fly, make up my mind as I went, stop when I felt like it. I didn't have to go, go, go.

Fast forward about 15 years. This past season I did a bit more road riding alone than previous years, often nipping out for rides up around Wakefield solo. My Steelwool is designed with possibility in mind: big tires, low gearing, fender mounts, bottle cages (naturally). I've ridden this bike on trails I'd have never considered on previous road bikes with skinny tires. Sure, I've been known to dent a rim or two here and there, but the joy or riding a road bike just about wherever I want minimizes the pain associated with rebuilding wheels prematurely. But its not coincidence that I have a bike suited to all-road riding; this is according to plan.

The conditions of possibility for possibility rides fall into two categories: the machine, and the body, in no particular order. If I were to rank these, I'd place the body first, naturally, as no bicycle, no matter the delicate curves of its lugs, gorgeous chrome, impeccable cable routing or supple tires, will compensate for a body unfit for the challenges of the road. Fitness supports adventure. Better to let daylight and family obligations dictate one's timeline, rather than one's ailing body. If you fancy adventure by bike, treat yourself right and make time to ride.

The machine. It must be specced for possibility, but within what range? This is a matter of preference. One man's adventure bike might be an mtb, another a randonnee bike. This often comes down to locality. For example, in and around Deerfield, Massachussetts, home of D2R2, some of the locals I've ridden with tell me dirt road riding is the absolute best kind of riding the area has to offer, eclipsing mtb or straight road. Their bikes are build accordingly. In Pemberton, BC, mtb riding beats all, and a great bike is one that travels up and down with equal poise, handling plenty of rocks and a mix of soil types.

Practical, real world bikes, don't constrain possibility, the open the world to it. Good bikes encourage their owners to ride all the time, not just on perfect summer days. They call to us, they say, 'Hey, I'm ready, lets get out there!' This isn't to say that we all need the same kind of bike, and its an all-road. I am saying that road bikes marketed to beginner level riders that mimic PRO bikes are a step in the wrong direction for most. When a bike tells you, 'Hey, I'm a road bike, don't take me off smooth roads because I'm not designed for that,' it implicitly tells you what road riding is not: namely riding off the beaten track. But it is. It is riding on the beaten track, off the beaten track, and off off the beaten track. It is, and can be, whatever we want it to be. If I had a dime for every time someone told me how much the wished they had a bike to ride around the roads surrounding their cottage...if only their road bike's tires weren't so skinny.

Its vital to note that racing bikes don't need to be so unlike all-rounders as one might think. Sure, carbon wonder bikes are aero, light, stiff, and all that. Some are really good. I have one, its a Specialized Roubaix, and its terrific. But I just had my best cycling season of my life on nothing but steel bikes: 3rd place in the OBC Almonte Roubaix on my Steelwool Secteur 18 with 30c Grand Bois. 2nd place at the Mont Tremblant Canada Cup XC on my Niner 853 steel hardtail. 2nd overall in the Eastern Ontario Cyclocross series on my Steelwool Truffle Pig (and most of the series was raced on my Secteur with caliper brakes!). Of all these bikes, only one was raced differently than I'd ride it, the Truffle Pig, with its tubulars. My Secteur was raced in the same trim as I use to thrash trails, ride backroads, and the Parkway. The same.  My mtb was set up the same as I ride all the time in the Park and anywhere else. 120mm travel up front, a low knob tire in the back, and a good aggressive tire up front. I wouldn't change anything for a full-day choose-your-own-adventure ride. So great bikes, bikes that can do it all really can do it all. With judicious specification of their design and components, they can both serve as catalysts of possibility, and companions in the heat of battle. 

What's left beyond an able body and bike? What other planning is required to support a possibility ride? Just the basic stuff, knowing how to conduct typical repairs in the field, carrying spares like a master link, patches, tire boots, a bit of tape, a tube, tools and pump. Depends on how far out there you want to get. For a 200k day pretty out there, I carry all I need in a medium sized seat bag. Except food, that's jammed into my pockets. Pack lots, and don't forget your money and bank card. Maps don't hurt, and a cell phone is always wise. We've come to know the depanneurs in our area pretty well, valuable intelligence.

So that sums it up; plan for possibility by covering your bases and let your path unfold in front of you. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Roller Racing Final Round

Roller Racing: last and final round – FEBRUARY 19

Posted by Alex on February 9th, 2011 under: Roller RacingWheeler Events
Here is your last chance to get your roller racing action fill before the spring classics show their dreary faces!

