March 4, 2021 § 1 Comment
Monster engine. Big smile. Hearty draught. Boon companion. All in.
That’s Peter Stetina, U.S. professional bike racer who is deep in the throes of his second career at a time when most World Tour riders are trying to figure out what to do after hanging up the cleats. But as this interview shows, it’s about far more than winning this second time around–it’s about enjoyment while racing in the inclusive, fair-fight, community-oriented environment that makes America’s most popular and fastest-growing genre of cycling the epicenter of U.S. bike racing.
It might seem hard to square “enjoyment” with “race that lasts eight hours or more.” But for Stetina, whose chops include a decade on the World Tour, eight starts and eight Grand Tour finishes, and the unsung accolade of linchpin domestique in the first North American Giro win since Andy Hampsten, difficulty, endurance, and “the grind” are things that he is, quite simply, wired to do.
Landing in the middle of the modern American gravel scene hasn’t been without its conflicts; some view Stetina as the first in a wave of hardened World Tour professionals who, through their horsepower and racing experience, will rob gravel racing of its grass-roots allure. Maybe. But what is certain is that whatever Stetina’s will to win, it is second to his desire to promote the broader enjoyment of cycling and to help others find “the stoke.”
A proponent for gender equality who matches his words with his actions, an engaging and friendly person on the phone, you nonetheless get the message at the end: Whether he calls it “gravel” or I call it “bike racing,” pin on a number and he’ll rip your legs off.
Seth Davidson: Bike racing is blowing up in the US. Why?
Peter Stetina: I don’t know if bike racing is blowing up but bike riding is blowing up. The pandemic may be the best thing that’s ever happened to bike riding. Gyms closed and a lot of people have taken up the bike. I can’t say if bike racing is blowing up, but gravel racing is blowing up. There were over 700 gravel events slated for 2020 before covid. How much of that is offset by people not road racing, I can’t say. Road racing isn’t blowing up.
Seth Davidson: Historically road racing was never on paved roads; they were dirt, cobbles, or goat paths. Why don’t we call the current boom “road racing”?
Peter Stetina: Because road racing isn’t that anymore. For the last many years it has been all tarmac. It is a novelty if racers touch anything off-road. So as more and more roads got paved, that’s where road racing continued. Gravel is a shift in desire, people wanting to get away from traffic, cars, and into the woods. It’s definitely not road racing. It’s not the same ethos. Road racing is team tactics, pulling for one guy, sitting on, and gravel racing is largely free of that right now, which is refreshing to everybody. But it’s not at all what we think of as road racing now. I don’t think the boom of gravel is an allure to the good old days, it’s a totally new format and it has inclusivity and is mass start and apart from categories, tiers, and governing bodies.
Seth Davidson: Why so few women professionals?
Peter Stetina: That’s not a fair question. There is a huge push especially by the organizers of the big events, you have Amy Charity of SBT, Kristi Mohn of Unbound and Rebecca Rusch for example, headlining the biggest events, and it trickles down to the grassroots. They’re all trying to get more women on bikes. You’re seeing headlines for higher minimum wages and equal prize money and it’s in the media. It’s like any industry. My wife’s an engineer and she’s had to fight uphill in her industry, predominantly white and male, so it’s not just cycling. Cycling is trying pretty hard right now.
Seth Davidson: How can organizers put women on the same footing as men?
Peter Stetina: That is a hard question and I don’t have all the answers. You’re seeing what makes gravel so special is the mass start. However, that means that women’s races are affected by the men’s race because if the women can hang on a little bit longer with the men the gaps open up, but if they’d started in their own field those gaps wouldn’t be there. You are seeing an issue of “How do organizers answer this? Do we start women separately?” Then it loses the festival atmosphere. How do you combat the issue that if one woman can hang over one hill longer, then they get the tow on the flat valley after that and there’s a ten-minute gap. That’s the big issue now. MTB and road racing are already divided in categories. So in women’s road racing it’s just more tv coverage, equal pay, and matching sponsorship dollars. Despite the UCI not viewing gravel as its own discipline, it’s very much its own discipline. The answers are different for each discipline.
Seth Davidson: You’ve worked with Kathy Pruitt and her new pro career. At 38. During covid. Why aren’t other men doing the same?
Peter Stetina: Some are. It depends on everyone’s angle and there are men doing that. Colin Strickland is, if you go back to 2018, Amity Rockwell was part of Colin’s Meteor-Giordana team, Hannah Finchamp is a main part of the Orange Sealed team of Payson McElveen, there are male pros trying to help their female counterparts but it’s not a charity case. With Kathy there are so many commonalities and I see similarities in our journeys. There are also massive women’s movements supported by women. Girls Gone Gravel podcast is humongous and these races are opening up women’s entries earlier, giving incentives to women to register.
Seth Davidson: Phil Gaimon blazed the way in post-Pro Tour “pro” marketing without ever entering a race. Were you cognizant of his personal marketing efforts? Influenced by them in your quest to become a privateer?
Peter Stetina: Not so much. We have very different models. I’m still racing. I’m blending competition with brand alignment. Phil has a great business model and it’s been interesting to watch him go down his journey. I think you’re seeing across the board you can’t just be a me-go-fast-bike-racer anymore. With the rise of social media you have to be a whole person who promotes oneself across all angles of life. That’s why riders have gotten in trouble for non-bike comments online. I respect Phil’s hustle and it’s fun to banter with him. The privateer model is based on MTB. The only thing nuanced for me is jumping straight from the World Tour to this gravel opening to make this happen.
Seth Davidson: You have effectively extended your career by 5-10 years. How will you not ride yourself down as you age with more big, must-do events?
Peter Stetina: I’m excited for all the big, must-do events, as they’re largely new for me! Right now I’m enjoying it. What was going to burn me out wasn’t the racing but time away from family, lifestyle, and travel all the time. Even last year I’ve had more fun on the bike than the last 5-6 years. If it’s this fun I can do this at least until I’m forty. I’ve extended my career for the fun, because it’s a lifestyle versus purely a profession. Not that I didn’t love my time in the World Tour.
Seth Davidson: Eddie Anderson used BWR to launch his Pro Tour career. You used the Pro Tour to launch your US pro career at BWR. What is the significance of that?
Peter Stetina: It’s a platform. For me I fell in love with gravel at the BWR and had that lightbulb moment and saw the attention it was getting and said, “I could do something with this and take on this lifestyle that I like more.” I realize however that I wouldn’t be able to do it without my decade in the World Tour. It’s a symbiotic relationship. When Ted King shows up, and an up-and-coming rider comes up and gives him a run for his money, it’s almost like a scouting circumstance which you can only do on gravel or maybe a tiered invite race like the Tour of Utah. If someone brings a great game against an established name, that can help launch your career as it did Colin’s gravel career by beating us.
Seth Davidson: Are the US races you’re doing on the level of World Tour races in terms of difficulty?
Peter Stetina: Different. In terms of power and watts, no. I don’t think anyone can really fathom how fast and strong the riders are in the World Tour. Because that is the cream of the crop, the best in the world, and it is power-based. However, a World Tour body doesn’t mean they’re going to crush a gravel race. You don’t race for 7-10 hours on the World Tour. I normally rode 4-5 hours at high power intervals all the time. Now it’s grinding, steady-state stuff for hours on end. I wasn’t ready for Unbound Gravel. It’s harder on the World Tour, obviously. I wasn’t winning on the World Tour, and in gravel there isn’t as deep a field, but the grind and not breaking for hours is something I’m genetically suited to. You don’t do 5-hr tt’s in the World Tour. They’re different athletic feats.
