Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

30 July 2014

Stories Behind These Bikes

Because I've spent a lot of time teaching, I often think of how something I see might work as a prompt to students' thinking and writing.  

Because I write, I often caption or narrate, in my mind, things i see.

I could see the possibilities of both in this photo, which I took--where else?--at Point Lookout:

Even though I saw the kids who left the bikes, I still think that one could construct all sorts of captions, or even stories, for this one.

If you have any, I'd love to post it.

29 July 2014

The Ezzard Charles of the Cycling World

Although I watched it only in bits and pieces, and on television screens more than 5000 km from the action, something about this year's Tour de France made me woozy with deja vu, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Breakfast of Champions.

In watching a few clips, again, I realized that it was the weather:  Almost every stage seemed overcast or rainy.  And they looked cold for summer.  From what I'm hearing, they were.

Such were the conditions of the 1980 Tour.  In fact, much of Europe seemed not to have a summer that year.  I know:  I was there.  That was when I did my first bike tour outside the US.  And it was the first time I saw the final stage of the Tour, along the Champs-Elysees.

That allowed me to witness the greatest performance of the cycling world's Ezzard Charles

Ezzard Charles is probably the greatest boxer you've never heard of.  I heard of him from a great-uncle of mine who was a prizefighter; I would later learn that no less than Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano considered him among the greatest boxers of all-time, and that The Ring magazine rated him among the top fifteen.

His counterpart in cycling, whose victory I witnessed in 1980, was none other than Joop Zoetemelk


If you've never heard of, or forgotten, him, I wouldn't be surprised.  Any time I've mentioned him, even to those who know a thing or two about the history of cycling and are, shall we say, of a certain age. I was met with furrowed brows.

His palmares includes, in addition to the 1980 Tour win, six second-place finishes in the great race.  He also won the Vuelta a Espana in 1979 and numerous one-day races.   

His almost preternaturally fair skin led to the joke that he never tanned because he was always riding in the shadow  of Eddy Mercx and, later, Bernard Hinault.  In fact, his detractors claimed that he won the 1980 Tour only because Hinault had to withdraw--while wearing the yellow jersey---midway through the race because the chilly, damp weather aggravated a knee injury.  

As much as I have always loved Hinault, I must say that such a criticism of Zoetemelk is unfair.  At least, I cannot concur with his detractors after seeing what I saw of him:  He rode with as much determination as power and technique.  And those who saw far more of him--his contemporaries in the peloton--always spoke of him in respectful, and even reverential, tones

Aside from being an "eternal second" (the label the European media also gave to Raymond Poulidor), I think there is another reason why Zoetemelk is not as well-remembered as Mercx or Hinault:  He was not a flashy or even a particularly stylish rider.  Marco Pantani, who had exactly as many Tour wins as Zoetemelk, is revered because "Il Parata" rode with a panache that bordered on hubris. (Also, he died only a few years after his Tour victory.) Zoetemelk, on the other hand,was often called "the perfect teammate", as much as a taunt as a compliment.

I think he would have done very well in, if not won, this year's Tour. And it wouldn't have been a result of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador withdrawing.

28 July 2014

Does Something Like This Turn You Into A "Retrogrouch"?

In just about every human endeavor, there are those who have to be the first on their block to have the newest and latest, and others who--whether they quote it or not--seem to be guided by Ecclesiastes:  "There is nothing new under the sun."

I guess I fall mostly, but not wholly, into the latter camp.  I ride steel frames, but I use threadless headsets and sealed-bearing hubs and bottom brackets.  And, while I ride dual pivot brakes and modern cassette hubs, I perch myself on Brooks saddles and slide, not snap, into my pedals.

I used to live with the hope that some completely ridiculous ideas that used to surface every decade or two would finally die off.  Alas, I have given up such hope that I will never see an electronic shifting system again.

I have even less reason for such hope after reading about a "smart bike" prototype Samsung has developed:

Now, a curved frame that would absorb the impact of potholes and such, I can understand, even if I wouldn't ride it myself.  But a rearview camera and a smartphone on the front?  And what do they mean by "laser beams that create an individual bike lane"?  That's a bad translation, I hope.

I have to admit, though, that I wouldn't mind seeing one of those bikes in person.  Still, I wonder what would happen if everyone rode one and had his or her individual bike lane.

The bike looks like it has a Brooks B-66 or -67 saddle.  I guess it can't be all bad.