Monday, November 24, 2014

In or Out, Cycling in the Winter

Quality products are a thing to be cherished among the many things that cycling has to offer for those who choose to "take to the bike".
Some products add to the training experience when we cycle. Others add to the practical side of cycling, the overall user experience. I want to talk about both.
While not all of us use our bicycles to train per se, all of us are in fact getting a work out, regardless of how small, by climbing on the bike.
If you are the type of cyclist that has to ride in-doors in the winter, spinning out all day on a trainer sucks. I for one, was all for trainers, I got a really nice one too. The device is sound, really well built, and a great tool to use if the job is riding indoors. In a nutshell, it’s a lot of pedaling against resistance and being locked into one spot. You tend to sit more upright and do not use a lot of upper body. If your bike is not level, the position could put pressure on the wrists and elbows making the “ride” very uncomfortable. Saddle discomfort increases, as you are mostly just sitting there. Meaning you’re not out riding around, leaning, standing, and generally speaking, moving.
The first time I was introduced to ROLLERS, It was by a co-worker of mine that races. I initially thought that they were reserved as a training tool for the elite. It’s not that at all. Much like having a trainer indoors is a useful tool, so is being able to take it with you pretty much wherever you want. While good sets of rollers have a variety of levels of resistance, they feel more natural than resistance units on trainers. It also allows the rider to move unhindered. Since you have to keep balance to stay on the rollers, it feels much more like being on the road. Plus it brings the upper body in to play which makes for a much better “workout.” It’s so simple to just put your bike on it and go. No special tire, no “climbing block,” just a work out when and where you want it.

For the uninitiated, rollers look like this:

While a good trainer look like this:

Clearly different from one another, a trainer holds your rear wheel stationary and uses a resistance unit to create the realistic road feel. Again, it does require the addition of a so-called "climbing block" under the front wheel to level the bike, as well as a special tire. The tire is needed because of the heat build up where the tire contacts the drum. A normal tire would succumb to this heat and shed rubber like a poorly groomed dog, leading to tire failure. Both the tire and the block are extra purchases when, all tolled; trainer, tire, and block, can run in the neighborhood of $500.
The only problem with rollers is not so much a problem with the device, as it is with the rider's ability to use them. Using rollers requires balance that some people just don't have. You know the type; people who are new to biking, people who never learned how to "hold their line" in a group ride...
Go ahead, go to YouTube and search for "first time on rollers" and prepare for what is sure to be plenty of self-inflicted suffrage.

This is so painful to watch. 

The dude in this video made several mistakes which I could talk about all day, but I won't.
...Except for the obvious questions; 
A) Why the hell would you video tape your first attempt at rollers? 
B) After failing so, SO badly, why on Earth would you up load it to Youtube?

Regardless of why people make silly and often ill-advised choices on the internet, the point is, rollers are not as hard to use as they appear.

They are not always this easy to use either;)

So which rollers should you choose? That's a big question as there are several brands out there that make a quality product. While I have only tried three different brands, they just so happen to be regarded as three of the best brands out there. My personal favorite among them being made right here in my hometown. If you think that is bias on my part, think again. I choose Sportcrafters for many reasons.
Among them being Price; at $400 they are a little cheaper than their trainer counterpart yet they do not require the use of special additions like tires or climbing blocks.
Also, the resistance is built in to the rear drum and therefore takes up no additional floor or storage space. Probably the biggest selling point for me was the lifetime warranty:

"We offer a lifetime warranty to all of our customers. We don’t care if you are the original owner, second owner or whether you bought it at a garage sale…it doesn’t matter. The only way we know how to make the best product in the world is to know when your bike roller, trike trainer or handcycle trainer is not performing properly. We will immediately ship the replacement parts needed, and, if we want the old parts for analysis we will pay for return shipping."  (please see their website for details)

More important to me however, is the fact that they are hand made right here in Indiana by people I know and trust. People I play bikes with. They may be our competitors, but they are still our friends. I am glad to support their brand.

Aside from indoor training equipment, another Winter must have is Wool. LOTS of wool. Once again, if you are anything like me than you will go fricken stir crazy cycling inside for four months which means you will venture out on the warmer days. In my case, I commute by bike almost every day so that means I will venture out on the not-so-warm days as well. That is why I hoard wool.
Socks, caps, base layers... hell, I would grow a wool beard if I could.


