Monthly Archives: March 2014

Cycling Terroir

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Wine people have this concept called terroir that they use when discussing qualities of wine that are due to local conditions. Wikipedia says it pretty well:

Terroir can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had […]

Having ridden my bike in a bunch of different places, I’ve decided that terroir applies to cycling, too. This became apparent while riding in Tucson, then Phoenix, then back in Tucson again.

Adam Myerson (Team SmartStop) speaks to some of this, here.

Tucson and Phoenix are barely 2 hours apart by car, but couldn’t feel more different when riding.

After unpacking and assembling my bike in Tucson I rode out to meet Shawn, who was waiting at a coffee shop. I had a bike lane the entire way. A few minutes later we were on a path, then off, then were climbing up Gates Pass.

It went that way the next few days: ride on some city roads with bike lanes, then within 15-20 minutes be out in the desert or climbing up mountains. Coffee shops and gas stations that are cool with cyclists filling bottles. Traffic, yes, but mostly tolerant.

Up in Phoenix a few days later, I rode out from my hotel looking over my shoulder every few seconds to check the traffic bearing down on me. Zig-zag down a maze of side streets to get to something more rideable, 45 minutes later. Look back and see the expanse of concrete.

That’s not meant to be completely down on Phoenix. There are some nice places to ride: from Scottsdale out to Fountain Hills, then north. Or up through Carefree to Bartlett Lake. But riding there feels more like a battle to get to those nice places.

I’ve previously written about “feeling like a local” when I get on the bike somewhere else (and interestingly enough, the last time I wrote about that was from Phoenix).

“Feeling like a local” and terroir seem to come together. I’ve long felt that you can more readily get a sense of place being on the bike. Certainly more so than driving in a car, and as much or even more so than walking.

All these different places become “my place” for a while, even Phoenix, even if it means I am primarily looking to survive on the roads.


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Arizona by the numbers

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Shawn and Aaron have their summaries here and here.

Here’s mine:
Cities visited: 2 (Tucson and Phoenix)
Number of unpack/repack cycles: 6
Days riding: 12
Miles ridden: 820
Feet climbed: 38,000
Farthest day: 101 miles (Madera Canyon)
Longest day: 99.8 miles, ~7 hrs (Lemmon)
Minutes riding in circles trying to find my hotel: 40
Times passed by hipster on fixie: 3
Times seeing hipster on fixie not able to stop: 3
Flats: 0 (Continental Gatorskins!)
Saddle sores: 2 (one on each side)
Visits to chiropractor: 3
Lost credit card: 1
Snickers bars eaten: 8
Best coffee: Le Buzz (Tucson, bottom of Mt Lemmon)
2nd best coffee: made with my Aeropress
Best lunch: Epic Cafe (Tucson)
Best dinner: Cup Cafe (Tucson)
Best pizza: Il Bosco (Phoenix)
Favorite stretch of road: Picture Rocks Rd, Saguaro National Park (see photo)
Favorite climb: Mount Lemmon
Least favorite climb: Mount Lemmon
Least favorite road: Most anything in Phoenix
Seemed like a good idea at the time: following Shawn, Aaron, and Sam on the dirt

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Mount Lemmon, on top

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The day after arriving in Tucson I tried riding up Mount Lemmon with Shawn. It did not go well. By mile 13 I was feeling pretty horrible. Trying to climb another 14 held no appeal. “I’m ready to go back down”, I said.

As with many things these days (so it seems), I needed to go back and conquer that demon.

This time I rode it more sensibly, at a pace that would let me enjoy the view rather than one that made me suffer.

At mile 13 it occurred to me that I should be grateful — and happy — just to be able to ride like this. 10 months ago I wouldn’t have imagined doing such a climb. It’s not that Lemmon is brutally steep. It’s just so darn long: you keep going up and up and up.

Actually it’s the perfect climb for where I am right now: it requires patience.

I made it to the part where most people stop — at the Cookie Cabin — then made the right turn on Ski Run to go up the final pitch to the “tippy top”. That is also the steep part of the climb, the part that you can’t really fake.

25 miles of patience allowed me to to finish those last 2, out of the saddle most of the way in the 39×26. I was on top of the world, any way you want to interpret that.
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Back to Double-A

After last week’s bad experience doing the Shootout ride, I didn’t really want to do it again. But on the other hand I was feeling like I needed to do it.

