Saturday, May 21, 2016

From the Archives - Kroopian Poetry (Dactylic Trimeter)

NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language, gross imagery, and crude sensual themes.


Sometimes I don’t have time to think up a blog topic.  Taking a cue from the movie industry, and from the Book of Ecclesiastes, I’ve decided there’s nothing new under the sun and I’d better just rehash some old material this week.  So I’m posting two of my old poems—one that’s 30 years old and another that’s almost 20—and providing all-new commentary in the form of footnotes.  Pretend you found this in your Norton Anthology of American Teen and Sophomoric Adult Poetry.

The Blue Tube Club – spring 1986

Splat mud splut, Cow chud cud, Dog dung stunk.
Nose snot rots, Booger blood, Anal hair;                            2
Armpit sludge, Dick Butkus, Damp crotch rot.

Happy love, Friendly peck, Snuggle up,
Happy-sap, Special friend, Hugga bunch;                           5
Smurfy love, Special coo, I Love You.

Stupid jerk Fire Up Total butt
You all suck, You’re a prick, Gimme that;                           9
Go to hell, God you suck, Just shut up!

Footnotes & commentary

Title:  The Blue Tube Club

The Blue Tube Club was a club that my two oldest brothers and two of their friends formed in the mid ‘80s.  If you think four people is barely enough for a club, you’re probably right.  This club was either too elite to accept others, or (more likely) its members were too shy and self-conscious to do much outreach.  What isn’t disputed is that they refused to offer me official membership, despite the fact that I hung out with them most of the time anyway.  The idea, I think, was for me to be really bummed out about this and press my nose sadly against the window, wishing I’d be invited in to play their reindeer games.

In fact, I couldn’t have cared less.  This was put to the test when my brother Bryan asked me to write a letter to the Casper, WY Chamber of Commerce thanking them for allowing the Casper Classic bike race to be held there.  I refused.  (My perspective:  what did some local government functionary need with another piece of mail to process?)  Bryan said, “Come on, think of the Club!  What is the Blue Tube Club?  It’s a bunch of guys helping each other.  You know, like Bill drives us everywhere, and I fix the Volv’ [Bill’s car], and Geoff welded the roof rack, and I fixed the Volv’, and Dave … well, Dave makes us laugh.  So you should write that letter.  It’s time you started pulling your weight.”

To which I replied, “First off, I’m not even a member of the Blue Tube Club, as you’ve made abundantly clear.  Second, I’m not interested in pulling my weight.”  This last quote became my signature utterance.  To this day, it’s occasionally trotted out as proof of … well, something fundamental about my character, I guess.

Byline:  Maynard Steele

Maynard Steele was (and sometimes still is) my pen-name.  I didn’t come up with it myself.  In junior high French class we were passing around the sign-up sheet for the student directory, and (unbeknownst to me) my friend Phil erased my name and wrote in “Maynard Steele.”  That’s how it came out in the directory, and I decided to run with it.

Line 1:  Splat mud splut, etc.

It doesn’t take long for the astute reader to realize there isn’t much meaning in this poem; it’s arguably more nonsensical even than Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.  This was an assignment for my high school creative writing class.  The teacher, Mr. Kroop (I hope I’ve spelled that right) assigned us a “Kroopian poem,” which had the requirement of being written in dactylic trimeter.

What is dactylic trimeter?  It means each line had to consist of three dactyls in a row.  A dactyl is a foot of poetry with the first syllable accentuated and the next two syllables not.  An example of a dactyl would be the word “hangover.”  You place the emphasis on the first syllable and then the next two are non-emphasized:  HANG-over.  Another example would be the word “jettison” (JETT-ison).  In normal speech, you might occasionally stumble across three dactyls in a row, like “GO to the MAR-ket and STEE-al stuff,” but I wouldn’t say it happens a lot.

At the time, I was furious about the assignment.  It seemed impossible to write a single line of dactylic trimeter, much less a whole poem.  So I decided to be really sneaky and write the whole poem using nothing but single-syllable words.  I erroneously thought that strings of one-syllable words couldn’t be proven to be non-dactylic.  (This isn’t actually true, as I’ll get to later.)  Figuring my poem would be nothing more than a blatant act of rebellion, I didn’t bother much with the meaning and basically wrote whatever words popped into my head.

Line 2:  Booger blood, Anal hair

As you can see, I kind of faltered in my pugnacious resolve to use only one-syllable words.  Perhaps the better part of my brain realized that two-syllable words could be employed here without too much difficulty, and to good effect.  As you can see, both “booger blood” and “anal hair” are properly dactylic.  They’re also pretty gross, which was my way of celebrating the freedom I had in Kroop’s class to write whatever I wanted.  Mr. Kroop was famous for not only letting students write short stories that were brazenly, graphically sexual, but for reading these stories aloud in class.  (This was probably a myth:  when I was in Kroop’s class nobody wrote such stories, and no student work was read aloud.)

Line 3:  Dick Butkus, Damp crotch rot

This line demonstrates my failure to grasp dactylic trimeter.  First off, “Dick Butkus” isn’t dactylic.  I was correct that “Dick” is accentuated in this phrase, but I failed to notice that “But” also is.  It’s “DICK BUT-kus,” not “DICK butkus.”  If you don’t believe me, just ask him.  And while you’re at it, ask him why he never changed his name.  What kind of nutjob would willingly go around with a name like Dick Buttkiss?  Why didn’t he at least go by Richard?

The phrase “damp crotch rot” shows where my all-one-syllable strategy failed.  It’s pretty much impossible not to accentuate a word like “crotch.”  It’s a word that demands emphasis, even if you’re embarrassed to say it.  And the phrase “crotch rot” naturally comes out  as the trochaic “CROTCH rot,” perhaps because—specifying, as it does, the kind of  rot we’re talking about—“crotch” gets the emphasis, as would any word it its situation.  Consider this line of would-be iambic pentameter:

His house was fairly riddled with dry rot.

It sounds wrong, doesn’t it?  The last syllable of a line of iambic pentameter is supposed to be accentuated, but you cannot accentuate “rot” in the phrase “dry rot.”  It’s “DRY rot,” not “dry ROT.”  Many two-word phrases are like that, as I’ve explained in my post about how to write a sonnet.  “Dry rot” is trochaic, just like “HOT dog.”  And so is “CROTCH rot.”  Which makes it even worse, doesn’t it?  “Oh man, I’ve got a bad case of crotch rot, and it’s become trochaic!”

Lines 4-6:  Happy love, etc.

This stanza captures my frustration at teenagers in love.  There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with love, of course, but teenagers are annoying enough without deciding they’re in love.  You know how teenagers seem to think they know everything?  It’s particularly annoying when, at 16, they think they’ve found “the one,” and everybody around them knows they haven’t, and that this is just a stupid practice fling that will end in deep embarrassment for both parties, but they still go on like they’ve discovered what it means to love.