Socks. If you are going to rock wool socks, you can choose any brand you want. I mean, you really cannot go wrong. Wool is simply warmer. Often the theory, "the thicker the better" is true, but you really should consider how thick a sock you need which generally depends on the activity they will be used in. If you are sitting around the house on a blustery Winter day, then by all means, thicker is better, especially if you have to go outside periodically to shovel. In a more active setting, say, commuting by bike or even the rare mid winter road ride, you may want a thinner sock. Seems counter intuitive but it needs to be able to fit in you cycling shoe, right? For most conditions I have encountered, I prefer Swiftwick seven inch wool compression socks.

 They seem pretty technical, but in all reality they are, simply put, form-fitting, warm, compression socks that feel great while both riding and running. Where they set themselves apart from other brands is a part of the brand's moniker: SwiftWick. While thicker socks may be great for casual winter wear, it is the wicking action in these socks  that keeps you warm. We have talked about wicking before which is the process of moving moisture away from the skin through capillary action. During activity, a thicker sock can lead to high amounts of sweat which can be cooled by moving air, thus making your feet cold. Having a sock that is the perfect amount of warm is exactly what I want to wear during the cold Indiana commutes.
Swiftwick socks are made in the USA and are a perfect edition to any Winter wear arsenal.

Caps. (NOT hats) Can be a life saver on the bike. In the summer they help keep the sun out of your eyes and sweat off your face. In the winter, they have one goal: keep your brain bucket warm. A good cap will go a step further and keep your ears warm as well. It is here that I am torn between a brand that I have been using for about two years now, and a brand that, as you all know, has been very supportive over the last year. It is no secret that Walz Caps has been a huge part of my cycling experience this year. It was not until the winter hit that I suddenly realized, "I don't own any Walz Winter caps." Quick to rectify this matter, I got an email saying some were already on the way. I look forward to sharing with you my thoughts on the matter but for now, it will have to wait.

Stay tuned for part 2, where I pit cap against cap, in my review of Walz Winter caps.

In the mean time, get some rollers and get your socks on... it's still cold outside.


Friday, November 21, 2014

The Great Debate

In a debate that will go down in history as being almost as controversial as "Flat Pedals vs. Clipless Pedals," is the debate over "Helmet or No Helmet."
A debate which is perpetuated by high-profile arguments by people like Grant Petersen.
 An example:
"That's your only brain up there. Strap this on to help keep it safe."
-To which Mr Petersen answers:
"Are you safer wearing a helmet and overestimating its protection, or going helmetless and riding more carefully?"
Um... Yes, wearing a helmet is safer. Having safety equipment on you head is safer than having none. Period. I am not "overestimating" shit. I ride in a straight line, down the right lane with lights, a bell, the same way. Every time. I don't ride any different with or without a helmet. 
Compared to going, the helmet's equivalent of "commando," using a helmet reduces the risk of Head, Neck, and Brain injury by 66 to 88%.
Or, in layman's terms, a whole fucking lot. 
Even on the low end of that statistic (66%) it still means you are OVER 50% more likely to survive a vehicle related crash (as far as head an neck injuries are concerned). The other part of the argument that "going helmetless...," you will somehow "ride more carefully," is total bullshit. First of all, we all have that one friend who screams "cars are coffins," yet rides off of sidewalks,into traffic, through cars, etc... with his helmetless pig tails blowing in the breeze. Seriously, ask any responsible cyclist who has been hit by a car, helmet or not, if they were being careful when that jerk in the SUV cut them off, boxed them out, or just "didn't see" them, and I am pretty sure the answer will be, "yeah, I was being careful. It was that ass hat in the shitbox that wasn't."
And they are probably right. Cars and the dick heads that pilot them are the problem here, not how dorky your helmet looks. So now that I am done with the slinging of verbal diarrhea against one of the most beloved frame builders of our time, I want to stop here and state for the record, that I am NOT beating up on Grant Petersen. He was simply making a point about getting on your fucking bike and riding it. You don't have to clip in, you don't have to wear lycra, and you don't have to wear a helmet. He is right on all accounts. Some of it is situational, some, personal preference. If I am going on a 40 miler, sure, lycra, helmet, clipless pedals... If I am riding to fill my panniers with beer at the corner store, maybe not. So again, it is not like he is WRONG, but making is seem like your being "more careful" is just as safe as wearing a helmet, is kind of completely ludicrous. Which is about as ludicrous as being seen in one of these:


Ah, yes, the Ribcap. Man's answer to "dorky looking" helmets. What a joke.

