Tools of the Trade: Road Cycling + Perseverance = Success

As a former Biathlete, I was fortunate enough to have a full sponsorship from a local ski shop for all my skis, bindings, boots, poles, clothing, and an extensive wax kit. As a Master-aged athlete, that several thousand dollar wax kit served as the basis for the entire Provincial Biathlon Team in many of our races in Western Canada 🙂

As a recreational road cyclist, I do not have the privilege of a sponsorship for my cycling gear needs. Each and every bicycle that I possess today, was paid for by my own hard-earned dollars, and I think I value and/or appreciate my tools of the trade a lot more. Naturally, although the aforementioned tools represent a financial outlay of thousands of dollars, I have always sought to be rather modest in my purchases and try to get the best bang for my buck.

I look at material items like bicycles as simply tools – tools that will allow me to participate in the various disciplines of road cycling. The bicycles pictured represent a lot of memories for me – both good and not-so-good.

And I accept that, as that is the way I roll 😉

Life, as I know it, is full of ups and downs. It is incredibly easy to celebrate the successes – not so easy to be positive in the valleys of disappointment. Sometimes, when I enter the room where I store all my bicycles and gear, I am reminded of those disappointments.

For instance, my failure to achieve a sub 1 hour 40km time trial on my trusty Felt S22 TT bike.  Or the rather dismal road racing season I had this year on my Specialized Tarmac, attending three events and then having to bow out ungracefully because of recurrent asthma. Or suffering a nasty knee injury mid-season (from pushing too big of a gear) on my fixed-gear Kona Paddywagon.

Call me a Dreamer, but I still view life as the glass half-full rather than half empty. I keep trying, despite the setbacks, knowing from experience, that the troubles each of us go through in this life will eventually sort themselves out. Adversity builds character and the knowledge that it is “always too soon to quit”. Sooner or later,  a break will come in our life and we will be grateful for “keeping on keeping on”.

If I have anything to say to a younger generation, many of which are fellow road riders, don’t let your frustrations get to you and simply give up. It takes years of hard work and dedication to be successful in road racing, let alone daily life. Finish that road race you entered, come hell or high water. Even if you are dropped from the peloton and have to ride the better part of the course (as I did) alone.

As my Father used to say:

When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

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A Chip Off the Old Block?

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©2017 Bruce Kraus. All rights reserved.

As a father and grandfather, it brings me great joy to see the good things in life being replicated in my children and grandchildren. There were times, especially during the teenage years, where I just wanted to sit down and cry, pulling out the ever increasing grey hairs on my head. Raising children is NOT easy, being a grandfather is a delight!

It makes me happy to witness my adult children, and now my grandchildren, take up the recreational activities that we did with them when they were young. I cannot overstate how important it is for parents to introduce their children to our natural world and the various means of transportation (cycling, running, walking, swimming, etc.) that will get us there.

A chip off the old block? Maybe, but pursuing healthy recreational activities in life builds character and a sense of belonging to something so much greater than ourselves.

Enjoy life – we are only on this great blue marble for a short time 🙂

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Kindness in Turn

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“Honey, I shrunk your Dad”. Photographed near White Butte, Saskatchewan.                             ©2017 David Macneil. All rights reserved.

This morning I set out on a solo road ride towards the beautiful community of Lumsden in the valley. Before departing, I quickly went over my bike and tires to ensure that everything was mechanically sound. I noticed a small cut on my front tire including a little fraying and protrusion of the internal flat protection belt of the tire.

This concerned me, as it is easy for the internal tube to wiggle itself through the protrusion and, thereby, be vulnerable to puncture – and ultimately a flat tire. The sky was overcast and I was in a bit of a hurry, so I went inside our house and cut an old tire tube into small 3cm sections to use as internal reinforcement of the tire – just in case I did get a flat.

As I was to discover, some 35 km’s from home, this was not a smart idea. Sure enough, the front tire flatted as I was climbing the steep hill out of the valley. The initial small cut was now about a half-centimetre in length and the tire was unrepairable. Although I had an extra tube and patch kit, I did not have a spare tire, nor a cell phone with me. I was stuck in a small town, on a Sunday, with very few options. To add insult to injury, it looked like it was about to rain or, perhaps, even hail.

Mercifully for me, three people stopped their vehicles, in turn, and asked me if I needed any help. The third person to stop offered me a ride all the way back to Regina. I offered him the $20 cash I had in my pocket, but he declined – he simply asked me to pay it forward.

Now, this where my story gets more interesting. The guy who gave me a ride home was “crazier than a nervous hyena on crack“. His almost one-way conversation rattled on non-stop for thirty minutes. He spoke on a multitude of disconnected subject areas, each new story seemingly being more incoherent than the former. I was beginning to wonder whether he was going to take the time to breathe. Each time I tried to interject in the conversation, he would just raise his voice a little louder and talk even faster.