Seth Davidson: You have 10k to go in the 2019 BWR. Eddie has caught you on the descent. What was your finishing strategy?
Peter Stetina: I pulled all my old vet tricks out of the book. I’d gapped him on Double Peak, but he was descending better and I was caught behind two riders finishing the Wafer on the single track. Then he started skipping pulls. So I started smack talking, “You gonna win like that?” And he was a good sport and poker faced and didn’t take the bait, but then the little riser came and I just had to hit him once or twice as hard as I possibly could and he cracked.
Seth Davidson: What do you think about lining up with pros on one side and avid recreational cyclists on the other?
Peter Stetina: I love it right now. It’s the beauty of the gravel movement. It’s the shared experience and it’s why I made this move. I was tired of the World Tour isolationism and wanted to be part of the event, and race together and party together. The nice thing is there is a separation pretty quick, but all bike handling isn’t the same and you have to make sure you’re ahead of someone who may not have the handling skills that you do.
Seth Davidson: Who inspired you as a kid?
Peter Stetina: I grew up in the Lance era. As a junior I was watching Lance during his Tour streak. Lance and the Ullrich battles were a massive inspiration. My dad and uncle were a source of inspiration because they were pros in the 70s and 80s and were a wealth of knowledge to rely on.
Seth Davidson: Who inspires you now?
Peter Stetina: There are so many! Not so much in cycling; the top pros are colleagues. I think my gravel counterparts, we inspire each other to train harder or create a cool piece of content, Payson, Ted, Keegan all feeding off each other bike-wise.
Seth Davidson: What drives you?
Peter Stetina: Promoting bikes and its community drives me. Goal number one is I love riding my bike, and I’m very competitive, and I want to get paid to ride my bike. That’s the dream and the end goal for everybody who loves to ride, right? However you’re doing it, as a journalist, pro, influencer, manufacturer, we love bikes and want to get paid to ride our bikes. And this is the best way I’ve found; my dream job is to get paid to race and stoke others to ride. Everyone has their own nuance but that’s the broad goal.
Seth Davidson: Your dad was one of the American road greats. Did he encourage you to race?
Peter Stetina: No. Never. Growing up in the Stetina household you wouldn’t have known he was a pro. All his winners jerseys were in a duffelbag in the attic. I found the sport on my own. However, once I did, I had my dad and uncle to help foster it and really drive it forward. There was never any pressure.
Seth Davidson: A lot of modern tech is designed to take the “off” out of “off-road.” Is easier better?
Peter Stetina: That’s the way that all technology goes. Yeah, you can do more. You are seeing the industry follow the money and you can do more, longer, more rugged things. I would say that gravel riding and racing is the harshest testing ground for road bikes. We are riding modified a road/’cross bike and realize you can go faster with wider tires, etc. It’s all for the better. I’m all for innovation. If your bike can handle that kind of carnage and the constant bumpy hammering of equipment, that’s where a bike company can make sure their bikes stand up.
Seth Davidson: Bike racing in America booms and busts. Is the current boom for real?
Peter Stetina: It’s booming in gravel. You’re being too generic there. Jim Miller of USAC thinks it’s cyclical but after saturation with gravel, crits/road races will come back. There’s a supply demand question. I think right now it will continue to boom. I hope all riders who’ve found the bike will keep participating. It would be great to grow our two-wheeled family.
Seth Davidson: Do professional bike racers have an obligation to advocate for bikes-as-transportation?
Peter Stetina: I don’t know. I see bike advocacy as an entirely different thing. I want to support it because the more ingrained the act of bike riding is, the safer it is, the more infrastructure, road engineering for bikes you’ll have, but it’s not a prerequisite because bike racing on the road is a pro sport. Our stadium is on public roads. So you shouldn’t be required to be an overall advocate if you’re a pro athlete, but with gravel you kind of are, because it’s more lifestyle-based it’s more important and expected.
Seth Davidson: E-bikes are already racing. How do you feel about that?
Peter Stetina: They’re not in cars. I’m happy with it. The more bikes, the better. I’m happy they’re in different classes. I’m not interested in riding an E-bike yet, but if people are interested in it, more power to them, they’re pedaling bikes.
Seth Davidson: Are you more or less data-driven than when you raced on the World Tour?
Peter Stetina: Less than the World Tour but I’m very data-driven, probably one of the more data-driven racers out there in gravel because I do intervals, know how to ride with a power meter, but that said I step on the scales less and drink more beer! I’m type A, it’s all about marginal gains and I like geeking out on that, I like knowing I’ve left no stone unturned and can pour more into the effort. That’s part of who I am. I like the tech around it all. I’m a bit of a perfectionist in training or bike weight or equipment or whatever it is.
Seth Davidson: Why would anyone sponsor a team when they can spend a fraction on an ambassador who wins races and keeps the brand buzz alive?
Peter Stetina: That’s a good question. With the pandemic, that’s where you saw the ambassadors flourish. If you look at the start of the lockdown, everything that a World Tour team did, I did as well as a solo privateer, I had a Zwift series, adventure from home, a column, Fastest Known Time stuff, if you look at any other pro team, they did the same thing. They have no Plan B if the Tour doesn’t go forward. But the Tour is a lot bigger than anything I could ever do. So sponsors got the same thing with a lower investment during the lockdown, but that’s different when the Tour is on. It depends on every brand’s marketing objectives and I think you see that between brands. If you look at Canyon North America, not globally, they have a whole slew of riders and ambassadors. However I don’t know if they have any domestic elite teams; Trek has no privateers that I know of, more teams.
Seth Davidson: What would you say to someone who said the current gravel racing boom looks white and very bro-ish.
Peter Stetina: I haven’t heard that. If someone were to say that to me? I don’t think gravel is bro-ish. There has been a push unlike anywhere else trying to support BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) initiatives. Steamboat has a massive effort around that as do many other races. There is more of that around gravel than any other discipline. Bro-ish? I don’t know. People are excited about riding together, men and women. I get comments from women who are eager to hang out and have a beer together after the race. I and many others recognize that cycling is inherently a very white sport and that needs to be fixed. And the industry is turning attention to it. It’s been a bit of a reckoning for the better and it’s going to have to start from the ground up. Fostering up and coming riders who have potential, who don’t have that background. It starts from a grassroots development. I’m trying to be supportive of that movement.
Seth Davidson: Who is a woman who inspires you and why?
Peter Stetina: Rebecca Rusch impresses me. She’ s one of the OGs of privateering. You look at the way she has reinvented herself so many times and gives back to her communities, she is a role model and impressive. My wife inspires me. She’s a much better person than I am, and helps me with a lot of the behind the scenes stuff; this is a team effort. For example, every Groad Trip article, she reads and edits.
Seth Davidson: What do you think about Major Taylor?
Peter Stetina: I think he was a trail blazer and seems he didn’t back down in the face of oppression, which I respect massively.
Seth Davidson: Do you ever see yourself riding purely for fun?