A teen would be arguably better off dabbling in the occult than messing around with romance. At the time I wrote this poem, my oldest brother was in love, which involved a lot of snuggling and even cooing.  It wouldn’t have been enough to say “Get a room!”—I wished he and his girl would go jump in a volcano or something.  Yes, some of this was sour grapes, but mostly it was the spectacle of all that James-Taylor-grade sappiness.

At the time, a buddy of mine did a long stint at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and had some long phone calls with his girlfriend back in Boulder.  Now, my friend had the good taste to keep the mushy stuff to himself, and treat the affair lightly, around his friends.  I suppose that many a teenager was labeled crass who was really just observing a delicate teen-specific form of decorum.  This could be a group sport:  at one point, another OTC athlete was waiting for the phone, and—perceiving from my friend’s tone and diction that he was talking to his girl—did a crude pantomime and cried out, “Plow ‘er, dude!”  This has become my friend’s signature utterance (even though he himself didn’t utter it).  To this day, it’s occasionally trotted out as proof of … well, something fundamental about his character, I guess.

Perhaps it’s out of a residual distaste for sappy, smurfy love that to this day, my friend and I will occasionally cry out “Plow ‘er, dude!” whenever some guy starts using goofy language like “relationship.”

Line 7:  fire-up

At age 16, when I wrote this, I was a pretty quiet fellow, as now, but with a very hot temper.  This could come out without any obvious provocation; it could be triggered by male hormones, typical life frustrations, instinct, impulse, and/or the effect of being your basic social outcast.  This volatility was exacerbated by those around me.  My two oldest brothers were a study in contrasts:  one was dreamy, quiet, largely disconnected, and (as described above) shamelessly in love; the other, meanwhile, was what you might call an angry young man.  The angry brother, whom we sometimes referred to as “Mr. A,” once chewed my head off, without a trace of irony, for stinking up the bathroom, as though that was some decision I made that could have been avoided—as if I’d decided to crap in a wastebasket or something.  The other members of the Blue Tube Club could also be a bit hard to take:  one had an excessively drippy girlfriend and liked to blow his nose on his shirt, and the other—a giant guy—liked to wear a big trench coat, smoke cigars, and make wisecracks 24x7, and would  spontaneously tackle me to the floor and pretend to hump me.

So as a result of keeping this company, and also due to my essential nature, I would sometimes lose my shit completely.  The label my brothers gave to these outbursts was “fire-up,” as in, “Uh oh, Dana’s on the brink of another fire-up!”  My fire-ups were very loud, and this stanza captures some of that.  Of course I made no effort, as a livid teenager, to yell in dactylic trimeter, so much verisimilitude has been lost here.  For example, I’m quite sure I used the phrase “total asshole” a lot but never once said “total butt.”  But of course “total” and “asshole” are trochees, so the phrase “total asshole” cannot be rendered in dactylic trimeter.

Teacher’s comment:  Did Max help do this?

My brother Max had Mr. Kroop’s class a year before I did.  To say Max was a mediocre student isn’t really fair.  I think it’s more accurate to call him an F-student.  But he got an A in Kroop’s class, and earned it.  He was, and is, a great writer, and his style, particularly in those days, was blunt, wild, raucous, and utterly uninhibited.  In contrast I was much more reserved, with poems like “The Paperboy.”  So I wasn’t surprised at all that Kroop saw (or thought he saw) Max’s hand in this strange poem.
A Voice Will Sing – December 7, 1997

Once in a while a voice will sing praises,
Something to levitate everyone’s spirits.                        2
Somehow the faithful will manage to fear it,
Calling it chanting from somebody crazed.

Must we all be a collection of skeptics,
Fearing the good we’ve been trying to summon,           6
Finding the evil in everything common,
Feeling that praise is not ours to accept?

     Witness your neighbor and salvage his soul,
     Count up his evils and call them the whole.            10

Footnotes & commentary

Line 1:  Once in a while a voice will sing

After I’d turned in the Blue Tube poem, Mr. Kroop read the class his own Kroopian poem, and to my astonishment he did just fine with the tricky meter.  The only line I remembered later was “Once in a lifetime a voice will sing.”  It bothered me that I’d taken as impossible a task that was not.  I vowed to try again at the Kroopian form, but of course never got around to it … well, almost never.  For over a decade I kept thinking about tackling dactylic trimeter, and finally got ‘er done.

I decided, after much messing about with this meter, that I didn’t really care for it, and that a slight enhancement would make the lines gallop along better.  I attached a trochee—that is, 2/3 of a dactyl—to the end of each line, and I think you can see it helps.  Without that last trochee, the line kind of lurches to a halt, like it’s been clotheslined.  Then I decided, having forgotten whatever rule Kroop made about rhyme scheme, to use an ABBA scheme (reminiscent of a Petrarchan sonnet), whereby the second line doesn’t rhyme with the first, but the third line does rhyme with the second, and the fourth line then rhymes with the first.  I also determined, somehow, that each stanza would have a zippier finish if I lopped off the second half of the final trochee.  To maintain the rhyme, this final syllable would have to rhyme with the penultimate syllable of the first line.  Thus, “crazed” rhymes with “prais-,” not “praises,” and “accept” rhymes with “skept-” instead of “skeptic.” 

Rather than paying a verbatim tribute to Kroop’s “Once in a lifetime a voice will sing,” I changed “a lifetime” to “a while,” because “once in a lifetime” didn’t makes sense in the context.  Plus, I didn’t want anybody to think I was alluding to the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime,” since I was alluding to Kroop’s poem (which for all I know was alluding to the Talking Heads, but no matter).  And based on my adjustment to the meter, I needed to tack on that trochee anyway.  Could “sing” be a transitive verb, setting me up to slap on a direct object?  Sure.  What can you sing?  A song, obviously, but that’s only one syllable.  “Ballad” is trochaic, but the fact is it didn’t occur to me.  I landed, rather arbitrarily, on “praises,” which really set up the content of the poem.

Line 2:  levitate

This word choice is probably my favorite thing about the poem.  I could have so easily put “elevate,” but “levitate” gives it a slightly creepy air—are the faithful right to call this voice a crazed chant?—but also points up the fact that the state of somebody’s spirits is kind of an illusion.  Anything that improves your emotional health could be reasonably labeled a placebo, could it not?  And your spirits, though raised up, are always so delicately perched … they could come down any minute, so isn’t the tenuousness of “levitate” better than the false solidity of “elevate”?

Line 8:  praise is not ours to accept

It’s important to keep in mind that I was fundamentally unconcerned with the content of this poem.  I was interested only in getting the meter and rhyme right, as this poem was a warm-up exercise for the real, serious poem that I intended to write next (and did, in fact, write—but you can’t see it as I wrote it for my wife).  So I think it a minor triumph that I managed to convey any meaning at all with this poem.