Event Details

  • Date: Saturday, February 19 · 7:00pm – 11:30pm
  • LocationElmdale House Tavern.  1084 Wellington St. W.
  • Racing Events:
    • Women’s 500m (fixed) and 1000m (free)
    • Contenders for the women’s 3000-m race are:
      • Flavia Nascimiento
      • Carol Deavey
      • Cynthia Nelson
      • Courtney Romkey
    • Men’s 500m (fixed) + 1000m (free)
    • By Special Invite only : men’s 5000m
    • Team Beer Relay Even: 4 teams, 5 riders, 5 beers, 5 laps
  • Tickets: Come out  and cheer $10, Come out and race $15
  • We even have a Facebook Event page.  I’ve been told social media is  a big thing now!
  • Raffle tickets will be on sale for a chance to win great draw prizes.
  • Silent auction of original drawings by Stephanie Sothcott.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lessons from the Saddle: Part III Scene I


Have a Plan

This third installment of my 2010 Lessons from the Saddle will be a bit more philosophical than the first two. In order to set up the lesson, I'm going to have to lay a bit of a foundation to build upon. Here goes.

When people, namely those involved in PRO road cycling make statements like about doping being 'bad for cycling,' they tend to, perhaps unwittingly, reduce all of cycling to PRO road. In reality, cycling, as a practice, is carried out by millions of people who will never come to know or care a whit about PRO road. Hurricanes are generally bad for cycling, holes in roads are bad for cycling, rubber shortages would be bad for cycling; doping is bad for PRO road cycling. Indeed, cycling is not even a sport for vast numbers of individuals who ride. Its a way to get around, a way to unwind, to explore, to help ease the burden of physical work. Outside the frame of sporting competition, cycling is a practice that enriches lives in myriad ways. This is not to say that cycling necessarily enriches lives, that would be too strong a statement. It depends whether the bicycle is perceived as a tool, a means to an end, or, in contrast, an extension of the self, of one's 'I can,' the field of possibility one perceives extending into the future. For those who already maintain a well resolved idea of what constitutes worthwhile cycling experience simply need a bicycle that fits, one that is the right tool for the job. In contrast, those who see possibility as open and unconstrained see the bicycle as an catalyst, a means to extend one's capacity to engage the world in heretofore unforseen ways. In the case of the former, a road bicycle with 23c tires might seem altogether normal, self-evident, given the common understanding of what road cycling is...and ought to be. In contrast, others might see the same bike in terms of its limitations, the surfaces such a bike might be limited to. But a bit more volume would afford such possibilities....

I won't blame you for wondering where this is going; don't worry, I'm about to get to a checkpoint.

One might read 'Have a Plan' and dismiss the exhortation as falling under the umbrella of sportive cycling. Certainly it does, but I want to contrast this context against that which is as valuable, if not more valuable to me and many others: open ended cycling. Cycling possibilities.

In the realm of competitive cycling, having a plan is of vital importance. Human beings are cognitive misers; this means we make decisions based on the minimum amount of information possible (listen to the Radiolab broadcast on choice for a great discussion of this topic) using our minds as sparingly as we can. In addition, the fact that racing bicycles tends to entail extended periods of suffering means we are prone to making decisions we might rather not make while in the thick of battle (I use suffering here in a qualified sense, as I am well cognizant of the difference between the pain endured in sport, which is self-inflicted, and the suffering people undergo they have little or no control over; not all pain and suffering are equal. In general, I use suffering to denote perception of pain - emotional or physical - that is subject to evaluation as being endured against one's will. For example, those who endure torture suffer, while those who rip their muscles at the gym to build strength endure pain. In the cycling context, suffering refers to the conflict between the will and strong desire to stop the pain). For example, we might quit. I will quote Lance here, possibly the only time I ever do: "Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever."

In the heat of competition, one's focus narrows, and, as I mentioned in a previous post, we might in fact enter a cognitive state where we don't think per se. We act. Our action is conditioned by our experience, which, perhaps surprisingly, does not need to be real. Recently acknowledged by 20th century coaches and trainers, mentally rehearsing future athletic performances can significantly enhance athletes' ability to perform at the peak of their potential. Charles A. Garfield's seminal book, Peak Performance explains how mental training, visualization being a key technique, is vital to the realization of one's full potential, not limited to sport, but extending beyond as well. Garfield echos the Stoics, who predated Socrates, in espousing the value of mental training in preparation for specific challenges to come.

The Stoics always had a plan, or at least, they tried to. Steve D. Hales provides a pithy passage on the Stoic approach in 'Cycling and Philosophical Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Riding out of the Cave,' in Cycling: Philosophy for Everyone:

In the Enchiridion, Epictitus wrote that "With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it...If you are in pain, you will find fortitude.... And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you along with them." Epictitus was born a deformed Greek slave in Imperial Rome in the first century AD, and probalby knew something of pain and suffering. But here he expreses the Stoic ideal that the flourishing life is to strive for what is possible, with a sense of inperturbability. A Stoic sage is insulated from misfortune because he does not value the objects of the extermal world, and believes it is virtue alone that ensures a good life. For the Stoics, one undergoes emotions: they are things that happen to you, and are to be distinguished from actions that one performs. The proper attitude toward emotions is to not be buffeted and controlled by them, but to be self-sufficient and even-keeled. The Stoics tried to live apathetically, meaning in its original sense, unmoved by pathe, the passions. Thus we can live in accordance with nature. As the fellow Stoic and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote, don't say 'this is a misfortune,' but to bear this nobly is good fortune.'"

