In honor of my upcoming weekend in California at training camp with Team Vera Bradley Foundation, my first criterium on March 14, nearly two years of keeping a cycling blog and a more serious foray into freelance writing, I decided it was time to fork over some cash for my own URL. I am hoping that a professional look and more flexible platform will adapt better as I move forward with figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.
This blog will remain active for the time being for archival purposes, but otherwise my writing will continue at www.MellowVeloBlog.com. In time, I will transfer some of my better posts to the new Mellow Velo.
Please forgive the break-in period over at the new site. Most of it is already set up and ready to go, but you never know. Creative projects require endless tinkering, in my opinion.
Thank you to all those who have made this blog a worthwhile, enjoyable and educational endeavor. Keep an eye on the new site this weekend for regular updates and photos from my trip to a PRO training camp. Please change your links and stay in touch. See you at the start line!
All the best,
“Epic,” cycling-related trips almost always run into two difficulties: what to pack and how to pay for everything. As for the first, I am the jeans and t-shirts type, so that is what I will take. But which Ts? A brief survey of my collection turned up a startling fact: Of the short-sleeve shirts that survived my latest clothing purge, 80% are cycling-themed and all but one of those are from Twin Six.
I will be with the team for about three days and I don’t want to overdo it or come off as a tool, especially when I take the team car and not the Felt during the hammerfest lunch ride out of Specialized HQ (I have to take pictures, of course). I’m not going to wander around in a little Rapha cap talking about myself, but I do have a red Castelli sweater and, incidentally, red Pumas. Too much at once?
As for the latter problem of funding the trip, we haven’t been in our apartment long enough for much change to accumulate under the seat cushions of the couch. Instead, I spent several hours in Austin on Saturday participating in Frakenbike, a monthly swap meet. My goal was to sell my mom’s 1983 steel Cycles Gitane, which I converted into a single speed last year. It was a joyous project that happily engaged my mind and hands in tandem, but the bike turned out to be a bit too small and a bit too useless for my life.
The Gitane was one of the most popular bikes at the swap meet, aided by my decision to remove the white tape and polish the handlebars to a blinding shine. At least ten men expressed interest throughout the day, only to discover the bike was far too small for them. A few scoffed that it was a mere single speed, not a fixed gear.
I finally sold it to a young woman seeking a new commuter. My table was the first she approached. Even as her boyfriend wandered around, she didn’t leave the bike’s side, touching it, riding it, and talking about what she was going to add to it. Later in the day, as I was packing up to leave, I saw the couple purchasing toe straps, lights, fenders and other extras for the Gitane. My heart swelled. I was pleased to see that the bike had gone to a loving home and was going to be ridden.
I anticipated being at the swap meet longer than I wanted, so I brought along the Felt and the trainer. I set up next to my table, hung a little “not for sale” sign on my race bike and pedaled for three hours under the warm sunshine of a spring tease. Mountain bikers laughed and shook their heads; road bikers recognized my brilliance; hipsters paid me no mind. For everyone, riding outside on a trainer turned out to be an excellent conversation piece. I got to meet most of the merchants and was even offered an ice-cold PBR as the sun rose in the sky and little beads of sweat began to run down from the brim of my cowboy hat.
Somewhat unreasonably, I have decided to take the Felt when I fly to California to spend three days with Team VBF. More than likely I would be welcome to borrow a bike, but traveling with one’s beloved ride seems to be just another rite of passage in the cycling life. But I lack the funds to purchase a really nice case, which would have set me back around $300 on top of the $500 I already dropped to make the trip. (My day job is funding my freelancing. That seems a bit backward, doesn’t it?) Thanks to accumulated store credit, an online sale and a birthday gift card, I acquired a “soft case” from Performance for a mere $30.
I didn’t have to unpack the bike bag from its one-inch-thick shipping box to know that it was just that – a bag, and had no padding whatsoever. A mere five days away from my departure, I was staring at something completely useless. Some improvisation was in order so I went to Bike World, picked up a cardboard box and set about constructing the ghetto bike bag.
It took an hour, but I dismantled the box with a dull utility knife and a heavy dose of patience. After a few measurements and a lot of wrangling with the shapeless mass of fabric, I re-built the cardboard bike box inside the bag, reinforcing the ends and bottom with the leftover pieces and taping the heck out of the seams. The tough outer fabric will allow for the re-use of the box instead of wondering if it will survive the trip and where I’m going to find another one before I leave California. Smaller and easier to carry than the original bike box, the bag should make my solo trek through the San Jose airport more manageable.
To hopefully aid the survival of the ghetto bike bag, I decided to be honest at the airport about what I’m carrying. I also bought insurance for $8 and chose to fly Frontier, who was rated by Bicycling as the airline friendliest to bikes. They also charge the smallest fee – a mere $50 to hand-carry your bike from gate to gate – compared to American and United’s $175. Insurance can also argue its way out of paying to replace a bicycle if it wasn’t declared at check in.
Somewhat ominously, I opened my mailbox and pulled out Bicycling’s 2010 Buyer’s Guide a mere half-hour after I finished constructing the ghetto bike bag. Hopefully I won’t be needing it any time soon.
I am not one of those lucky people who wins stuff. I don’t win bike races, free lunches or ebay auctions. But a few weeks ago, I won a CycleTo giveaway. Its weekly drawing is usually for socks, a musette or – if you’re lucky – an autographed jersey. But I scored a day riding with Team Vera Bradley Foundation (formerly ValueAct Capital Women’s Pro Cycling Team) at their pre-season camp in sunny San Jose, Calif.