Isn’t it odd that religion is supposed to be an emotional balm, but so many strains of it bring negativity to the table?  For example, if somebody (even, or perhaps particularly, your inner voice) buoys up your spirits by praising you, you’re not supposed to accept—because that would be committing the sin of Pride!  After all, all praise be to God!

Line 9:  salvage his soul

At various points in my life, certain well-meaning types have decided my soul needed saving.  I’ve always found that vaguely insulting … like my soul is so far gone that some chance acquaintance—armed with little more than faith and a bible—can just sweep in and rescue me.  To me, such spiritual meddling is like a salvage operation.  (Both “salvage” and “salvation” stem from the Latin salvare, to save.)  As these do-gooders pick through the apparent disaster of my spiritual world, what bits and pieces are they looking to rescue before leaving the rest to slowly dissolve at the bottom of the sea?  And how is this operation supposed to bring a message of hope?

Line 10:  call them the whole

In all likelihood nobody has made it this far into my solipsistic morass of literary criticism, and even if somebody has, nobody is taking my quasi-religious rambling very seriously.  But if you have, and you are, please remember how little attention I actually paid to the content of that poem.  If changing a word made the meter or rhyme right, I did it, whether meaning was served or not.  In that sense, you could change this final line to “Count up the syllables and call that the whole”—but then it wouldn’t be truncated dactylic quatrameter!  It wouldn’t be neo-Kroopian!  See how this works?

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Is the Red Hook Criterium Series Good For Cycling?

NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language and intimations of gnostical turpitude.


Let’s have a little fun before burying ourselves in a lot of tedious text:

Daaaamn, is that a great crash, or what?  I could watch that over and over again.  In fact, I just did.  So did you—don’t deny it.  Really gets the pulse racing, doesn’t it?

Here’s another great clip:

Both of these fine films were shot at the Red Hook Criterium in Brooklyn, part of a series of races that require the use of fixies—you know, those track bikes hipsters ride that have no brakes and don’t allow coasting.  Racing theses bikes on regular streets, instead of on a velodrome, has proven a great formula for generating lots of crowd-pleasing danger.

Is this kind of racing a good idea?  Should it be promoted, or banned?  That’s what I’m exploring with this post.

What’s great about the Red Hook series

Anybody who’s ever raced a rinky-dink criterium in some forlorn business park, with a tiny smattering of spectators (all of them related in some way to the racers) will appreciate the fact that the Red Hook series draws a massive crowd of spectators (17,000 in the case of London’s event).  There’s no doubt that this kind of race is increasing the visibility of cycling.

You know what?  I’m getting bored with all these words.  Here’s a video compilation of Red Hook crashes from 2013:

The first crash is my favorite because the (amateur) cameraman gets involved.  I just wish there was another camera angle so I could watch the third racer flip over the fence onto the guy.

What’s lame about the Red Hook series

The first lame thing about this series is that the whole premise is just so fucking stupid:  hey, let’s make riders use the wrong equipment, and race in the dark, so that there’ll be lots of cool crashes!

The next lame thing is that this race thinks it’s cool because it attracts a lot of hipster types.  According to this Velonews article, “[Director] David Trimble held an unsanctioned, late-night race in Red Hook as a challenge between bicycle messengers and local road racers” and “required everyone to compete on a brake-less fixie, the preferred tool of bike porters.”  Of course once the race got big, the messengers were no longer much of a factor, because we all know bike racing is for the idle rich, who have time to follow special training plans involving “efforts.”  And yet, having started out as this illegal underground thing, the race desperately clings to a self-professed rebel mystique.  This “teaser” documentary by Trimble, with its self-satisfied air, almost made me throw up into my mouth. Of course it doesn’t mention the crashes, which are obviously the point.  It’s a little like a commercial  for Oreos that celebrates the wholesome wheat flour without mentioning the sugar and fat.

And why are fixies the “preferred tool” of tools?  Because they’re stupid and unpractical, of course.  Their unsuitability for urban riding makes them edgy and cool, kind of like cigarettes, so they naturally appeal to vainglorious image-obsessed douchebags.  Now, I want to pause here and point out that not all bike messengers are like this.  Go to New York City sometime and check out the full spectrum of messengers.  A fair number of them are just a step above homelessness and ride really crappy department store bikes worth less than the lock they’re secured with.  I saw one poor dude who had to make do with a girl’s model.  Not all messengers are narcissistic curators of their self-important self-image.

I realize I’m getting into slippery territory here … if I don’t like fixie-riding hipsters and the lycra-kitted bike dorks on $5,000 carbon-wheeled track bikes who weirdly seek to emulate them, shouldn’t I want to watch videos of them crashing at high speed?  Fair point.  In fact, when I watch that first video, I can’t help but be annoyed that it’s not edited more tightly.  Check out this video here and you really appreciate the impressive capabilities of modern video-editing software.  Why does this albeit spectacular bike crash video run for a full 43 seconds, when all the worthwhile action is over after the first 11?  Meanwhile, the auteur obviously isn’t a bike racer himself because he fails to pan correctly and we miss part of the crash.  About 6 seconds in, you can hear the telltale sound of a riding going down, just out of the frame, but the cameraman doesn’t react.  It’s a good thing more guys stacked into the first guy, or we’d have missed the whole thing!

So yeah, there’s a part of me that says we should promote, and indeed enhance, this version of the sport.  What I’d really like to see is one corner without fencing, where they periodically allow spectators to blast racers with a fire hose.  Wouldn’t that be spectacular?  Or once in a while they splash oil across a corner.  Of course, the spectators shouldn’t be off the hook here … they need to get involved in the carnage as well.  Why not get a booze sponsor involved, and create a drinking game for the spectators?  Every time there’s a crash, everybody has to do a shot.  When some bozo gets sufficiently drunk, a course marshal opens the fencing and pushes him out into the street where he wobbles around a bit until a rider slams into him.  Now we’re talking!

But that’s not actually where this Red Hook series is heading.  Naturally, as it grows and attracts money, it becomes more mainstream, despite what the director would have you believe.  According to this article, “Trimble, who first organized the race in 2008 as a celebration of his birthday, said he consciously tries to balance the race’s grassroots feel with its growing popularity.  ‘As for people saying the atmosphere is getting more mainstream, it’s not like we have a bank sponsor,’ Trimble said. ‘It’s gotten bigger but believe me, it’s grassroots.’”

Okay, first of all, what kind of self-absorbed dickwad orchestrates his own birthday celebration?  Second, his “bank sponsor” comment is obviously bullshit given the event’s current “six-figure sponsorship portfolio.”  If Rabobank or Citibank offered shitstacks of money to grow the event, Trimble would accept it in a heartbeat.  And “grassroots” generally refers to an idealistic campaign to change society in some useful way.  How is a bike race designed for maximum crashes achieving that?