Peter Stetina: All the time. I ride for fun all the time! I’m in this for #allthefuns. For me, fast is fun sometimes, but other times it’s the cookie stop or finding that swimming hole. I want my profession to be riding or racing a bike. As long as it’s a bike, I’m riding for fun. There’s my angle in gravel which is performance riding; I’ve almost played the villain to a part, the “pros are ruining gravel,” but I think anyone who meets me realizes that it’s a joke.
Seth Davidson: What do you think about bike touring?
Peter Stetina: I’m interested in it. I plan to do a bit more bikepacking adventure stuff in the coming future. I have a few projects up my sleeve. I’m still more focused on fast things while this is where my body is at right now. If I were going to bike tour I’d be doing it very fast. That’s why I’m limiting FKT efforts to a day rather than the Colorado Trail; the long distances are basically sleep-deprivation contests. I wouldn’t enjoy sleeping in a bivy and then riding at 2 am. I’m currently drawing my line at a day, even if it’s a long day.
Seth Davidson: BWR is now a series. What do you think about that?
Peter Stetina: That’s the growth of gravel. Michael Marckx is a creative genius and it’s been fun to see where they’ve taken it; they have a style that’s enticing to many, it’s a natural movement and I hope it continues.
Seth Davidson: What advice would you give to a kid today? Shoot for the World Tour or race domestically? I include gravel in that.
Peter Stetina: A happy racer is a fast racer. If your goal is the Tour, then go for it. But with the rise of social media, there is more than one way to get paid to race or ride a bike. Find your strong suit, there’s no one cut and dried way to make it.
Seth Davidson: You’re an excellent writer and insightful commentator. Where and how did you develop as a writer?
Peter Stetina: Just trying. I wouldn’t consider myself good. I just practice. I don’t have a college degree or anything. I have always enjoyed bike magazines and reading about the ride and the adventure around it. It’s more just mimicking those who are better than me.
Seth Davidson: What’s the interview question you wish people would ask?
Peter Stetina: There are so many! But there are many different points of me. I take the social media world too seriously these days. My character or persona on social media is the pro-cyclist-now-racing-gravel. Sometimes I play the villain. I think I’m generally a good guy and I’m here to promote the sport. No one asks about how I’m fostering the sport in general. Some see me as a selfish performance-oriented rider who just now wants to win gravel races. My overarching goal is to promote bikes and gravel racing for everyone. I went there for the fun and lifestyle just like everyone else. I’ve been open in sharing World Tour tips and tricks. I get that it’s fun to follow the different characters, men and women, we all have a unique story.
Seth Davidson: Are you more well known now than at the peak of your World Tour career?
Peter Stetina: I think so, but I wouldn’t be where I am without my World Tour career. I’m that World Tour pro who jumped ship early for gravel, but that move created, struck a chord with a lot of people. If you base my popularity off social media then yes, I’m more popular now. I became more of a name because of this unique career trajectory.
Seth Davidson: Was there a decisive moment when your work as a teammate ensured Ryder’s Giro victory?
Peter Stetina: Yeah. I would say in the 2012 Giro, with Ryder, there were two days for me. There was the best known case, the day of the Stelvio, the penultimate day. What had happened is we were the underdogs. Ryder was on the form of his life, I and Christian Vande Velde were the mountain domestiques. Stage 20 we were to climb the Mortirolo and finish on the Stelvio. The race blew up on the Mortirolo. I’d just gotten gapped. There was the break and then the faves with Ryder, Ivan Basso. I chased on the descent and all the faves were looking at each other without domestiques and the race going up the road. I went to the front and started time-trialing that valley. Christian waited for us in the valley, caught on, and I was burning everything, and told him to sit on. I committed to the valley tt-ed as hard as I could, kept Thomas de Gendt in check, and Christian took over on the Stelvio, then Ryder clawed back time to eventually win. Christian likes to joke that that was the day I got hair on my chest as a pro. At the end of the stage, Ryder had a shot at the win, he’d been whisked away. I got to the top of the highest pass in Europe, and I had doping control. The team had left, I had no food, got a coke from a fan, was sugar bonked, hallucinating, and I had to go pee, dehydrated in a little tin can of an rv with no heating. The doc gave me a puffy coat but I got so sick I never recovered. I finished the TT on the last day, though. Earlier in that race, the day to Pampiaggo, we did a double ascent. I had made the selection. That was where I remember Kreuziger was up the road, on the lower slopes, and we weren’t being taken so seriously. I took the initiative, went to the front and whittled down the lead and then Ryder took over and made a big move, dropping all the favorites.
Seth Davidson: You described your final Vuelta in an interview as a catch-up race where every day Contador had to send it. What did you mean?
Peter Stetina: Well, Alberto had gotten a stomach bug on Stage 2 or 3 to Andorra and we’d been talking about fighting for the overall but suddenly I had to pull him to the line. He was empty, had diarrhea, and he lost a couple of minutes, and you lose a couple to Froome, it’s game over. He relaxed after that. “It’s still my final race and I’m going out guns blazing,” he said. And every day in the hills he attacked full gas. It was a lot of fun because we didn’t know his plan. He’d come up to me 6km before a climb and just whisper, because the radio frequency had been hijacked by the other teams, “Go full gas,” I’d slam a gel and get ready. Every day later in the race riders would come up and say “Is Alberto going for it today? Because if not I’d like to move up on GC.” I would say, “Your guess is as good as mine!”
Seth Davidson: It’s your last day on earth. You have one final breath. Who would you thank?
Peter Stetina: My wife because we met early and young and she is very much a better person than I am, and it’s because of her that I have made this career that and my life has become what it is.
February 15, 2021 § 3 Comments
I first learned of Eddie Anderson a couple of years ago when subscriber Ken West began sending me Eddie’s stage race reports from Europe and the Tour of Colombia. Riding for the U23 development team of Hagens-Berman Axeon, Eddie parlayed steady performances in some of the calendar’s most grueling races, including the Tour of California and the Belgian Waffle Ride, into a professional contract with Alpecin-Fenix, beginning this year.
I reached out to Eddie to see if he’d be willing to talk about his career and he graciously agreed. What follows is a candid discussion of his interesting career and how he went from golf to the world’s hardest sport.
Seth Davidson: How did you get into cycling?
Eddie Anderson: My dad. Growing up, my dad wanted me to be a golfer. One day, randomly he said he’d heard there were some trails along the James River where I live, and he took me mountain biking and I caught the bug. “When can we go again?” I wanted to know. In middle school I started mountain bike racing for fun, and in 8th Grade I entered my first mountain bike race. I raced solely MTB until my junior year of high school. The National Interscholastic Cycling Association was the platform for MTB racing and in VA we had spring and fall racing. When I joined the Hagens-Berman Axeon U23 team I had little road experience. A spot opened at the last minute on his team and Axel Merckx took a shot on me as a rider, and I’m forever grateful for that opportunity. I raced for them for four years and that brings us to today. I can’t imagine a better place to develop as a racer and a person. The chance to travel the world and meet people, and you see a lot even in the racing bubble, just learning to navigate airports and what to do when travel dates don’t go to plan, learning to live independently. I managed to continue my studies at the University of Virginia while racing for the team, but if I’d had to put college on hold completely I don’t think that would have set me back. I’d have been ahead of my classmates in many ways.
Seth Davidson: How did you make the team?
