Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A New Ride/An Old Love

Anyone not interested in cycling or the merging of science and art in the form of a modern racing bicycle can and should stop reading right now. (Are they gone?) OK. I debated about writing about the new bike, but I have been asked several questions via email and over the phone, so here it goes.
From the beginning.
In February of 1987 I purchased my first entry level racing bike from Hodson's Bay in West Lafayette, IN. I was attending Purdue and the bike was a graduation gift for myself. Sadly, I cannot recall the brand, but I can still see the brilliant deep blue paint. That bike was nothing special, technically speaking, but it immediately ignited something inside of me. Like a generator used to power a home after an ice storm, that bike recirculated an energy throughout me.
For more than a year, running had been out of the question. Walking 6-8 miles per day in deck shoes that offered no support and little protection from the the concrete sidewalks had reduced even my abnormally fast walk to a hobble. Oh, I had tried to run several times. And I had grown more frustrated each time I walked back home. I was almost a year into my bout with plantar fasciitis in a medical era in which there were few options for treatment/relief and the only one left to consider was a surgery in which the tendon would be sliced lengthwise to promote stretching of the super tight and painfully annoying tissue. I turned down that option faster than I limped away from the the doc holding a syringe full of cortisone.
Within days of purchasing that bike I had ventured well beyond the campus and the city - far out into the vast, flat, dormant, snow-covered, wind-swept crop fields of Tippecanoe county. The really awesome thing about a bike is that it can allow you to self-propel yourself across a substantial distance in a relatively short period of time. And, if you are blessed with endurance and guts while being similarly cursed with stubbornness and naive youthful optimism, that one-week-old bike can take you and your cotton sweats twenty miles downwind to Pine Village in subfreezing temperatures while your porcelain toes are clad in white leather sneakers and your cracked and bleeding knuckles are feeling the breeze - two days in a row. Enough said?
"Hello. My name is Shane and I am addicted to testing my endurance."
Two years later I was riding fifty miles per day on a slightly more impressive race bike while immersed in the world of the USCF. But, mostly, I spent my time "makin' paint." My job as a research chemist in the coatings industry caused me to create a couple of unique touchy, feely "specialty' coatings. I was a company man doing the company thing - working and traveling a lot.
Then it happened. One day, after a man with what seemed like an Australian accent kept interrupting my canned thirty-minute slide show during a coatings convention, I found myself sitting in my hotel room holding a rough surfaced monocoque carbon fiber Kestrel MX-Z mountain bike frame that said man, Cycle Composites president Bevil Hogg, had tossed onto my bed. I tried and failed 176 times to make a primer/paint system stick to the pieces of that frame. Yes! I destroyed two diamond-tipped circular saw blades cutting it up - for science, for progress! Nothing passed our in-house automotive adhesion specs. (And, since paint still regularly and easily peels from carbon frames, I'd say other chemists are still failing to meet those specs.)
That ruggedly beautiful MX-Z frame was a work of art. I immediately set a goal of owning a Kestrel. I bought my first Kestrel, a 200 sci, in 1992 with a small inheritance from my biological father. I loved that bike. It was stiff, yet absorbed road vibrations like no bike I'd ever ridden. I outfitted the white frame with top of the line Dura Ace components and then watched as it was run over TWICE by a 15 passenger van. People yelled, so the driver stopped. And then he backed up. I watched in disbelief - and cursed a lot. The insurance didn't believe that a bike could cost that much, but it eventually paid for a replacement. (That's two, if you are counting.)
In 1994 I thought I was serious enough about multisport to invest in a new frame. I used some adjunct pay to purchase a red KM40. Sweet. Stiff. Addictive. I thought about riding that bike as much as I thought about sex. Yeah, it was that sweet. . . It was my first 650 wheel bike, so it took a few months to get used to the geometry and handling. I moved the Dura Ace components to that frame and added some heavy, but bomb-proof, 5-spoke Aerospoke carbon wheels that were discounted greatly by the Michigan company that sponsored the race series I put on. For the first time, I named a bike. I called her Faith. Faith was a fast bike, so I always felt the desire, the need, to ride her hard and fast. Before long I found myself cruising along on casual rides at 22+ mph. Not by coincidence, I believe, 1994 was the first year that I started riding 2-mile efforts at 30+ mph. The 4 minute 2-mile! Have I stated that I relate to and understand (on more than one level) Ricky Bobby?
It was July of 1995 that I sold Faith. That was shortly after I told USA Triathlon to shove its All-American/Team USA slot - up there. They had refused to disqualify or even penalize the 18-man peleton that had formed behind me, one by one as I caught them, in the wind on Lakeshore Drive in Chicago during the 29-mile bike leg of the 1995 National Championships. Several of those riders had remained in the peleton and had pulled away from me after we turned south with the wind at our backs the second time.
I did not own a bike again until the end of 1998 when I ordered a Kestrel 500 sci from Nytro. That 650 wheel, light blue frame (Faith Two) had the Ironman paint (still the brittle and flaky Dupont Emron!) and was outfitted with the latest 9-speed Dura Ace components. At 49 cm, it was actually a bit small, but it allowed my aging legs to ride faster than I ever had, hitting three 2-mile efforts in less than 4 minutes and covering a 40K course in less than 56 minutes for the first time since my big-mileage years. I studied the market for months before deciding on the 3-spoke carbon Nimble wheels. Though I received no sponsorships or other discounts for those wheels, I have never regretted purchasing them. Honestly, I have never personally witnessed wind tunnel testing, but I believe that those tubular wheels are the fastest I've ever owned.
Because the 500 sci frame was small, I occasionally banged my knees on the aero bars or stem. This resulted in an almost constant blue-green bruise on at least one knee.
The 500 sci was Kestrel's first frame to not have a seat tube. It was still stiff in the bottom bracket and absorbent in terms of road vibrations. That bike was a huge technological advancement from the typical double diamond steel alloy frames of previous generations. I loved it as soon as I stomped down on the pedals and shot up my street. It was an adrenaline junkie's dream. In June of 2000 I was descending my street when my son, on his new bike, came from between cars in a neighbor's driveway and caused me to crash hard. My cleat punched a hole in the top tube. I freaked out. Kestrel casually stripped the frame, rewrapped that top tube, and repainted it before shipping it back to me. I only paid for the shipping! Four days after the crash I was giddily rebuilding the bike.
By the end of 2003 I had put more than 20k miles on that bike. I raced it in MN, IN, OH, KY, GA, TN, DE, ME, LA, and AL, mostly in duathlons. That bike helped me to one of my life's best performances at the 1999 ITU Du Worlds where I ran swiftly (32:42/9.6K and 17:42/5K) and averaged over 25 mph on a technical and hilly bike course in Alpharetta, GA. Considering my level of talent, I have always been proud of that race effort.