The biggest problem with Red Hook

Imagine if, after you watched that first crash video a dozen or so times, and forwarded it to all your pals, somebody told you, “Hey, you know that second guy who went over the fence?  He ended up a quadriplegic!”  Suddenly this wouldn’t seem like such fun, would it?  And racers do get maimed.  As described here, a 15-year-old Red Hook participant had a terrible crash, was unconscious in the hospital for two weeks, and had to have “his face rebuilt with 23 screws and numerous metal plates.”

Yeah, I know, crashes do happen in traditional bike races, but not nearly as often since racers are allowed to use proper (i.e., road) bikes.  When you watch a normal criterium, the compelling spectacle isn’t how many riders crash, but how many don’t.  Go watch the Nevada City Classic criterium sometime, and watch how expertly the racers carve the sharp downhill corner.  I wouldn’t take my family to watch this race if I thought it made cycling look dangerous ... I mean, why would I, when I’m trying to encourage my daughter to race, and my wife to let her?  A real criterium, where riders can modulate their speed and keep that inside pedal up through the corners, demonstrates how safe cycling can be, even at high speed.

The Red Hook series, on the other hand, gives newcomers to the sport some cheap thrills while painting a picture of cyclists as total madmen.  Comments on the Red Hook crash compilation video  include innocent questions, e.g., “are these bikes designed for racing?” and “why do they race at night?” along with typical inane comments, e.g., “Brooklyn girls be super ugly!!!” and “Y you crash bitch you only doing 5mph on the stupid turn.”  Clearly these are not cycling aficionados.

Is it just me, or is there a fundamental hypocrisy in play when an event that calls itself “grassroots” actually undermines the idea that cycling can be a safe, responsible activity?  As a person who wishes lots more people rode bikes instead of ensconcing themselves in giant SUVs, I think watching a bike race should make people want to ride bikes, not shudder and say, “Those dudes are crazy!”

And speaking of those dudes, I think it’s pretty disgusting that they’re willing to be led around by their egos and seduced into riding a brakeless bike, at night, in thrall to big crowds.  I’m reminded of Olympic women volleyball players who, for years, complied with the rule that they had to wear bikinis.  According to this article, one top player candidly acknowledged the mentality behind this:  “‘The people who own the sport [the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball] want it to be sexy,’ Johns told the Sunday Times. ‘I used to play in shorts and a T-shirt and was reluctant to change. But if it gets volleyball attention, so be it.’”  I can imagine a very similar quote from a Red Hooker:  “I used to ride a road bike so I could brake and coast through turns, but the race organizers want it to be dangerous.  My road rash really hurts but if it gets cycling attention, so be it.”

Does cycling need this kind of attention?

Ultimately, to enjoy watching the true sport of bicycle racing requires some sophistication.  The sport isn’t for everybody, and that’s totally fine.  Other spectator sports are subtle, too.  Think of baseball, with its bizarre tapestry of strange rules, secret signals between players, and so forth … would it benefit from a big dose of lowbrow, brute spectacle, like if after three balls the pitcher was allowed to throw the next ball right at the batter with full force?  Or if the outfield were studded with landmines?

Celebrating the crowd-pleasing savagery of the Red Hook series seems pretty pointless.  Does cycling really need to grow as a spectator sport?  I’d argue no.  What’s wrong with a sophisticated and elite—albeit somewhat rare—fan, who responds to drama, and suffering, and tactical savvy, rather than mere bloodshed?  And even if you do want the sport to attract more spectators, I doubt the Red Hook freak show is going to win over any true fans—just a bunch of looky-loos who’ll eventually get bored and wander off to go find a cockfight, or dogfight, or political rally.  I myself have a limited appetite for bike crash videos … sure, I had a little fun here, but I can’t picture myself engaging in this coarse activity for long.

I say we treat the Red Hook races the same way we treat the hipsters, with their ugly piercings, hackneyed tattoos, skinny jeans, and fixies:  that is, ignore them, and hope they just go away.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ride Report - 2016 Grizzly Peak Century Ride With Teenager


Last Sunday, for the second year in a row, I rode the Grizzly Peak [metric] Century with my daughter Alexa.  (Why not the full century?  Because I’m trying to promote the metric system in this country.)  Read on for a description mainly of the food, but also the jinx—high, low, and otherwise—we got up to.

Short version

We met up with my EBVC teammate Craig and his wife Susanne.  The weather was perfect.  The food was plentiful and yummy.  There were cool bandanas but no yellow socks this year.  Alexa rode like a boss (especially when she Froomed us on Pinehurst) and covered the entire ~120 kilometers—including almost 2,000 meters of climbing—with her customary flair and panache.

(Wondering what the verb “Froome”  means?  You’ll have to read the full report.)

Full version

Note that I don’t say “long” version.  “Long” in the context of anything written carries a distinctly negative connotation.  This report is “full” like “full-figured.”  But it’s certainly not long—I have just half an hour to write it so you’re practically done already.

Breakfast was the smear of jam Alexa left on a spoon.  My breakfast usually consists of my younger daughter’s bread crusts, but she wasn’t home.

I hadn’t ridden with Craig for like six months, even though he’s normally one of my best training buds.  That’s because this spring I decided, in lieu of my normal regimen, to ride less and get fat.  But I e-mailed Craig the night before and sure enough, he and his wife Susanne were registered for GPC, so we made plans to meet up.

Teenagers take a really long time at everything (except sleeping).  So Alexa and I were too late to meet Craig and Susanne.  Fortunately, fate was on our side and Craig got a puncture like 20 meters into his ride, giving me the chance to a) sync up with him anyway, and b) further promote the metric system via this report.

Here are the Alberts at the start, along with Susanne’s shadow.  Note my lack of arm warmers and leg warmers … that’s how nice the weather was.  This marks the first time I have ever rocked fewer biking garments than Craig.

Alexa got a new bike last summer, with a double (albeit compact) crank instead of a triple, so she’s forced to climb a bit faster, regardless of how much energy she ought to be saving.  But in fact she climbs much faster, beyond what her gearing demands.  At the base of the steep, winding part of Pinehurst, she stunned us all by suddenly yelling, “I am awaited at the gates of Valhalla!  Witness me!” and then launching a brutal attack.

Well, okay, I embellished that a bit.  (She hasn’t yet seen Mad Max – Fury Road.)  What actually happened is that she Froomed us.  That is, she was riding so well she accidentally dropped us without even realizing it, like Chris Froome always does.  I don’t think she noticed until she got to the top.  I had to speed up a bit to keep her in sight so I could stop my lap timer … I’m pretty sure she got a new PR by a large margin.  Her pace probably wasn’t very wise, so early in a long ride—particularly since this was only her second road ride of the year—but then, her prefrontal cortex is still under construction.  At least she’s not doing truly dangerous stuff like so many teens do, like stealing cars, snorting Drain-O, playing mind-altering video games, and texting 24x7.