"Say for some reason you really don’t want to wear a helmet but would like to at least have something on your head. That may be the reasoning behind Ribcap’s newest offering which comes in the form of a cycling cap."

"For some reason you really don't want to wear a helmet..." why? Because the look "dorky" and motorists might make fun of you? I got news for ya dude, they are already making fun of you.

"...but you would like to at least have something on your head."

 What the fuck is that supposed to mean? "Something?" Like what? A cat?

The cat on the hat?

Cycling caps are already struggling to reclaim their rightful place atop our heads, and this is clearly an attempt to capitalize on (and at the same time, bastardize) their unique appeal to those who even remember what they are... and it's a shitty one at that.

"Ribcap started out with a number of winter hats that claim to offer an additional layer of protection thanks to viscoelastic protectors sewn into the layers of the hat."

 "fancy, trendy, Lenny"

Excuse me, I just threw up in my mouth a little. Looks like something a Hipster would wear, you know, except for the stupid chin straps...

"Much like the winter offerings, the new cycling cap doesn’t claim to offer the same protection as a helmet but does offer something over a standard cap or nothing at all."

Ok, you have my attention...

"If you’re the type to reach for a cycling cap instead of a helmet, the newest Ribcap may be of interest…"

...and you lost it.
That is about the least interested I have ever been about anything. Plus, I am pretty sure if I were to reach for anything other than one of my MANY caps, I would be more likely to rock that "Cat Hat" than one that basically looks like a baby's bonnet

Honestly, I would rather wear the one with the ears. 

"Each cap includes a removable, adjustable chin strap. When not in use the caps fold into a small triangular shape that can easily be stashed in a bag or pocket."

 Wait, so you're saying I can just remove the chin strap? Well shit! That would make it just another every-day cycling cap! You know... except for the dorky look. 

"Is the Ribcap the next big thing in cycling protection? Probably not,"

You don't say? 

"but if it gets people that otherwise wouldn’t wear a helmet at all to wear something, that seems like a win."

Let's go to the comment section shall we:
...etc, etc....

It's no secret that I have a particular love for cycling caps and the awesome people who know how to make them right. Do I wear a helmet every time I get on a bike? Sure I do, but I have a wife and three kids that depend on the millions that I make writing bicycle blogs. Do I expect you to? No. No I don't. AND, helmet or not, I always have on a cap for my OWN reasons.
At the end of the day, it is not so much the "do or do not" choice that people make for themselves, it's the perpetuation of the anti-helmet propaganda that really grinds my gears.

Companies like Ribcap, catering to some sort of "middle ground" like they have come up with a solution to a problem, is contributing to the problem itself. It certainly doesn't help the cause any when you have industry titans spewing propaganda claiming that going helmetless is in anyway safer than wearing one.

Helmet or not, please stay safe, and stay warm. We have a long winter ahead of us.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cut The Cable: What REALLY Happened in Colorado

So you have heard the story of how awesome it was in Colorado but, running short on time, there was one small part that I glazed over that might be important to know should you find yourself headed to next year's clinic. Also it is important to me that I get my point across about a particular area of contention. You see, when you reach a certain age, it is fair to say that you are pretty much done with test taking. It's one of the good things there are about becoming an adult. Then you foolishly decide to better yourself and hopefully your career by diving into a pool full of people more talented than yourself. The only problem with that is, they're going to make you take a test. The good thing about this test is that the answers, as the instructors put it, were not "right or wrong. The questions are asking what is the MOST right answer." Meaning, each of us may respond to a situation differently, so the answers were open to interpretation and believe it or not, open to debate.
...well, mostly
What I mean is, the answers may have been open to debate but there was clearly an answer they are seeking and if you were going to argue with them in hopes to reverse their decision, you had better have a pretty damn good argument.

With that, I present to you the following:
My Pretty Damn Good Argument

Question #56
You are a team mechanic. One of your riders is in the break of four riders, so three will get podium spots. You are following the break. They are in the last 3k, a very steep uphill with an uphill finish. Your rider hits a pothole and bends a rear wheel. He opened the brake quick release and the rim still strikes the brake pads, slowing his progress. He calls your support car up to the group and you decide to:

a. change the wheel
b. change the bike
c. do nothing
d. cut the cable.