I happened to be reading about MLB spring training going on out here in Arizona, and about guys doing rehab assignments in the minor leagues.

There was my solution: I would do the “old guys” ride, which leaves 10 minutes before the (real) Shootout. That wasn’t what my ego really wanted, but it was the solution that made sense.

I hooked up with the group about 15 minutes into the ride. The group was pretty big — 60-70 riders, and not many of them “old guys”. 10 minutes later they passed the “Game On” starting point.

Whereas last week I was doing all I could do to just hang on, this week I was actually riding at the front and going with attacks — a familiar, yet at this time very strange sensation. It’s been 10 months since I last felt that.

When we finished the hard part, I stopped and waiting for Shawn and Aaron who were coming up with the Big Boys. We rode up Madera Canyon, and I knew that had been the right decision. Had I done the fast(er) ride, pretty sure I would have been limping home (again).

I also had the voice of Jim Behrens in my head, telling me that I’d done the right thing. (thanks, Jim)


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Dr. Feelgood

I often have the (misguided) tendency to look at the human body — my body — as if it were a car: something is wrong, you take it in to the mechanic and get it fixed.

That’s been one source of frustration over the last 10 months. Between seeing the ortho-, physio-, masso-, chiro- … I’ve very badly wanted to ‘get fixed’. Unfortunately none of them can order a new part, open the toolbox, and simply replace it.

But the thing is: they’ve all helped, each in their own way, and so I’ve learned to allow them to help.

From the moment I got off the plane in Phoenix last week, my leg didn’t feel right. Apparently sitting on a plane for 5 hours was enough to do … something. Add a walk through the airport schlepping luggage and a 2 hour drive to Tucson, and it’s even worse

I was hoping that riding would work it out, but it didn’t. Maybe easy riding would have, but it’s hard not to take advantage of 80-degree sunshine. 4 days later I was limping noticeably.

How do you deal with that, 2000 miles from home? Sit around and rest? Not really an option.

Through the magic of the Internet, I was able to find a ‘mechanic’ just a couple of miles from where I’m staying: a chiropractor who does Active Release Technique. I called at 5pm and they got me in by 5:30. It wasn’t pleasant. He found some tender spots that had me sweating and brought tears to my eyes.

But it helped. A second visit, no less unpleasant, had me out doing an easy 2 hour ride, which made the unpleasantness worth it. Now I just need it to help enough to get me through 5 days of riding back in Tucson.


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The last 10% is most of the problem

I think that we don’t fully appreciate the magnitude of separation between “good” and “great”.

In absolute terms, it doesn’t seem like that much. People ask me how close I am to where I was before I got hurt. I estimate 85% – 90%, based on numbers I’ve seen on the trainer. Only 10-15% off. That doesn’t seem like that much. I can do 4-5 hour rides and 15-hour training weeks.

But what we don’t appreciate is how big that last bit is until put in a racing context. It’s huge. It’s the difference between making it and not making it

As I rode over to the Shootout ride in Tucson, I considered it would be the first real test of how far I’d come. I also acknowledged that it was a milestone to even be there in the first place, riding in a big group of fast riders. Being able to ride in a group was a test itself: I still have some lingering psychological effects that keep me from being completely comfortable on the bike.

The real test came when the ride passed the traffic light after which it is “on”.

I was OK for a while, following wheels near the back. It was so familiar, even though last April was the last time I did it. I knew what to do — my body knew what to do. It felt good to be going harder than I had since last May.

I glanced at the number my power meter was reporting. It was way above anything I’d been doing. That was encouraging, but there was no way it was going to last. Eventually I would have to sit up and let the main group go.

85-90% isn’t good enough when the real stuff happens. If it’s me, last year at this time, I’m up there with Shawn and Aaron in the group, no problem. That last 10-15% is the difference between being there and being off the back. It wouldn’t seem like that would make such a difference, but it does.

I was told — get some perspective, you had a serious injury.

Intellectually, I know that. But being there, in the mix, with fast guys around me, it’s like the body knows and remembers what it was able to do, and it still wants to do that. And that just doesn’t turn off because the mind knows something.


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