Thursday, February 19, 2009


I really enjoy reading about how folks got started with riding and racing bikes, so I thought I would put my pen to paper and tell you mine.

It all started with an old Kent banana seat bike. For years, I begged my parents for a bike. Living adjacent to a four-lane highway (Concord Pike and by adjacent, I mean ½ block) and my front street being a 3-lane road (Broom Street), it was not happening. I remember going to friends of my parents’ house and seeing a “hopped up” Schwinn Sting- Ray with BMX style bars, flat black paint, and aggressive knobby tires. In case you were wondering, it was not meant to be, even though it was for sale and I really wanted it. I do think that is where my off road story begins though, because that was the first off road bike I wanted and wanted to copy. This would have been 1979 or so, so BMX was just getting started and most kids made their own BMX bikes themselves from whatever they could get their hands on. The kids in Cali had been doing this for years and the East Coast did have a BMX racing scene at the time, but most kids in my neighborhood had wanne-be BMX bikes.

Around 1980 or so, my grandfather was selling an apartment building he owned. Let me explain how my family owned an apartment building for a minute, so no one gets the wrong idea. The Italian Immigrant method of home ownership involved buying a house and then cutting it up into apartments. Most of the time, you rented the extra space to family, but if not, you rented to close friends. Even when you moved your family to another place in later years, you never sold the first one - - you just kept it and rented it out. You knew your tenants well and you took care of the place. So back to the story, my grandfather was selling the apartment building and there was a bike in the basement from a tenant many years ago. My grandfather contacted the former tenant and they had no desire to come get the bike, so it became mine. I am guessing that it was a Kent, but I really do not know for sure. My mom was not happy at all. She had never learned to ride a bike as a child and saw no reason for me to learn either. It was a red stingray style frame, red banana seat, tall chrome handlebars (ape hanger style), and the best part was a knobby rear tire, white wall of course. It was a single speed with coaster brake. It needed grips, so off to Pep Boys to get some new ones (Black Hunt Wilde’s motor cross style) and a patch kit for the rear tube.

It took me a while to learn how to ride the bike, mostly because I learned to ride in a 15 X 20 paved backyard (another city thing - - remove 80% of the grass and concrete it over - - less to mow, no mud, and everyone did it). I do remember riding down the street and in a parking lot with my father running behind, holding the sissy bar so I did not fall over. And like most kids, the first time he let go and I rode by myself and did fine until I realized he was no longer there and of course I crashed.

Riding was good though and my Dad took me to area parking lots to ride quite often. Wanting to be like Fonzie and having an abundance of wood around the house (Dad was a carpenter), it did not take long for a ramp to be built in the backyard. This was before I understood what getting air really meant, so I rode over the wooden ramp, let the front wheel drop to the ground, and then the rear. A bit like riding over a log, but I thought I was jumping.

One day, after “sessioning” the ramp in the backyard, I realized I had a decal on the down tube that was cracked. Kicking back on the deck, looking at my damaged sticker and drinking Kool Aid lemonade, I came to the realization that the sticker was not cracked, but the frame was. Said my first curse word, and went inside to tell my father. It seems that riding off the ramp and not jumping would allow the down tube (curved, like the “modern day” specialized MTB’s) to strike the ramp. My father was not pleased and even though I did not mention the ramp, I am sure he knew the break was caused by something stupid that I did.

Being from an average working family, a new bike was not possible for a bit. I probably could have obtained a frame from somewhere and moved the parts over, but it was 1980 and I did not know anyone that had a pile of bike parts just sitting around (yet). I think it was Christmas that year or the next, but a Blue and Yellow Huffy Blue Thunder made its way into my life. It was a whole new world now . . . . (To be continued).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Nothing new here . . . . .

Like most other bike bloggers, new materiel here has been pretty sparse. Unlike other bike bloggers, I do not have a Facebook page, so I cannot use that excuse.

Reality is I have nothing to say that is much different from the other bike bloggers in February. Trails are soft and wet, so all of the riding has been on the road or on the fire roads at White Clay when I feel the need to get out in the woods. Been fighting a sinus infection, well a cold first that turned into an infection. Rest has been tough with the cold, and has made getting my training hours in this week tough, but that is life.