At the first rest stop we tucked in to the famous GPC home-baked snacks.  In this photo Alexa does her best Vanna White impression, though her expression seems to be saying, “Did you really just give me a second plate of goodies for my very own?”  (No, they were mine!)

So that’s poppy seed cake, peanut butter cookies, ginger snaps, pound cake, zucchini bread, oatmeal cookies, and coffee cake.  There might have been some other stuff but I ate it too fast to notice.  Could there have been a home-baked aspirin loaf?  Possibly, if such a thing exists.

Next on the docket was a brisk descent of Wildcat Canyon, a trip through San Pablo, Pinole, etc. and on to the very heart of the ride, which is the oil refinery.  Here’s the requisite glamour shot … note how Craig’s head appears to be steaming.

We threaded along the newly restored Planet of the Apes road near Crocket, with a new diversion along an isthmus (?) past the C&H sugar plant, which (according to my handy GPC bandanna) was built in 1906 and processes all the cane grown in Hawaii, which is about 700,000 tons per year.  If my math is correct that’s 1.4 trillion pounds, which is particularly scary when you think of how rare sugar is compared to corn syrup these days.  Should I talk a bit about beet sugar?  Naw, let’s move on.  Here’s Alexa rolling past the dueling bridges of the Carquinez Strait.

We hit the second rest stop, ate a bunch more stuff, and let our legs get all stiff so we could have maximum difficulty on the next section of the route:  the famous, ruthless McEwen Road, named for pro sprinter Robbie McEwen, who compared this climb to having his spleen crushed in a giant mortar and pestle.  (Okay, I made that up … I don’t know where it gets its name.)

Craig and Susanne like to play word games to distract themselves from the pain of this climb, and were gracious enough to include us.  The standard game is naming world cities, going sequentially through the alphabet (e.g., Austin, Berlin, Copenhagen, Detroit…), but we decided to mix it up and try something new.  Craig suggested profanities based on the alphabet (asshole, bastard, etc.) but I nixed that since I’m supposed to be a parent.  We decided on non-profane derogatory statements by alphabet.  I started:  “Angry is how I feel toward you right now, Craig.”  Susanne had B, and of course that’s not very difficult (“bad” being a perfectly obvious choice) but she just couldn’t bring herself to say anything mean to anybody.  So this game didn’t last very long, though McEwen seemed to.

This year I didn’t forget to warn Alexa about the Pig Farm climb, though I’m sure she remembered it from last year anyway.  It was nice and green.  Here we are, having a good laugh, perhaps about how I talk too much and ought to be told to shut up.

Not surprisingly, Mama Bear was a mother.  The weather was now officially too hot for Alexa.  Plus, her neck was getting sore because she always rides on the hoods.  It’s just how she rolls.  Seems to work, anyway, and nobody could ever deny that she has better form on (and off) the bike than Chris Froome.  Would she complain if she had a mechanical problem and I took that moment to attack?  No.  She might ask me to fix her bike later, but then that’s what dads are for, at least in traditional patriarchal households.

As we rolled down the hill toward the final fueling station, and I mentioned my intention to stop for water there, Susanne said, “Do not, my friends, become addicted to water.  It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!”  I’m paraphrasing here.  For some reason she doesn’t like to stop at that last rest stop, so she rides on ahead and Craig fills a couple bottles, then hammers to catch up.  So here are the three of us, with Alexa clearly thinking, “OMG, are we really doing another stupid photo-op?”

We drank a couple ice-cold Juice Squeezes (70% real juice, with the other 30% being, well, whatever makes it the right color and flavor), had some more cookies, and hit out for the final stretch to the finish.

Along San Pablo Dam Road, Alexa seemed a bit frustrated and expressed the teen equivalent of “Are we there yet?” (I can’t remember the wording but the tone was unmistakable).  She’s a fine athlete but with the mountain biking she’s been focusing on, her longest ride this year has been around three hours and this was over five hours in, so I can’t blame her.  I decided she just needed a bit of encouragement, and I’d planned for this:  I whipped out a can of silver spray paint, sprayed it all over her mouth, and declared, “You will ride eternal, shiny and chrome.”  Alexa, delighted, cried out , “Am I awaited?”

(All of the above was communicated nonverbally, of course, and there wasn’t actually any paint, though I did remember to bring lip sunblock this year.)

At the finish, Craig and Susanne had saved us a spot at a shady table.  Well, at least they didn’t put a jacket or backpack down and tell us those spots were reserved for somebody else.  Fortunately that still mainly happens at the movies, though some dickwad did that on Bart during rush hour the other day, causing me to fantasize about holding his face against the electric third rail—but I digress.

The food was excellent, as usual.  Barbecued chicken; nude red potatoes; grilled onions, squash, peppers, and eggplant; jeweled rice; plenty of Acme baguette slices.  The guy working the bread station was so impressed with Alexa—that is, her rare combination of youth, lack of tattoos, lack of piercings, and willingness to be seen in public with her father—that he invited us to swing by after lunch for some free bread to take home.  We got like six baguettes and a sweet batard, which were hard to carry back to the car but then that’s a great problem to have. 

All in all, another glorious day of biking.  (I wish I could tell you what we had for dinner, but the sad fact is, I just don’t remember.  At this rate, next year’s report may be just a paragraph or two!)

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ask Mr. Laundry

Dear Mr. Laundry,

I’m rather farsighted and without a microscope I can’t read the washing instructions on most of my clothing tags.  I can make out the symbols, though.  Problem is, I don’t understand them.  Can you translate?

Walter Darnell, St. Louis, MO

Dear Wally,

Here’s a nice summary of the washing symbols, but be careful:  these are the American ones and may not match the overseas symbols used in your clothing:

(Click above to zoom in.)

Fortunately, lots of clothing gives you the various versions of symbols you might encounter based on what country you’re in:

See?  Some countries use black bleach, apparently.  Others have really weird looking irons.  Some keep their bleach in beakers.  The circle with the P in it?  P for Permitted, I assume.  A for Allowed, perhaps?  Or A-OK?

Dear Mr. Laundry,

Help!  My wife is a very careless laundress.  Wait, let me restate that.  She’s not a laundress.  Not by profession.  What I mean is, she is very careless about the laundry.  She’s always putting, like, cashmere sweaters through the washer and dryer, or washing my Lycra on hot and drying it on high.  Is there anything to be done?

[Name and location withheld by request]

Dear Withheld,

All I can recommend is getting as involved in the laundry as you can.  Develop a system for hiding those non-machine-washable garments.  I wouldn’t nag your wife too much about it because this just won’t do any good and you need to pick your battles … marriage counselors and divorce lawyers are a lot more expensive than clothes, after all.  (If your wife has a sense of humor, and has seen the film “Raise the Red Lantern,” you might yell—upon discovering another ruined garment—“Cover the lanterns!”)

