Riding the Wind of Change

I took a brief hiatus from writing on my blog, not because I didn’ t have anything to say, but because I simply haven’t had time to cram another thing into my schedule.  Looking back, I see my last post was before Cyclocross Worlds in February, so I’ve got some catching up to do.  Here’s a few highlights:

  • Sickness – Everyone in my family (with the exception of my amazing wife) got some form of a flu or stomach bug AT LEAST a few times.  Niki had some debilitating migraine issues, rather frequently, which required some added responsibility on my part after work.
  • School – Had one class during the first half of the semester, and one during the second half (which ended May 10).  I did okay during the first class, but the second, I tanked.  The class wasn’t interesting to me, and I didn’t put in the time needed to make the grades happen.  I feel really guilty about it, but sometimes those things happen.
  • Shop Closed – The shop job that I landed in September came to a halt in mid-April.  Free-Flite Bicycles bought a multisport store in Sandy Springs, Cadence Multisport, forcing our store location to close.  It was a great financial move on the owner’s part, and will work well for the company, but a shame for the Canton community.  Half of the staff decided to transfer to the main store in Marietta, and half of us opted for other things.  I didn’t know what I would do at the time, but I knew I could get some jobs in the interim, in order to make it work.
  • We’re Moving! – With all the melee going on with my job, Niki and I decided that it was time for a change.  We informed our landlord that at the end of May, we would be vacating our current residence.  The plan was to head to Jacksonville, FL, to spend the summer with Niki’s parents.  It would give the kids some quality “grandparent time,” and give us a break to regroup and figure out what our next step would be.

300Time

Those were the difficulty-riddled bullet points.  The following are some great things that came along, filled in the gaps, and offered the silver lining to my aforementioned dark clouds:

  • UCI Paracycling Open (Greenville, SC) – I was asked to round up a crew of mechanics to provide neutral support for an international paracycling race near my hometown.  I was happy to oblige, mainly because it was a win-win; I had the opportunity to work on some exquisite machines, meet some absolutely unbelievable athletes, and my kids got to spend some quality time with their grandparents.  The field was filled with World Champions in their individual disciplines (at one point, there were FIVE World Champs in the TT start house at one time!), and other local athletes, who had never competed in road events before.  It was an incredible experience, that I will post about later.  I want to thank my neutral support crew for all their help:  Neal Herring (Sunshine Cycle Shop – Greenville, SC), Tim Wellborn (Cycle Center – Columbia, SC), and Derrick O’Shields (Grady’s Great Outdoors Bike Shop – Anderson, SC).  Honorable mention goes to my wife, Niki, who helped me at the TT start and ran a lot of errands for things we needed during the weekend.
  • Athens Twilight/Roswell Criterium –  Since my bike shop had closed, I had some free time on my hands, so I picked up a job with a pro team, Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis.  I had followed them for a while, and had worked for some of their riders when they were on other teams in the past.  They had a split team, meaning half their team was racing in Arkansas at the Joe Martin Stage race, and the other half were racing the USACRITS Speed Week criteriums in the Southeast.  I provided mechanical support for them over the course of the weekend, and they managed to be one of the strongest teams in the field, putting several riders in the Top 10 each day.  More to come on those events, as well.
  • Amgen Tour of California w/CTS – I’m currently in California, on my way to work at the Tour of California, once again working with Carmichael Training Systems.  I worked California, Utah, and USPRO Challenge in Colorado with them last year, and had a really good time.  I am looking forward to the next nine days of work.  Although there are extremely long, hard days of work ahead, I really am in my element when working like this.
  • Race Across America (RAAM) – A week or so ago, I accepted a position as mechanic for a RAAM team from Bristol Myers Squibb.  These men are trying to raise money to bring about a greater awareness, and hopefully a cure, for melanoma.  After Tour of California, I will be home for three days, then flying up to Princeton, NJ, for a camp with the team.  On June 12th, I’ll fly back out to California and follow Team Melanoma Exposed across the United States, on their mission to spread awareness of this terrible form of cancer.
  • GOT A NEW JOB! – When visiting my parents in SC last weekend, I visited a friend in Greenville, SC, who is regional manager for a chain of stores called BikeStreet USA.  He was in need of a Service Manager at his largest store, and asked if I was interested.  After several discussions and a really great visit to the shop, I have accepted that position, and will start very shortly.  The plan is to spend a week in Greenville after my Tour of California and RAAM Team Camp trips, but before RAAM.  After RAAM is finished, I will fly back down to Greenville and be there full-time from that point on.  This will mean a big move for our family, but we’ve discussed it and feel it will be a good move for us, on several levels.   I am going to try and take some traveling mechanic positions in the future, and it seems by the way the regional manager and I were talking, that scheduling adjustments and vacation days can allow some of that to be possible.

