Why I won’t ride a bicycle again

Daniel Duane wrote in the Sunday New York Times of the risks a bicyclist takes when riding on the roads. His point is the driver of the vehicle is rarely prosecuted, or even charged if they stay at the scene and are sober. It’s assumed that cyclists are thrill seekers who get what they deserve, disobeying traffic laws (which some do) and causing dangerous situations by being where they shouldn’t be.

“I made it home alive and bought a stationary bike trainer and workout DVDs with the ex-pro Robbie Ventura guiding virtual rides on Wisconsin farm roads, so that I could sweat safely in my California basement. Then I called my buddy Russ, one of 13,500 daily bike commuters in Washington, D.C. Russ swore cycling was harmless but confessed to awakening recently in a Level 4 trauma center, having been hit by a car he could not remember. Still, Russ insisted I could avoid harm by assuming that every driver was “a mouth-breathing drug addict with a murderous hatred for cyclists.”

“The anecdotes mounted: my wife’s childhood friend was cycling with Mom and Dad when a city truck killed her; two of my father’s law partners, maimed. I began noticing “cyclist killed” news articles, like one about Amelie Le Moullac, 24, pedaling inside a bike lane in San Francisco’s SOMA district when a truck turned right and killed her. In these articles, I found a recurring phrase: to quote from The San Francisco Chronicle story about Ms. Le Moullac, “The truck driver stayed at the scene and was not cited.”

Yet as cities open up bike-share programs and paint lines on their streets for bicycle lanes, the problem is going to get more acute not less. It has been said there are two kinds of cyclists. Those who have crashed and those who are about to. Don’t look at the Tour de France cyclists a risk takers — they ride on open roads closed to texting teenagers, road raging pickups and trucks with big blind spots — they have it easy. Duane cites a friend who commutes by bicycle in Washington, D.C. and woke up in a trauma center. He talks about the phenomenon of noticing headlines about dead bicyclists after having been in an accident himself. It’s true, after my run in with a car in 2006 — he crossed the lane and hit me head on — I am very sensitive to any news of roadside mayhem and there is lots of it. I would guess three cyclists died on the Cape this summer. Wiped out by a driver who probably wasn’t charged. Hell, a good friend and former cycling companion nearly died last spring when a guy ran her over and then admitted he had pulled a “wake and bake” and been stoned at the time.

Whatever the solution, I used to daydream of a post-apocalyptic future where cars were gone and the roads were wide open for cyclists like a character in Stephen King’s The Stand.  Until then, no bicycles for me.

It wasn’t about the Bike after all

I admit I was a fan of Lance, getting on the bandwagon in 2003 when he and Jan Ullrich were battling down to the wire for the Tour de France.  After watching Armstrong win that Tour I got back into cycling after twenty years away from the sport, a love affair that started in the late 7os with the movie “Breaking Away”, kicked off with  the purchase of a Raleigh 10-speed with some college graduation money from my grandmother, racing around eastern Massachusetts in my early 20s (and crashing), grinding up the hills of San Francisco and illegally across the Golden Gate at 2 am after tending bar  in the city, and on and on — a feeling like no other, a true love for what has been called man’s noblest invention.

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I turned off the Tour and went out and built up an awesome bike that summer in ’03, bought a classic Colnago steel frame off of eBay, and found myself riding obsessively around Cape Cod by myself and with my cycling buddies Dan and Marta.  Drafting, fighting headwinds, racking up major miles every week, 12 months out of the year. All the while the Lance legend kept growing. The book (I have an autographed copy of “It’s Not About the Bike”), the helmet, the yellow jersey replica. I owned it all, including the yellow Livestrong wrist band. I drank the Lance Kool-Aid.

I believed and kept believing, even as his lieutenants and competition all got caught and fell by the wayside, were stripped of their trophies and eligibility: Landis, Ullrich, Hamilton …. after a while it was obvious that the sport was completely dirty, but I still managed to keep a small shred of belief smoldering inside that Armstrong was different, that he had been superman, that somehow he was the exception to the rule, the one who really made it up those hills and cranked through those time trials like a man driven by the fire inside.

