Friday, January 20, 2012

Black Hoods

We had a heat wave today so of course I had to beg my wife to get home as early as possible so I could get out and ride. It was a great ride too. 52 degrees and an 11 mph wind out of the south. It sure didn't feel like the middle of January even though it had snowed a tiny bit yesterday and rained some too. The wind was perfect today also. At least as perfect as wind can be. It was blowing hard enough to make you work extra hard when facing it and it was blowing hard enough to make you feel like a real cyclist when it was pushing you down the road going the other way. And you know how sometimes when you go for a ride and something works ten times better than it normally does or at least seems to? Well today was one of those days when I had one of those rides.

I was trying to figure out what was making the difference on this ride - what was causing that ten-fold improvement. I have changed some things on the new(er) bike since last year after all and I knew those changes were not making the difference. I am on my third set of bar tape since I rode in the Tri-States Gran Fondo in early November. I had fallen over on that ride and taken a little rice size chunk out of the tape where it tucks into the end of the handlebar. That really bugged me at the time. Not only was the little missing chunk an annoying reminder of my lack of awesomeness approaching checkpoint number one but it was also the last package of the Ambrosio Grade yellow-fade-to-white bar tape I had been able to source from the 1980s.

I love thin hard retro bar tape but I can't find any more in that color so I switched to some plain yellow vinyl bar tape that looked retro but is not. The cool thing about the switch was that the retro looking new yellow color matched my yellow hoods perfectly just like the yellow in the Ambrosio Grade tape before it faded to white. And it came with yellow bar end plugs. Sweet. It was cheap and seemed plentiful so when I got tired of how my windproof full fingered gloves seemed to not be gripping it effectively I decided to change it to some old school Hunt Wilde orange translucent vinyl tape like you might have found on a 10 speed Schwinn back in the mid seventies. After a couple of rides I decided I didn't like the way that looked so I decided to change it out too.

I had a box of PRO (Shimano) handlebar tape that I had bought a while back intending to use it one day (perhaps) on the old bike. The trouble with that tape is that it was very cushy and the yellow was off. It didn't match well on the old bike and it totally did not match the yellow hoods on my new(er) bike. I've got a box in blue as well because one day I'm sure or was sure that I am going to have a bike that blue bar tape will look good on. I think. Both boxes have been sitting on my desk for a couple of months now begging to see use so I figured what the heck and grabbed the yellow yesterday and made the switch.

Once I got it on the bars it was obvious that the yellow tape and the yellow hoods were a bad match and all that cushy padding will absolutely take some getting used to for me. In my minds eye my bars look twice as fat as they used to and it will take some getting used to. My wrists will appreciate the more generous amount of cushy than they have been accustomed to because even though my left wrist feels completely healed from the hard landing suffered on the back side of Suncrest last spring my right wrist still sings with the twinges of pain from landing hard back in November. I'm sure the more padding will do nothing but benefit my body arms wrists and stamina as I ratchet up the miles going into next spring. If the tape makes it that long.

Back to the bad match on the hoods. Something had to be done so I dug my black hoods out of my desk drawer and dusted them off and paired them back up with the levers they came with. That's going to take some getting used to too. I like the yellow hoods but they are going to have to sit in the desk drawer for a while as I try the something new that is black hoods and super soft cushy bar tape from the modern era. I don't know how long I'm going to be able to suffer through ordinary but I'm going to give it my best effort. I promise.

But the black hoods were not what was causing the ten-fold improvement today. Neither was all that cushy yellow comfy padding even though I must admit that it sure felt good and did smooth the ride some. There is one other change I have made on the new(er) bike since last year too but there is no possible way that this change could lead to any ten-fold improvement in anything like I was immersed in today. No way. I have added 14 pounds to my bike. That's right. I have blimped up to 184 pounds. And for everyone who reads this in some country other than my country that is basically 84 kilos. That is not light for a cyclist. What the heck?

What went wrong? I bought the magazine that said "NEW YEAR NEW YOU. GET LEAN NOW. A SIMPLE PLAN." There was an article with information on how stay warm on the bike in the winter but I already stay pretty warm on the bike in the winter. There was information on 101 reasons to love cycling but I already know 1001 reasons to love cycling. There were the golden rules of bike maintenance but I already have riding buddies that make fun of how clean and maintained my bikes are. There was information on how to tackle America's nastiest climbs. Pedal up them right? And something about the art of the head badge. Who cares?

There was propaganda on the best new $2000 road bikes. OK. My new(er) bike was less than two thirds that cost and is probably better than any best new $5000 road bikes. So what did I do wrong this winter? I've been riding some. I've been on the trainer some. I've even been walking a bit too to try and stave off the blubber. I decided I better read that article so I did and I learned that I have been eating too much. Actually I already knew that and felt powerless to stop as I saw myself doing it over and over again over the last couple of months. I could blame the holidays or my wife's fantastic cooking and baking of treats. I could blame the triple chocolate gingerbread cake or my Mom's Mom's brownies or the Amish friendship bread or or or.

Bottom line: I am to blame. I got fat. I ate too much. Somehow as I read that magazine last year right before the holidays I skipped right over page 26. I didn't learn how to pick power carbs by incorporating beans in my diet. I didn't learn to order surf not turf and get two essential waist whittlers from eating salmon. I guess hot dogs and wienie wraps and corn dogs aren't going to do the trick. On page 28 I somehow missed the lesson on using a smaller plate to downsize my dishes. Who would have thought? I didn't learn to watch for invisible calories while I helped my four kids clean their plates or swap bubbly beverages or leave my kit in full view all the time. Somehow I missed all that and have gotten fat. Bummer.

On page 28 I learned and I quote: "Extra weight leads to physiological changes that can affect your cycling long term." No kidding? Genius right? Or as I like to say it's hard to pedal faster when you're fatter. My ride today was 23 miles with 500 feet of elevation gain and roughly two and a half miles of flat with an 11 mph headwind one way and an 11 mph tailwind the other. I could barely average 17 mph and unfortunately my mental edge kind of evaporated right away as I wondered the whole ride how fast I could go if I just weighed 160 pounds. It dawned on me that it was just like I was riding around while I was carrying an extra bike around too. How sad is that?

So it wasn't the extra weight that created the ten-fold improvement. It wasn't the black hoods or the soft yellow extra super-duper cushy bar tape either. And it sure wasn't the certainly not stellar average speed on an almost spring like day in the middle of winter. The part of my ride that was ten times better than normal was my sense of smell. Wow. I could smell the cows and the horses and the farms and the hay better than I can remember ever smelling them before. I could smell the fireplace smells and the fumes from the cars and the black diesel smoke when I got crop-dusted and the farmers burning trash better too.

I don't know if it was the light snow and rain from the day before or if it was because it seemed so warm that my nose wasn't dripping snot the whole ride or what but I can't remember ever having had this potent a sense of smell on the bike as I had today. My senses were on fire. Today was one of those days when I had one of those rides. Ten times better sense of smell today as I was toting around my 14 extra pounds of blubbery fat barely averaging 17 mph and thinking about maybe trying to eat less as I wondered what it would be like to ride up a hill weighing 160 pounds. I gripped my yellow super cushy comfy bar tape and thought about picking power surfing essential waist whittling carbs on a smaller invisible plate while I wear my kit all winter long and not just when I'm on my new(er) bike sagging forward on my black hoods.

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