The MASS schedule has been posted, as well as the Kenda Cup. I am going to try and race almost all of the MASS XC races this year, except for one (Sorry Travis, nothing personal but timing for me. I love your races and your venue). I am thinking about the Kenda cup races in NY and VT, but not sure if the time in the car will make it worthwhile, especially when the Cranky Monkey Race series takes place on the same weekends and the drive is only two hours VS six. Trying to find which venues offer the most family entertainment for weekends away and right now, Fountainhead park with the pools and waterpark seems most family oriented. Isabella loves waterparks! The idea of racing in the National events is tempting, but the competition in the MASS is probably tougher. At least the fields are larger. I have always wanted to race at Mount Snow though, so we shall see. Good thing about Cranky Monkey is the small number of events versus a season long battle for points. And no license to buy.

See, nothing new here. Same old “riding the road, fighting a cold” story as most other bike racers in February. Maybe next week will bring new topics. Like new kits for Allied Milk. And riding on trails again. Maybe frozen, maybe dry.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Racing Already????

Yeah, kinda crazy. I looked at this race as strictly training and not a race. It is January, my training efforts have had no real intensity (nor should they this early in the season). When I saw the Snotcycle advertised in December, I thought it would be a good place to go. I new the course lacked any major climbs, so it fit in well with the early season timeframe. I also knew it was blazing fast, because there was no climbs.

Prep for the race started on Friday night. Lisa had other plans for dinner, so I had to find another "date" for dinner. I called Isabella on her Fisher Price phone and she told me she had plans to watch some Snoopy films, but would be more than happy to have me over for dinner and a movie. I asked her what was on the menu. She told me she wanted Chicken nuggets, veggies, and sweet potato fries. Sounded good, but I had some other ideas for dinner. See I knew I would be racing this guy and I wanted to make sure my nutrition plan was in order.