Lots of change is happening, and on some fronts, I’m very nervous and anxious.  I can’t help thinking that when things stop changing, we stop living.  We become stagnant at that point, and fall into a really bad spot that nobody wants to be in.  I’m glad things are changing for us, and I can’t wait to move on to the next several chapters of our lives.  We’ll be leaving a lot of good friends in Georgia, but we’re close enough to make occasional visits, and there’s always Facebook

We’re currently halfway finished with our move, but will be transitioning over the next two months.  If you need to contact me, e-mail me at probikewrench@gmail.com.  Thanks for your friendship and support.

 

Building a Friendship

Several years ago, I was road cycling regularly, participating at and leading most of our shop’s group rides, doing some solo training, and doing some other casual rides with friends.  I stayed fairly fit, but at this point in time, I was pretty close to my mid-season prime, and had some legs about me.  I started seeing an older gentleman show up for our group rides on occasion.  I had seen him before, riding on his own, but he started tagging along on our Wednesday night “hammerfest.”

I gave him the obligatory once-over, the look that all roadies give to new members of their cycling group, not to belittle or offend, but to size up our new riding companion and his equipment.  He was kitted out in Italian-made cycling garb, and his steed was a custom titanium and carbon Seven, with a full Campagnolo Record 10 gruppo.  Upon this first glance, I could tell that he and I shared the same appreciation for very nice things.  He straddled the bike, one foot clipped in, and was ready to ride… and was grinning from ear to ear.  Interesting.

budsbike

We didn’t make verbal pleasantries at first, we just introduced ourselves by exchanging pedal strokes and paceline duties.  This interesting character, who was obviously a few decades older than I, was able to suffer with the best of us.  Upon returning to the parking lot to complete the ride, I gave the obligatory, “Good ride,” and continued home.  The entire way home, I wondered, “Who was that guy?”, like I was trying to find out the identity of the Lone Ranger, or another masked superhero from a black-and-white television series.  I didn’t anticipate someone his age having the ability to ride that hard and hang with us twenty-somethings.  I was impressed… and respected that greatly.

Over the course of a few years, the guy kept coming back to our rides.  He always rode at a very-high level, and we forged a friendship.  His style never changed, and his smile never went away. He began coming into the shop more often, and I had the privilege of working on his Seven.  I glued his tubulars, installed his Campy Super Record 11-speed gruppo, and did other maintenance on the bike, from time to time.  One day, he brought a lady-friend into the shop, to help her purchase some cycling gear.  He introduced us, but he didn’t tell me she was his new flame… he didn’t have to.  He had a glow about him that I hadn’t seen before, and it was obvious that he was really into this lady.  We outfitted her with cycling shoes, clipless pedals, and some proper cycling attire… keeping it perfectly fashionable, of course.

A while after that, I received word that my friend had been hit by a car, knocked off the bike, and had broken his hip.  He was hurt pretty bad, but I knew he’d make a comeback.  It was a long recovery, but he was a resilient old bugger, and I was sure he’d ride again.  I didn’t see much of him for a while, after all… if he wasn’t riding his bike, he didn’t really need any maintenance or anything that I could provide at the shop.  Just recently, he stopped by the new shop I work at, and we exchanged pleasantries.  I knew he had visited that shop in the past, so I wasn’t shocked to see him, but I was happy that he found me.  He greeted me with that same big smile on his face, same gentle attitude, and he seemed extremely happy that we had the chance to talk, even for just a few minutes.  I was glad that I would be able to work on his bikes again, and to be able to ride with him again soon.

