Monday, August 20, 2012

Nine Weeks Later

I've fallen off my bike a fair number of times.

In 2007, I crashed at the Albany Crit, Martinez Crit, Santa Cruz Crit, and Land Park Crit. Four races in a row, and I went down in all of them. I was sitting top 10 in all of them, too. Somewhere, there's a picture of me sprinting in Santa Cruz with blood streaming down my leg.

But I've never broken a bone.

And before this season, I'd never raced a mountain bike.

I broke both streaks this year.

Most Nebraska readers have heard the story by now: Ponca State Park. Lots of climbing. Three weeks after being shamed into racing the cat 2 field in my first-ever mountain bike race and finishing in the middle of the pack, I registered for the same field at Ponca. I'd never even ridden there before. I was riding my brand-new Trek Superfly 100 for only the second time.

It started to rain right before my field started to race. The new bike came equipped with 29 * 2.0 rubber, but every single person who looked at my bike before the race said, "Those are skinny tires."

The race consisted of three laps around a course that ran through thickly forested bluffs along the Missouri River. At the top of a ridge line stood a narrow wooden pedestrian bridge spanning a shallow but steep-sided wash. On the first lap, the painted wood was reasonably tacky. After another half-hour of rain, it was slick as snot, and when I hit the bridge at speed on the second lap, I wasn't thinking about my line. I was chasing for second place. My front wheel slid at a sharp 90-degree angle to the right, slamming my entire body weight and momentum onto the back of my left hand. The shifter and brake lever exploded.

And my some bones in my hand snapped like dry twigs.

Comminuted fracture of the fifth metacarpal and phalanges.
I knew it was broken right away, so I shouldered by bike and started walking out of the woods. I walked for 5 minutes before anyone passed me, so I think I crashed myself off the podium. I still don't know whether I was angrier about losing the race or breaking my hand.

It hurt, but it wasn't unbearable. I waited at the first road crossing I reached, about 500 yards down trail. April Eyberg gave me some ice as I waited for someone to come pick me up.  Roxy tells me I was downright chipper when she reached me.

Jeremy Cook was the first familiar face I saw when I got back to registration. He snapped this image:

Amy Collison and Mikayla Rhone volunteered to drive me the 90 minutes back to Omaha. Amy thought my refusal to lose my mind was amusing:

It was obvious how badly I screwed up when I looked at my hands side by side:

I wore a brace for four weeks and spent the next four weeks waiting for my strength to come back. I was able to grip the bar well enough to ride a road bike by week five, but not with enough hand strength to ride safely in a group. Hitting a bump while riding with my hands in the drops just about killed me, so riding the mountain bike was out of the question.

I tried to stay involved with bike racing; I helped feed my teammates at the Nebraska state road race championships, and I marshaled a corner at yesterday's Papillion Twilight Criterium. But my own road season ended during a mountain bike race.

Today, Abbey and I rode a loop at Swanson, marking my first attempt to handle the mountain bike. My hand was fine, so I'll resume real training tomorrow.

'Cross awaits.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Why Don't More Women Race Bikes?

I've ridden bikes with a lot of cool women. Fast women. Bad-ass women. Scared women.

One of the great things about collegiate cycling was its gender equality. The men raced against the men and the women raced against the women, but the results from both races counted equally when determining which team won the Omnium. One of the reasons UC Davis won team omnium national championships was because the women's team time trial squad won their event, and the female road and crit racers were so deep they scored a lot of points.

Now I have daughters. (Well, I had daughters while I was racing in graduate school). One of them is a jock. She plays soccer, softball, and basketball. But she's also a holy terror on a bike, a fact which gives me no end of joy.

I think she caught the bug while watching an acquaintance of mine win a regional criterum in a field sprint while wearing the stars and stripes jersey of the women's professional national champion. She also came to watch a lot of my races. Bike racing excited her, inspired her, and instilled a life-long horror of porta-potties. And through our Omaha Devo program for kids' mountain biking, Abbey has been lucky enough to receive casually structured coaching from a former pro and a number of amateur racers, one of whom is a woman. I've learned to stay away from these weekly Devo sessions and to let the coaches coach. Smart guy, me.

But I worry about her future in the sport. I don't have any hopes for her making a career out of riding. I just hope she enjoys herself and carries her love of games, the outdoors, and physical fitness into adulthood.