Also, look for the silver lining.  My sister-in-law inherited a nice wool sweater from a guy who shrunk it in the dryer.  Then she shrunk it in the dryer and so it went to her daughter, and so on down to her toddler.  As for me, my wife put my nice merino wool sweater through the wash and made it all ratty, which greatly increased its utility because I no longer had to “keep it nice.”  In fact, it became my favorite sweater for this very reason.  When’s the last time you got to work on your bike while wearing merino wool?

Dear Mr. Laundry,

I’m terrible about leaving things in my pockets when I put things through the wash.  I’ve ruined three cell phones this way!  Is there any cell phone you know of that can survive a trip through the wash?

Sarah Kitteredge, Providence, RI

Dear Sarah,

The Motorola FONE (aka Motofone) F3 is the only one I know of.  My nephew put this through the wash twice, and the first time it survived completely intact.

If you’re looking for a smartphone that will handle this, I think you’re dreaming.  That said, my Motorola Droid Turbo fell into the ocean recently and was almost swept out to sea, but miraculously survived.  But a full wash cycle?  I wouldn’t try it!

Dear Mr. Laundry,

Is it true that other developed countries are less profligate than the US when it comes to drying everything in the dryer?

Robin Baxter, Portland, OR

Dear Robin,

In much of Europe, line drying is very popular.  In England, even in London, I’ve seen permanent clotheslines in backyards (or “gardens” as they’d call them).  And check out this rig in an apartment in Glasgow:

My brother had an apartment in The Netherlands with no dryer … he line dried everything, including cloth diapers.

In the U.S., of course, you’re more likely to run into a homeowners’ association ban on clotheslines, even though these bylaws are currently illegal in 19 states!  Fortunately, you’re protected by a 1979 Oregon Law that says any restrictions on “solar radiation as a source for heating, cooling or electrical energy” are “void and unenforceable.”

Dear Mr. Laundry,

You have a Ph.D. in Laundry Science from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.  Why don’t you call yourself “Dr. Laundry”?  Just curious.

Bob Snelling, Phoenix, AZ

Dear Bob,

I am aware that The Clorox Company has an online Q&A called “Dr. Laundry” and I don’t want to get into legal trouble like Mr. Beer did, that poor bastard.  He tried to use “Dr. Beer” and was sternly warned to “cease and desist.”  Those close to him say he never recovered from the ordeal.

Dear Mr. Laundry,

What’s the funniest laundry instruction tag you’ve seen?

Alex Hayle, New York City, NY

Dear Alex,

Are we talking intentionally funny, or unintentionally?  Here’s a winner in both categories:

That’s from a pair of bike shorts.  The manufacturer is clearly having a little fun with “Avoid crashes.”  But it’s unintentionally funny, I think, that the size is given as both XXL and M; that there are two sets of washing instructions that contradict each other; and that we get this cryptic instruction, “Iron low, right side only.”  What could possibly be the point of that restriction?  And who in the history of mankind has ironed a pair of bike shorts?

I also like this tag, from a pair of bike gloves:

“Don’t allow to lay on itself or with other items when wet”?  How do you keep something from laying [sic] on itself, anyway?  Or even from lying on itself?  What could possibly be the consequence of this happening?  And what shape could you reshape the glove into that it wouldn’t be lying on itself?  And can you really reshape a glove to begin with? 

Dear Mr. Laundry,

Let’s get down to brass tacks:  when laundering is taken into consideration, are cloth diapers actually better for the environment than disposable?

Juanita Perez, El Paso, TX

Dear Juanita,

This article suggests that cloth diapers are actually highly problematic because they’re made of cotton, and as she puts it, “the data on cotton is damning.”  I don’t put a lot of stock in this article because the author works for a think tank that represents the interests of the waste management industry; because she thinks “data” is singular; because I’m not going to stop wearing cotton in favor of disposable clothing (which would be the natural extension of this article’s conclusion); because this article presents a pretty good rebuttal; and because babies are quicker to be potty-trained when they’re clad in cloth diapers, which isn’t even considered in the article.

I’m not saying everybody should necessarily switch to cloth diapers.  After all, cloth diapers are a huge hassle.  In fact, babies are a huge hassle.  (On the flip side, vasectomies are arguably a pretty serious hassle, too.)

Dear Mr. Laundry,

What pre-washing, stain-removing product is better:  Spray ‘n Wash, or Shout?

Charles Simon, Boston, MA

Dear Chuck,

They seem to work about the same, as far as I can tell.  So the difference has more to do with what song you get in your head upon using them.  If you watched TV during the ‘80s, you’ll likely get the “Spray ‘n Wash gets out what America gets into” jingle lodged in your brain, which can be annoying.  On the other hand, if you listened to the radio during the ‘80s, you’ll probably fall prey to the Tears for Fears song “Shout.”  This song is terribly catchy, and includes the line “in violent times you shouldn’t have to sell your soul,” which makes no sense.  It implies that you should only have to sell your soul during peacetime.  WTF??

Dear Mr. Laundry,

Do you have any answer to the widely acknowledged mystery of why so many socks get lost in the dryer?

Tom Mahoney, Littleton, CO

Dear Tom,

I researched this phenomenon for years, tirelessly, and got nowhere, and then I stumbled across this blog post, “Conundrum of the Lost Sock,” and realized all my work had been in vain because everything that could ever be said on this topic has already been said.  Glad I could provide the link to you, anyway.

Dear Mr. Laundry,

What’s the most absurd washing instruction you’ve ever seen?

Wanda Bobat, Boseman, MT

Dear Wanda,

Definitely this one right here:

That’s a tough one to read (whose idea was it to print the washing instructions on a black tag, for crying out loud?) so here it is in plain text: 
“WARNING!  This garment has received a special dyeing treatment in order to achieve its unique appearance. Colour may vary from piece to piece.  Please wash this garment separately, inside out and avoid exposure to sunlight which might alter the fabric’s appearance… Avoid making contact with light coloured surfaces.  Be careful with light coloured clothes—body heat may cause bleeding.”
I don’t even know where to start here.  I guess I’ll go sequentially.  First, “WARNING!”  I mean, is this a washing instruction, or a safety advisory?  And then, “Colour may vary from piece to piece.”  I mean, isn’t that true of everything?  And why do we need a label telling us this?  Can’t we tell, just by looking, that this pair of jeans is a different color than that one?  If this “warning” is targeted toward blind people, why isn’t it in braille?  Then we get to “avoid exposure to sunlight.”  Is this a pair of jeans, or a vampire’s cape?  Who doesn’t wear jeans outdoors?  Are these jeans exclusively for nightclubbing?  And in what way could sunlight “alter the fabric’s appearance” other than fading it?  Has society gotten so far off-track that faded blue jeans are no longer acceptable?  And then we get to the startling conclusion:  “Body heat may cause bleeding.”  So I guess even nightclubs are off-limits unless you’re determined to just sit there on a bar stool, as still as possible, perhaps shivering in a dark-colored t-shirt?  Give me a break.