The fact that I am even taking the time to write this, should be a pretty clear indicator that I do not agree with the "correct" answer which was, "d. cut the cable"

I call bullshit on so many levels. So try to follow along here as I break this down as best I can.
Let's start with the choices we are given in this scenario:

a. change the wheel. - This option may not be as fast as cutting a cable but does ensure that your rider now has a stable, efficient wheel under him for what sounds like a pretty challenging climb. Done correctly (by a veteran technician) this maneuver takes about 10 seconds. Not to mention, this option means that your rider still has both brakes.

b. change the bike - In a neutral situation, changing bikes requires the addition of pedals, and a cursory saddle height adjustment. This would not be ideal. In a team car however, you may get ridiculously lucky and have the exact bike for that exact rider in the outer most position on the roof rack (most accessible). In that case, a bike swap is faster than a wheel. That said, the chances that all of the stars will align and you will have that bike ready to go is about the same that it will not happen like that, so therefore it is not ideal.

c. do nothing - not as dumb an answer as you think. I mean, if the brake rub is minimal at the point where the caliper is open, perhaps you leave it. At least he would still have his brakes. PLUS, leaning out of the car to cut the cable can result in a fine (though this is a risk most teams are willing to take).

d. cut the cable - ... ...

First, please watch this:

While the test question was not very clear about the grade, it did give us a distance of 3km (approx. 1.8 miles). We can assume then, that the climb to which the question refers, is similar in size and grade to the one in the video. With the exception of Peter "SuperRad" Sagan, if you watch closely, anguish is clearly visible upon the faces of the riders. It is with that that I make my first point:
A professional rider who is already turning themselves inside out is likely unwilling to increase the pain they must endure when there exists an option to the contrary. Meaning, the rider, in order to have anything left for the last 200 meters, would rather overcome the 10 seconds lost by a wheel change than the effort required to overcome the same 10 seconds due to 2 miles of brake rub.

I decided that my arguing my opinion would be all talk and therefore less effective if I did not carry out some sort of experiment to validate my second point which is:
Cutting the cable won't fix the problem anyway.
If the problem is brake rub then you open the brake quick release to alleviate said problem. When that does not work you have to decide, to cut? or not to cut? I would have loved to take this experiment outdoors but blowing snow and sub-zero temps made it seem like I would be turning a potentially unsafe experiment into a death wish. With that, I put a bike in the stand and de-tensioned the rear wheel inside a 4 spoke area. Though it would be hard to duplicate a unquantified amount of damage caused by a pothole like in the question, based on my experiences in the field, I feel like the small area I was working with was close to being fairly accurate as to what to expect. So, I opened the QR and made sure that (as the question described it) the rim "struck" the brake. This did make it very difficult to pedal through the "damaged" area. So, would cutting the brake cable change this?
On most standardized side pull road brake calipers the difference between the "open lever" position and having the cable released, is about 2mm. That is only 1mm on either side. My hypothesis said "no, it would not change, it would still strike the brake."  With absolutely NO help from my lovely assistant, Greg

I simulated cutting the cable by loosening the brake's cable anchor. Wouldn't ya know it, the damn thing still rubbed, but so lightly that a rider might not even notice. Perhaps I was wrong. Greg certainly thought so as he yelled "SEE!! NOW WOULD YOU JUST FUCKING DROP IT ALREADY?!"
Um, if you have to ask if I will ever let something go, then clearly you don't know me, Ma'am.
Aside from some "unknowns" like the actual severity of the damage, etc...
my experiment was fatally flawed in one very specific way;

I was using this bike as the control for the experiment.

The bike is fine, a great bike even. It's the wheels that are the problem...let's just say, the wheels are not exactly "PRO."
At a scant, 21mm wide, they fall well short of today's wider wheel standards. Let's be honest here, the wheels teams are using today barely fit in a large percentage of the brakes that are out there today. In most cases, Using a Zipp wheel (for instance, but one of the most used wheels for sure) requires running the QR "open" from the gun. If you managed to wang that wheel hard enough to rub the brake, then you are, technically speaking, fucked. In some cases, you cant even fit the wheels in the brakes to begin with even if you are running the caliper fully open.