But what if she does want to race, even at the regional level? In the Midwest? Will she find support? Races? Opponents?

Yesterday's blog post was designed to encourage discussion about the ways in which scheduling conflicts serve as a microcosm for larger schisms within the Nebraska cycling community. Now I'd like to stir the pot about women's racing. At most events in Nebraska, we see no more than 5-10 female participants. At road races, the Cat 2/3 women sometimes race with the Cat 4 men. (I once watched my friend Brooke terrorize a field of Cat 3 guys. But then again, she was the reigning National Champion) 'Cross seems to fare better, drawing a slightly smaller field for women. We all know the barriers to entry are much lower in 'cross--but why? In other words, why is road racing so off-putting to women? And how do we mitigate those elements of the sport that turn women away? How do we find ways to make it more appealing to women?

Cyclingnews has a piece up right now about building the professional side of women's racing. But if local scenes were more developed, maybe the pros wouldn't face such a hard time receiving pay and attracting sponsors.

I love watching women race. I think the disparity between the aesthetics of male and female competition is smaller in cycling than in any other sport. I'm the father of girls, so I'm biased. But I don't enjoy women's basketball nearly as much as men's--even if women's volleyball is staggeringly athletic and kind of awe-inspiring. Yet women's cycling looks and feels just as fast to me as men's cycling does. I'd really like to see more women pinning on numbers and toeing a start line. So, women, what are the barriers to entry? How do we (a cycling community at large) remove those? How do we find things to market that might outweigh the barriers?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cycling Tribes and Event Conflicts

Mike Magnuson has published a new book: Bike Tribes: A Field Guide to North American Cyclists. So far I've only skimmed it, but I liked what I saw.

He defines and satirizes several different types of riders: the Masters Sandbagger, the Cat 3 Douchebag, The Century Rider, The Triathlete, the Fast MTB Racer, etc.

Last week, I sat down to do some work at a local coffee shop and happened to eavesdrop on a bunch of 60-somethings talking about their own bike rides. They complained about how the "gear heads" and "spandex jerks" ride too fast on the Keystone trail. They told stories about being  startled when roadies whiz by "like it's the Tour de France!" (That's always the critique of racers, isn't it? In media comments sections, irate motorists always complain about having to wait behind a group of "Yahoos acting like they own the road and having their own private Tour de France")

Why the hostility toward racers? Could it be that some of us DO act like jerks when we get stuck behind a trio of old farts slowly easing three-wide down the trail? Damn Strava-killers, that's what they are!

I've always tried to live and preach the notion that all cyclists need to stick together. We collectively suffer from the derision, negligence  and outright aggression of irate drivers, oblivious roller-bladers, and suicidally unleashed basset hounds -- so shouldn't we look after each other? Can't we all just get along?!?!

But there's even conflict between wearers of the spandex. This weekend in Nebraska, two pretty important events are being held on the same day: the Papillion Twilight Criterium, hosted by Midwest Cycling and the Trek Bicycle Stores of Omaha, and the Gravel World Championships, hosted by the Pirate Cycling League. And yeah, it's a conflict. There are several folks who might have done both events if they were held on different weekends.

Cross-scheduling local cycling events pisses me off. Surely we (Nebraska cyclists) could make sure a gravel race doesn't happen the same day as one of our only local criteriums. 

And don't tell me about different demographics--I think that's part of the problem. If I hadn't broken my hand (trying to bust out of my roadie rut) by racing a mountain bike for the first time, I would've liked to participate in both the crit and the gravel race. I like meeting guys who shred dirt and guys who wax hair. I even like bullshitting with alley-cat delivery guys.

But despite my genial efforts at a grassroots campaign, mountain bikers often hate roadie scum. Roadies shun sketchy Freds. Charity-event riders always proclaim "this isn't a race" when a racer gets angry that they've been wheel-sucking for 17 miles. Racers dismiss charity rides. Taco-riders drink so much they love (or hate) everybody. 

Next year, let's reach out to all the tribes. Let's try to find a way to build the sport in Nebraska by making our events accessible to all types of riders. Let's share a calendar, drink some PBR (or single-malt, or Pinot), and prevent these kinds of conflicts. 

Saddle time is too brief to have to choose between events. Or tribes.