Yes, it did not take me long to realize that this approximately forty-year-old man was suffering from some form of mental illness, and possibly, alcohol and/or drug abuse. Nevertheless, he did have a very kind heart, was rather funny, and was willing to help a complete stranger. I am thankful for his kindness and recognize, once again, God at work in my life, albeit in a humorous way, down to the smallest details.

I intend to honour this man’s uncomplicated request to pay forward the same kindness that he demonstrated towards me 🙂

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Silton Sizzler: A Day to Remember

 

 

A beautiful day for a ride to Silton, Saskatchewan. Clear, sunny skies and the typical prairie winds made for a challenging road ride on Saturday. I love long endurance rides (110+km) over hilly terrain like this, as there is so much to see and experience. One can sense the Fall season moving in very quickly. September will be here soon, and the many Century rides (100km and 160km events) that are so typical for cyclists to participate in at this time of year. The Fall season is always a transition period for road cyclists. Some are looking forward to the cyclocross season, and others (myself included) begin earnest preparation for the winter cross country skiing season.

The good news is that Summer is still here and that there is plenty of time to get outdoors and enjoy the warm weather. I hope to do a little travelling out west over the next few weeks and do what I do best.

Eat, sleep, ride, rinse, and repeat 🙂

A special thank-you to fellow cyclist and Prairie Randonneur, David Macneil for taking these photographs. I added a little of my own special sauce (edits) to make them really shine 😉

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To Grind or Not to Grind: Gravel Riding & Racing in Saskatchewan.

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Master men’s lead group coming out of a tight corner.

A number of people have asked me over the last couple of years why I don’t participate in gravel riding and racing. My standard answer is that I do not own a gravel bike and already have too many bikes in the stable. If an individual presses me a little harder, I will tell them that the agricultural dust and chemicals carried by the perpetually blowing winds in Southern Saskatchewan are some of my asthma triggers, especially during aerobic exercise. Both of the aforementioned are honest answers, the latter being one of the primary reasons why I chose not to grain farm with my dad on a permanent basis so many years ago.

The need to breathe is a primal instinct for survival 🙂

As some of you may know from earlier posts, I had been away from Club cycling for some time before I decided to sign up with Regina Cycling Club (RCC), historically a road racing club in Regina, Saskatchewan. The club was founded by individuals I consider to be friends, although they are closer to my dad’s age than mine. I have met, and continue to meet awesome people through RCC and other cycling clubs locally and elsewhere.

Times have changed, and now gravel riding and racing is a significant part of the club and racing schedule. What I did not realize, until this year, is that there appears to be a bit of tension between traditional road riders and gravel riders in terms of agenda, events, and “air time” within the public discourse on FaceBook (FB).

As for me, I do not want to see the club (RCC) drift too far from its original purpose of being a traditional road racing club with well-organized road races, criteriums, and time trials. Please don’t get all up-in-arms over my personal preference(s) – I am just being honest here. Some of the older riders inside the club have mentioned to me that they do not like the direction we are heading with the heavy emphasis on gravel racing, cyclocross, fat biking, and just about everything else besides road racing. I tend to agree with them and have spoken freely in public forums about it. Nevertheless, a new generation and a few old-timers love gravel riding and racing and are quite vocal about it on the FB public forum also.

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Elite men’s criterium chase group.

To each his/her own. Live and let live? I am getting too old (or too wise) to get involved in the internal squabbles and small-time politics of non-profit clubs, let alone the provincial cycling association.

I must say, though, that I was disappointed in the small turnout to both the Provincial 15km and 40km TT’s and the Criteriums, especially the Elite men’s criterium this year – 4 riders showed up to the starting line. There were no women who entered the criterium races. The Master-aged riders put on a good show though! Sign of the times? I do not know.

Is road racing (in all its disciplines) dying a slow and painful death in Saskatchewan?

Based on a recent conversation with a provincial cycling official, and personal observation, I am beginning to believe that the very principle of volunteerism is dying in our cycling clubs. In other words, it is getting increasingly difficult to secure volunteers for events.

The old guard is still doing the lion’s share of the work and complain of having no one to pass the baton too.

I get that…I really do. I am still being nagged from time to time to volunteer and be involved in the local church that I attend. That church I am referring to is composed of predominantly the Gen-X and Millennial generations. My response is always the same. I have volunteered in various capacities in the church, service clubs, school groups, and sport clubs for over four decades…

…It is time for a younger generation to take the baton and run with it.

Today it seems that local cyclists are more interested in the social aspects and group dynamics of women-specific or age-group clubs and novel venues such as gravel riding/racing than the highly structured sport of road racing (i.e., officials, clearly defined rules and governance). Are the specific disciplines within road racing too hard? Do individuals loath being humiliated and dropped by a raging peloton cruising at 45km+ per hour? My experiences earlier this year was certainly a mixed bag, but I honestly loved every minute of it, whether being out front desperately trying to stay ahead of the scratch group or being dropped unceremoniously from the pack and having to ride solo all the way home.