Dear Mr. Laundry,

What would happen—hypothetically speaking—if you didn’t separate your darks from your lights in the laundry?

Lisa Stone, San Francisco, CA

Dear Lisa,

Believe it or not, I’ve been doing just that—for decades!  My recklessness has produced almost no negative consequences.  My whites are plenty white.  Nothing has bled, not even the jeans that are vulnerable to body heat.  The single exception is a pair of unripe-plum-colored yoga pants my wife ran through that turned everything pink.  They were pure garbage, those pants.

Have you ever noticed how laundromat dryers will tell you to dry all cotton garments on high—and yet you’ll never encounter a single tag that says “tumble dry high”?  In decades of careful laundering I think I’ve only encountered one garment that even said “tumble dry medium.”  I think it’s a giant liability shift on the part of the Clothing Industrial Complex.  They create these stupid rules for laundering so that if anything ever goes wrong with a garment they can blame the consumer.  Look at this tag:  the manufacturer blames the clothing’s “pilling effect” on zippers, Velcro, and even embroidered saddles.

Dear Mr. Laundry,

Will you do my laundry?

Greg Crow, St. George, UT

Dear Greg,


Mr. Laundry is a syndicated columnist whose advice column, “Ask Mr. Laundry,” appears in over 400 blogs worldwide.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Disc Brakes for Road Bikes?


There has been a debate raging over whether or not to allow hydraulic disc brakes in professional road racing. (Yes, bike race fans can get all heated up over just about anything.) I never much cared about this issue, and neither should you, really. That said, current events—first the decision to allow these brakes, then a gnarly injury, and then a decision to ban them again—are making it hard to stay on the fence. You don’t want to be the cycling equivalent of an undecided voter, do you? Read on for new ways to argue about this, whether it’s because a) you care, or b) you like to provoke people.

What’s good about disc brakes

First of all, let’s not pretend there’s any clear need to replace the caliper brakes on road bikes. I weigh more than 90% of the riders in the World Tour peloton, and I can descend a 20-percent grade with one finger on each lever of my caliper brakes. But that doesn’t mean disc brakes don’t have advantages.

First of all, they let you ride wheels that aren’t very true. Now, this isn’t a huge deal, because we all like our wheels true anyway, and no rider worth his salt keeps his brakes super-tight. To my mind, having super-tight brakes is like wearing a belt and suspenders at the same time, perhaps over an elastic waistband. You can safely run your caliper brakes really loose. This is actually better because your grip is stronger when your fingers are less outstretched. Imagine a tennis ball the size of a softball: could you squeeze it as hard? Nope.

(When I was racing, my bike tended to flunk the pre-race tech inspection if I didn’t temporarily set my brakes tighter via the barrel adjusters. Once I got my inspection sticker I’d loosen them back up. And how many races did I crash in because I couldn’t brake hard enough? ZERO.)

Still, there are instances where it would be handy not to have to worry about a wobbly wheel rim rubbing on the brakes. Say you crash in a race, and you’re the so-called protected rider on Team Sky, but your teammates are nowhere to be found, and you’ve knocked your wheel out a fair bit: you’d be glad if there were no brake pads for the rim to hit. You can go pretty damn fast on a wobbly wheel if the brakes aren’t rubbing.

Then, there’s the practical matter of having to keep your wheels clean. I love having disc brakes on my mountain bike because I can have thick smear of mud all over my rim and it affects my braking not a whit. But does this benefit carry over to the road bike? Generally not. I will say that I once blew through two entire sets of brake pads in one rainy month. So disc brakes would be nice for wet climates—at least for us consumers. But racers? These guys have professional mechanics. They don’t have to worry about picking little metal flecks out of their pads and/or replacing them all the time.

Maintenance aside, do caliper brakes perform well enough in the rain? In a protracted e-mail debate among my bike club, one rider—whose road racing chops are well established—wrote, “There have only been a few times I wish I had road disc brakes. In the rain and while descending Trinity Rd, I honestly couldn’t grab enough brake. Trinity in the rain would be an absolute nightmare.” (Actually, I did once descend Trinity Grade in the rain, and though I don’t remember braking problems, that’s probably because I got so cold that day I probably did permanent damage to my brain.) Disc brakes do have the advantage in this realm … they’re really not affected by rain or mud.

Now, there’s one more significant benefit conferred by disc brakes: your rims won’t overheat. Overheating is a problem with carbon fiber rims, and is sufficiently prevalent that carbon rims are banned in Levi’s Granfondo, a local cyclosportif. (Here is one rider’s horror story.) Even if you’re a skilled enough rider to avoid this pitfall (i.e., you don’t need to brake that much), you do have to pay a lot of attention to what brake pads you use on carbon rims. I would guess that a fair number of World Tour mechanics are drunks, and that riders have crashed due to having the wrong pads installed. Is this a conspiracy theory? No, I’m suggesting haplessness, not evil intent. Is this a stretch? Yeah, I guess it is. But I’m just trying to give disc brakes a fair shake here.

What’s bad about disc brakes

Check out this photo:

This was Exhibit A in a debate among pro riders about the dangers of disc brakes, which have the reputation of being like blades in a crash situation. According to Cycling Weekly, the above photo was tweeted by a rider with the caption, “why we probs don’t need disc brakes.” The problem with this tweet, beyond the use of the silly non-word “probs,” is that the injury was caused by a good old fashioned chainring, not a disc brake.

The idea of discs being like blades resurfaced recently when pro racer Francisco Ventoso crashed in the Paris-Roubaix classic and cut his shin open very badly. “It was so bad you could see the tibia,” his directeur sportif said. Ventoso wrote an angry open letter calling for a ban on disc brakes, and shortly thereafter the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) did ban them, having decided there’s something to this “discs are blades” notion.

(Is the track record of disc brakes in road racing poor enough to warrant this ban? I don’t know, and I honestly can’t be bothered to research the matter. But disc brakes have been used in mountain biking for many years without causing enough injury to make the news. Mountain bikes have a long history of accepting innovations sooner than road bikes, often for no good reason. Consider the threadless fork steerer: this appeared on mountain bikes during the 1980s, but wasn’t widely adopted for road bikes until around 2000. This design is unequivocally superior to its predecessor in every way … why the delay?)

Another problem with disc brakes is that the rotors can get dangerously hot, as pointed out by no less a cycling authority than Eddy Merckx. (Can you burn yourself on a rim heated by caliper brakes? Yes, but probably not as easily.) On the plus side, getting cut by a red-hot brake disc, rather than a chainring, might have a silver lining: all that heat might just cauterize the wound. (Yes, I’m being facetious, to stave off boredom.)

