Half-Formed Thoughts

If I had to make a list of things I fear – things that really scare the crap out of me – bees and wasps would be near the top of the list. (Assuming, of course, that horribly awful happenings are on a list of their own.)

This would be partly due to seemingly malevolent tendencies of both insects: just hovering around, stingers at the ready. “Go ahead and try to shoo me away, kid. You won’t ever do it again (of course, neither will I, but who’s keeping track?).”

And while I’m older and supposedly wiser, with full knowledge of how important bees are to the world’s food supplies, I still hate bees and wasps and other things that sting. That’s probably because I’m a bit allergic to their stings. Not “swell up and die” allergic, but swelling and reaction that’s way out of proportion with the sting itself.

About a mile away from a bottle-filling stop on Tuesday – near an apple orchard, by the way – the familiar “WHAP” of bug-on-forehead was heard, followed closely by a very sharp sting.

“Owwwwwwww!”

I quickly swept the bug out of my helmet vent, lest it be a wasp that was out for a kill, and we headed into our scheduled stop. I yanked the stinger out, washed the wound, put my helmet back on and got on with it.

Later that evening, as expected, it was a little bit swollen. “Hey, not bad,” I thought. “I got off easy this time.”

By Wednesday afternoon it was considerably swollen. Yesterday it was a rather grotesque growth that kept me in a cycling cap all day. Nobody needs to see that kind of business.

It’s down a bit today, but putting my helmet on for the ride in was a bit uncomfortable. It should be back to normal by … I don’t know … Sunday?

Oh, and the name of the orchard? Super Bee Orchards.

I hate bees.

Coming soon (and I already have the perfect socks picked out):

It’s Giro time, baby!

Parenthood is a wonderful, amazing, life-changing, frustrating, infuriating thing sometimes. My wife and I have a 3-and-a-half-year-old boy who’s taken to the bike faster than either of us expected.

But at that age, kids are prone to outbursts and misbehavior … pretty much all the time. Want mac n’ cheese for supper instead of grilled chicken? Freak out. Want to keep your toys arranged just right, but someone moved one of them? Freak out.

In an attempt to reward him for good behavior, we made a “no bike if you freak out” rule. This is, of course, completely opposite to what works best for adults. The best thing for adults on the verge of a freakout is a bike ride. Of that I’m certain.

But for our little guy, the bike is still a reward. And he gets bummed when his little 3-year-old emotions keep him out of the saddle.

Truth be told, my wife and I get a little bummed, too. It’s been pretty awesome watching him get stronger and more confident on the bike. We’ve quickly come to love that little bit of family time.

So this one’s for you, buddy: Be nice at daycare. Stay in your cot at naptime. Don’t tip over the chairs. And stop wrestling!

 

Adieu, Old Friend

By my count, I’ve ridden seven different bikes over the past five years or so. Most have been carbon – four of which were shop demos that I had in my possession for a few months – and all were fun to ride.

But it all started with the bike up top. That, friends, is a Bianchi Brava, circa 2003. Reynolds 520 steel, originally outfitted with Shimano 2200 (that’s right, a step below Sora) and it weighed a ton.

After getting me started, it got all fendered up and was used as a commuter. And then as a trailer-puller, and then as a stand-in bike when I was pretty sure my race bike was trying to kill me (it was). And then it was a commuter again.

And then it started taking up space. You know that bike that is too useful to just dump but not useful enough to actually be ridden more than once a month (if that)? That would be this bike. My wife, who’s far more patient with me than she should be, started asking about it.

So I got it out of the garage and into a better home – the bowels of the shop. And there it stayed, quietly, for about a year.

But then one of the shop guys started asking about it. Yeah, yeah … I know.

About a month ago, I got an email from somebody looking for a good starter bike. She’s about my height – perfect. But oh, the sad state of that Bianchi. I turned to my good friend, the QBP (Quality Bicycle Products, the largest parts distributor in North America) catalog, and started rebuilding that tired old bike.

Today, it’s ready to roll. Pretty much everything is new, and it rides better than ever. But it won’t be rolling with me on it. Someone else gets to start their cycling journey on a bike that’s seen lots of different roads already.

While I’m sad to see it go – if only for sentimental reasons – I’m glad it will be put to good use. And in a classic case of “everybody wins,” my wife will have several more feet of space in the garage … until I bring home a cyclocross bike sometime in the next few weeks.