God knows I want to be back racing with all my heart, but my body, so far, is refusing to cooperate. Patience young Jedi…

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Spring training before the ice is melted on the lake. Photographed in Wascana Park, Regina, Saskatchewan © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

A hundred kilometres of gravel racing in 30C+ heat is no walk in the park either, yet events like this tend to draw a larger crowd and more female participants. This reminds me of the early days of mountain bike riding/racing, of which my generation essentially invented and participated heavily in. Eventually, the wild off-road antics of mountain biking became organized and regulated, partly due to opposition from equestrian riders, hikers, and environmentalists, and partly because of the process of natural evolution, i.e., evolving from a fringe sport to being recognized as a viable Olympic sport.

Only time will tell if gravel riding/racing, which is predominantly a North American phenomenon, will develop and evolve into something more universal like mountain biking did. According to a recent conversation with an employee of a local bike shop, the sale of mountain bikes and city bikes are still the bread and butter of their existence alongside repair services.

Recently, an individual asked a question on FB as to whether there were any paved roads to ride on anymore? I was not sure if his inquiry was tongue-in-cheek or was sincere. No one responded, but I did take the time to write out a response (which I decided NOT to post on FB) that I will share with you here:

I will try to answer your question straight up. There are still lots of rideable paved road routes in and around Regina. The Regina Bypass Project has created a lot of obstacles for road riders to get out of the city somewhat safely. As you probably know, a significantly increased population has led to increased traffic on our major highways, but most of the shoulders are wide and doable. I use ear plugs in high traffic areas on the highway, i.e. one can still hear traffic adequately but much of the high frequency noise and the wind is drowned out. Bright clothing and a powerful rear flashing taillight help out with visibility to traffic.

Others here have mentioned that some of the traditional road routes have been wrecked by chip seal paving and the removal of paved road shoulders completely. It kind of reminds me of riding in some of the rural areas of Scandinavia, Great Britain and Europe now, as we no longer have the privilege of adequate paved shoulders on some of our historical road riding routes.

Although I personally no longer ride gravel or off-road (since the late 1990’s), I can appreciate why others do. Yes, I know it is hard to believe that some of us road gravel back then 🙂 I do know that others in our club (RCC) enjoy the opportunity of discovering new routes, landscapes, and the challenging hills of gravel riding, not to mention less traffic and a much quieter environment. As with road riding, there are pluses and minuses to gravel riding/racing also. Relentless heat, dust, bugs, washboard or freshly graded and loose road surfaces, flying stones from trucks and other farm machinery, no place to restock on water and food, vicious dogs, and shotgun wielding property owners 😉

In the final analysis, cycling is cycling, and I trust that each person involved in our club or the many other cycling clubs in Regina are enjoying the challenges and the sense of community that comes from participating in sport with others of like mind. Cheers!

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Getting the Boot…

 

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Hasta la vista Baby!

There is nothing more maddening to me in the online world than subscription services, especially those ridiculously expensive services offered to cyclists, runners, and triathletes. The big two services (as far as I am concerned) that compete head to head on features are TrainingPeaks and Today’s Plan (including Stages Link).

Over the years I have been a paid subscriber (and beta tester) to the aforementioned services (and several others) but probably will not be renewing my memberships any time soon. My reasons for discontinuation of my subscription(s) are simple as follows:

  1. Too expensive for the features offered.
  2. Too expensive compared to stand-alone software applications, especially free open source software like GoldenCheetah.
  3. Too expensive given that useful features disappear at whim by the software providers.

I think you can see the picture here. Too expensive are the key words, especially given the questionable value of the services offered today. I have been beta testing Stages online version of Today’s Plan called Stages Link for some time. Today, without notice, I was unceremoniously booted out of the Premium version of Stages Link, including the training plan that I am right in the middle of. Obviously my work as a beta-tester was NOT valued and any expectation of further cooperation as a beta tester is null and void. Either I pony up $270 Canadian annually or “hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more.” Either I pay through the nose or get hosed – my choice, your prerogative Stages?

Oh, and by-the-way, you SUCK as a company Stages.

If my fellow cyclists only knew the real rate-of-return of failed hardware (i.e. power meters) from your company, they would quickly ride away, heading for the hills pronto!

The good news is that I just happened to have saved the aforementioned training plan in TrainingPeaks (TP) and am able to continue along my merry way within the free version of TP until further notice. Sometime in the near future Golden Cheetah (GC) will offer the same (and better) features than anything currently online or in standalone applications like TP’s WKO4.

In the words of an infamous Hollywood personality, “Hasta la vista Baby!”

A Moment in Time: Criterium Racing

2017 Saskatchewan Provincial Criterium.

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