Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pre-Holiday Bliss

Selfie, Scott Pierson Trail

There's something wonderful about riding in the late afternoon. For one, I get to sleep in to my heart's content. But there's also the added bonus of avoiding the crowd, whether it be motorized or pedestrian traffic. As far as the seasons go for the Pacific Northwest, the weather has been kind lately. In between freezing temps, windstorms, and long bouts of rain, every weekend for the past five weeks has had at least one dry and sunny day.

With the upcoming Thanksgiving week approaching, I'm mentally preparing for my traditional visits with family and friends. This time of year is always a mixed bag. I get anxious about going home and falling back into old family dynamics. On the surface, there's usually the cordial homecoming atmosphere that starts off every holiday. Then with each passing day, tensions build-up over silly little things that really mask the history of us. Still, I can't help but make the annual trek year after year. After all, who knows how many more years we'll have together?

So before I kicked-off this holiday season of stress and loathing, I squeeze in one final ride in solitude. It was just late enough in the afternoon that the roads were mostly deserted. It also didn't hurt that folks were gathered indoors to watch the Seahawks play the Cardinals. (The Hawks would later win 19-3.) I soaked in the pleasure of the calm and quietness, pedaling through downed branches and puddles, small and large, from clogged storm drains and dips in the road.

It's likely I won't get out for another ride anytime soon. But then again, I've been on a great streak.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

An Accidental Hike

After living in Tacoma for over five years, you would think that I'd know my neighborhood and its surrounding areas fairly well. Turns out there is a 300+ acre park a mere three miles from where I live, one that even has designated mountain bike trails. Having never ventured out to Swan Creek Park, I took advantage of a beautiful (but cold) Saturday afternoon to check it out.

One of the easier sections of the Swan Creek Trail.

Located in East Tacoma, I arrived at the park at its northern entrance along Pioneer Way. I was eager to get started and wasted no time to look at the signage. Consequently, I later found out that I was on one of the park's pedestrian-only hiking trails. Luckily, it was a late autumn afternoon and I only encountered a handful of people. After only a few minutes on the trail, I found many obstacles that would have challenged even the most advance mountain biker. Obviously, the path was only meant for foot traffic and I submitted to walking my bike the remainder of the way.

During one point on the trail, a passing hiker asked about my Sam Hillborne and wanted to know what kind of bike it was, as it didn't appear to her to be a mountain bike. Embarrassingly, I failed to articulate Rivendell's main selling point of the Sam's functional versatility: It's a country bike. It's right on the seat tube decal. Instead, I hastily replied, "It's an all-arounder." Oh, well. I'll get it right next time.

After hiking for about a mile and a half, I came out at one of the trail's access points and quickly found a wide hard surface road, meant only for non-motorized use. At one point, I noticed an owl flying above and rest on a high branch on a tree ahead of me. It had an impressive wingspan and I couldn't help to stop and admire it. By the time I found the mountain bike trails, the sun was setting and it was time to get home. Now that I know my way better, I'll have to return and ride the bike trails another day.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Apples & Oranges: 2 Brooks Saddles

I first started riding on a Brooks saddle last year when I had the Soma Buena Vista built up. For a mixte bike for commuting and errands, I wanted something comfortable and stylish. The Brooks B67 met both criteria equally well. The wide coverage of its shape and the dual springs were more than enough for my lean posterior. With its beautiful brown leather, stamped with the model number along its sides, and the classical rivets were in some ways the best part of the bike.

Naturally, I wanted to continue the Brooks tradition on my new Sam Hillborne. I opted for the traditional B17, the Brooks flagship saddle. After all, the folks at Rivendell swear by it. And who am I to argue against a saddle that's been around for over 100 years?

I was excited to get onto the B17 and set out for the 5-mile loop around Point Defiance Park. Initially, settling into the saddle was a bit of a rude awakening. I found the leather to be firm (as it should be) but unforgiving. I may as well have been sitting on a block of concrete. By the time I returned home from a roundtrip of around 15 miles, my bottom was noticeably sore. I had been so pleased with the B67 and expected nothing less of the B17. What I didn't consider was obvious: each model is built with its own purpose.

It's very possible that the B17 will be much more comfortable once I'm through the break-in period. While the B67 didn't require any break-in, it's also possible that I may not sing its praises on a long-distance ride. Its wide profile may be more noticeable with every pedal stroke after 50 miles in. I'm not a heavy person, so I admit that the squeaky springs could get annoying after awhile.

While no product can please every single person, I'm hoping that the B17 will live up to its reputation and my expectations after a few more rides. Brooks saddles aren't cheap and I can't afford to experiment with all of their various models. If the B17 doesn't work out, I may consider the Flyer, which would combine the same width of the B17 and incorporates the dual-spring suspension similar to the B67.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Cycling Greek Tragedy

Next year, Hollywood will be releasing its version of Lance Armstrong's fall from grace. Currently in post-production, the film is helmed by Stephen Frears (Philomena, The Queen) and stars Ben Foster (Lone Survivor, The Messenger) as Armstrong. While the story will no doubt focus on the drama of the doping scandal, it will also be exciting to see the re-creation of key stages of the Tour.

But before the biopic hits the silver screen, there is a fantastic documentary currently available that sheds more light into why this story is so captivating. Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story features many key figures that include well-known names (at least within the cycling community) like Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Frankie Andreu, and Greg LeMond. Then there are other compelling interviews with Jeff Tillotson (attorney for SCA), Travis Tygart (USADA), and Emma O'Reilly (masseuse for USPS team).

One of the most memorable comments came from David Walsh of The Sunday Times, who was one of Armstrong's early detractors. Not long after Floyd Landis tested positive for testosterone and stripped of his 2006 Tour "victory", he desperately wanted to return to racing and asked former teammate Armstrong for a job. When Armstrong and his camp refused a spot to Landis, he no longer felt any loyalty to Armstrong. Walsh observed that Armstrong lacked the emotional intelligence to understand that Landis was a ticking time bomb. Had Armstrong given Landis some small, even menial, role on the team, it could have been just enough for Landis to keep his mouth shut. Alas, Landis would eventually out Armstrong and his many secrets and pile onto the mountain of suspicions around his victories.

Double-Take: Ben Foster a la Hollywood
You don't have to be a racing fan to see the draw of Lance Armstrong's tale. Take away the athlete and you still have a man whose life embodies that of a modern Greek tragedy. The rise and fall of any central character has been a Hollywood staple for as long as stories have been told. And of course, the greater the hubris, the more fantastic the tale.