Eddie Anderson: While I was racing the NICA series in Virginia, my junior year I was pretty successful and in my senior year I won all the races in the fall, and the race organizers noticed. I went on training rides with some of the people heading up the cycling association for high schoolers in Virginia and they stuck their neck out and vouched for me to Axel.
Seth Davidson: How did you transition from mountain biking into a road career?
Eddie Anderson: I knew I loved mountain biking but didn’t see it as a possible career. I knew I would do it for the next five or ten years as an amateur, mountain biking in summer, skiing in winter, but it wasn’t until the opportunity to race for Axeon came about that I adjusted my ambitions to racing on the road. I didn’t have huge goals on the mountain biking or road side of things but when the opportunity came about, I jumped on it immediately and realized that this was something I could pursue. I wanted to see how far I could take it once the pathway was open.
Seth Davidson: What was a racing schedule at Axeon?
Eddie Anderson: From late February to end of the summer was the duration of the season. I’d race in Europe some in the spring and then raced in the US during the summer. Starting out I’d race Redlands, Tour of the Gila.
Seth Davidson: What were your first European races?
Eddie Anderson: Circuit of the Ardennes, Tour of Alsace. It’s a different ballgame racing in Europe. So often racing in the US is hard for thirty minutes, the break will go, you’re on wide roads, everyone kind of relaxes. Very textbook. The break gets pulled back and you go full gas on the last climb. In Europe you go full gas the whole time. My first few races I got my teeth kicked in. The favorite races with Axeon would be Tour of Colombia in 2019 and the Tour of California.
Seth Davidson: Why memorable?
Eddie Anderson: The cultural experience in Colombia more than the race. Cyclists are treated like royalty. The team presentation was in a football stadium with thousands of spectators, people asking for our autographs and asking to have pictures taken, but it was hard racing. The Tour of California was also an amazing race.
Seth Davidson: Why amazing?
Eddie Anderson: I had watched TOC growing up so toeing the start there I almost had to pinch myself because five or six years ago I never envisioned doing something like that, lining up next to the biggest names in the sport like Sagan; really, I had to pinch myself. What made it special is that you’re almost putting on a show; there’s so much media around the race it feels different. Feels more like a spectacle.
Seth Davidson: How was the racing with the biggest names in the sport?
Eddie Anderson: A lot of time it’s dictated by terrain. I’ve raced in European races that are more intense because everyone is jostling for position the entire time but in California there’s not so much fight for position, but it was one of the biggest weeks ever on the bike. Thirty-seven hours in seven days and the fatigue and load by the end of the race was different than anything ever. It was a slow burn, but when they went hard at the end it was really hard.
Seth Davidson: When did you start training with a power meter?
Eddie Anderson: 2016.
Seth Davidson: How was that?
Eddie Anderson: I liked it. I didn’t really start using it like I should until a year later, my first year with Axeon. It provides a structure to training that is nice. But I also have a gravel bike without one and it’s nice not to think about anything sometimes.
Seth Davidson: Does racing without a power meter increase strategy and risk taking?
Eddie Anderson: I’d agree, yes, it increases risk taking. If I know I can do x watts for twenty minutes and I see I’ve been doing that, and someone attacks at 50w more, you’re a bit hesitant. I know people who just cover up their power meter in a race. Mountain biking and cyclocross are raced differently; power meters will never be banned but that might make racing more interesting.
Seth Davidson: What is more challenging about racing in Europe, the racing or the cultural adaptations?
Eddie Anderson: Both are big challenges. I undertook them at different times. Because of that I’m not sure if it’s easy to compare because USAC provided me an opportunity to live in Sittard, in Holland, for a month and that provided a nice training ground and everything was taken care of for us, meals, lodging, so I didn’t have to think about the cultural immersion and could focus on racing and learning how to race in Europe. Last year, 2019-2020, were the first years I had to figure out lodging. I lived in Girona with a teammate and it’s sort of the Boulder of Europe; it’s easy to get acquainted and there are a lot of American riders and cyclists so it’s easier than a lot of places to get your way around. There’s a bit of a language barrier, that’s difficult as well, everyone talks about how you have to be okay with and enjoy the life of living in Europe, which I do.
Seth Davidson: What is it about living there that you like?
Eddie Anderson: The culture, the coffee shop culture, a lot of people focused on riding bikes, it seems like a simpler life. I wouldn’t say I like it more than living in the US, I will always consider Virginia home more than I like living in Girona, and I love racing my bike.
Seth Davidson: What skills were most deficient when you started racing in Europe?
Eddie Anderson: I needed to be more aggressive and confident on the bike. When people are literally pushing you off the road, if you carry yourself with confidence and poise and show that in the peloton, then you’re more likely to be successful in fighting for position at the front. If you show any sign of weakness a competitor will recognize that and you’ll be at the back of the pack.
Seth Davidson: Show weakness how?
Eddie Anderson: If someone nudges you and you don’t nudge back or hold position or falter a little bit.
Seth Davidson: How is field sprinting different from in the US?
Eddie Anderson: Leadouts will start much earlier because if there’s a chicane with 2km to go you have to be at the front well before that. There’s more team organization because there’s strength in numbers and if Trek is coming up on the side with eight riders and EF isn’t as organized, then Trek will take over, string out the pack, but you don’t want to go too early. When everyone’s going 55kph it’s hard to move up once a team starts driving the pace.
Seth Davidson: How did you get picked up by your current team?
Eddie Anderson: I started talking with them in May because Alpecin-Fenix is multi-disciplinary and their riders do different disciplines; I did mountain biking and in 2019 did some gravel and road, and when I got 2nd at the Belgian Waffle Ride, that’s when they took note. They were looking to extend their program to include gravel as well. Eventually things worked out late in 2020 for which I’m really grateful. I’m excited to help them introduce gravel and to race for them on the road. And I have to thank Axel and Hagens-Berman Axeon that I was even able to race in 2020, but I did get to Europe and started a couple of races over there.
Seth Davidson: What do you say to people who say that the BWR isn’t really a race? And how do you feel lining up to race BWR when the majority of the participants are spectators, cycling enthusiasts who aren’t really racing to win the event?
Eddie Anderson: First, I’d strongly disagree that it isn’t a race. I think if you can crown a champion then it’s a race. Getting second place at the BWR was one of the hardest events I’ve ever done. I struggle with the idea that it’s not a competition, and even for the guy that’s finishing 457th it’s a competition against himself because he wants to get a personal best. I guess the short point is that it’s really good for the sport. It creates a connection between Joe the complete amateur who likes to ride and a pro like Peter Stetina, even if they don’t see each other in the race it creates a connection. You know the atmosphere and the community feel is like none other. You don’t feel that at a road race at all. You could strike up a conversation with Pete Stetina and maybe go for a group ride the next weekend. All areas of our sport are suddenly connected with this kind of event, and creating that connection is good for growth and the longevity of the sport. I think there are still 10 or 20 guys that could win the event, and I’m obviously focused on them.
Seth Davidson: What do you think that an event like the BWR is going to look like vis-à-vis participants in five years’ time?
Eddie Anderson: It could be even bigger, like an Ironman style event. I think gravel, because so many people are riding during covid, will grow, and I hope we have lasting effects from that. If you just like the outdoors you’d like the BWR. Who doesn’t want to spend their whole day outside riding their bike, fully supported? I’m someone who has loved the outdoors my entire life, from Boy Scouts to backpacking, hiking; the woods are my happy place and it seems like a return to my roots.