Little did I know, that was the last time I would speak with him.   Bud Phillips, my friend, was hit by a truck while riding his bike in our town.  He was air-lifted to a local hospital, and is currently on life support, with little to no brain activity, and has been that way since Saturday.  Barring a miracle, Bud will pass away soon after the machines are unplugged from his body, which will be any day now.  Since Saturday, I’ve been waiting for word of my friend’s impending passing.  Needless to say, it’s been a rough week.

Just last week, I wrote about the death of champion mountain biker Burry Stander (“Death and Fear in Cycling”), and how much of a tragedy it was, not knowing that the same tragic situation would darken the roads of our town, just a few days later.  Cyclist versus vehicle incidents seem to be increasing at a staggering rate.  I don’t know the exact situation surrounding Bud’s incident, so I can’t blame anyone for the accident.  I will say that motorists today are more distracted, less patient, and seemingly less sympathetic to individuals who choose to exercise their right to take a more healthy, two-wheeled approach to travel.  Bud is not the first friend of mine that has been on the wrong side of this equation, and I can say, without a doubt, that he probably won’t be the last.

But it needs to stop.  I’m tired of losing friends.

Death and Fear in Cycling

Photo: http://mtbs.cz
Photo: http://mtbs.cz

Today, the cycling community lost a very dear friend, South African XC mountain biker, Burry Stander.  He was tragically killed by a taxi while training in his hometown.  The entire MTB racing family, and most friends that follow competitive cycling, are mourning greatly.

Burry was riding his bike, just like you or I ride our bikes every day.  If we take to the roads, we are putting ourselves in danger.  Cyclists cannot predict what auto drivers are going to do while driving.  We can take all the precautions possible, but we are still no match for a 2,000 pound vehicle heading our way.  Mountain biking carries its own inherent dangers, even if we choose not to ride insane stunts like riders in our favorite MTB videos.  Rocks, roots, trees, and even crazed animals are all hazards that could be encountered on a trip in the woods.

Should we stop cycling, all together?  Should we take all risk out of our lives to ensure that we survive our day-to-day lives?  Absolutely not, I say.  Regardless of how we try to shelter ourselves from potential threats to our livelihood, ceasing our activities and living under an umbrella of fear is no way to live life.

“A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.” — Spanish proverb, in Baz Luhrmann’s movie Strictly Ballroom

Remember Burry Stander’s family and friends in your prayers, as well as those family and friends of other cyclists that have been killed while cycling.  Take time to mourn, but do not allow sadness and fear to encompass your life.   Do not live in fear, but in action.   Join a cycling advocacy group, and do your best to encourage positive and progressive cycling legislation in your local cycling community.  Obey the rules of the road.  Wear your helmet.  Teach a beginner road cyclist how to properly ride in traffic.  Lead a group ride.  Go live.

My friend, VeloNews journalist Dan Wuori, echoed the sentiments of many cycling fans tonight in a Tweet:

“@dwuori: A Cyclist’s Prayer: Watch over those who ride and bring comfort to all who mourn. #RIPBurry”

“Parts Hangers” vs. “Bike Mechanics”

Working on Nice Stuff is Easy.
Working on Nice Stuff is Easy.

There is a difference between “Parts Hangers” and “Bike Mechanics.”

A Parts Hanger can resemble a Bike Mechanic, and knows their way around a bike, but doesn’t like working on bikes unless they’re installing new, high-end parts.  You can tell a Parts Hanger by the way they check in a repair.  If, when checking in a repair for service, the “mechanic” (and I use that term loosely in this situation) starts tallying up a list of new parts without properly checking over the bike, you may have a Parts Hanger on your hands.  Inside the bike shop, a Parts Hanger “cherry-picks” the repairs they work on, leaving less expensive bikes or repairs that require actual work, for another mechanic to handle.