Marta knew from the beginning that he was a fraud. Her conspiracy theory tied in Thomas Wiesel (co-owner of Lance’s US Postal team) as the money man and uber-connected benefactor with the ties in Silicon Valley to keep the most-drug tested athlete in history from failing. I tried to argue, then I tried to shrug off the doping as just part of the sport  …. but the romance of the peloton, the simple mechanical grace of an Italian steel bicycle outfitted with Campagnolo parts was gone, dashed under a mess of pharmaceuticals, conspiracies and carbon fiber soul-less cycles.  The sport I fell in love with in 1978 pre-Lance was now a cesspool. Not that it was ever a clean sport to begin with. If it was EPO in the last decade it was amphetamines in the 1960s … one of the world’s most grueling sports seems impossible to survive without drugs, let alone win.

I crashed and gave up the bike in 2006. I haven’t looked back. Yes I miss it, I miss it a lot, but the close-call, the nasty recovery from a head injury, the perils and remembered close calls on the road just made the benefits dim in comparison to the risks. Wear your helmet. They work.

So this is one of those “say it ain’t so Joe” moments, kind of a pitiful one for a man in his 50s to have t confess, a sad day for idealism and a happy one for skepticism and cynicism. Let the circus begin as Oprah airs her interview. I suppose I’d still shake his hand if I ever met him, more out of pity for a life ruined so spectacularly than admiration for a truly tragic and completely fallen hero.

Update Jan 18

I watched the first half of Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey last night and remain semi-sympathetic to the guy and fascinated by the utter scale of his epic tragic hero’s fall-from-grace.  I had Twitter open throughout to see what rest of the mob was saying and none of it was worth  wasting my time on, just banal babble and snark.

My opinion is worth squat as well, but here it is anyway.  Good interview. Oprah prepared herself, hit him hard right from the first question, but frankly lost her edge thanks to the commercial breaks for Swiffer,  deodorant and promos for her bizarre OWN network.  Armstrong’s handlers picked Oprah for a reason and it was the right way to go.  It will have to suffice as the court room for public opinion, although I suspect Lance is going to be spending a lot of time in courtrooms and in front of lawyers given the perjury, the messed up lawsuits, and the complete disregard for jurisprudence and decency he displayed over the past decade.

All the venom and disgust over his lies and hypocrisy are deserved, but this is still the guy who sat on the bike and suffered up one mountain stage after another, a very competitive athlete with the stamina and the mindset to win at all costs, no matter what wreckage he left in his wake. The cancer, the broken home, the hard won success and carefully crafted myth …. it was the result of hard work, lots of lying, cheating and bullying, and played into what we all wanted: a handsome Texan hero on his mighty carbon fiber steed showing the louche Europeans how we can get up from the floor, nearly dead, and do the impossible.

Well, it was impossible. But if the mob on Twitter with their fingers all orange from Cheetos expects him to perform a believable act of contrition, forget it: he’s not going to break down in tears. He’s not going to rehabilitate his image, regain his sponsors, limp back into our good graces like Tiger …. he’s just another Type A asshole who flamed out spectacularly, in prime time like so many before him and so many to follow.

ESPN – Report: Armstrong to come out of retirement and ride for Astana – Cycling

This is a good news and will get me watching cycling again.
“Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong will come out of retirement and compete in next year’s Tour de France, VeloNews reported Monday, citing sources close to the situation.

“Armstrong, who will turn 37 on Sept. 18, will join the Astana team and compete in five road races, the sources told VeloNews.

“He will compete in the Amgen Tour of California, Paris-Nice, the Tour de Georgia, the Dauphine-Libere and the Tour de France. The sources told VeloNews that Armstrong will receive no salary or bonuses.

Armstrong’s manager, Mark Higgins, would not comment.

ESPN – Report: Armstrong to come out of retirement and ride for Astana – Cycling.

Sheldon Brown passed away

Sheldon Brown, the marvelous human encyclopedia of all things related to bicycles, passed away on Sunday from a heart attack. He had been ill for some time with multiple sclerosis.

I never met him, but carried on an email relationship about my fixed-gear and assorted technical questions. He was answering tech questions on the day he died. AASHTA (As Always, Sheldon Has The Answer).

I’ll miss him. He had one of the most amazing virtual lives as represented on his website, Sheldonbrown.org
His technical expertise will live on at Sheldonbrown.com

And in his memory, “Pedal Your Blues Away.”