Seth Davidson: When you say that the BWR was one of the hardest events you’ve ever raced, what do you mean?
Eddie Anderson: I remember crossing the finish line and being completely exhausted. There are times I’ve gone harder and it’s been more intense but the sheer amount of energy it took rivals anything I’ve ever done. A photo they took of me thirty seconds afterwards, they sat me down and took a photo and you can see in my face how exhausted I am. I consumed a hundred waffles that evening, I bet!
Seth Davidson: What does it say for the BWR’s stature and difficulty that someone like Erik Zabel is closely aligned with it?
Eddie Anderson: It adds to the prestige of the event.
Seth Davidson: What was the decisive moment in the race for you?
Eddie Anderson: I got to the first single track section and got a flat so I thought my race was over. I have my teammate to thank, he gave me his wheel, Liam Holowesko, and if he hadn’t done that I can’t say I’d now be on the Alpecin-Fenix team. I was five, ten minutes down and stressed trying to get back with the pressure of having gotten his wheel and sacrificing his race for mine. An hour later I made it to the front group and then it was a war of attrition. There were a few hard sections but on Double Peak it was me and Peter Stetina, he gapped me by fifteen seconds to the top, but I caught him on the downhill so we had 10k to go and then I was thinking “I’ve crushed it, I crushed the nutrition game!” and all of a sudden Stetina attacked one more time and I fell apart with less than ten minutes to go. I unraveled. I don’t even know how to describe it. I went from chipper to destroyed in just a snap.
Seth Davidson: Are you going to race it again this year?
Eddie Anderson: Yes.
Seth Davidson: Are you going to do anything differently?
Eddie Anderson: I will try to eat a little bit more! Obviously there will be even bigger names. It’s not going to be an easy race.
Seth Davidson: What European races will you target this year?
Eddie Anderson: I don’t have my schedule so I can’t say. Hopefully this spring I’ll get over there and start racing. Really I think my goals are to help out the team as much as I can, bring success to the team as a domestique and however they need me, I’m there to help to reach the team’s goals.
Seth Davidson: What advice would you give to a 15-year-old thinking about cycling as a career?
Eddie Anderson: Keep it fun. It’s easy to lose sight of at the end of the day and to forget that we do it because we love it. Make sure you feel that passion especially at that age because I know when I was fourteen I wasn’t thinking about riding professionally at all. Definitely don’t get a power meter.
Seth Davidson: What are your thoughts about racial diversity in cycling?
Eddie Anderson: It’s not that good. I think that Justin William’s Legion of LA is doing fantastic things for getting more diverse people interested in the sport. I can’t say I have the solution, it’s an issue that has to be addressed for sure. Any movement is movement forward because at the high level there isn’t much diversity at all.
Seth Davidson: What should be done at the developmental level to bring African-American kids into the sport?
Eddie Anderson: The first step is get them involved in racing in some way, provide a platform at a young age, so perhaps the NICA League in Virginia could be extended to African-American communities nationwide and made more accessible; that would be great. In Virginia all the public schools in Charlottesville have cycling teams. If that could be achieved across the entire state anyone in high school could do it. Maybe there could be funding for the bike teams or to have bikes to lend. Charlottesville has done a great job. As you move up through the ranks a big barrier is that the sport is expensive, and until you make it onto a team you have to pay your way through. It will be interesting to see how USAC Olympic development academy can extend grants and scholarships to athletes that can’t afford it. Diversity is a fault of the sport. At the end of the day African-American cyclists have equal potential for sure so you need them to get involved early because teams will want the best riders. Having African-American teammates would be fantastic.
Seth Davidson: Thank you so much for your time.
Eddie Anderson: You’re welcome!
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January 17, 2021 § 19 Comments
I took my first full ride around the hill this morning. It was sunny and warm, a perfect January morning for a bike ride. The streets were filled with cyclists. You’d think people would be ecstatic, riding in such circumstances, but what I noted is how grim almost everyone was. Some were grimly staring at their computer. Some were grimly grimacing up a grade. Some were grimacing at getting passed. Some were grimacing as they passed you.
No one was smiling and no one said hello except for Vinnie, who zoomed by with a big grin and said “The legend!”
One fellow passed me on the switchbacks, had his legs fall off, and then snarled, “Comback, eh?” when I passed him.
Going up Crest I got passed by Alan Becker, one of the more unpleasant people I’ve ever ridden around. “I thought you were in Texas?” was his greeting. I let my presence answer the question. He’s another guy who presumably reads this blog and is too cheap to subscribe.
“I honked at you yesterday when you were on Torrance!” he said. I didn’t ask him how it was he thought I was in Texas if he had seen me yesterday.
I tried to ride away from him but coudn’t, pushing home the point that after depletion and three weeks of bed rest I was truly pathetic. Correctly judging that I was weak, he powered by me, something that could never have happened in his wildest dreams. But dreams do come true … I tried to follow him, one of the weakest people I know, only to get smartly out-sprinted at the top by a guy who accelerates like a dumpster. He turned around and passed me to descend, grimly happy at this once-in-a-lifetime achievement. It’s not every day you get to crush a guy in tennis shoes, and it probably went a long way to make up for the countless Flog Rides he had started late, was immediately shelled from, and never finished.
If I’d had a mirror I probably would have looked pretty grim, too. I searched the road carefully for the way down looking for even the tiniest shred of my self-respect, but there was none.
That’s what riding on the hill seems to be. An exercise in grimness. I pondered the reason and concluded that every single person out there is at any given moment predator or prey. That’s the “fun.” One moment you devour some poor sap, the next moment the poor sap is you. It’s an endless carousel of up-and-down, various strangers zipless fucking each other for the entirety of the ride. It had seemed like such a natural and normal thing the years that I did it.
Even though I tried to use the ride as a two-hour Chaucer practice session, it repeatedly was interrupted with grim people grimly passing by. I say interrupted because my heart rate always spikes when I get passed. The sound of the tires, the chain, the labored breathing, and then the visual of the grim bicyclist consuming another piece of prey.
I contrasted this with my experiences touring, where people always stopped and talked. When you see someone else on a bike loaded down with panniers, you want to stop and chat, hear their story, tell them yours because there always is one. There’s a fellowship, an instant bond between people out on some lonely road going to West Hell on a bike. The effect is more intense at a campground, where tourists often go over to each other’s camp sites, exchange information, share a beer, sit around a camp fire.
One reason perhaps is that the ARC, or “avid recreation cyclist” as Matt Brousseau calls them, is manufacturing adversity whereas the tourist’s adversity is very often real. Long stretches in the rain or cold or searing heat followed by setting up camp, cooking dinner, cleaning up your shit, and then doing it the next day all over again. When you tour, unless the whole thing is sagged, you often feel vulnerable and you appreciate seeing other people out doing what you’re doing.
The opposite happens with ARC riding on the hill, where other cyclists simply get in the way of your fantasy that you are doing something superhuman, godlike, beyond the ken of mere mortals and by the way, did you see my cool new kit? What is most extreme is the contrast between the beautiful weather and surroundings and the grimness of the riders.On tour I can’t count the number of times I got off my bike simply to gaze at the beauty of a mountain range, or to drink glacier-melt, or to photograph something worth remembering, be it a grave marker or a cactus.