Still aside from all of this, my final point is this: Having sat through 40 hours of training on the subject of bicycle racing and wrenching, one thing stuck with ME personally which was: rider safety is paramount. You do not make decisions that could potentially injure the rider or put other riders in danger. With rider safety in mind it is NOT the cutting of the cable alone that is my concern. Can a professional cyclist ride uphill without a rear brake safely? Sure he can. But throw in a wonky wheel which is inherently unsafe, under a person who can put out more power per pedal stroke than you and I combined, and you are asking for a disaster. Granted, we are dealing with pro level shit here, but I have seen people simply sitting on a department store bike when the wheel collapsed under them. Again, are we talking poorly tensioned, Chinese-made Walmart wheels here? NO. 
Yet we are talking about a wheel that has been abruptly damaged, with no way to tell how badly other than how out of true it is? (yes that is a question) Meaning we now have a wheel that is, in "Sasquatch Theory," just as prone to failing as it is to not failing, under a rider capable of damaging it further simply under the load he places upon it, and adding a brake caliper that does not function.  
If that wheel does fail, what happens? One of two things, he goes down hard, ruining his chances of any finish, or, you have to change his wheel anyway with a (presumably) fast-approaching Peleton. In either case, a situation has been created which does exactly the opposite of what we are taught, and puts all of the riders' safety in jeopardy. 

At the end of the day the question states: 
"YOU are a team mechanic," then asks: "...YOU decide to:"

Well, If YOU are anything like ME, then YOU will NOT #cutthecable. 

I respectfully submit this argument and ask that my answer be found acceptable for race mechanics in the future.

Thank you.

This plea is brought to you in part by: 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

On the Road: Becoming a USAC Race Mechanic

A week ago I mentioned an upcoming trip that I was to embark upon. Now, that trip has reached its end and I am waxing nostalgic. At the moment however, I am just trying to get back into the swing of things. At this point, I am still tired as hell. Mostly because driving across the country twice in 10 days with your wife and kids will drive (pun intended) a person INSANE! Plus, aside from some wheel changes in the parking lot, I didn't get to ride a bike in over a week! It wasn't all bad though, as I spent the week at the foot of Pike's Peak...

Yes, my view from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs was of the sort that you just can't get here in the Midwest. Every morning, this was the view from our dormitory. 

The trip was not all fun and games though. I did have a reason for being there that was not just sight seeing. 

Once I was handed my ID, it started to seem a little surreal,

as it is not every day one finds themselves checking in to a place that is storied in so much history.
 I showed up to the complex a few hours early so naturally, I did a little sight-seeing. But the honeymoon soon ended and it was time for dinner and then the beginning of a jam-packed, 5 day schedule.

That first night began with introductions, and was really more of a "what to expect" session. After a good two and a half hours, it was time for bed. That particular night, for me personally, is remembered as the only night that I would get a full night's sleep. 

-Thursday, November 6-


The food at the OTC is really pretty great. You can have pasta every day, or something different every day, there was always a variety of food. Breakfast was always a treat. 
The chocolate milk (I am told) is the best damn milk you can find anywhere.
Bacon, eggs, pancakes, sausage... just about anything you could ask for was readily available with all the free coffee that a bladder could handle.
The coffee, we would learn, was a necessary evil. With a non-stop schedule, caffeine was key. As soon as breakfast was over, it was on to our first classes. Everyone's schedules differed as we were broken into groups the night before, but mine looked like this...

8-9 am : Electronic Fundamentals and Diagnosis
"Is it Plugged In?" 
In a nutshell, electronic diagnosis is largely based on two factors: 
Are the batteries charged?
Is it (battery or component) plugged in?
9:15-10:15 am : Neutral Road and Peleton Support
  Basically, how to "jump" with two wheels in your hand and NOT get killed by the onslaught of approaching cyclists.

10:30-11:30 am : Bike Wash and Inspection If you are wondering what a "bike wash" class looks like, it goes something
like this:

Calvin likes to use his students as repair stands ;)

Eventually Calvin did get "down to business" and showed us how it's done.

Calvin is the Director of Education at Park Tool. On top of that, he is about as funny a guy as you will ever meet from an educational standpoint. At one point though, he did remind us that it is easy to become so consumed by taking care of riders and teams that it becomes easy to forget about taking care of ourselves. With that, he made sure that our tool box was stocked with the appropriate Park Tool...

You can always choke down a cold can of Spaghetti O's with this baby.