Pedal your blues away,
forget all your troubles for play.
Hop on your bike any time you like,
and pedal your blues away.
Pedal your blues away
and ride down the ol’ highway,
singing your songs as you roll along
pedaling your blues away.
CHORUS: You’ll fine lots of happiness as you spin along;
things are hunky-dory as you fly.
In the middle of your heart,
you’ll find a new song,
with your palsy-walsy riding by your side.
Pedal your blues away,
you’ll find love in every by-way.
Hold up your chin,
let them see you grin,
and pedal your blues away.
(REPEAT CHORUS)
Pedal your blues away,
you’ll find love in every by-way.
Hold up your chin,
let them see you grin,
and pedal your blues a-way!

T-Mobile ends cycling sponsorship

BBC SPORT | Other Sport… | Cycling | T-Mobile ends cycling sponsorship

“T-Mobile is to end sponsorship of its cycling team after a succession of doping scandals.

“Britons Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins now look set to ride for the rebranded Team High Road.

“”We came to this decision to separate our brand from further exposure from doping in sport,” said T-Mobile chief executive Hamid Akhavan.”

It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned my cycling — still my favorite spectator sport — but I note the end of the T-Mobile sponsorship in the context of marketing sponsorship risk, something that a brand needs to weigh when selecting a celebrity spokesman, sports star, or team to affiliate its name with.

Cycling’s massive decline — capped by the stripping of Floyd Landis’ Tour de France title from 2006, then sealed with the messy excuse of a race last summer, is a Greek tragedy on wheels. Add to that Marion Jones having her Olympic medals stripped, and then Barry Bonds indictment and it is astonishing to the extent to which sports — professional and amateur — has hit the skids thanks to doping and betting scandals.

So T-Mobile walks away from a team beset by scandal. The Discovery Channel walked away from its sponsorship of the team that carried Lance Armstrong to his astonishing feat.

Yet still we watch and still we cheer, but as marketers we need to guard against the splatter and blowback of a sponsorship gone tabloid.

The hard way — fixed gear cycling

There’s something to be said for doing things the hard way. While progress and innovation have eased our lives and given rise to the leisure class, emancipating women from the tyranny of housework, harnessing steam to conquer the frontier, and channeling the electron to bring light to darkness, there are times when a dinner by candlelight is better than one by fluorescents.

So it goes with fixed-gear cycling which is best defined as bicycle riding without gears. I got into it three years ago when I stumbled upon the Fixed-Gear Gallery and began to fall in love with the classic, stripped-down look of an Italian racing bike reduced to its most basic essentials. With a retired Bianchi steel-framed bike rusting in the garage, I did some research, found the legendary Sheldon Brown’s compendium of online cycling knowledge, and placed an order with Harris Cyclery for bullhorn handlebars, a leather Brooks saddle, a flip-flop rear hub, and new Mavic wheels with extra stout spokes. I had the frame powder coated in International Harvester Green, then asked the wrench (mechanic) at the Bike Zone in Hyannis to build it up. He thought the green was very ugly, but did me proud.

Today I waited until my wife was out on her morning constitutional, before sneaking out for a fast Tour de Cotuit on the fixie — nicknamed the “Snotrocket” because of the time I tried to clear my nostrils one cold winter morning and thought I would coast while blocking one nostril with my index finger. Since coasting is out of the question, when I sat up and stopped pedaling I was nearly thrown off the bike, leading me to the rule that one can never, ever stop cycling while aboard the bike.

Fixed gears are very old school, from the day before derailleurs and freewheel hubs. The first Tour de Frances were ridden on fixed gears. Velodrome track racers ride fixed gears, and urban bike messengers ride fixed gears. In the past few years the subculture has exploded, becoming the in thing in urban centers. A few weeks ago I spotted a beautiful specimen chained to a parking meter next to Manhattan’s Bryant Park — it had a Park Tool bottle opener fixed to the seat tube.

My route this morning was ten miles on the nose, and since it didn’t cross the very dangerous Route 28, and since I don’t want to press my cycling luck with a pan-Cape ride, I confine my pedaling to the village. Here is my 10 mile loop.