A real Bike Mechanic can actually fix bikes.  It doesn’t matter what brand or style of bike, or what shape it is in… the real Bike Mechanic can make the bike function properly.  Sure, there are instances where bikes are too far gone to repair, but in most cases, the real Bike Mechanic will do their best to repair the bike to the best functioning order it is capable of.  Real Bike Mechanics are fluent in all bicycle styles, and you do not usually see them turn up their nose at a challenging repair.

Don’t get me wrong… real Bike Mechanics like working on nice things.  It is extremely fun to piece together a custom build for a good customer, but that is not the only part of a Bike Mechanic’s job.  It’s easy to work on nice stuff… it’s engineered to work flawlessly.  The mark of a true Bike Mechanic is whether or not they can make the crappy stuff work.  Real Bike Mechanics do not cut corners, and they get the job done right – the first time.

And Bicycle Race Mechanics take it exponentially farther…

My Two Cents on Lance…

When you work in a bike shop, you can’t avoid getting questioned about Lance Armstrong, especially with the doping allegations, investigations, and confessions by teammates of late.  It’s actually getting quite boring to have to keep repeating my thoughts on the whole deal, so I guess I’ll just write them all down for anyone and everyone to read, and refer people to my blog when asked about it.  Here goes…

  1. I had fun rooting for Lance Armstrong throughout his career.  It was fun being patriotic, watching the Texan smash the competition all over France, year after year.  It was exciting.  It got millions of people fired up about a sport that I was already passionate about, even before his first Tour win.  Unfortunately, it’s become painfully evident that those results and experiences were obtained by using performance-enhancing drugs, as documented by multiple teammates and eyewitnesses in the latest USADA Investigation.
  2. Yes, I read the entire 202-page “Reasoned Decision” that was released, unlike a lot of people chiming in on the subject, along with several more affidavits from riders, staff, and witnesses.  As an industry professional, enthusiast, and race fan, I have a vested interest in what the report said.  If you haven’t read the decision and the facts, do yourself a favor and shut your trap.  If you’re out in internet-land, saying “they have no hard physical evidence to convict Lance of anything…”  last time I checked, in a court of law in the US, all you have to prove is “reasonable doubt,” of which there is a TON of it in the USADA investigations and findings.
  3. Based on the USADA “Reasoned Decision” on the US Postal Team and Lance Armstrong, it’s hard to deny that he doped.  I wanted Lance to be clean just like most cycling fans, but the sum of all parts of the investigations and affidavits by fellow teammates, tells otherwise.  As of today, most of Lance’s major sponsors throughout his career have ended their future relationships with him, in order to save face and avoid the impending storm of bad PR headed their way if they hang around.
  4. Fallen Heroes.  I’m personally crushed with the news of the systematic doping within the US Postal Service Team organization.  One of my all-time favorite cyclists, George Hincapie, came forward with his accounts of doping, personally and as a team.  Although not on an extremely personal level, I’ve known George and his family for quite some time, dating back to the time I got him to attend a local cycling club meeting in South Carolina back in 2002.  He’s always been a class-act, and I respect him and the other “Posties”  for their decision to come forward, whether it was just to save their own skin or not.  We’re all human, and all make mistakes.  Some are more high-profile than others, and in their case, the fall is more visible.  It’s hard seeing your heroes fall from grace.  I’m still planning on attending the Hincapie GranFondo next weekend in Greenville, SC, regardless of this mess, to support George, Rich, Ricardo, and the family, and thank them for what they’ve all done over the years.  Good things don’t always make it right, but hopefully, redemption for these riders can be found in this situation through efforts to clean up the sport for future riders.
  5. Because of dopers, a lot of potential heroes missed their chance to shine.  When the sanctions got passed down by USADA as part of the agreement to turn evidence and affidavits against Lance Armstrong, many years of results were negated.  As a result of their doping, clean riders were awarded titles that that should have been theirs to begin with.  They missed the podium, didn’t get the kisses, didn’t get to spray the champagne, didn’t get the photo-ops, the extended contracts, the bonuses for winning a national championship event, a better opportunity for the following season, because a doper took it from them.  That aspect of doping, I cannot forgive.
