Category: Observation

Read More

Ethiopia Retrospectum

[Originally published in Bikepacking Journal no.2, 2019 with photos by Logan Watts. Shared here with my photos.]

We were in Ethiopia for twelve thousand minutes. The only tiny thing we gave back, all we could, is that we respect that we’re alive together and making meaning together and writing and rewriting memories. We are not owed anything, not kindness or regard or being taken care of. If these things are not given, we still owe our own herculean colossal effort of understanding.

Read More

Ancient Greece

In these places the implication of ascent, lift limitward. The shard that cracks the cryptography of Ancient Greece, that we leap, maybe in a protestful denial that we’re fragile, maybe in a realization of an authentic transcendence.

Cycling letters

[From Nathan Dahlberg, former professional road racer with 7-11, Motorola, and Spago, among others, and veteran of two Tours de France. Nathan still races bicycles, and is also a keen adventure cyclist. Posted with permission and ©Nathan Dahlberg.]

Part II of II

And for what happened in 33 years: during the 80’s bikes got heavier – my 1991 Merck with Duraace 8 speed was 24 pounds (compared to just 20/21 pounds as an average race bike in 1980), aero came in, and, rather surprisingly, most of the fastest climbs in history were made in the mid 90’s on some of the heaviest bikes in history, showing that the weight in the veins is far more important to speed than the weight in the tubes. Recently friction has become an issue again – yes it’s something that was big way back when decent bearings etc were made – including taking one ball bearing out and replacing grease with a drop of sewing machine oil! When one thinks about it, friction and resistance exist constantly, whereas aerodynamics play a major roll much less of the time and weight only occasionally!

And with the current generation of bikes, yeah it all looks pretty, carbon light weights and deep dish wheels etc. but the biggest change has been gears, the huge range of sprockets. If you look at 70’s and even 80’s guys going up Mountain pass’s were just flogging themselves trying to turn massive gears than in sprint finish’s it was more like drag racing as guys ran out gears and was a long spin to the finish. The small gears are changing the whole nature of racing, every year the organizers of Vuelta and Giro find steeper and steeper mts and the riders winning them get smaller and skinny – nowadays Merck would’ve been a domestique for Fuente!

Sprinters are outta of saddle the whole sprint now on enormous gears. There’s a huge increase in specialization because the gears allow it – and the race courses have adapted themselves to the material in other ways- none so much as time trialing. When I arrived in France in 1984, a TT was 60 – 80 kms long and a maze of corners and small hills. Now its a flat highway course. Time trialing has adapted itself to the TT bike in fact. Likewise in Belgium , where there’s almost no cobbled races any more, no one wants to go to cobbled races because they might damage there carbon wheels sets.

Cycling letters

[From Nathan Dahlberg, former professional road racer with 7-11, Motorola, and Spago, among others, and veteran of two Tours de France. Nathan still races bicycles and is a keen adventure cyclist. Posted with permission and ©Nathan Dahlberg.]

Part I of II

My first race bike (1981) was a second hand Ti Raleigh with a mixture of original Shimano Dura Ace and Zeus equipment probably about 5 years old at the time weighing roughly 23 pounds. Since then I’ve ridden a variety and they have subjectively at least given all sorts of rides good and bad. By and large I haven’t liked the new generation of bikes. That has nothing to do with looks or what they are made of but due to the proliferation of straight forks. For me straight forks whether on a steel, aluminum or carbon bike make it extremely twitchy and gives you the feeling you’re on the rivet the whole time, relaxing and taking corners with confidence is not part of the game. 

Since I started riding there’s been a whole range of improvements to the basic bicycle and also clothing–most of these enhance a riding experience quality and comfort wise—an experience that already exists. Clip-less pedals are like that for me, there’s no way I would want to go back to toe-straps, on the other hand there is no riding experience (or speed) with clip-less pedals I can think of I couldn’t achieve with toe- straps. (They have improved shoe design as well which is great). Ahead sets are a great boon (although nothing beats the look of an old Cinelli stem) as is STI. STI is a semi-dimensional improvement. For training it barely matters — in fact I prefer the old down tube ones, way less hassle and maintenance free, but for racing STI are an undoubted advantage in almost every respect (although bar end which I still run on my ‘cross bike are remarkably good as well; they were a victim of Fashion).

Winning the Tour de France

I never get tired of watching the crux stages of the 1989 Tour. The L’Alpe d’Huez climb where LeMond falters while wearing Yellow, the final day in the Alps when Fignon extends his lead. And then the time trial final stage. LeMond in his goofy to our eyes Oakley sunglasses and swaying on Scott aero bars, Fignon low in the drops orienting beams of intensity through prism spectacles. Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysées bricks, roaring crowds. Edge of my seat, lean forward, stand while LeMond himself crumples to the ground in elation. Yes! He makes up nearly a minute over 25k, beats Fignon and wins the Tour by eight seconds.

Us fans of pro bike racing—I’ve been and am—we celebrate the history, the landscapes, the spectacle, the drama of the competitions, strategy, and micro tactics within the race. We celebrate the teams of a team sport. We celebrate the riders. I’d be deflated to learn that LeMond cheated to achieve his ’89 victory. The disappointment would be over the fact that it was something other than what I thought it was, so what I think it is must be meaningful and important. The truth of it is essential to its power to inspire and elevate, and for the simple pleasure it gives to spectate. We look for sport to be true. Or, more accurately, we look for sport truly to match what we believe about it such that, under that description that we hold inside, we feel the surge of celebration, identification, admiration, and motivation.