Saturday 31 December 2011

North Rain Westphalia: New Year's Eve Challenge Ride

Bernd and Nick: 2/3 of the mad cyclists out in the rain on New Year's Eve

What could be better than to take advantage of the lack of snow in North Rhein Westphalia and try for one more long ride in the Bergische Land, east of Bonn? It seemed like an excellent idea at the time and my friend Nick in Neunkirchen-Seelscheid and Bernd, who accompanied me at l'Eroica, were game.

Of course, waking up to pouring rain this morning was not what I had planned but I still wanted to manage one more ride. I had rented a car and loading it up with the bike and gear (including my spare wind trainer in case we would end up doing a workout at Nick's place) I set off at 9 am. The drive along the A3 was okay as there were none of the usual traffic jams but it continued to rain.

By 10 I had arrived at Nick's but we elected to wait a bit in the hope the rain would lessen. I thought I had packed everything but as always seems to be the case in the world of hobby cyclists I had forgotten something important but luckily Nick had a spare helmet.

We decided to leave after 11 and it was still pretty cold. The first road was quite busy with traffic but I was surprised to see another cyclist out. This turned out to be Bernd on his recently-acquired Pinarello. I had my trusty Basso rain bike and Nick, who clearly needs more bikes, had brought his titanium Serotta.

At 5 kms in our first climb began at Schöneshof and in the next 5 kms we gained 200 m. I felt pretty good as the rain was not too heavy and in spite of the Basso being rather over-geared for climbing I was going well. I even stopped to take a photo of Nick and Bernd climbing up on the quiet road we were travelling.

Another steepish climb and the rain began to fall more heavily and during the subsequent long descent we all got very very wet and cold. It was at most 4C and with the windchill it felt like the last day of the year. We all looked forward to a coffee in our favourite cafe in Eitdorf, which Bernd said would be open until 2 pm today.

We reached Eitorf at 25 kms into our trip and went into the crowded cafe for some coffee. We were soaking wet and left big puddles on the floor. We had had no incidents in the ride but at this point Bernd lost his footing on the tile floor as his cleats slipped while he was sitting down and he fell over, taking two chairs with him and bringing even more attention to us. Nothing hurt but pride, we enjoyed excellent warming coffees courtesy of Nick. We also noted that our ostensibly "waterproof" socks were not in the least so.

Bravely setting out again, we found that the temperature had dropped even more and it was a wet, cold group that made a quick dash along the main road out of Eitorf. Ahead, at Km 27, was something to warm us up. The road to Höhn climbs one of my favourite hills in the Bergische Land, gaining 130 m in less than 3 kms. It is a great read, barely travelled, and I dug in hard to get to the top, followed directly by Bernd, with Nick a bit behind.

Bernd, who was suffering from a cold, soon left us at Schreckenberg to go home, and Nick and I had two more climbs to return to his place. After the first of these, a descent brought us back to Schöneshof and the bridge over the swollen Sieg River. NRW had the wettest November in history but it seems like December must be one of the wettest as it has rained most of the month. Nick said that the river had been quite low, and the tributaries completely dry, but at the bridge the river had flooded its banks.

The last climb was a marvellous quiet little road that took us back towards Neunkirchen-Seelscheid but I was getting very cold and a bit tired and had to stop for a Clif Bar. The last few kilometers back were enough for me to end the day.

I had a very welcome hot shower (although the warm water really made my frozen feet ache!) and Nick kindly revived me with some excellent tomato soup before I packed up my soaking wet gear and hosed-down Basso and got back into the Mercedes-Benz for the drive back to Düsseldorf, again in pouring rain. Along the way, I saw the odd outburst of fireworks in the darkness as people began to celebrate the end of the year and the start of 2012.

Although I cannot recall ever having willing begun a ride in pouring rain, having good friends to share the adventure with makes it possible to enjoy even the most trying conditions. It was also the first time I have ever ridden anywhere on New Year's Eve, so 51 kms and over 800 m of climbing was something of an accomplishment.

To all those reading my blog I hope you had a good year of accomplishments and wish you many more in 2012!

Friday 23 December 2011

My Latest Book Review! The Peloton

The Peloton is a beautiful and elegant book from the folks at Rouleur featuring the superb portraits of pro cyclists by Berlin photographer Tim Kölln, who spent five years on the project. Capturing the riders at that moment directly after a race, the photos display a wide range of emotions. The one of Rolf Aldag (above) is one of my favourites: the cyclist-as-boxer.

My review can be found at here.

And people laugh at my bicycle storage...

A couple in Portland, Oregon, have had a $1.5 million custom house built that features fine views of the city but, more importantly, a separate structure for their 22 bicycles, including a fitness area and a sauna. She is a pro racer and he rides as an amateur.

"They ended up spending over a million dollars building a dramatic three-story wood-and-glass contemporary with a roof deck far above neighboring roofs, giving them a 360-degree view of the city. A separate 600-square-foot "garage" houses their 22 bikes plus many other extras a bike enthusiast might want, from a hot-water washing station for muddy bikes to a sauna, fitness room and fix-it station."