Following the "If you cannot beat them, join them philosophy" I cooked up some whole wheat pasta with spinach and sauce. (one of Jason's favorite pre race meals). I topped it off with some cheese. It was delicious. A side of bread and my carbo loading was done for the day. Isabella opted for milk while I drank water. It was a delightful dinner.
After eating, we retired to the family room to watch Snoopy on the TV. Snoopy has become a favorite of hers, to the point where she has to hold her snoopy stuffed animal while watching his movies. Mommy, er, Lisa came home and we all hung out for some family time.
Saturday morning came pretty early. Up at 5:30 to get some food and get the car packed. I loaded my bike up the night before, but kept the clothes inside the house so they were not cold when I put them on. It was a warm 18 degrees as I left the driveway at 6:45. Drive was uneventful and I got to the venue at 9:00, got registered, visited with the Sappsfords, and got dressed for a warm up.
VA did not get as much snow as we did, but they did get some and the trails were covered in snow (but not ice like they are here). To help balance things out, the fields had melted and were muddy, at least later in the day. The fire road sections were totally ice covered. The trail sections were 10 inches wide of packed down snow and the rest was hard crust snow, so I knew passing was going to be difficult.
I get back to the start line a few minutes before the start. I lined up on the right, then noticed there was a big gap on the lap next to Jason. I figured I should mark him now, since he laid down the smack a few days ago - ha ha! The race started and I sprinted towards the front. The start, being a fire road in a sunny field, was slippery. My Niner stayed upright and I went into the woods in 3rd position. One guy seemed to be pulling away quickly and I marked him and the guy in front of me. We seemed to be pulling away from the others and I was feeling pretty comfortable. In the first mile, the leader went down and then it was me and the guy who was previously in second place. I was on his wheel for quite some time, but there was no way for me to get around him, although I did try. I knew there was another rider close by and when it opened up a little, he got around both of us (riding for Gripped Films/Kenda). At that point, we were at the halfway point back on the fire roads. The gripped films rider was pulling away cleanly while I focused on the 2nd place rider. The second half of the course was the technical part and the fun part too. The snow covered course was very twisty, so each turn was a slide, like in a muddy cyclocross race. I found there was three way to go around the turns. Method 1 was to just go fast and let both wheels drift until you hit the soft snow section. Method 2 was to tap your rear brake and let the rear end slide around the corner. Method 3 was put foot out BMX style and use it as a prop if I started to go down. All 3 methods worked well.
During the first lap, the rider who was in 2nd went down, putting me in second. I held this position for about 1/4 lap and then he came around me again when I lost sight of the trail (the snow made it hard to see the trail -- - like a whiteout I guess. So at this point, the I was back in third and was never passed again the entire race. I did have a guy come up to me at the halfway point of the second lap. He said "Ha, I got you. But I am horrible in the technical stuff, so I am going to follow you line". 10 seconds later and he was on the ground, never to be seen again. Since we were in the technical sections and I did not want to lose my podium spot, I decided to put this guy in my head and heard him saying over and over "Race your strenghts", so I decided to do that. During the second lap, I started lapping the women and Singlespeed racers who started after us. Most would let me by, with the exception of one woman racer who would not yield the trail AT ALL. She told me just because I was one of the leading riders did not mean she had to let me by. I waited for a little window and passed her, thanking her for her kindness. It was a rush to be passing the single speed riders, guys that I raced in previous years and being able to pull away from them strongly.
Third lap was more of the same, no one passed me, I passed singlespeeders and other sport riders from my class, who I was actually lapping at that point. I did had one really hard crash (my only one of the day) on the fireroad section. I hit a patch of ice at way too much speed and went down hard. I slid like 30 feet, got up, and got moving again because I did not wont to get eaten up by a more powerful rider in the open section. Got moving, NO ONE passed me and I knew I had at least 3rd locked up. I told myself to not settle and try and find 2nd and also told myself I could still win this race. I powered through as many sections as possible and finnessed the turns, because it was getting slippery. Out into the field that marked the last mile, I see what I think is the 2nd place guy up ahead (he had polka dots on his jersey tail.). I put it in the big ring and start hammering because he looks like he was not. I catch him pretty quickly, then realize it is not the 2nd place rider because this guy is on an orange SS and not the full suspension bike #2 was on. I still pass him and finish the race. I see the Kenda guy and the polka dot guy, who I know know as Matt and Marty, hanging out at the finish line. I am pretty sure Matt (Kenda guy) won and Marty was second, but then they tell me Marty passed Matt in the last lap and won the race. The ONLY guy to pass Matt. We are the only ones at the finish line at this point and celebrate our podium together.
Notice how the top three riders know where we were during the race and who passed us? There is a theme there. When results get posted, there is a mystery rider who won the race. The top 3 (me, matt, marty) all talk about how the race went, how we were the only three riders who passed each other and how no one else passed us, how we marked each other from the start of the race. The mystery rider is no where to be found and we all tell Rob (the promotor) there is no way this other guy won the race. They had timing chips and while they would have the times for each lap, they could not see them until all of the racers are done. After a bit (like an hour), Mystery Rider shows up and we all talk to him. Matt, Marty, and I agree that perhaps he got in front of us at the very beginning, but could not have passed us during the race. We ask him when he took the lead and he gets kinda weird. He tells us he was back in traffic from the start of the race and remembers passing SS riders, etc as did we. I think even Rob (the promotor) questioned his race, because he offered to pay the same amount of cash (yes CASH!) to the mystery rider and to the actual winner of the race. (he upped the 2nd place cash to match first). Me in 4th got nothing, but it was not the money I wanted, just my name in 3rd where I finished.
So it sounds like sour grapes, and if it were only me that could not recall someone passing, I would think it was just me. When three riders cannot recall this rider passing us, something is fishy. So the pursuit of podiums is still on, because the record books show me as fourth* (of 58), fourth*overall Sport (over 100 riders) and the podium only had three spots. (well to be honest they did not even have a podium, so maybe I should pretend they did and it was a 5 person podium?).
I am more fired up than ever to get training for the MTB season now. I am pleased with my fourth* place finish and it shows that I am on the right track. Since the first race at Fair Hill is April 19th, I have some work to do.