Friday, November 03, 2006

They don't make 'em like that anymore...

I have been on the fixed-gear for a week now and will be until the end of March. It feels like a long lost friend and it fits me like a glove. It is an old, heavy, expensive-in-it's-day, handmade Italian steel frame of the historic marque, "Guerciotti". This frame has a certain sentimental value, as it was what I consider to be my first "real" racing bike.

Some history...

I was in one of my first Criterium races back in 1990 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a technical course with lots of corners and traffic islands. Somewhere mid-race, I had my first-ever (and certainly not the last) crash while racing. We were screaming down the front stretch, announcer blaring through the P.A. - a prime lap - and the pace was ramping up as me and about 100 other Category 4 riders were going like mad. We all wanted that 2 dollar water bottle! Anyway, I move up the outside approaching the corner and just prior to the apex, a guy comes out from the pack, pushing me off my line and directly into the path of a traffic island. Having nowhere to go and going too fast to stop, I hit it head on, causing the bike to stop instantaneously and catapult me over the bars. Land, sky, land, sky, BAM...I landed flat on my back on the opposite side of the island after doing a nice fly over a small tree on the island. No points were awarded for either difficulty or style.

The bike (a middle-of-the-road Centurion steel frame with Shimano 105 7-speed) was toast. The front wheel was touching the chainring and the head angle was 90 degrees.

I took a trip on a backboard, in an ambulance to the ER where they took a look at me, took an x-ray and sent me on my way. Once home, I needed to find a new racing bike, and fast, as I had a race the following weekend.

I went to a local shop that was huge and had lots of inventory. I ended up buying this gorgeous, midnight blue Guerciotti made with Columbus SLX tubing. It had beautiful lugs, chrome chainstays and a chrome fork. It was stunning due to the fantastic paint job. At the time, Ten Speed Drive was the importer of the line as well as many others, and they brought all the frames in from Italy and they finished them stateside. They used Imron paint and tons of clearcoat so the frame always had a shine like it was still wet. It weighted a ton - a whopping 6.5 pounds for frame and fork. You couldn't find a frame even close to that today because of the focus on lightweight carbon stuff.

I raced that frame throughout the remainder of 1990, and on through 1991, 1992, 1993 and early 1994. I had several great moments on that frame:

  • My first finish of a criterium
  • My first top-10 finish
  • My first top-3 finish
  • My first 8000 mile year
  • My first district championship road race
  • And countless other minor achievements

Then, on one horrible day in May of 1994, it happened to me...something that eventually happens at least once to any cyclist with a car-top rack and a garage. I unwittingly drove my car into the garage while the bike was on top. I heard the impact and my stomach sank into my toes and my eyes welled up with tears. I couldn't believe what had just happened.

I was hoping that maybe the damage wasn't bad. I took the bike down and clearly it had been handicapped. It's mass of nearly 7 pounds kept if from breaking like a twig, but it was no longer the bike it had been. Two of the three brazed-on cable guides along the top of the top tube were stripped off along with all the layers of Imron and clearcoat down to the bare metal. There were "stretch marks" in the down tube and top tube just behind the head tube. The head tube was no longer that "criterium quick 75 degrees", but now a mere 73. The fork, with its aggressively sharp trail now looked like a touring fork and was just ever-so-slightly cocked to one side at the base of the crown. It was clear then that my trusted steed would not see any more roads again.

It was replaced with the first of two Serotta's but it was magically straightened out just enough to be trusted as a "trainer" bike. John Boyland and I "cold worked" it (a fancy term that means, "bend the crap out of it with torturous looking tools). We couldn't do much about the angles, nor the bulges where the tubes had been stretched, but we did straighten the fork. I also touched up the missing paint and replaced the now gone brazed on cable guides with some good old-fashioned Campagnolo cable clamps. At first, I kept it as a bike for the mag trainer and used it a bit in the winter months. Then, I decided to use for something else...something I had never owned before...a fixed-gear road bike. It was PERFECT for this task. It was still as comfortable as ever, it was stiff, and it fit like a glove. It was no longer the beauty queen it once was, so it didn't matter how grungy it got.

To date, I have more miles on this bike than any other bike in my stable. I don't know if the others will ever catch up, unless the old girl just falls apart completely and hopefully, it won't be while I am doing 180 rpm down some long hill.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Found my compass...

Over the past two weeks, I have returned to a consistent routine and have been doing quite well. I have continued to commute to work every day. The only times I don't commute is if it's pouring rain when I am ready to leave, if the temperature is below 25 degrees, or if there is ice on the ground. The latter two haven't occurred just yet, but the first one has. I have no problem with rolling the dice when it looks like it may rain because often, I come up a winner because it doesn't.

There is something must mentally defeating about rolling out in the pouring rain. When I hit one of those days, I drive the car and use the opportunity to run errands at lunch and after work. I also use that day to restock my clothing and food supplies since I don't carry those on my back in my daily commute. I like to travel as light as possible, so I carry a fairly empty Timbuk2 commuter bag with only my planner, some rain gear and my personal stuff (iPod, wallet, keys, magazines, etc.

If I get caught out in the rain, it's not a big deal because I wear or have in my messenger bag, the proper clothing to deal with stuff. Also, my nasty-weather bike has full fenders which do wonders at keeping water off your legs, feet, ass and back. The only part that gets wet when it rains is the tops of my legs and if I get a pair of rain pants, then it's solved.

Commuting is fun...really. It's invigorating to roll out the door on my bike in the early morning hours and look at all the people stuck in their cars, sitting stacked up at intersections, the stress and road-rage building. When I get to work, I feel awake and alive, ready for the day.

I must admit that I sort of feel just a bit "superior" because I do this...not in a arrogant sort of way, but more along the lines of "I know something that you don't". That something is that it's really not that hard. Sure, it takes time to get ready and get the logistics worked out, and it's an evolving sort of thing. Sure, there isn't a shower at work, but I don't have one either and I do just fine, and NO, I DO NOT STINK. It's efficient. It's a challenge. It's a way to get in another hour of exercise per day on top of my normal routine. It's entertaining being the object of stares and wonderment that others reflect upon me. I know what they are thinking. A small handful are saying, "Good for him. I wish I could do that", but the majority are saying, "What a nutbag", or "He must have lost his license because why else would somebody ride a bike", and then the most likely one, "Hey, get off the road you dumb%#*!, _I_ need to get to work so I can do something really important while _you_ are out having fun riding your little bicycle". Which reminds me that I need to write a blog that deals with the behaviors of idiots behind the wheel. There is way too much subject matter to even think about touching the subject today.

If you have a bike, TRY IT! If you want tips and advice on how to be efficent and work out some of the "obstacles", contact me, please! One less car on the road isn't a bad thing.