But on the hill, when you have the whole gorgeous day at your disposal? Don’t even think about stopping–you might get passed.
November 9, 2020 § 4 Comments
When you live most of the time on a bicycle you see things you would not see in a car. This is usually a function of necessity by which I mean when you are carless you have to go out and ride places even when you would rather not.
For example last night. I had already ridden to Long Beach and back. The ridden to Long Beach part was fine, but the and back part was not because it occasioned a really nasty 25 mph headwind.
It doesn’t make the headwind any easier when you remind yourself that “This is exactly what it’s like in Belgium, only fifteen degrees colder and raining and on cobbles.”
I had been home for exactly thirty minutes when it was time to go out again, this time to meet up with friends for dinner. They live in headwind so I had to pedal there. How strong was the wind blowing? I had to pedal really, really hard to go down the 15% grade. As I did I got a great view of the ocean. It was roiling.
If I had been in a car, a) I wouldn’t have seen. the ocean because I’d have taken a different route and b) I wouldn’t have realized how crazily the strong the wind was.
But on a bike, sprinting downhill and barely hitting 15 mph on a steep hill, it became obvious that I’d have to detour to the oceanside bike path and get a look at the waves. It was Sunday night, cold, overcast. Did I mention it was windy? There were hardly any cars out, and no people on the bike path except one.
He was doing something weird for a day like this. He was carrying a surfboard.
I don’t know much about surfing but I know that a 25+ mph onshore wind with waves blowing sideways, backwards, and every which way is not good for surfing. This guy waded out and started paddling into an unbroken wall of whitewash.
It mashed him back, he paddled some more, it smashed him back, he paddled some more, it smashed him back, and he paddled some more. It made no sense. There was nowhere to paddle to. Even if he got beyond the whitewash, which even an Olympic swimmer couldn’t have done, there weren’t any waves to ride. What there was, was a submerged stone jetty that he was being pushed towards and would eventually get dragged over like a monster cheese grater.
I stopped and watched him totally killing it with the horizontal distance he was making, trying to figure it out. I have seen a lot of stupid things while out riding, and have been the protagonist in many of them. But I have never seen someone mindlessly paddle into oncoming crashing surf where the only possible outcome is more crashing surf.
That’s when I spied his buddy. Off to the right a super pro #fake photographer was all squatted down with a huge lens capturing this epic moment for the Gram. Or the Bag. Or for his MeTube channel.
“I would have never seen this in a car,” I said to myself.
Score one for the car.
November 5, 2020 § 12 Comments
I rode my bike over to Manslaughter’s last night for dinner. Manslaughter is a legend, a giant among men, a titan of tales and amazingly full of awesomeness.
We hadn’t seen each other in a while. He has a rescue bulldog named Charley. Charley was born with a birth defect in his front shoulders and forelegs, so his front end is very low to the ground and his rear end is normal height. It’s a pretty severe handicap for a dog but Charley makes the best of it.
He doesn’t complain about it at all.
When we walked up, Charley immediately squattled out of the gate. I reached down and scratched his head, which he liked. In fact, he liked it so much that he stood there in the familiar dog position of “I’m not moving as long as you keep scratching.” So I scratched for a while, long after it had become awkward, me standing at the door and my hosts waiting for me to come in.
“He’ll let you do that for hours,” Manslaughter explained.
I walked into the garden and sat down on the porch. Charley came over and gave me a big lick. “He likes dirty people,” Manslaughter explained.
“Then he has hit pay dirt,” I said. “So to speak.”
Next Charley put his head over on my lap and started humping my back. Now, I have been humped by lots of dogs in my life. Our old dog Fletcher was a pretty solid leg humper and crotch sniffer. When a guest would come over he would put his big wet muzzle smack in the middle of the guest’s legs, snuffle as if to say, “Yeah, good stuff there,” and then sometimes follow it up with a leg hump.
Women especially didn’t appear to like it, but after the approving snuffle and leg hump, Fletcher would always go about his business, which was principally begging for food.
I’ve seen lots of dog dry-humping. It’s a fact of life with them and with people, only we call it something different.
But I have never been dry-humped like I was by Charley. It wasn’t your simple “Howdy, this is my penis,” hump, no sir. It was the full-on “I think you are in heat and I ain’t stopping ’til you are cold.”
He humped to the side, up high, down low, off to the right, off to the left, he humped my back, my arm, my leg, my foot, and the more he humped the less he seemed like he was going to stop.
It’s not easy to catch up with news in a group when a 50-lb. bulldog is grinding you, and Charley, the more he ground, the faster he went until you couldn’t help but think, “Wait a minute, I know what happens when it gets faster and faster, and what happens is usually not something you want on the back of your jacket or leg.”
I mentioned this to Manslaughter, who shrugged. “He’s never jizzed. But he might tonight.”
This was mildly worrying, but not as worrying as the thick layer of dog hair that was building all over me. Finally after about ten minutes, we all agreed that Charley had humped enough to confirm that we were now the best of friends and that we’d hate for him to herniate a disk over it.
I won’t tell you how they got him off me, but it did involve a jar filled with coins.
Now, what was I saying?
October 27, 2020 § 2 Comments
I think most people have gone through a writing phase. Mine started when I was eight. I was in third grade and my teacher, Mrs. Apel Smith, gave us a month to write one double-spaced page on the topic “Natural Resources.” That was on a Wednesday. Friday morning I handed her my report. It was on yellow paper. It was written in green ink. It was single spaced.
It was ten pages long.
Inspiration is abundant, but although it’s abundant, it’s not always there when you need it. What exactly is inspiration? Well, it comes from the word “inspire,” which originally meant to breathe in. To be given breath is a great way to understand inspiration, because it’s breath that invigorates, enlivens, and gives you the force to continue on.
Writing is a phase because we eventually lose our inspiration, we stop breathing in those ideas and experiences that make us want to write. Before he died, Philip Roth quit being inspired and quit writing. He was plumb wore out, like an old shoe.
One thing that inspires me is seeing other people succeed.
If you don’t know Todd Brown, you should. Email him at email@example.com and tell him you want to be on his email list. Or you can go over to his blog here. I think that if you are a writer, he will inspire you whether you like his writing or not. I think that if you are a bike racer, an ex bike racer, or someone who always wanted to be a bike racer, you will like his writing. I raced with Todd for years in the old broke down leaky prostate division. He was an early follower and subscriber of my blog even though he often found big chunks of it objectionable.
I think that is because like me, Todd has had a lifelong passion for bicycles, indeed it’s his livelihood, and part of that means taking the good with the bad. One day earlier this year I got an email from him. It said something like, “Hey everyone, I have this huge email list from my bike business and I’m going to start spamming you with bike stories. Hope you like ’em, hope you’re not offended, but if so let me know and I’ll delete you.”
What followed was a good, old fashioned bike tale.
“That’s awesome,” I thought, and didn’t think much more about it until 4:02 AM the next day, when there was another email, also from Todd, this time telling a different bike story. “Dang,” I thought. “Two mornings in a row. You don’t see that often.”