Some contend that disc brakes are too powerful and cause riders to slow or stop too abruptly. This is nonsense. I have top-end Dura-Ace caliper brakes on my road bike, and their power is no easier to modulate than the lower-end Deore hydraulic disc brakes on my mountain bike. The big difference is that I ride the brakes a lot more on the mountain bike, and thanks to the hydraulics my hands don’t get as tired as they used to. That’s a real benefit, and I’d never go back to cantilevers (or “cantaloupe-squeezers” as we used to call them)—but I’m not yearning for disc brakes on my road bike. Road conditions are seldom so demanding as rocky, sometimes muddy single-track trails.

Do pro racers need better brakes?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that disc brakes really do stop better, and really do solve real-world problems like braking in the rain and safely achieving minimum rim weight. Does that mean racers need them, or even ought to have them?

I’ve been following this sport for decades and it’s never seemed like a lot of crashes had to do with poor braking. Meanwhile, the bikes—and moreover the riders—are getting lighter all the time, which I think actually lessens the need for powerful brakes. (The physics is a bit complicated, but empirically speaking, heavy riders descend faster.)

My pet theory about the increase in crashes is that race radios are turning riders into mere drones, and directeur sportifs are always yelling at them to go to the front, so they’re all fighting to get up there without (apparently) deciding for themselves if it’s safe to do so. Also, I think doping helps racers get fast much more quickly—look at Chris Froome’s overnight transformation from a middling Continental rider to Tour de France champion—and their growth in skill can’t keep pace. (So far there’s no drug for improving bike handling.)

Meanwhile, there’s reason to believe that better brakes might lead to less careful riding. I’m thinking here of Malcolm Gladwell’s article “Blowup” in The New Yorker in which he describes an early trial of antilock brake systems (A.B.S.) in cars. A fleet of taxis in Munich was outfitted with A.B.S. and compared to a control group with regular brakes. Oddly, A.B.S. didn’t reduce the number of accidents, because many A.B.S.-equipped drivers became more reckless and took bigger risks. Gladwell explains, “As economists would say, [the cab drivers] ‘consumed’ the risk reduction, they didn’t save it.”

This effect could be more pronounced in bike races, because the racers have even more incentive than a taxi driver to “consume” risk reduction. After all, a few seconds on a descent could be the difference between winning and losing, whereas a cab driver shaving a few seconds here and there isn’t likely to make very much more money in a day.

Then there’s the matter of the riders’ opinion. Frankly, I have a reflexive aversion to riders being coddled by the UCI. Remember, in the early Tour de France, riders had to make all their own roadside repairs, which was pretty badass if you ask me. Reading Francisco Ventoso’s whiny letter, I didn’t come to admire the guy:
“All of this happens because the international riders’ association—the CPA—national riders’ associations, international and national feds, teams and, above all of them, OURSELVES, PROFESSIONAL RIDERS, are not doing anything.”
What is “all of this”? He hurt his leg on a disc. He contends that another rider was injured by a disc as well, but this hasn’t been corroborated. Disc brake injuries aren’t exactly an epidemic. So why is Ventoso sounding like a 1900s-era slaughterhouse worker who has seen half a dozen colleagues fall into the hopper and become sausage? Whatever happened to being stoic and shrugging it off? Whatever happened to riders using whatever equipment they were given and keeping their mouths shut? (Granted, most of them are, but the few exceptions rankle.)

Whom are bicycles for, anyway?

The worldwide bicycle industry is worth roughly $50 billion. It does not exist to serve pro bike racers. To some degree, these racers have jobs because they serve the bicycle industry. The pro peloton is like a giant laboratory for bicycle technology innovations, along with a way to market these innovative products (because after all, everybody wants what the pros ride). This isn’t a sport where the riders tell the industry what they need; it’s a sport where the industry figures out what it can probably sell, and uses the riders to help do it.

Electronic shifting is a perfect example. As a concept, it’s kind of nifty, but utterly needless—a solution looking for a problem. Actually, that’s not quite right. There is a problem: consumers need an excuse to replace their existing (perfectly good) stuff with new (perfectly good) stuff. This is what makes the economy go. The bicycle industry (like most industries) is constantly asking the question, “How can we improve this product sufficiently that people will buy it right away?”

From that perspective, it totally matters what ought to appeal to everyday cyclists. I would appreciate a braking system that allows me to use whatever fancy carbon rims I want, without needing to keep them clean or true. I don’t personally seek the pros’ seal of approval on what I buy—but so many riders do. And that, more than anything, is why electronic shifting is used in the pro peloton.

Speaking of which, Ventoso totally undermines his own argument when he (needlessly) writes about electronic shifting in his anti-disc manifesto:
“We could also talk about the revolution that has brought the electronic shifting. When it was first shown and used, we all were surprised and made early judgments: it’s not necessary, it might not work well, carrying batteries seems wrong, having to connect your bike to AC is bonkers… And now, we can’t imagine our bikes without it.”
Look at this whiner! If he’d had some safety-related excuse to get out of using electronic shifting systems, he’d have made it. And yet look what happened: the electronic shifting technology evolved, and/or he got used to it, and he now loves it and promotes it like a good little marketing foot soldier. With regard to disc brakes, I think he’d be a far more responsible professional if he provided feedback to the industry—“Uh, guys, these brakes are great but it’d be nice if they didn’t slice us up”—rather than trying to put the kibosh on the whole innovation.

Where do we go from here?

My final thought on this anti-disc issue is that there’s a widespread assumption being made that they’re intrinsically hazardous in a crash situation. Well, they don’t have to be. The current rotors are totally flat disks, so the edges are somewhat sharp compared to most bicycle parts (notable exceptions being chainring teeth, which are much sharper, and bladed spokes, which are copious and have a tendency to be part of a spinning wheel). A manufacturer could pretty easily curl the edge of the rotor around so that its profile, instead of resembling a lowercase L, would resemble a 9 (or more accurately the Hebrew letter ףּ). Perhaps this would be harder to do when the rotor isn’t perfectly round (frankly, I don’t know why so many of them have a wavy edge). In that instance, why not just run a nice bit of silicone rubber trim along that edge? Make it out of the same heat-resistant stuff “rubber” spatulas are made of. Secure it by making it wrap around the edge of the rotor on both sides, with some nice adhesive within.

(Yes, I realize neither of these proposed rotors would clear the brake pistons during wheel changes. The brake mechanism would need to be modified, too: put a quick-release mechanism in there that would move the pistons out of the way during wheel changes. This modification would be child’s play for the bicycle industry.)

Perhaps the inevitable resolution of this issue is best summed up by a stirring proclamation from René Takens, President of the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry (CONEBI): “We will not allow technical innovation to be halted in its tracks by racers’ complaints. We will stand up to that handful of whiny little bitches in the peloton, and we will prevail.”

(No, of course he didn’t really say that. But maybe he should.)

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