Shhhh.

Random link time:

  • Thor Hushovd isn’t happy. Imagine that – on a team of all-stars, one of them isn’t happy. He just happens to be wearing the rainbow stripes.
  • Ride your bikes everywhere! Bike Radar has a few riding-to-work tips. Just flip the whole “UK rides on the left” bit to the proper side of the road and you’ll get it.
  • Finally, you’ll find no link for this last one, but it’s notable all the same: we’ve been monkeying around the fall/winter product over the last few weeks. There’s good stuff – very good stuff – on the way. (And … keep quiet … we have a few sweet Giro d’Italia treats on the horizon, too.)

Spreading the Love

In each of our brick-and-mortar stores (six Trek Bicycle Stores), we have a customer database that tracks purchases and stores contact info. In that, we’re exactly like every other retailer who has a computerized point-of-sale operation. Why do they ask you for your phone number when you buy batteries at Radio Shack? Because they’re building a customer history profile.

We do the same thing (you can opt out at any time and not get a guilt trip, of course), ostensibly to accumulate a better base for our local marketing efforts. I use it in a perhaps-futile effort to learn our customers’ names. Over the course of days, weeks and months, a few thousand people come into the store. I recognize many of them. I get to know some of them fairly well. And yes, I even manage to remember a fair share of names.

For those who want to go fast, I invite them to the bloodbath that is Wednesday Night Worlds, if only to get a feel for what it’s like to really go fast. Last night, I accompanied two new WNW riders on their maiden voyages. Both had grins spread wide as the bunch rolled out of town.

Want to read the rest? Head to the Velo Jones Blog … .

Spreading the Love

In each of our brick-and-mortar stores (six Trek Bicycle Stores), we have a customer database that tracks purchases and stores contact info. In that, we’re exactly like every other retailer who has a computerized point-of-sale operation. Why do they ask you for your phone number when you buy batteries at Radio Shack? Because they’re building a customer history profile.

We do the same thing (you can opt out at any time and not get a guilt trip, of course), ostensibly to accumulate a better base for our local marketing efforts. I use it in a perhaps-futile effort to learn our customers’ names. Over the course of days, weeks and months, a few thousand people come into the store. I recognize many of them. I get to know some of them fairly well. And yes, I even manage to remember a fair share of names.

For those who want to go fast, I invite them to the bloodbath that is Wednesday Night Worlds, if only to get a feel for what it’s like to really go fast. Last night, I accompanied two new WNW riders on their maiden voyages. Both had grins spread wide as the bunch rolled out of town.

The grins, of course, went away when the rockets launched and the group shattered — that happens to everybody, really. But their smiles soon returned as they settled in for the rest of the ride.

There’s much to be said for the thrum of tires on pavement; for the clicks of derailleurs. To be a part of a group of 30 or more means each sound is amplified. It’s loud, actually. But it’s a sound I love. I miss it throughout the winter, when the soundtrack to training is only the wind whipping through the fleece skullcap you thought was pretty warm.

Last night, we gained two more converts. Even though they had it handed to them — again, that happens to pretty much everybody at some point — they’ll be back for more.

Random link time:

  • The ongoing saga of radios/no radios in WorldTour racing is probably one of the dumber arguments going right now. As a reasonably new fan of cycling (only a few years), I’ve never been turned off by having every rider wired up. In fact, some of the more boring race footage I’ve seen came from the pre-radio era. Two guys 25 minutes off the front? Fun. Memo to the boys: just go race your bikes and shut up. Memo to the UCI: listen to your constituents. The NFL is having a problem with that right now. The riders and teams are the show, not the executives.
  • The Little 500 was held this past weekend in Bloomington, Ind. If you’re a cycling movie fan, the Little 500 serves as the climax of Breaking Away. Check out the VeloNews galleries from the men’s and women’s races.
  • Want to start an argument? Check out this UK survey. Personally, as a guy who’s slid across pavement on his face, I’m pretty pro-helmet.

Making It Count

Though I’ve repeatedly tried to make it so, my duties in the Midwestern cycling empire of our owners, Jay and Kent, encompass more than just writing this column.

During the winter, I can play pretend pretty well — there’s not much going on in the shops, so I can say witty things online and keep myself entertained. But when summer returns (finally!), things start to pick up a bit. And instead of being “that writer,” I have to be “that shop manager/bike fitter/goodwill ambassador/phone answerer.”