It’s now almost a year later, and like clockwork those emails hit at or about 4:02 AM. Each email includes some kind of plug or pitch for one of his products–gloves, bike bags, t-shirts, cycling clothes–he produces a whole range of stuff. But what’s cool is that the sales pitch is sometimes the tail end of a half-bit of an afterthought. The real product is sometimes a musing, an idea, an experience, or a story. Although the emails are new, he’s been blogging since 2012 with amazing consistency.
Now don’t get me wrong. After he didn’t fail, and kept ginning out the stories, I felt a little threatened. Tender egos are that way. But it didn’t take long to appreciate what he was doing and the way he was doing it, until I felt that familiar feeling of inspiration.
You see, Todd is absolutely consistent whereas I, well, am not. Some days I can’t get the job done, and there is always a drawer full of excuses as to why. I started to appreciate how seriously he takes the craft of writing, and it made me resolve to do a better job of getting something written each and every day.
That was three or four months ago, and since that time I’ve been able to write every single day with only a handful of exceptions. it’s not terribly different from having the motivation to ride every day. Sometimes what it takes is a kick in the pants. Sometimes it takes a new saddle.
Sometimes it takes someone doing it better than you, and inspiring you to try and be like them.
October 23, 2020 § 6 Comments
At about mile 30, my ass began to burn. I had decided to embark on this 140-mile ride to El Capitan State Beach in pants instead of cycling shorts in order to save space and hassle. I’d practiced for about a week and things went smoothly, literally.
Now, with my 40-lb. pack bearing down directly on my ass, what started as mild discomfort quickly accelerated into fiery irritation. “Great,” I thought. “Only a hundred miles to go.”
The other grand experiment, that is, whether ’tis nobler to suffer the pangs and arrows of a lumbering donkey pannier-laden bike, or to put the junk on your back and keep the bike as light as possible, was working out beautifully. My left shoulder felt a bit of a tug from the pack, but there was no other discomfort and I was flying.
With the donkey apparatus I’d never averaged more than 10 mph, and at the end of a nine or ten-hour day I had always been destroyed. Today I was clicking along at 15-18 mph and easily surmounting the rollers on PCH; all told it would be over 3,000 feet of climbing. Moreso than the speed, my legs were simply fresh and they never flagged.
I thought about the thousands of miles I’d lugged the donkey-pannier bike up hill and down dale, into headwinds, over dirt roads, down rocky descents, and counting myself awesome to squeeze out 70 miles in ten hours of riding. Of course one day doesn’t a tour make, but for speed, maneuverability, and most importantly exhaustion, the backpack setup was ideal.
Not so much with the incipient fire in the hole. By Ventura I had what a friend used to call “the screaming cat,” and I was desperately casting about for a bike shop, any bike shop, where I could pop in and buy a pair of shorts. So what if I’d just given Baby Seal all forty pairs of my pristine Eliel bibs?
“Are you sure?” he had asked.
“Heck yes. Never using a cycling short again.”
The only bike shop I passed looked promising, but at the last minute I changed my mind. “Heck, I haven’t given this a fair shake. Give it a full day and see what’s up.” So I keep going, cat screaming to a fare-thee-well.
The traffic on PCH leaving Los Angeles was horrendous. We took the full lane and were recipients of at least a hundred angry honks before we cleared all the traffic past Cross Creek. At Trancas we made our first stop, about three hours in, and snacked on nuts and raisins. A curious guy was sitting at the neighboring table.
“Where are you coming from?”
“Wow. Where are you going?”
“El Capitan, north of Santa Barbara.”
“How far is that?”
He looked at us for a minute. “I once rode from Redondo to Malibu, and I thought that was far.”
“It is,” I said.
“That’s what I thought too, until you told me you’re going to El Capitan.”
The route from Ventura to Santa Barbara along the bike path and the 101 was great because you could hear the crashing waves. That’s one of the great things about touring and not drilling it at 30—you can hear the waves. I’ve ridden that stretch a million times and rarely if ever heard the waves. There was some kind of swell, as the surfers were gaggling all along the way; at Ventura County Line there was hardly anyone out and a couple of guys were picking off these clean, long, lovely rights.
In Ventura we were famished and stopped at McDonald’s. There’s something about getting off a bike and walking around with a giant backpack that makes people want to talk to you. Where are you going? What are you doing? And all the etceteras, most of which is their story because everybody has one, that time they rode their bike to that place that was a long way off and it rubbed their ass raw or they had a great time or it rained or they got three flats or they gave up or they were so stoked they rode on to Buenos Aires or none of the above but one time they drove across the country or hitchhiked or rode a motorcycle or took a family trip or got stranded in a snowstorm or met their future wife or got married in Vegas … whatever it is, the bike and pack trigger it.
By the time we got through Santa Barbara and Goleta, and turned off again onto the 101 for the final stretch to the park, we were tired and champing at the bit to get off our bikes. Oddly, my ass had stopped quivering with a searing, stabbing pain with each pedal stroke, and had subsided into a dull, throbbing ache that was wholly endurable.
“How much farther?” Kristie asked.
I couldn’t remember exactly, but I wanted to cheer her up. “I dunno, but there is a horrible fucking hill from the park entrance up to the campsite.”
“That sounds fun,” she said.
We had a huge tailwind and got to the park after about twenty minutes. At the park entrance there was no one at the booth, only a giant sign that said, “Campground Full.”
We looked at each other. “Doesn’t mean anything,” I said. “That’s for car people. Hiker-bikers always have a spot. Let’s go ahead and pay at the kiosk.”
The kiosk had a hand-written sign that said, “Do Not Pay With Kiosk. Camground Full. No Refunds.”
“It doesn’t mean anything,” I said. “The hiker-biker sites are always empty. That’s just for car people.”
I paid and got our receipt, and then we started up the hill. “This is gonna hurt,” I promised.
Shockingly … there was hardly anything in the way of a hill. “This is nothing,” she said.
“Yeah,” I answered. That’s when I realized that the last time I’d been there, it was on a loaded donkey after 70 or 80 miles of absolute misery. Today the bike was unladen and I skittered up the hill.
We put up the tarp, pitched the tent, and gazed out over the ocean. The hiker-biker camp area was deserted except for us.
Each wave broke on the shore far down below. We heard them clearly, distinctly, personally, uniquely through the beams, muted by the clouds, of the setting sun.
October 21, 2020 § 15 Comments
Before I go off to Texas and back with my new backpack approach to bike touring, I thought it would be a good idea to do a mini-tour and see if perhaps this wasn’t, you know, a completely insane idea.
So tomorrow I’m heading up to El Capitan State Beach in Santa Barbara. My biggest concern is whether or not the 40-lb. backpack will make the ride unendurable, or if, as with my shorter jaunts, it really is a superior alternative to the conventional wisdom of putting all your crap on the bike.
My second concern is how well my parts will endure a fully loaded pack for 135 miles in regular pants rather than in padded cycling shorts. A buddy texted me to advise that the backpack approach alone caused him such grief on the way to Santa Barbara once that he pulled over in Carpenteria, bought a rack, and zip tied all his stuff to the rack. Others have questioned the sanity of even considering a long bike ride without bike shorts.
Of course the whole fun of doing new things is finding out for yourself what is conventional because it works and what is conventional simply because that’s the way it’s always been done. And there is the added twist that even when convention is right for 99% of the people out there, it still may not be right for YOU. How are you going to know if you don’t try?
Looks like the weather will be good and the wind won’t kick up until later in the day.
