Friday, April 27, 2007


“Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.” – Talking Heads

Riding a one-gear bike takes effort, especially when hills are involved. And sometimes it’s a real struggle out there. But every so often, Heaven is reached on the road. The grade of the road, the selected gear ratio and leg strength all come together at once to form Heaven on Earth. And then at this point, you are effortlessly flying down the road, like you are being towed up a ski slope, passing anyone who stands in your way.

For me it typically happens, but not always, on a long, slight uphill. But you can never truly predict when you’ll reach Heaven, but you’ll know for sure once you are there. There’s no denying it. And as soon as it happens, it’s over. Don’t try to hang on to it. Let it go brother; walk away from it. Too much of a good thing is bad. Look what happened to Adam & Eve.

The funny thing is that I don’t reach Heaven on my geared bikes. Yeah sure, I get into a nice groove on my racing machine, but it’s not the same thing. I’m not sure why? May be we (i.e., one-gear riders) are being rewarded for all of our suffering.

Unless you have experienced Heaven on a one-gear bike (fixed or single speed), it’s hard to explain to someone who has not been to the Promise Land. And this my brothers and sisters is why riding a one-gear bike is so special – we can taste a little bit of Heaven on Earth without selling our souls to Mr. Shimano.

Amen to that.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gearing Down

Let me say up front, I could never push a big gear. I’m a spinning, not a masher.

For my one gear road and dirt bikes, I have tried them all. 48 x 16, 48 x 18, 46 x 18, 42 x 16, 42 x 17, 42 x 18 and 40 x 18. Keep in mind, I live in a hilly area and I enjoy riding the hills.

After experimenting with a wide range of gear ratios (81 – 60”), I’m convinced that going low is the way to go except if you ride in a totally flat area. Gearing down is good for your knees. Gelato (my fixed/single speed Pista) is geared at 69” for the roads and Roman Holiday (my single speed cyclo-cross rig) is geared at 60” for the trails.

Rule number one in life – protect thy knees. Trust me on this one. If you cycle, run, ski, hike, etc., your knees will bark back one day, some sooner than others. But by taking good care of your knees now, you can remain active & fit until you are 6 feet under. So going light on the gears is the right thing to do.

When cranking on a big gear, especially on a hill, fluid is displaced out from under the patella (i.e., knee cap). No fluid equals bone on bone. Then the underside of the knee cap begins to wear down and this will lead to chromdromalacia – pain and loss of some mobility. By staying light on the gears, one spins with great ease on the flats and the hills now become bearable (i.e., less pressure on the knees, which is a good thing). No doubt you’ll lose some of your speed on the flats, but you’ll thank me in 20 years from now for your healthy knees. And plus, spinning fast looks cool.

Here’s another tip: keep thy knees warm. I wear knee warmers up to 70F. A warm knee is a happy knee. And now you have an excuse to wear those hip knickers.

Note: I am an EMT, and not a doctor (I don’t even play one on TV), but I have lots of experience dealing with all types of acute and chronic injuries. The key to remaining active is treat your body parts nicely at a young age and you’ll be on the go for a very long time until cancer or something else kills you. Unless you’re a professional cyclist, why hurt yourself? We are just trying to add a few more years to our lives.

There is one good piece of news to report on my so-called damaged knees. I can tell you, with a great amount of certainty, if it is going to rain or snow up to 3 days in advance.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bike Commuters

Bike Commuters – the forgotten class.

Right now, it’s hip to be a bike messenger (or at least someone who dresses like one). And to those messengers who are in it for the long term, hats off to you guys (and girls). It’s a rough gig for sure.

But how about us bike commuters?

We are also out there everyday, dealing with the same dumb ass, Starbucks drinking, cell phone talking, MapQuest directions reading SUV drivers. And plus we don’t even paid for riding our bikes, at least not directly (i.e., we do save money on gas). The big bonus is that we are helping Al Gore to reduce CO2 and slow down global warming by leaving the car at home.

Even though most bike commuters do not usually have tats and other various forms of body art, most of us do have a bit of a punk attitude under our 3-piece suits. I mean riding a bike to work, especially in a crowded traffic area, is all about taking a stand against the status quo. Yes, we are rebels too.

