Tag Archives: culture

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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Spring training starts now

Executive summary from 9 days of riding down south:

Blue Ridge Parkway: great road to ride on, but it actually gets annoying.
Savannah: food good, walking good, riding bad.
Greenville: challenging routes, courteous drivers.
460 miles over 9 days: feels like ‘spring training’ has already started.

The more complete story:

Somewhere in the middle of not being able to drive for 3 months, I had told myself that once I was driving again I was getting in the car and going somewhere … anywhere. I needed to at least get farther than Youngstown — the farthest from home I’d been since May.

Heading south proved to be a good decision: I missed the worst week of weather since last winter.

Blue Ridge Parkway
I stopped on the way down south, and again on the way back, to ride the Parkway where it conveniently crosses I-77 at Fancy Gap, VA.

It’s a unique road to ride on: limited entry and exit, no commercial trucks, good pavement, 45mph speed limit, great scenery. From that standpoint, it’s a pretty ideal setup for cycling. But riding it twice on this trip, something occurred to me: riding the Parkway can be annoying. You always seem to be going up or going down. The grades aren’t that steep or long, but it seems that you can rarely get into a nice riding rhythm. I know that sounds like heresy. It’s still a pretty special road to ride on … but day after day, I think I’d need a different option.

Visiting Savannah was primarily about spending time with my daughter. So we stayed in the city, where we could easily walk to where we wanted to go — and all the walking turned out to be really good for me. After walking around for 4 days I felt like I’d completed a round of physical therapy.

It’s a great city to visit: not too big, but big enough. Good restaurants. Beach 15 miles away. Lots of parks and other sights to see, just by walking.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, cycling-wise. I did what I often do when visiting somewhere new: go to mapmyride.com and look for routes that people have submitted. Riding out of the city, there weren’t too many. I wanted to ride out to the beach (Tybee Island), but the prevailing opinion seemed to be “don’t even think about it” (dangerous traffic). So I essentially rode the same route each day. Anything different seemed to take me on 5 lane roads with heavy traffic … and lots of trucks.

Even on the route I took, there were lots of trucks — perhaps as a result of Savannah being a port city. The truck drivers weren’t obnoxious towards me on the bike, but it’s a little unnerving being passed by an 18-wheeler a dozen times on a 40 mile ride.

Overall, I liked Savannah, and I would visit again. But I can’t help but feel that they are missing out on something by not being more bike-friendly. It seems like a natural fit: it’s warm year-round, it’s flat, there are lots of pedestrians. Why not embrace cycling too? More bike lanes … rental bike stations for the more casual rider … and then outside the city how about some more roads where you don’t have to be looking over your shoulder for a lumber truck to come screaming by? It seems like a no-brainer to have a safe route to ride from Savannah out to Tybee Island.

Greenville, SC
In contrast, Greenville was riding heaven. Besides the courteous drivers, which I wrote about here, there are many great (scenic, challenging) roads to ride on. If you look on mapmyride, there are pages of routes for the Greenville area. Ride up towards NC and you are in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Just about every road that I was on seemed to have markings as part of some ride or another.

Overall I got the impression that Greenville really embraces the cycling culture. I will definitely be back.

9 days, 460 miles
… which included a 3-day stretch of 87, 75, and 94 mile rides (in Greenville). The day after the 94 mile ride, my legs actually hurt. I know I keep repeating myself here: I never imagined I’d be able to do this, so soon. I’m not able to go fast, but I can keep going.

I can’t express how good it felt to spend a few entire days doing nothing more than riding, then eating and resting afterward. I had told myself, back in May, that if I were able to get to “just riding” like this, then I would feel satisfied. And so I am.

The big shock came when I arrived home to 5″ of snow, no power, and downed trees everywhere. I almost … almost … turned around and headed south again.

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Training by example

I started to write this a week ago, on Father’s Day, but got sidetracked … by riding then going out with my son for dinner at our favorite gourmet pizza restaurant (in Kirtland, of all places).

So riding can get in the way of things? Fitting, because that’s what I was starting to write about.

At various times I’ve been asked: how do you train and still make time for family? Don’t they resent the amount of time you spend training and racing?

It’s kind of moot now that my kids are well beyond that transition to wanting to do their own things. Actually that is part of the point: they have developed their own things that they want to do.

I’m mostly unapologetic about the time spent training and racing.

Parents push their kids to do sports, push them to do music lessons, to do activities, excel in school. But do parents do those things themselves? It seems to largely end up with the parents living vicariously through the activities and successes of their kids.

Why not show your kids a direct example of what it means to be engaged in something that is challenging, requires some discipline to be successful, and that you love to do? I think there is truth in the saying that kids learn more from what you do than what you say.

I could also talk about the different ways that you can do “opportunistic training” as I used to call it: ride early, ride at lunch, ride to and from work or family events. Ride a lot when you have the opportunity, and rest when other life circumstances come up. That worked pretty well for me.

More than anything though? I think they recognize that I’m just more agreeable when I am able to get out and ride.

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Vermont and change

I’ve been racing long enough to remember when you had to MAIL in race entries. Not e-mail but real, paper mail with a stamp on the envelope. And you found races by looking through announcements in VeloNews or USCF newsletter.