By the time the 2004 season started I had moved the components to a 52-cm black Kestrel KM40 Airfoil frame. Also without a seat tube, this "triathlon" version of the 500sci was stiffer and more aerodynamic than any of my previous frames. Again, the word "sweet" comes to mind. What a beautiful frame! I spent a day transferring the Dura Ace components and Nimble wheels to "Bruiser." Bruiser got her name because all of the black paint and carbon weave was accented by blue bar tape and cable housing. By early 2009 Bruiser was sporting Dura Ace 10-speed components and Easton Attack TT bars. I had also invested a lot of time tweaking the geometry of my position to gain maximum power while on the bike. That bike deserved, begged, demanded to be ridden faster than my limited ability could propel it, so I put a lot of time into getting the most out of me.

In March of 2007 one of my Speedplay pedals came apart as I accelerated up the hill in front of my house. I crashed hard and head first, trashing a helmet, but I can still write about it. Without thinking about the incredibly loud, hollow, pumpkin-smashing sound of my helmet and face colliding with the pavement, I jumped up and started looking the bike over. Within seconds I became vaguely aware of the sound of spilling, splashing liquid. Then I saw the blood from my facial wounds puddling on the road and on the bike I was inspecting. "Oh, crap!" I said irritably as I yanked the bike onto my shoulder and carried it back toward the house. Blood still poured from my face as I strode through the house in a state of shock and not really knowing what to do. Eventually, I grabbed a clean white hand towel and held it to my face as I climbed the stairs to the bathroom. There, in the mirror, I saw a face that I did not recognize. "Oh, crap!!" I exclaimed again as I took off my helmet and pressed the towel to my face. "Oh, crap!"
Then, without hesitation I grabbed a large bottle of hydrogen peroxide and poured it onto the towel in my hand before holding the towel to my face. After about thirty seconds I removed the towel and looked into the mirror again. "Wow!!" There were gashes on my left cheek and around my mouth. My upper lip had a long slit in it. While those wounds offered outlets for my precious blood, my gaze and concern centered on my teeth. My two front teeth were both broken. One was cracked lengthwise and half of the other one was missing. I remember thinking, "This looks like it should hurt more than it does." That is called traumatic shock. What happened next is still beyond comprehension - even to me.