The Stoics' technique for insulating themselves from potential suffering in the future was to imagine scenarios as vividly as possible in order to pre-condition their perception of such a reality. In other words, they had a plan for every conceivable scenario. Competivive cycling requires running scenarios too. For a mountain bike race, we must plan for a potential flat and carry the necessary tools to remedy such a problem efficiently, for example. Tactically, we must plan for all kinds of races. Its not sufficient to set an intention to 'go as hard as possible;' that would be equivalent to a Stoic planning to 'handle everything I face with grace.' That's not a plan. A real plan must cover the range of potentialities from good to bad. One must decide in advance how hard to start, what to do if a flat is suffered late in the race, when to take hand-ups of water, who to monitor....Endurance mtb and road events bring team dynamics into the mix. One must decide in advance whether to assist a team-mate or accept assistance from team-mates in pursuit of a top placing for the team. As a helper, will you stop to assist another helper with a mechanical, or charge on to help the leader? These scenarios must all be run to facilitate decisive action under pressure.

Beyond the external aspects of a competitive event, it is likely most important to have a plan with regard to one's psychological approach. How important is the event in question? At what point will pain become suffering? If one is really racing, its painful. Unless you are racing folks way below your ability, its going to hurt. If it doesn't hurt, you are not trying hard enough. This is rock solid fact at the starting line. The question is, do you have a plan for dealing with that pain when it starts to become suffering? How do you intend to push on into the pain when its soooo attractive to ease up, or perhaps, even quit?

In 2010 I learned I need to race positively, and planning is central to that. Negative racing occurs when one trys not to get passed. This is the default stance for the leader of a race. Stress and worry comes with this frame of mind, which compromised one's ability to put all their effort into riding well. In contrast, racing positively is about embracing possibility up ahead, of riding everything to the best of one's ability, of catching the riders ahead, rather than holding a position because that's easier. I learned to go into the race expecting to really fight the whole time, rather than settle for something resembling a comfortable pace. One cannot regret putting in the full effort and simply not getting the result desired. One can regret easing up and realizing the possibility was there to catch a rival. Yes, there are days when everything comes together and the speed is there without the suffering. Those days are magical. One has to know that the time spend enduring suffering, resisting the driving internal urge to submit, to quit, to let it be easier, is a necessary condition for the realization of those magical moments. Have a plan, stick to it, and good things will follow.

Coming soon, Scene II: Planning for Possibility

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Laurier Bike Lane Update

Laurier bike lanes approved by Ottawa committee

Last Updated: Wednesday, February 2, 2011
8:34 PM ET CBC News

Ottawa's transportation committee approved a pilot project that would bring segregated bike lanes to Laurier Avenue. (CBC) The City of Ottawa's transportation committee voted in favour of installing segregated bike lanes on Laurier Avenue Wednesday evening.

The lanes are part of a two-year pilot project estimated to cost $1.3 million, and will run along Laurier Avenue from Elgin to Bronson Streets.
The project is now scheduled to be voted on by the full city council next week, and if it passes there the lanes could be built by summer. The lanes are not without controversy, though.

At the Wednesday meeting, a motion was introduced to shorten the lane, stopping it at Bay Street, to appease condominium owners east of Bronson who said they would lose visitor parking spots the city promised them. The Bank Street Business Improvement Area has complained the proposed lanes will affect their parking and loading bays.

Dick Brown, executive director of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, said hotel owners in the area have concerns as well. "They support cycling, they want to encourage cycling, but again this is not the route," he said. "They have a 500-car garage under their hotel with visitors coming and going - they'll have to go across the cycle lane." Brown is urging city staff to reconsider the criteria it used to select Laurier for the two-year pilot project.

But Coun. David Chernushenko said the hotels should look at the bike lanes as an opportunity. "Why not begin to build around that? Our problem in Ottawa is that we're so cautious, and I say take that leap, try something," Chernushenko said. "It's a pilot. Work with it, and we as a city will work with you to make that part of our marketing to make this work."

Most cyclists back Laurier plan. Cyclists, including the Citizens for Safe Cycling group, are largely behind the project. "Vancouver is stepping up. Montreal has already stepped up. Toronto's stepped up. It's time for Ottawa to move forward," said cycling advocate Dianne Cox. A small group of cyclists made up largely of experienced riders, however, spoke out against the lanes, arguing drivers and cyclists must learn to share every street. About 50 people spoke during the public consultation.

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