Hoopty Sighting at Duke…

My chrome is shiny just like an icycle as I ride around town on my lowrider bicycle...
I frequently forget that racing is a rather small subset of cycling’s breadth. If you happen to walk down the main quad at Duke there’s a bike very similar to this one locked up at a rack in front of the clocktower quad. I have no clue who owns it or how he/she built it, but it puts a smile on my face to see evidence of someone flying the hoopty (or in Chicago-ese, freakbike) flag on a campus which doesn’t necessarily openly embrace such iconoclastic endeavors. It seems that it’s been inert for some time and North Carolina’s recent spate of unusually harsh winter weather hasn’t been kind to the drivetrain. I feel compelled to do some impromptu community service and restore the rusty chain to a more rideable state.

Marco Pantani amongst his enthusiastic tifosi

RIP Marco…

I have a poster of Marco Pantani on the side of my refrigerator which serves as a daily reminder to my vacillating love/exasperation with the sport of professional cycling. Not long after Pantani was kicked out of the 1999 Giro d’Italia (due to an elevated hematocrit only one day from certain victory), I took artistic licence with Pantani’s likeness in outrage at the prevalence of EPO and god knows what else pro cyclists inject into themselves. I added an image of a gigantic syringe injecting Pantani’s outstretched arm. Now Marco Pantani is dead, younger than me at only 34 years old. My reflection upon his mercurial career and descent into the deepest throes of depression and loneliness leaves me troubled for I’m both angry at his denials of cheating, yet saddened that perhaps he was more of a pawn in an increasingly cutthroat profession.

I strongly suspect Pantani’s death on February 14, 2004 to be a suicide, although the exact cause may never be more than the coroner’s initial heart failure diagnosis. I hadn’t really even realized that he was absent from cycling this year. Pantani seemed to be on the comeback trail last year after his respectable showing in the Giro, but being snubbed by the Tour may have served as the last straw in his litany of public humiliations. I remember hearing that he checked himself into a clinic to treat his depression last summer, but I figured he’d be back.

Marco Pantani talks to police after a bizarre driving incident in November, 2000. He wrecked his new Mercedes while speeding the wrong way on a one-way street. This was his 3rd accident of the year.
I lost a great deal of respect for Pantani once he was tossed from the Giro in 1999. If he had confessed to using EPO and quietly took his punishment (in the example of Alex Zulle following the infamous 1998 Tour de France “Festina Affair”) then I could forgive him for succumbing to the immense pressure to achieve results, especially in his native Giro d’Italia. Instead he lashed out at the media and police and seemed to revel in his self-annointed martyrdom. For a while I stood amused at his increasingly erratic behavior and poor performances on the bike these past few years, but clearly he was permanently scarred by his ordeal.

It’s disturbing to think of Pantani’s untimely demise, the death of Jose Maria Jiminez in similar circumstances last December, and the mysterious deaths of young professionals due to heart failure which never seem to end. The same day that Pantani was found dead in his Italian hotel room, a young (21 years old?) Belgian professional was found dead having passed away while sleeping. I’m not a physician, and I believe that some of the deaths of 20-something year old professionals have been due to family histories of heart problems, but it seems that far too many young professional cyclists are dying in their sleep under mysterious circumstances. Will our sport take a hard look in the mirror and clean itself up, or will it implode and lose all credibility? I don’t know. I’m watching the unfolding THG scandal involving California’s Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCLO) and it’s ever widening net of big name professional athletes with rapt attention. The scandals involving cycling in Europe never receive media attention in the US, but maybe if some prominent athletes with household name recognition in this country are busted real progress can be attained in cleaning up professional sports.