I put on the helmet, went to the bike, straightened the handlebars, and rode away. The adrenaline flooding into my bloodstream helped me to, mostly, focus on something other than the wind whipping across the exposed nerves in the broken tooth. That same adrenaline then helped me finish a hill workout at a record pace despite the fact that I had ridden that workout for more than ten years and despite the fact that I, well into my 40's, should not have been as fast as I had been ten years earlier. I was honestly oblivious to the fact that my face and right hand had suffered massive contusions and that my blood had been spilled all over the tile floors throughout my house. When I returned home after the triumphant ride my family members were the ones in shock. They were about to go meet me at the hospital - where they had surmised I had driven myself. Three hours later I agreed to go to the hospital. Diagnosis? Concussion. Abrasions and contusions. Two broken teeth and several more loose and bleeding. And, though I did not learn about this until a year later when the carpel tunnel syndrome started flaring up, the hook of hamate bone was broken in my right hand. It had to be removed.

The picture below shows the titanium post that had just been placed in my gum. "Placed" means the oral surgeon drilled a hole deep into my bone before TIGHTLY screwing that nifty titanium base into the hole - "40 N cm," he bragged. The other front tooth was broken and dead when this picture was taken, but they worked on it for another year before pulling it and putting an identical post in. Interestingly enough, the local anesthetic did not work for that procedure. Yes, it hurt like hell and I needed a saline drip to rehydrate after the tear loss.

It was a full thirty months, six surgical procedures, and dozens of visits to the dentist later before I was as normal as I would ever be. Scars are still clearly visible on my face. The porcelain front teeth look great, but the gums around them occasionally hurt after overnight grinding sessions. That right hand has nerve damage that sometimes causes the entire hand to go into interesting looking and painful contortions. I simply stick it in my pocket or step into the prep room when it happens while lecturing, but the condition will likely prevent me from future free climbing.

Bruiser also got the new handlebar tape she needed. I replaced the blue tape and cable housings with white to match the lettering on the frame. Sweet.
Bruiser's final adjustment came when I bought some used HED 3 clinchers off of Slowtwitch to use as training wheels. Now Bruiser looks intimidatingly fast on training rides. Those wheels are much heavier than the Nimble's, so they make climbing more difficult. After training over hilly courses on those HEDs I rode the rocket named Bruiser, equipped with the much lighter Nimble Crosswinds, to a silver medal at the ITU Du Worlds last September. No, that picture is not blurry. The rain fell painfully hard throughout the opening 10K run and 40K bike legs (actually distances short of those). Bruiser was so comfortable that I was easily able to ignore the rain and navigate the technical Lowes Motor Speedway course. Isn't she beautiful when wet?

So . . . I recently replaced Bruiser. Well, I still have Bruiser, but I have acquired a replacement in the form of the 700c Kestrel airfoil PRO SE. This bike has more Kestrel logos on it than all of my previous (5) bikes combined. It is a stock SE with SRAM Red components, Zipp Vuka bars, and Zipp 404's. I have yet to purchase 700c training wheels. Though the Vuka bars are quite comfy, I feel so comfortable on the Attacks that I am seriously considering a switch.

Like my previous two frames, the SE does not have a seat tube. The comparison stops there. All of the tubes on this frame are shaped differently. The stack height of this 52-cm frame is shorter and narrower. The top tube has a triangular cross section. The down tube is straight and beefier. And the rear triangle is much narrower than the previous model. This frame is incredibly pleasing to the eyes. The wheels? Let me just state that I am not sure how long the giant Zipp logo stickers on the will last.
I've tried to match the position of new bike (not yet named) with that of Bruiser, but I haven't got it dialed in just yet. I have lowered the bars and have ordered a new stem to get even lower before I cut the steering tube.
I cannot wait to time trial and race on this bike. And, of course, I hope to log thousands of miles before I crash it :)

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