Divine providence? Perhaps. As a rookie freelancer on the cycling news scene, trying to balance my passion and my real job, this is a huge chance for me to rub elbows, write stories, shoot video and take pictures. So even though I started the year with only three days of vacation, I took two. Four-hundred dollars worth of plane tickets, a new bike bag, a really cheap hotel and a bitch of a time renting a car (I’m under 25) later, I have a plan for a really exciting weekend.
Right now, I don’t know too much other than I get to join the team for a tour of Specialized headquarters on Friday, March 5 and ride with them the following day. I get to talk to whoever I want (including 2009 U.S. NRC points champion, Alison Powers), tag along in the team car, ride my bike and generally worm my way around amidst a group of kick-ass cycling women.
But like I said, I’m a rookie. My biggest goal is not to make a fool out of myself, so I am requesting suggestions for how to “hang” with a PRO team. Also, what questions would you like me to ask the team members? (If you are a guy, please don’t ask me if I can forward a marriage proposal.)
Saturday didn’t turn up a good ride. I finished with a mud stain up my back and a sweat-soaked jersey, but was unsatisfied and, strangely, spooked. I had been riding in an area where a couple on a tandem was killed a few months ago. As I fought my way through ruts full of water on narrow roads, I couldn’t shake the memory of attending their memorial service and watching their orphaned daughter walking up and down the row of 300 cyclists standing silently outside a church. The couple had been traveling on a very wide shoulder , but even that can’t negate the effects of a distracted truck driver going 70 mph.
Being frightened while cycling has never been an option for me. As I crossed the country by bike in 2008, I learned that to fear while riding would signal an immediate and paralyzing end to my trip. We chose carefully, but couldn’t always ride on the safest, smoothest, quietest roads. Fear would have had a chilling effect. We took the chance of riding smart and constructed mental blocks that allowed us to keep pedaling even as trucks tested the boundaries of our personal space.
The trip affected all of the participants differently. One year after we dipped our front tires in the Atlantic Ocean, I was riding more than ever. The strongest, fastest member of the group had not mounted his bike once. The experience of regular near-misses and the demand that we remain hyper-vigilant day after day had scared him so much that he no longer felt comfortable cycling.
I’m pleased to report that my friend is riding again. But bike safety has been in the local news lately, including highly-publicized lists of automobile-bicycle accidents, and I find myself nixing potential routes because of blind curves, a lack of a shoulder and low-cycle traffic that leaves drivers untrained.
And then there was Saturday, where I just couldn’t handle the stress. In an attempt to redeem the ride, I took advantage of the smooth, empty school parking lot I had parked in to do some sprint intervals and practice cornering at high speeds. It was a good way to work out the nervous energy and, in some way, to settle my fear back down to a more manageable level.
So far, I am very pleased with my new compact camera, a Canon S90.
The zen of anti-training training
Life: Sometimes it gets in the way of itself, bottle-necked with too many interesting and exciting activities all trying to tumble out onto your plate at once. If you don’t shake gently, nothing will fall out. But, sometimes you just have to take a butter knife and jam it up the neck of the bottle, like with ketchup, to free up something.
I’ve attempted the slow shake countless times before. I have planned training rides down to the minute, scheduled them in my day and tried to dutifully execute. But my patience is slim and life too often does its thing by tripping over itself. Scheduled rides come and go and frustration sets in.
On Monday, I grabbed the butter knife and started jabbing. So far, for the past five days, it has worked. Three days this week I went to the gym for upper body and core weight training. Three days this week I put in short, hard training rides. All these things I did whenever I could grab onto an hour and run with it, whether it was during lunch, after work or after dinner.
Instead of feeling like a chore or an obligation, each workout and each ride felt like a victory because I had taken advantage of a free chunk of time in my day to do something really satisfying. My activity mirrored childhood: You don’t schedule playtime; you go outside whenever you finish your homework.
Then there are my training rides. Perhaps it will turn out to be a stupid move, but I have read enough training books, from Bicycling for Women to The Cyclist’s Training Bible, to have a general idea of what I should and could be doing. Instead of mapping out something specific, I decide what kind of day on the bike it will be after about 15 minutes of warming up. Does my body feel like going fast? Interval sprints, then. Do my legs feel good for hills? Hill intervals, then. The only thing I plan in detail are my long weekend rides.
Yesterday, I pulled up clips from the Tour of Oman while on the trainer. For some reason, I couldn’t slow my legs down while watching the stage finishes, unintentionally doing 100 RPM during my warmup. I traditionally have a very big, slow pedal stroke and get tired spinning like that. But my legs felt like sprinting, so I took advantage of that before ramping up the resistance and making them really work for those high RPMs. I felt awesome when I tumbled off the trainer after an hour to go out to dinner.
Those chicken avocado tacos were extra good.
Issue 2 now on select news stands!
A few months ago, I somehow scored a column in the quarterly journal, She Pedals Magazine. I called it The Cat 5 Files – (an indication that I am “below category,” since there is no cat 5 classification for women) – One woman’s journey into the peloton. The overall aim is to chronicle my haphazard entrance into racing and to hopefully inspire other female cyclists to give racing a try even though they may feel intimidated.
For the magazine’s second issue, I wrote about my cycling personality and finding my place in the pack. You can read it here.