If you look at the slide show in the accompanying article here you can see the bike room which, frankly, looks a bit crowded to me. I would envision something involving a podium for the Colnago Mexico (under a spotlight) and some space to walk around and admire the other bicycles. But it is good to see priorities set properly.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

The Delirium of Swiftness: Time Travel

Advice from the American Medical Association (in 1895):

"Ride no faster than 12 kilometers an hour [and] as far as possible, guard against the desire to ride any faster. It is very difficult not to give way to the 'delirium of swiftness.' With a light machine on a good road an amateur may easily make 25 kilometers an hour. This is too much, for the pulse is increased to 150, even at 14 and 16 kilometers per hour."

The "Bicycle Face"

—In the midst of the ceaseless paeans of praise to the bicycle as one of the most health-giving institutions a faint voice of warning sometimes is heard. Thus a recent medical writer in the St. James' Budget, while not denying the undoubted virtues of the bicycle exercise, points out that not all riders present that healthful appearance one might look for, and in fact there is seen among their number a type, ashen-hued and haggard, already recognized as the "bicycle face." Not so with tricycle riders—and here is where he looks for an explanation.

The distinguishing feature of the bicycle, and especially of the safety, this observer claims, is the difficulty of maintaining the equilibrium. "Learning" to ride, means mastering the art of keeping the machine upright. It has a tendency to fall to one side or the other all the time, which has to be counteracted by a special effort. The learner knows it very well to his cost; but once learned, he forgets about it, and does his balancing more or less automatically. Nevertheless, the effort is still there, and puts a constant, though unconscious, effort upon his brain and nervous system.

The reason why the bicycle has to be "learned" at all, is that the center of equilibrium in the brain requires to be taught the business of doing its duty under novel circumstances. The falling bicycle is maintained upright by a constant series of small muscular movements, which unconsciously adjust the weight in the proper position and are themselves controlled by a special brain-center, situated at the back of the head. The strain upon this center is incessant, though unmarked; and some people can not stand it for more than a short time. This it is that causes the headache and the nervous exhaustion.

Probably it does not affect those who begin very young, and possibly it affects those with either very tough or very dull nerves but little. Most of us, however, are obliged to live in such a way that our nervous systems become very susceptible to any unaccustomed strain, and those who are most likely to use the bicycle belong to the most susceptible classes. The nervous effort entailed by balancing the machine is too much for them. The explanation may strike some people as fantastic, but it is sound physiology, and it squares with the facts. Experienced cyclists often say that the tricycle, and even the old high bicycle—which requires less effort to balance—are less fatiguing for prolonged work, such as a tour, than the safety; yet the latter is lighter, quicker, and superior in nearly every respect, save that of stability. It is a question of balance.

"Wheeling" is not a pursuit that will suit everybody.

Saturday 17 December 2011

My Latest Book Review! Not Dead Yet

Here is an interesting book that I reviewed for Pezcyclingnews. It is the story of Phil Southerland, who was diagnosed with diabetes at 7 months of age (!) and was not expected to live past 25. Not only has he done so, but he became a pro bike racer and now runs Team Type 1, a pro race team and website for diabetics. I have known a few diabetics and found his explanation of how they must manage their bodies every day to be clearly explained. It is impressive that someone can not only overcome this health issue but also inspire others to do the same. Worth reading on its own, and worth supporting the cause.

My review at Pez can be found here.

For more about Team Type 1, go here.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Ooh-la-la! Another Retro Ride...

Because you can never have too many nice rides in Europe, France has now come up with its own modest version of L'Eroica: La Patrimoine. 2011 was the first year, with two routes of 35 and 65 kms. There is a charming video of this first try here:

LA PATRIMOINE from Benjamin Donadieu on Vimeo.

Details of the event, held in September, may be found en-Francais here.

Saturday 3 December 2011

My Latest Book Review! Italian Racing Bicycles

"Cycling Literature" is my middle name these days with my third book review in a row on a Friday coming out today at Pezcyclingnews. You can read it in its entire glory here.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Amstel Gold 2012: I'll Be There!

My frustration with trying to get into the Amstel Gold Tourist ride this year must have been heard as the organizers switched to a lottery format to prevent their computers from crashing again. So I did not have to fight with 40,000 people for the chance to ride the Limburger Alps but simply sent in my 5 Euros and waited for the result.

And the result is a positive one! I was notified today that I was one of the Chosen Few, so it will be just me and my friend the Thin Man and 11,000 others at the starting line on April 14, 2012. This is the day before the Amstel Gold pro race. I will be riding the 150 km route, which will probably feature enough hills to make me happy.

And I am considering riding it on my beautiful Raleigh Team Pro in tribute to Jan Raas, who won the professional race five times while riding a similar bike for the mighty Team Raleigh:

Let the training begin! For the cycling, not the Amstel drinking, for which I seem already prepared...