  6. The system is corrupt.  It’s public knowledge that Lance “donated” money to the UCI for “anti-doping” purposes.  If anyone can’t see that something like that is a HUGE conflict of interests, then I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona that you need to snatch up…  There’s some major corruption with the UCI, and there needs to be a serious re-shuffle, from the top, down.  The international governing body of cycling is more worried about 3-1 ratios on aero equipment than they are of blatant, systematic doping that has been going on for decades.
  7. LIVESTRONG.  When I found out my mom had breast cancer, around 3 years ago, I instantly got a little, yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet, dropped it in the mail with a card, and next-day mailed it to her.  I gave it to her to let her know that she could be strong in her fight against this deadly disease, and by wearing that little band, it helped give me hope and support for her, as well.  There’s no doubt that the LIVESTRONG organization has done a lot of great things for people with cancer, their families, and for cancer research.  There’s a lot of confusion among followers of the LIVESTRONG movement and how the organization works, financially and charitably.  There’s definitely some scrutiny that the organization(s) will fall under because of the doping scandal fallout… I just hope that it doesn’t hinder cancer research and support for those who find their hope in the power of a little yellow band.
  8. The best thing that can happen now, is for Lance to come clean and lay it all out there, in order to help change the system for the future.  It’s over.  It happened.  We’re all tired of hearing about it.  We all just want it to go away and get started cleaning up cycling.  Lance is going to have to pay a lot of folks a lot of money.  He will be sued by many parties for defamation, fraud, and the like.  It’s a sad ending for our former hero.  Although this is a huge scar on the sport of cycling, and very sad times for all involved, Lance coming clean and implicating the bosses at the UCI that have been turning a blind eye to this doping culture for so long.  That is THE ONLY way that Lance can save face now.
  9. The sport IS cleaning up, and the new regime of younger riders are our new hope.  Young US cyclists like Taylor Phinney, Timmy Duggan, and Ben King are the new hope for cycling.  These guys are starting their careers on the tail end of this drug-riddled era, but starting it clean.  The training technology available to our athletes today, along with improved drug testing (hopefully) throughout the domestic and international pelotons, should bolster a clean system for these riders to prosper in.  Support these guys, along with all the other champions of clean cycling like Adam Myerson, Steve Tilford, Tim Johnson, Scott Zwizanski (now the new 2009 USPRO Time Trial Champion, as a result of this…), and others by letting them know your feelings about doping.  It’s been a hard fight for these guys, to constantly get destroyed by cyclists that they know are doping, but they have been resilient, trained their butts off, and hung in there, regardless… Shoot them an e-mail, Tweet, or Facebook message and let them know what you think of them.
  10. Get on your bikes and ride.  I had a customer ask me about my thoughts on cycling yesterday.  It was obvious he was prying about the “Lance situation.”  I told him that cycling has its demons, but it’s still the most pure sport I’ve found.  He scoffed at the “purity” comment, but I explained it to him.  When you’re out on your bike on a vicious climb, when it’s just you pushing yourself to your limits, and you conquer the climb, look out at the mountain overlook and see the amazing scenic view that you’ve earned the right to see… there’s nothing more pure than that.  When a group ride has a good flow and consistency to it, the pacelining works like it’s supposed to, and you and the guys roll back down and have a post-ride beer… that’s good cycling.  When you take off on a cool fall morning and realize that you nailed your clothing selection… that’s good stuff.  Most of us will never be professional cyclists, but we are all cyclists.  Enjoy yourselves, ride your bike, and have fun.  Keep it real, guys and gals.

I could probably go on for a while about this, but that’s all that I feel I have the need to address.  Feel free to comment, either here on the blog, or on my PROBIKEWRENCH.COM Facebook Page.  Good talk… see you out there.

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