Satan Is My Motor…

I’ve got a direct pipeline to Beelzebub, and it’s channelled to me through bicycle and car odometers. It never fails that I’ll be out on a ride, cruising for hours without checking my trip distance, and I’ll scroll over to that screen and see the Number of the Beast : 666. I actually stopped using a bicycle computer that had the daily trip distance out to 2 decimal places because it dramatically increased my chances at seeing the dreaded 666 (6.66, 16.66, 26.66, etc.) instead of with my current computer with a single decimal place (66.6, 166.6, etc.). Not only that, I’ve got some eery link to what I’ve dubbed “half of Satan”, the mysterious 333. Same thing, look down at the odometer and there it is…

Reverend Billy rips into DisneyMaybe it’s got something to do with my long solo road trips to bike races all up and down the East coast where frequently my only entertainment was listening to fire and brimstone preachers. I always got a kick about hearing that “Satan walks amongst us, manifested in Dungeons and Dragons and Ouija boards…” I’d get so amped up that I’d start delivering my own rambling pontifications on Satan out loud in my car. For hours and hours on end. Damn, I wish I taped those road trips. I was raving about how cycling changed my life and can change yours too. “Hear me people…hear what I’ve got to say…Get your fat ass off thy couch…Turn the keys off in your car…Get on a bike and RIDE, RIDE, RIDE!…If Jesus came back to us today he won’t be in a Hummer…No sirree…He’s gonna be on a Litespeed with SPD sandals…Spreadin’ the word, pedalling all over the world…” I should start my own Illuminati of the Pious Peloton, get a pirate FM station in my basement, and start preaching to my flock. Reverend Billy can do it, so can I…

Highly recommended

Champion trains for the Tour de FranceDo yourself a favor, head to your local cinema and see the brilliant animated feature Triplets of Belleville. Somebody, perhaps the director Sylvain Chomet, really knows his cycling: whether it’s the poster of Fausto Coppi on Champion’s wall, the Tour de France stars of the 1940s-1950s in wee Champion’s scrapbook, Madame Souza truing a wheel old school style with a tuning fork, Champion sitting on a scale to weigh his food intake, the vivid alpine scenes of an early 1960s Tour de France, the resignation of entering the broom wagon, or the most realistic depiction of a cyclist in motion you’ll ever see in an animated film, cycling has never been depicted in such a fluid and poetic manner other than the art house work of Danish director Jorgen Leth (and his films such as A Sunday in Hell, Stars and Watercarriers, The Impossible Hour are all actual race footage, not a work of animation). I’ve been enamored by Genndy Tartakovsky’s minimalist, stunningly creative Samurai Jack (on the Cartoon Network) and it’s refreshing to see Chomet contribute a work of art equally as inventive to the world of animation virtually all done in classic frame-by-frame, hand-drawn technique.

Paul Giamatti as artistic crank Harvey PekarLast night I watched the film American Splendor and it vividly brought back memories of watching Harvey Pekar’s confrontations with David Letterman on late night television. I was in high school in the backwaters of upstate NY, with only 1 tv station at my disposal, and Pekar’s recurring guest spots made for eye-opening television moments: raw, angry eruptions of a man who felt fucked over by life. I’d never seen anything like it on network television and was amazed to witness Pekar as one of only 2 guests (the other being the comic/magician duo Penn & Teller) who could go toe to toe with David Letterman and make him uncomfortable. (Well, come to think of it there was also Charles Grodin’s amazing appearance on Johnny Carson where he ripped into Carson, but that’s another story.) I don’t even remember if I knew about his American Splendor comics, I was just intrigued and fascinated by this character who kept showing up on Letterman until he finally exploded on his 8th and final appearance. If I had access to Pekar’s comics then I probably would have bought them, but I don’t know if I would have appreciated them (also kind of like how I was confounded by Ben Katchor comics until one day it all clicked) until I, too, was out on my own scraping to pay the rent and pursuing passions dwelling on the fringe of societal norms. Pekar slogged away as a hospital file clerk in Cleveland, OH and spent his free time reading, shopping for rare LPs and 78s at yard sales, and reviewing jazz records. A chance encounter at a yard sale led to his friendship with R. Crumb and inspiration to put his life’s story in comic form. Pekar could only draw the crudest of stick figures, but he has genius when it comes to dialogue and the narrative portrayal of daily events. His work depends on collaboration with comic artists such as R. Crumb to bring his vision to fruition. One other point, wait ’til you see Pekar’s friend Toby. And listen to him expound about his favorite film. Wow.

