Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

25 January 2015

Check Your Tire Pressure!

I took Physics in my junior year of high school.  That was, oh, let's say some time before the first Star Wars movie came out. So, I admit that I've forgotten much of what I learned that year, and that some of the basic tenets of that branch of science have changed since then.

But I'm pretty good at detecting male ungulate excrement, if I do say so myself.  And I've been told I have a sense of humor.  (I don't know how anybody could think that!)  So, very few things uttered by famous people have made me laugh as much as New England Patriots' coach Bill Belichick's explanation of the under-inflated footballs used in the American Football Conference's championship game.  

 Inflate a bicycle tire

Now, in all fairness, the pressure--or, more precisely,lack thereof--in the footballs probably had little or no outcome on the effect of the game, which the Patriots won in a rout.  The Pats--and I say this as someone who isn't a fan--were clearly the better team in that game.

Still, you have to wonder what Belichick would be doing if he weren't a football coach.  Can you imagine him as a science teacher?  Or a minister?  A lawyer, perhaps:  He might win cases just by confusing people.  He's the only person I've ever seen who can channel Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon at the same time.

I'm mentioning him, and the "Deflate-gate" "scandal" because it got me to thinking about how many controversies there have been in cycling over doctored equipment.  While the two-wheeled sport has not been without such incidents, given bicycle racing's 130-year (give or take) history and the number of events held during that time, there actually have been relatively few controversies about equipment.

Some might argue that there seem to be few such scandals in cycling because they're overshadowed by doping.  Fair enough:  a Google search of "bicycle racing scandals" turns up a lot of entries about substance abuse--and, of course, Lance.  However, I think that the presence of drugs in cycling might now be overstated:  The incidents of doping attributed to Lance (and some of his peers) were a decade in the past by the time he had that now-famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view)  interview with Oprah.  

Still, whether or not you accept that cycling isn't as "dirty" as has been alleged (I think that it's a "cleaner" sport than it was, say, a decade or two ago.), you have to admit that drug scandals aren't the reason why we don't hear more about scandals involving doctored equipment.  There are a couple of good reasons for this.

One is that cycling's governing bodies have, for the most part, fairly stringent regulations about equipment.  For example, the Union Cycliste International decrees that no bike ridden in a road race can weigh less than 6.8 kg (14.99 pounds).  Some have argued that this weight limit is too high, given today's technology.  But I believe that most people--whether they are racers, fans, coaches or the sport's administrators--agree that there should be a "floor" for bike weight, whatever it is.  After all, I don't think anyone wants to see a sport in which technology matters more than the physical conditioning or tactics.  At least, I wouldn't want to see such a sport.

The Nihon Jitensha Shinkokai is another governing body that tightly regulates equipment used in bike races.  The NJS, which oversees keirin track racing in Japan does not allow riders to use bikes or components that it hasn't approved.  What's interesting is that NJS-approved equipment isn't always the lightest available.  However, it stands up to the stress and abuse of track racing and the training involved in it.  NJS officials explain that such regulations help to ensure the safety of the riders as well as the integrity of the sport, on which considerable sums of money are wagered in Japan.

What I've long found interesting is that, even in the absence of regulations, racers ride remarkably similar equipment.  So, while the UCI has a weight limit, it doesn't specify which components or frames can or can't be used.  Even so, nearly all of the riders are spinning wheels made by the same three or four manufacturers and are pumping on cranks and shifting gears made by the about the same number of companies.  Still, the equipment used in today's peloton is far more diverse than it was in the days of Eddy Mercx, when nearly all of the European pros were riding bikes equipped with Campagnolo components.

One reason for such uniformity in equipment is, of course, that Campy was making the most reliable stuff available at the time, and nobody wants to lose a race because of equipment failure.  At the same time Campagnolo had a near-monopoly on the equipment preferences of the European peloton, Japanese racers--even greater in number than their European counterparts--were using SunTour derailleurs.  

So, in brief, most racers and coaches have figured out that there's little, if any, benefit to using altered or unorthodox equipment.  Still, they should check their tire pressure! ;-)


24 January 2015

Daring It All To Fall

Now you are going to see one reason to have a "beater" bike:

Some would argue it's not fair to treat a bike that way.  Perhaps.  Certainly, I would never leave a cat or dog in the cold, snow, sleet, slush and rain.

Yes, that's a description of the weather we've had since just a few minutes after midnight.  How can I pinpoint the start of the storm so accurately?, you ask.  

You see, after doing things I had to do yesterday and hearing dire predictions for today's weather, I figured I'd take a ride, however late the hour.  Actually, I got on Tosca at about 10:30 and got home just as light flakes were eddying to the ground. 
Almost as soon as I walked in the door, the flakes turned to needles of frozen precipitation and thus were more affected by the force of gravity.  Now that's one kind of weather condition in which I won't ride if I need not.

In other posts, I've written about "playing chicken with the rain".  This time, I rode as if I were daring every kind of precipitation Nature could have thrown at (or, more precisely, dropped on) me. I still have enough childish mischieviousness to revel in last night's little victory.

23 January 2015

Get An Education--But Don't Lose Your Bike!

If you get all of your news from the mainstream media, you might think that the most common crimes on university campuses are date rape and other kinds of sexual assault.  I am glad that such incidents are now taken seriously; when I was an undergraduate, victims usually suffered in silence.  

However, such crimes are not the most common on higher education sites.  Nor are other assaults or driving under the influence.  None of those crimes comes close, in frequency, to the most common offense of all.

And what might that offense be?  Well, because you're reading this blog, you might have guessed:  bicycle theft.  According to one study, one out of every thirteen bikes students bring with them to school will be stolen.  What's equally disturbing, I think, is that only one out of every 315 stolen bikes is recovered.

From Visual.ly

What's most surprising, though, is the campuses that experience the most theft:  those of elite (or, at any rate, expensive) private universities and suburban campuses.  In other words, bikes are most often stolen from those campuses that are perceived to be "safe".

Why is that the case?  Perhaps students are more likely to let their guard down on such campuses.  Or, perhaps, those students come from environments that didn't inculcate them with the wariness of someone from a lower-income, higher-crime area.  

My guess, though, is that thieves, being the opportunists they are, go to the campuses where rich kids study and congregate.  On such campuses, thieves are more likely to find bikes worth stealing and, most important of all, one that is unlocked.  Also, it's not unusual to find bikes that, while locked, have been on the same spot for weeks, or even months, such as when students go on field trips or internships.  Sometimes a person who has never before stolen anything in his or her life will assume that such a bike was abandoned and therefore there for the taking.

While some might not think bike theft is a serious problem--and I'm not about to suggest that it's on the same level as sexual assault--for many students, and even faculty and staff members, bicycles are the main (or only) means of transportation.  Also, a bike is many a student's most valuable possession.  Those, I believe, are reasons to take bike theft on campuses more seriously.