Here’s a photo of all my touring junk for the trip, followed by before-after photos of what happens to you when you start living on your bike.
October 16, 2020 § 8 Comments
There is no clothing item more iconic or deemed more essential than the bike short. That moment when you first pull on a skin-tight pair of Lycra, feel the cushy, plush sofa cushion against your butt, and realize that now everyone can view your sidepipe in high relief … that’s the moment you truly feel like a cyclist.
I remember my first pair of bike shorts, long before the bib short had been invented. I remember standing in front of the mirror asking the question every man asks: “Am I really going to appear in public wearing these?”
And I remember a Thousand and One occurrences and special moments related to bike shorts. The day I first wore a pair with a team logo. The day I learned that the UCI would no longer require that shorts be black. My first Assos. My first bib short.
One thing I don’t remember ever doing, except one fatal time, is questioning whether or not cycling shorts were necessary. That was when I rode from Cologne to Berlin in regular pants. I was with my 16-year-old son, and he wasn’t a cyclist, so our speeds were slow, our days were long, and our sweat in the hot sun was profuse. With back-to-back ten-hour days, I soon had a saddle sore that belonged in a medical journal.
In Leipzig I broke down and staggered into a bike shop. It was 4:50 pm. I found a pair of shorts and hobbled to the counter. They were high, seventy euros, but anything to stanch the oozing and the pain. I pushed them over the counter.
“Sorry,” the clerk said. “We are closed.”
“Yes.” He showed me his wrist watch, which read exactly five o’clock. “We close at five.”
“And you won’t ring these up?”
“No. But you can come back tomorrow. I will put them under the counter for you.”
“I don’t think I will be here tomorrow,” I said, and left, upset at not getting my shorts, but impressed with German punctuality and presumably with their labor laws as well.
For the remaining two or three days I suffered a lot, and then in Berlin, with a couple days’ rest, things healed up just fine. “Never again,” I said.
By the third day of my Big Bike Tour that began this July, I was working on another saddle sore and it promised to be a doozy when it fully flowered. I started to panic because I was wearing bike shorts already. The different pedalstroke and position on the saddle were causing the friction. One morning I got the idea of wearing tights over the shorts. Perhaps the extra layer would make a difference. It did, the rubbing stopped, the skin healed, and a couple of days later I could ride without the tights.
Now that I’m planning another long ride, this time to Texas, I’ve started playing again with the idea of ditching the cycling shorts. My inspiration was three people I met at Big Sur, a young fellow and two girls, he having ridden from Montana and they from Canada. He had jeans and they had short-shorts, with nary a cycling pad anywhere. “Don’t you get saddle sores?” I asked.
“What are those?”
“Good answer,” I said.
Ditching the shorts would save space, reduce the amount of clothes-changing and clothes-washing I’d have to do, and release me from the perpetual chore of worrying about my bibs. How was the pad holding up? Where would I get another if this wore out? What was that funny blotch on the pad that looked like it just twitched?
I’ve found over the last forty years that cycling is a hidebound hoarders’ delight of conventional wisdom, much of which is bunk. What did cyclists do before Assos? And I considered that after my trip, my butt had gotten leathery and tough. Along with the 32-lb. backpack to take the weight off my bike and get rid of the clunky saddlebags, maybe now would also be a good time to test riding lots of in-town miles without cycling shorts.
So along with my reconfigured bike I set out with a reconfigured undercarriage as well. Because there is no rule in cycling so hallowed that it shouldn’t be broken.
October 15, 2020 § 19 Comments
This was one of Andy Coggan’s favorite lines, and it’s true.
A big part of my preparation for the ride to Texas and back has been testing, both equipment and fitness.
One thing that road racers get right is the importance of weight, or rather, the importance of being as light as reasonably and affordably possible. With a touring setup, whether you have saddlebags or whether you go for the stylish/aero/badass “bikepack” mode, the whole point is to load your crap onto the bike and let it do the carrying.
Over the course of my last tour I concluded that this is really hard. You go slow and your back is unwieldy. On the plus side, pushing a massively heavy bike makes your legs stronger, at least if you are trying to push the pace to where there’s a bit of burn. But on the whole, the best comparison for a touring/bikepack rig is a donkey. Slow and steady. Not always terribly exciting.
This led to the big theoretical divide in bike touring: Panniers or bikepack setup?
I’d read about the advantages of both and had seen numerous setups on my tour. The panniers were convenient and capacious, and their only downside was the fact that I’d put a rack on my ‘cross bike that was unstable, which really ruled out using the bike for any off-road riding except the gentlest. There was a good rack alternative to the one I was using, but before putting it on I decided to get a seatbag and a frame bag, see how much stuff I could cram in, and then evaluate.
It became immediately clear that there was no way the seatbag/frame bag would hold all the crap.
Kristie, who had joined me at various times during my tour and ridden several hundred miles with a 40-lb. backpack and a tiny rack that held almost nothing, suggested I try the backpack route. “The panniers and the bikepack are both inefficient. You should put it on your back.”
“No way,” I said.
“No one does that. Why would I put something hugely heavy on my back when I can put it on my bike?”
“Because you’ll go faster.”
“Yes, you will. The lighter the bike, the faster you go.”
“The backpack will weigh a ton and make me fucking miserable.”
“No, it won’t.”
“Yes, it will.”
“The muscles in your back and abdomen, and to a lesser extent in your shoulders and neck, distribute the weight so that if the backpack is properly adjusted you will not even feel it.”
“That makes no sense.”
“You just don’t understand how muscles work. The most fatigue-resistant muscles in your body are your back and abdomen; they’re responsible for holding up your body at all times. Adding weight to them doesn’t fatigue them except moderately at first. They immediately adapt. That’s how overweight people are able to carry all of the extra tissue. And it’s why fat people are so strong. Their skeletal muscles have to support a ton of weight.”
“I’ve backpacked. Heavy packs are exhausting.”
“That’s because most people wear them wrong. They stack the weight high so that it sits on their shoulders, which are relatively weak and which fatigue rapidly compared to your back and core.”
“Where are you supposed to put a backpack if not on your shoulders?”
“If you look at a wildfire firefighter, people who have to hike 15 or more miles, often in extremely hilly and rugged terrain, just to get to the fire, you’ll see that their 40-50-lb. packs ride very low, with the weight as close to the lower back/buttocks as is comfortable. The weight sits on the lower back and pelvic girdle, the part of your body that is evolved to carry the most weight and to fatigue the least.”
“You really think I should carry most of my stuff on my back?”
“Why not try it?”
I dragged out my Chome messenger bag and strapped on my tent, pad, and sleeping bag to the outside of the pack. Then I filled it with my heaviest items. Its 22-liter capacity meant that in conjunction with using my seatbag and frame bag for clothes and light items, I could carry everything that I’d been carrying with a rack and panniers. The backpack weighed about 32 lbs. I put it on and tottered.
“This is gonna suck.”
We fiddled with the straps until the weight hung as low as possible, and as advertised, with every inch that it got closer to my lower back, the lighter it felt.
I got on my bike, which was now incredibly light compared to before, weighing less than 25 lbs. It jumped forward when I started pedaling, something it never did when weighted with panniers.
“Wow,” I said. “Where are we going?”
“Let’s give the Cove climb and then Ganado a try.”
“Great,” I said. “The steepest and longest hill in PV.”