Speaking of food... It is at this time in the day that we break for lunch.
Fat with carbs and coffee, it was time for

1:00 - 2:30 pm : Positioning, Theory and Practice

Yet another Calvin Jones Joint, this class was far more technical than washing a bike. It began with a formula

P=T/Dia. x CoF 

...which of course had nothing to do with a class on positioning, but was an instant look in to the mind that was about to drop knowledge bombs on us all. It wasn't all numbers and theory however. Eventually, I got to lay my hands on this magnificent mofo and take and duplicate some measurements.

I also got to ride it, but that was the next day...

*Side Note
Before moving on here, I think I should address the elephant in the room, which is the sexiest seat post you will ever see in your life.

yeah, that's the one.

After a quick lesson on Planning, Travel, and Venue Support, it was time for a field trip.

That's right, the OTC has its own Velodrome. I did end up dorking out a bit as this was my first trip to any velodrome, but on top of that, it was the first one I have went to that had the Olympic rings all over it!

Currently an outside venue, it is soon slated to be covered in order to offer training at altitude year-round. We got to take a look "under the 'drome."

Where it was row after row of track bikes

And the nook in which they came into being...

(thanks to Dave Vance for the bitchin' pictures)

Yeah, the velodrome was quite the experience, something that I will no doubt remember for a long time.
With that, it was time for dinner, which was amazeballs (yeah, I said it)
and then off to more classes:
Suspension Fundamentals and finally, Track support.
Bed time came pretty late as we had to study for our test and then start over again in the morning...

-Friday, November 7-
-My Birthday-

That's right, I celebrated my 32nd birthday in Colorado. 
The day started much the same...

...After that, the day was kind of a blur. Not because it went by fast or anything, but because most of my short term memory was wiped out later that night when my roommates took me out for my birthday. 
But thanks to the syllabus and a book full of notes I held on to from the trip, I can tell you that we learned some stuff like:

Cross Country and Gravity Support,
Where I learned what the word "clapped" means

 So I have that going for me...

No, really, Scott Kelly held a great class that day and the one thing that I took away from it was a quote in relation to showing up to support a race or team which was,
"If you are on time, you are LATE"

Fucking poetic, right? 
I swear this is exactly the same as what I always say which is,
"If you cannot be on time, you did not leave early enough"
Applied to racing or life in general, those are words to live by. No one likes a person they cannot count on, and no one can count on a person who is late all the time. 

Next, we moved on to another thrilling lecture by Dave Vance wherein we discussed Hydraulic Brake Fundamentals. Sounds heavy right? Well, much like his Electronics clinic, it just ended up being another hour long advertisement for Dawn soap.
(kidding Dave. You are a gentleman and a scholar)
(...and hopefully a good sport ;)

Other stand out performances included 
a demonstration on tubular fundamentals by "Chip" Howat
which was more information than you could shake a (Ma)stik at.

Neutral Criterium Support and Wheel Change,
both given by Mark Niemiec where, thankfully, I finally got to ride a bike!
...Then, the most fun filled two hours of my life (he said with heavy sarcasm) 
DOT Rules and Regulations: 
Legal Considerations for Moving Equipment in the USA  
and... wait for it... UCI Bicycle Jig Uses and Dis-Uses:
Evaluating Whether a Bicycle is Legal From the UCI Perspective
...managed to stay awake long enough to get a picture of that one

That night, my roomies took me out to the now infamous Finish Line Lounge for some "beverage tasting." After a few pitchers worth of "beverages" It dawned on me that one of my room mates was immortalized on the cover of the most recent Bicycle Times magazine.

Yeah, that guy.

Hell of a nice dude too. 
Fresh off his epic honeymoon, he made the trip to Colorado as well.
He certainly treated me well though.
  ...that's all I am at liberty to say.
...mostly because I don't remember much after that ;)

- Saturday, November 8 -

The early hours of Saturday are still a bit blurry to me so I may have fabricated this next part, but I am pretty sure that when I sat down with Matty B (formerly of Merlin, Independent Fabrication, and now Pedro's), James Stanfill (comic relief), and the infamous Ric Hjertberg (formerly of Wheel Smith and Mad Fiber) I was sucked into an epic debate wherein Ric was trying to convince us something along the lines of "Sasquatch may or may not exist." Meaning, he was not so much trying to argue to us the point that Sasquatch does or does not exist, but that the arguments for and against his existence may or may not be valid. i.e. Like God, people have different reasons for believing in Bigfoot, be it based of their belief that they have "seen" him, or simply on Faith alone, neither party is wrong per se, because in the end, they still believe or don't. So the chances that they are correct is equal to the chances that they are incorrect. Perception is reality...