I whole heartedly recommend carving out some time in you day (or night) and treating yourself to the tale of an American original. If you’ve got even more time to kill make it a double feature with the equally excellent documentary Crumb. While our world is becoming increasingly digital, fast paced, and homogenous, American Splendor is a refreshing reminder to revel in joyous endeavors that don’t involve computers: walking, reading books, losing oneself in LPs, drawing, and thinking, all to the beat of your own jazz drummer, man.

Do Harvey a favor, buy his books at your local indy bookstore.

Prospect Park

New Yorker cover from June 22, 1981I recently came across a collection of New Yorker covers with a cycling theme and it always makes me think of the races I’ve done at the crack of dawn in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. There’s nothing quite like riding your bike to the park literally as the Sun rises. The city’s calm, eerily quiet, and devoid of people or traffic. Time permitting, I’d head over to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade afterwards for some people watching and Brooklyn Bridge watching before taking a nap and enjoying a full day of NYC. Today, I was cooped up inside doing school work, out of the glorious sunshine, and this cover picture made me wish I was riding my bike to the Promenade to daydream.

I came across this organization last night while web surfing, and I do believe I’ve found my life’s calling. Hopefully, when I’ve received my library science master’s degree in 1 year’s time, I can find some kind of archival profession where I get to lord over and coddle torrents of ephemera. I’ve amassed a small collection of bicycle racing programs from late 19th/early 20th century 6-day races plus regular track races in the U.S. and Canada as well as an assortment of tobacco cards with racing cyclists from the same time period. Thanks to newspaper databases with full text searching (particularly the New York Times), I’ve also located race results from my great-great (?, never know how many greats are necessary) uncle John J. Gillen who was a professional cyclist in the late 1890s New York metropolitan area. I think there’s a book waiting to be written about cycling in this time period…Maybe one of these years I’ll gather my thoughts, visit Somerville, NJ’s Bicycling Hall of Fame and Bainbridge Island, WA’s Classic Cycle shop’s collection of Pop Brennan material, and put pen to paper.

Words to live by

If W. headed this advice the world would be a better place. And everyone would have really nice bikes, too.

Super Fan


I’m a member, how about you? Read all about professional cyclist Erik Saunders and his fan club. Professional cycling desperately needs characters like Erik…

The last Sunday in January can only mean…

January Nationals

Harkey won. I survived in the lead group. 53 miles of pain and suffering in Chatham County. Damn that hurt. If there was a prize for highest finishing place with the least amount of training I can’t imagine anyone even coming close to me. I think I’ve ridden my bike about 250 miles in the past 4 months. Most of my fellow January Nationals competitors probably rode that much in the past week alone.

It boggles my mind how much phlegm and mucus exited my body in the 2+ hours of “racing” (remember, this is only a coincidental gathering of 70 cyclists out for a brisk ride with a nominal cash payout at the finish…) At first I tried to consciously make sure my expectorations were carefully aimed to avoid myself and those nearby, but after about an hour I was getting so fried that the gooey mess just shot out without any real regard for it’s final target. I was not a pretty sight at the finish line.

I wish people would learn how to go around corners without using their brakes. Hello, it greatly reduces the acceleration you need to stay on the wheel in front of you! I think people were somehow freaked out by seeing snow on the side of the road and thought that it would surreptitiously migrate into the road and take them out, even though repeated laps of the course should have confirmed that the roads were indeed dry and ice-free.

Muscle memory and experience got me through, but there’s nothing like actually doing some training to make races easier. Imagine that…