I can still picture the ad for the Killington Stage Race. It was a big race for the pros — last big race on the national calendar. It was big for amateurs too. A real stage race with big fields in all categories and big climbs in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

I did the race a couple of times, in 1999 and 2000 (after which the race went on hiatus until 2010). That’s long enough ago that it feels like forever. (I did the Masters 30+ race in ’99!).

In addition to picturing the old ad for the race, I also had a mental picture of the area. It was, as I remember it, beautiful. “Green Mountains” is an appropriate name. I also remember how refreshingly undeveloped the area was.

Going back this year for the first time since 2000, I was surprised to find that the picture in my head largely matched what I saw. How often does that happen? Seems you go back to a place where you have fond memories and then find that it’s not the same.

I figured we’d arrive to find lots of new, large condo complexes, chain restaurants, and Starbucks. But there was none of that. We stayed at a small inn on the access road. I got my espresso from a locally-owned bakery. We ate every meal at a local restaurant (including some amazing barbecue … in Vermont!). How often does that happen?

This is not just a random coincidence. I recalled reading about Vermonters opposing the growth of large “dollar stores”. So it seems to be a conscious thing.

Or maybe … it’s ingrained in how they see themselves in relation to their community and surroundings. Yeah. What if there was more of that elsewhere?

In any case, it was refreshing. I’m already thinking about going back: there’s another race in September (Green Mtn Stage Race).


(more on the Killington race itself to follow)

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What do normal people do?

What’s your first thought on a snowy Saturday in January? (That would be last week for those of us “up north”; yesterday for those “down south” in Akron).

After “coffee”, it’s thinking about what is the training plan for the day. On a day like this you have to get into the right mental state to head to the basement and get on the trainer.

Is that what a normal person does? (no answer needed)

Most days are like this — not just snowy days. There is always that undercurrent of “where am I going to fit today’s training”, planning the next day, thinking of the next race coming up.

I’ve long felt that people who choose to race bikes have a compulsive nature. If it wasn’t bike racing it would be something else. The triathletes that I know are like this too.

I used to like brewing beer. I probably still would if I could spare the time. I couldn’t do it the easy way. I had brew all-grain, starting with the whole barley and grinding (I had a grain mill even). I made my own copper-tubed chiller to cool the wort before adding the yeast. It was an all-day affair.

A normal person just buys beer.

I used to think this was limited to bike racers and other athletes. But I know people at work like this too. The ones who are exceptionally good at what they do have a sort of compulsion about them too. They can’t do things partway. I’m pretty sure this is a characteristic of anyone who engages deeply in an activity — whether it’s bike racing, beer brewing, dog training, stock trading, writing, music …

So choose your activities carefully. The byproduct being a great brewer is that you have a lot of beer to finish. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

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Wow, free food!

You come home from Walmart and find that they didn’t charge you for one of your items. Do you go back and ask them to please put it on your credit card? Probably not, unless you’re that rare person who is just goodness to the core. But you probably also feel a little guilty about it.

What if it’s your favorite local bike shop? Or your favorite local grocery store?

I came home from my local Heinen’s grocery and found that another customer’s bag somehow got mixed in with mine. When I opened it there was that initial moment of disorientation: huh? when did I buy a pound-and-a-half of salmon filets and pound of ground turkey?

Then I realized what had happened. Wow, free food!

But I like Heinen’s. It’s well run, they have a good product selection, and it’s no more expensive than the big-chain alternative. Both my kids used to work there.

So I called them up and told them what happened. Since it was perishable food, they were not allowed to take it back. Even though it happened just 5 minutes ago. It was mine “to enjoy”.

Wow, free food!

Except. What am I going to do with a pound-and-a-half of salmon filet and a pound of ground turkey? I already have my own “perishable food” to cook and eat.

You’ve heard of “carb loading” before a big event? Well for the next couple days I am “protein loading”, whether I need it or not. Starting with grilling salmon filets out in the snow, along with the chicken and chorizo I had already bought. The leftovers are going to be turned into salmon-scrambled-eggs for breakfast, salmon-and-capers pizza, chorizo and goat cheese pizza, chicken and chorizo … something.

The cat may end up becoming a turkey connoisseur.

And I am going to need to ride extra-long today.


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I often run naked

That was a Twitter response to my “Today I rode naked” post.

Yeah, it’s like that with running too.

I’ve gone from just going out for an easy jog … to wearing a watch … to getting a GPS watch to track distance … to consciously trying to get faster … to doing tempo intervals …

And when my GPS watch stopped working a couple weeks ago, it was at first annoying to not know how fast and how far. Like the run “didn’t count” if I didn’t know how far, exactly. So I went and found another on eBay.

How do we become so neurotic about stuff like this?

One of the reasons I like running — trail running in particular — is that it’s quieter than being on the bike. You don’t have the wind noise, traffic noise, speed, cars buzzing you. But then we go complicate a nice trail run by wanting to monitor and record it.

It’s snowing today. I’ll try running in the snow without worrying about how far or fast, until I don’t feel like running anymore.

That “I often run naked” Twitter response came from one of my heroes, Zack Johnson. He somehow manages to find the energy to train for and compete in ultramarathons (including a 100 mile race), organize an ultra team, actually put on a 24 hour race. He put me on his team roster, and I have to say I feel so incredibly inadequate.

He’s also putting on a snowshoe race series — equipment rental available. First race was cancelled, but assuming we do get a real winter soon there are 2 more races scheduled:


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