On top of that, I still need to function as a reasonably average bike racer.  If it was just the writing thing, no problem. But it’s the writing thing, the being a parent and husband thing and the running around a bike shop thing. And until you’ve spent a few days on your feet — on concrete floors — and then tried to do a 60-some mile road race in the wind of an Iowa spring … oof.

Want to read the rest? Head to The VeloJones Diary … .

Making It Count

Though I’ve repeatedly tried to make it so, my duties in the Midwestern cycling empire of our owners, Jay and Kent, encompass more than just writing this column.

During the winter, I can play pretend pretty well — there’s not much going on in the shops, so I can say witty things online and keep myself entertained. But when summer returns (finally!), things start to pick up a bit. And instead of being “that writer,” I have to be “that shop manager/bike fitter/goodwill ambassador/phone answerer.”

On top of that, I still need to function as a reasonably average bike racer.  If it was just the writing thing, no problem. But it’s the writing thing, the being a parent and husband thing and the running around a bike shop thing. And until you’ve spent a few days on your feet — on concrete floors — and then tried to do a 60-some mile road race in the wind of an Iowa spring … oof.

(Side note: I knew that, obviously, but it somehow didn’t register this time when I decided to go race. This is partly because I have the attention span of a squirrel, but als … HEY, look at that funny dog over there!)

I am, of course, perfectly aware that I’m not the only guy out there with a situation like this. In fact, the life of a bike shop guy is pretty cushy compared to some of the folks who lined it up with weekend.

But the one thing most working parents do need to worry about is time management. We often have very limited opportunities to ride, so those rides need to count. But when your legs are tired and heavy from whatever it is you do on a daily basis, it doesn’t exactly make you want to climb on your bike and roll.

Thankfully, this is where I can offer some advice. And yes, while we’re always trying to move product, these are two items we use, know and love:

  • Skins compression tights. I’ll save you the lecture on compression and why it’s good for recovery, but these thing work magic after a hard workout or race. Put ‘em on right after the shower, sleep in them, even, and you’ll feel like a million bucks — or at least $37.50 — the next day.
  • The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery. This is a new addition to the VeloGear, and it will help you get the most out of your downtime. Learn about the process of recovery, why it’s important and how to maximize it. Train hard, rest harder.

There are other tricks to feeling great on a daily basis — some secret, some not — but we’ve had success with Skins and we’re learning more every day about recovery through the new book. Now, if only Jay and Kent would install a rubber floor system.

Random link time:

  • Oh, those silly Dutchmen.
  • Ricardo Ricco, who said he was the victim of a witch hunt and said would rather retire than operate under the current system, wants to come back. Again. There are no winners here.
  • It’s not like I ever really go anywhere, but if I did, this is good news.

I’m In the Right Place

On one of my mid-afternoon walkabouts yesterday (yeah, I wander around town sometimes — so what?), I ended up at the Midwest Cycling (VG.com’s parent company) warehouse in beautiful La Vista, Neb. What’s in the La Vista warehouse, considering the Velogear warehouse is in St. Louis?

Bikes. Lots and lots of bikes are in the warehouse. Our two Omaha stores have a centralized warehouse since they’re not terribly far apart, which means product for both locations goes first to the warehouse and then to the stores. Also, that means we have a Dodge Sprinter to make the transfers. And yes, it’s every bit as awesome as it sounds.

I’m In the Right Place

On one of my mid-afternoon walkabouts yesterday (yeah, I wander around town sometimes — so what?), I ended up at the Midwest Cycling (VG.com’s parent company) warehouse in beautiful La Vista, Neb. What’s in the La Vista warehouse, considering the VeloGear warehouse is in St. Louis?

Bikes. Lots and lots of bikes are in the warehouse. Our two Omaha stores have a centralized warehouse since they’re not terribly far apart, which means product for both locations goes first to the warehouse and then to the stores. Also, that means we have a Dodge Sprinter to make the transfers. And yes, it’s every bit as awesome as it sounds.

So while my main mission was to pick up items to deliver to each store, my side mission was to drop in and harass Mark, one of our buyers. Alas, he had a tummy ache (those were the words of our accountant, Jim, not me) and went home early. So that left me and my giant burrito (I told you I wandered around town) alone with nobody to bother.

