04 September 2010

bicycle racing memories–part 1

A good friend of mine – Alastair Locket – just retired from bicycle racing. He is writing up a collection of memories from his 20 year racing career and it was so much fun to read I thought I would reach back and see if I could pen my own version.

ASIDE – you can read Alastair's memoires at http://www.thumbprintracing.org/

I did not even start riding a bicycle for any purpose other than going off plywood jumps until I was in college which equates to 1982. I guess technically it was the spring of 1983 that I really started because only idiots ride in the winter. During high school I played soccer, rowed crew and skied my brains out. Cycling was not part of anything that I did.

College was a big deal to me. As is probably the case with many people, I turned up at the UW mostly a blank slate and was ripe for being impressed and ready to conform. As it happened, there were two guys (Todd Pasquier and Scott Kingland) in my fraternity that rode bikes and did it relatively seriously. Since I thought these guys were pretty darn cool and since I wanted to be cool too I picked it up. In retrospect I could have conformed to a lot worse activity so lucky me.

My first bike was a Sekai 10-speed. The frame and fork were made out of hi-tensile steel (not even Chome Moly!) and had stamped dropouts. It was a 25" frame, had 165 mm cranks, 42/50 chainrings, 40 cm handlebars and Suntour barcon shifters which were probably the best component on the damn thing.

suntour_barcon_2

Sweet. To facilitate my newfound hobby I got a job in the ASUW Bike Shop and slowly went about upgrading my ride and cycling accessories and wardrobe.

  • One of the first things I did was install toe clips and straps. Shortly after doing this I realized that my platform pedals sucked and I got some 'proper' pedals that let the straps hug my shoes a little better.
  • Next I got some wider bars, 42 cm I think because that was what everyone used. Why be different?
  • The first pair of cycling shorts I ever owned were from REI and sucked. A lot. They sucked so bad I can't imagine ever riding in them now that I know better. Back then I did not know better. They were a shiny, coarsely woven polypropylene with a red terry cloth chamois. Pad? Who needs that. Oh yeah, they had a drawstring and a small pocket on the right ass cheek which was too small to ever put anything in and even if you did it would have fallen out as there was no snap or Velcro closure.
  • My first pair of cycling shoes were some Beta Bikers. From what I recall, it was the shoe to get. Hahahahaha...

beta_biker_shoes_2

  • Of course my first cycling gloves were of the crochet variety. Duh... why would anyone wear anything else?

crochet_glove_2

And that's what I rode. Several times per week. I was living in the fraternity and so would depart from there for each ride. My flat day consisted of heading north up the Burke Gilman Trail to Kenmore and back. Oh yes. I was one of those Burke Gilman Trail racers trying to catch and pass everyone I saw. My hilly day consisted of riding down to Seward park and back. 'Cuz you know, you had to climb up those switchbacks on the way home...

On the weekends I would sometimes go for a crazy long ride ALL THE WAY AROUND Lake Washington. I know, totally nuts.

At some point this sorry rig became ridiculous and I got my first real bike. It was a Performance frame made out of Columbus SLX tubing because that was the shit! Of course it was painted red and I got it with a mostly full compliment of Shimano Ultegra components. Except I got some resin (read: plastic) Modolo friction downtube shifters. I also upgraded to 44 cm Cinelli Model 66 handlebars and 170 mm cranks and 42/53 chainrings. I think eventually I went to 8-speed (still with a thread-on Sachs freewheel though) so now I had 16 gears to choose from. Wicked cool.

Fast forward a bit and anther guy in the fraternity (Gary Evert) was riding with us so that made four. Then another (Craig Davidson) also joined us and that was five. After a bit Gary started racing and then placing! I was like, "I'm as fit as he is, maybe I should start racing too?" And so I did.

My first race was the Ravensdale Road Race. I forget how long the distance was for the Category 4 field but I do recall that I was super nervous. Gary and I had both joined the Wheelsport Cycling Team and had learned that you need to do more than just go up and down the Burke Gilman Trail in order to race. I also vividly recall a couple of tough, old guys (Sam McComb and Bob Keye) who would tear our legs off week after week on the Saturday and Sunday training rides.

By this time I had 'upgraded' my bike to dual toe straps. I think I had been buying these super cheap straps and was sick of pulling out of my pedals during hard accelerations so the obvious solution was to get a second pair. Plus, I had seen people do this on the track so figured it was cool. Yes, it took a long time to get all strapped in after the start but hey, everyone else was using straps too so it was not as bad as you might think.

ASIDE – I started the Volunteer Park Criterium with this setup once. I recall reaching down to tighten one strap before the water tower and then the second one after cresting the hill the first time.

We rolled out and shortly after I noticed that some guy in the pack had a bike which was beeping. Turns out it was Mike Burdo (who would go on to become one of the best masters racers in the NW in a variety of disciplines). This was his first race too and he had a heart rate monitor that was programmed to beep every time he went above or below his targeted zone. As you can imagine, being in a race this was pretty much all the time.

The race details are a blur but I do recall that in the sprint for the finish Mike went down. Hard. At the time I was thinking it was kind of funny for the guy with the dorky heart rate monitor to crash... Now I feel like a huge jack ass for thinking that. :( I'm sure at least one of my wrecks is directly related to that day through karma.

I was a Cat 4 for 1.5 years and then upgraded to Cat 3. Back then everyone wanted to be a Cat 2 as that meant you had pretty much arrived. There were only four categories back then and Cat 1 was essentially like being on the National Team. There were beginners, intermediates, pretty good racers (Cat 2s) and really good racers (even better Cat 2s). And then there were category 1 racers. I think I raced 10 times that first year. There was usually one race on most weekends and the test of the time you trained. Or did nothing. I was not so serious back then... college meant so much besides riding my bike. Like drinking and playing pool and drinking and going to the gym and playing volleyball and drinking and riding my motorcycle and dating. Oh yeah, and going to class. Drunk. Just kidding Dad... I think I only did that once.

After 1.5 years as a Cat 3 I upgraded to Cat 2. Hooray! There were some other guys and teammates out there that had done this faster than me but I was still taking the entire winter off the bike to ski and would start from scratch every April. Not too shabby I figured.

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