... Pretty heavy shit for a dude who could barely keep his eyes open.    
After having a fucking mind grenade like that dropped on me, I slammed as much coffee as I could in an effort to stay awake through what was sure to be just as epic a debate:

Materials: Carbon Fiber
With, you guessed it, Ric Hjertberg  

As you all know, I think that Carbon fiber is the devil. Not even Ric can convince me otherwise, though he tried with his various charts and pictographic representations... In the end however, it is the industry I have chosen where steel is real, but so is carbon. I am just going to have to live with that. True it has its place, it's just not under my ass that is for sure.

 Para-Athlete support with Steve Donovan as it turns out was really a pretty bad ass lesson in bicycle modification. With so many different disabilities that people face, there is no wrong way to build them a machine that can help them overcome the challenges they face.

After meeting such a talented person like Allison, I can confidently say this:
Try telling this girl that she is any different from the rest of you, and you might just get your ass kicked.
It was at this point that I awoke from my fog and started to look forward to the rest of my day. Then It was back to Ric's World to learn about Wheel Fundamentals. Cool, right? I mean, something that I am pretty good at... this should be fun, right? Let me say this: much like the "argument for and against the existence or non-existence of Sasquatch" debate, the take away for me was that everything we know about wheel building may or may not be correct. Meaning, in theory, a wheel doesn't have to be a "3 cross" or have 32 or more spokes to be useful. Hell, you could build a radial rear wheel if you wanted. Would the wheel be less efficient? Maybe. Depends on the application. Is there a potential for it to fail? Sure. But there is an equal chance that it will not fail. 

It was with that that my mind exploded once again. 
This was exhausting.
Thankfully it was time for lunch.
Later, James taught us how to follow the UCI rules, and Marty Caivano
of IMBA taught us some of the finer points of Cyclocross support, including, but not limited to:

Bike hand-offs
To the rider's credit, this was about the 26th time he had done this exact move and It was a little late in the excersize for getting a better video, 
So pardon him if you think that you can do it any better.

The next presentation, given by Matt Bracken, included a look into the journey from steel to carbon as a frame material. Pretty informative and well thought out presentation that came with a very poignant ending. 
A short food break later and it was back to business with Matty. 
If you have never met Mathew Bracken let me tell you first; you may never meet a person so passionate about his craft or his customers. So much so, that he once gave up controlling interest in a company he helped create, just to keep the doors open and his friends employed. In my short time with Matt, I realized how fortunate I was to be surrounded by such awesome and often selfless people. When he was with Merlin Metal Works, he got this as a going away present...

While working for Independent Fabrication, they created beautiful mixed media frames like this...

Now he is making killer tools at Pedro's. This was the last class of the last full day, and all that was left was going over the 100 question test the next morning. But we will talk about that in the next blog. With nothing important left to do, we gathered at the tried-and-trued Finish Line Lounge.
Hilarity no doubt ensued, as did some karaoke,

  and copious amounts of "beverage" consumption.
The guy in the middle, well, let's just call him "Lee."
Lee was enjoying himself thoroughly as this was his first time in the United States. We of course made sure that it would be a trip he would not soon forget...
(being extra thorough)
Now widely (as wide as our circle goes anyway) considered to be a legend, the next morning he was greeted to the sound of a standing ovation in a room full of his constituents.
I only hope that as he re-tells this story to his countrymen, that he says "it was a blast" and not, "those bastards are as crazy as we thought."
Though I have a feeling that it will be a mix of the two.

Nearing the end of the trip was rather bittersweet. Just as you started to make friends, it was time to say good bye. Sad really, as far as a random group of people assembled in a strange place, you could not ask for a better experience.
In closing (finally), I could go on forever about the hilarious out takes but it is important to remember that this trip was about more than fun. If you really feel like you want to wrench for a living, outside of a bike shop, you should consider attending a clinic such as this. Sure, I make jokes, but it is important to remember that the schedule is about 40 hours jam-packed into about 4 days time. You will be tired, but it will be worth it. Being surrounded by so many talented people is eye-opening for sure. They shared their experiences both good and bad and were more than ready to share a beer or a meal to answer questions on their own time. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met so many awesome people, and I will surely remember it for all of my days.

Thanks for being patient during my absence, I hope you enjoyed this.
I look forward to seeing you at the races.