So for all you bike messengers out there, give us a nod the next time you pass one of us (or when we pass you). We are brothers and sisters of the cog.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Escarpment Trail Run

Escarpment Trail Run

Catskills, NY

Last Sunday in July

30 km (~ 19 miles)

10,000 ft up & down

West to East

Start on Rt. 23, Windham High Peak (~4 miles), Blackhead (~10 miles), Stoppel Point (~15 miles) & Finish at North Lake

The Escarpment Trail Run is THE classic Northeast trail race. I ran this race a few years back and had a blast.

The Adirondacks and the Whites get all of the attention, but the forgotten Catskills, in some ways, are a better deal. First of all, the place is empty, especially in the winter. Even though these mountains are only about 2.5 hours north of NYC, there is much wilderness to be had if one is up for a little exploration. Also, the Catskills have great ice to climb. Not much rock, but the Gunks are just down the road – so no problem there. And one last thing, most of the trails in the Catskills tend to go straight up, no western switchbacks here. So, these small peaks are a great cardio-training ground. The Slide Mt. Loop (~ 19 miles or so) is my favorite training route.

Here’s the scoop on the Escarpment Trail Run. The race starts on Rt. 23 and goes west to east. The first major peak is Windham at ~ 4 miles, no big deal. This is an easy cruise to the top. Next at ~ 10 miles is Blackhead. It takes a stout effort to reach the top here. Dropping down on the backside is a bit rough on the knees. The last big peak is Stoppel Point (~ 15 miles). After that, it’s a downhill cruise to North Lake.

The question that every Escarpment virgin asks, “Is it hard?”

The application paints a grim picture and the qualifications are a bit steep in order to run the race, but I personally thought that the race wasn’t too difficult.

Here’s why.

Sure, if you’re coming strictly from a road running background, you’ll suffer. But if you have spent much time in hiking boots, you’ll be fine. For me, the Escarpment was only my second long distance trail run, but for the last 30 years or so, I’ve been roaming the mountains of the Northeast. And when I hike, it’s usually at a fast pace. I come from a family of fast walkers. When I was in 6th grade, my brothers and I did the March of Dimes Walk-a-thon in 5 hours flat (that's 20 miles). I was speed hiking before speed hiking was hip. Trail running, at least on very technical trails, is just speed hiking.

So, I approached the Escarpment Trail Run as just another speed hike. I carried a small pack with 100 oz water (heat is always the X-factor for this race), some P&Js and corn chips (great for salt replacement). Throughout the race, I drank and pissed like a racehorse. I crossed the finish line just under 5 hours and felt great at the end. My time was about 1 hour below the 6-hour cut-off mark. The winning times are about 3 hours, but considering that the only training I did was walking my dog, riding my bike and some long day hikes, my time of less than 5 hours was not too shabby. And plus, I took my time on the down hills to preserve my knees (why wreak your knees when you’re a middle-of-the-packer?).

Yes, the Escarpment has a well-deserved reputation as a tough race, but if you spend lots of time hiking in the mountains and approach race day as just another speed hike adventure, you’ll do fine.

Sign up and run it. And watch for the bees.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Saturday Morning Ride

Gelato (my beloved Pista) and I were out for our usually Saturday morning training ride when I looked behind me and pace line of four riders were gaining on us. I’m still recovering from a left knee injury, so my legs are a bit weak at the moment. But I have been swimming like damn AquaMan all winter – doing endless laps and intervals – so my lungs are super strong.

Anyways, I hold off the pace line for about 5 minutes or so, but then I looked to my left and there they were. As the third guy passes me, he looks at Gelato and then he looks at me, and says with a smart ass tone in his voice – “Oh, a traditionalist.” I smiled and say, “Just enjoying the ride.” But deep down inside I’m thinking, “Screw you pretty boy.”

So, I slipped in behind the pace line. Gelato is so quite that I don’t think they realized that I was back there. After a few minutes, I am rested and ready to put the hammer down. As we approach a tight left bend in the road with an upcoming car, I jumped left onto the double yellow and sprinted past the pace line. I red-lined it for about a minute. Then I ease back into the saddle, get low on the ball horns and get down to business. I never looked back; I just spin like a madman. My lungs hurt and I feel sick to my stomach. When I finally eased up and looked around, the pace line is way behind me. I’m hurting, but at the same time, I feel good.

Yeah, I’m a traditionalist. I have a tradition of kicking your butt when you make a dumb ass comment at Gelato and me.

Towards the end of my ride, I chased down a rider on the last big hill, which took a stout effort to do. When I finally pulled up to the rider, I discovered that the rider was an older woman out on her Bike Friday – just enjoying the ride. We had a nice talk as we headed into town.