Since I wanted to stay far away from Mark’s desk, which is probably infested with all sorts of parasites, I instead set up shop in the server room. In this case, “server room” means “spare cubicle where the servers live.”

Halfway through my burrito (chicken with black beans, mild salsa, no sour cream), I noticed the names of our servers:

Roubaix, Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque

What are yours called? SQL Server? Proxy Server? Please. If there’s any doubt a bunch of cyclists run this operation — assuming it wasn’t made obvious by the tanlines — this should clear it up.

When I rolled back into one of the stores, the talk centered around racing: the mountain bike race that may or may not happen this weekend and the road race slated for next weekend. Both are the openers for their respective disciplines. The employees not racing were talking about the store’s new clothing arrivals. And one of the assistant managers is awaiting his new bike. And soon, riders would begin rolling in for the first Wednesday Night Worlds ride of the season.

At my old job, I was looked upon as a freak for riding to work frequently, avoiding the donut pile and generally living a healthy lifestyle. Here, I’m decidedly average — we all do those things.

I’ve never felt more at home.

Helpful Hints

With the exceptions of a few select areas, I’m no expert on anything. (Those areas are socks, chamois creme and talking about bikes so frequently at home that I basically have carte blanche to bring home whatever I see fit, so long as we can still eat. And so long as I shut up about it sometime.)

But with group-ride season upon us, the weather getting warmer* and the days getting longer, I feel the need to impart some knowledge. Again, I’m no expert, but I was introduced to group rides by veterans of the road. Patient advice and a hand on your hip helps accelerate the learning curve a bit.

(*= With the exception of right now in Omaha. Seventy-something degrees on Tuesday, when I was sweating, and 30 degrees now. Nice.)

Want to read the rest? Head to The Velo Jones Blog … .

Helpful Hints

With the exceptions of a few select areas, I’m no expert on anything. (Those areas are socks, chamois creme and talking about bikes so frequently at home that I basically have carte blanche to bring home whatever I see fit, so long as we can still eat. And so long as I shut up about it sometime.)

But with group-ride season upon us, the weather getting warmer* and the days getting longer, I feel the need to impart some knowledge. Again, I’m no expert, but I was introduced to group rides by veterans of the road. Patient advice and a hand on your hip helps accelerate the learning curve a bit.

(*= With the exception of right now in Omaha. Seventy-something degrees on Tuesday, when I was sweating, and 30 degrees now. Nice.)

So with that in mind – that being “you need to know this stuff” – here’s what I have to offer:

  • Don’t be a jerk. Help keep your group safe. Help teach new riders. You might be there for the workout, but you probably aren’t there for a 10-bike pileup. If something’s sketchy, point it out – calmly – and help correct it.
  • Don’t light it up during the first 20 miles of a 60-mile ride. Ease into it, get good and loose and then start throwing punches.
  • If you’re in a group of Cat. 1/2/3 racers and you’re not one of those Cat. 1/2/3 racers, they probably won’t be impressed by your punches. Especially if your mile-20 punches leave you off the back at mile 25.
  • See that yellow line? Stay on the right side of it. At all times. I don’t care how long the echelon is. The second you start hanging over that line, you become an aggravation for cars trying to pass. And then the whole group becomes an aggravation.
  • And speaking of echelons … rather than being pinned to either side of the lane, riding the gutter and generally suffering horribly, just start a second echelon. If there’s enough of you to be in the gutter together, you have enough for a second echelon. Keep it tight, rotate through and take care of each other and you’ll be able to hang with the lead bunch.
  • Don’t flip off drivers. Just don’t. It doesn’t help.
  • When it’s your turn to pull, come through the line smoothly. You’re not there to ramp up the speed, you’re there to maintain it. Think of it this way: if you create a gap when you pull through, you’re pulling through too hard. The guys behind you shouldn’t have to accelerate to stay attached. They’re not impressed by your strength, they’re annoyed that you don’t know how to pull through a paceline.
  • If you’re burying yourself just to keep pulling through, skip a turn or two. It’s better to stick with the group and ride really fast – taking turns at the front when you’re able – than to go cross-eyed with effort, swerve around because you’re tired and then get blown off the back. That won’t make you better, it’ll just make you lonely.

I’m sure you have your own things to add. If so, toss it down there in the comments.