A Fortune in Tubulars

“No job is so simple that it cannot be done wrong”

So said my fortune last Friday night at our fave local Chinese restaurant. And what was immediately running through my mind was, “Hmmmm…I just glued a new tubular on the rear wheel which I’ll be racing in my final ‘cross race of the season about 36 hours from now.” And my parallel, predominant concern, since I get superstitious when it comes to cycling, is that maybe this wasn’t the time to experiment with a new means of gluing tubulars…not glue per se, but my first encounter with Tufo Tubular Tire Gluing Tape. Can a glorified strip of double-sided masking tape really keep me from ignominiously rolling a tubular in competition?

Because nobody wants to be this guy…

Image source: http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/?pg=fullstory&id=4469

Until cyclocross renewed my passion for racing a bike, I’d long since given up on tubulars. Clinchers have made vast improvements since the beginning of my racing days back in the early 80s, and the road racing I was doing over the past 10 years or so was not hindered in the least by foregoing tubular wheels. But me and tubulars, we go way back. Oh, the (sometimes painful) memories…

1. Fast Tack Trim Adhesive, I Guess the Fast Tack Part is Important After All
3M Fast Tack Trim Adhesive was the staple of my tubular gluing endeavors for nearly every tire I raced on from the mid 80s to the mid 90s. My source for the repurposed glue was the local Napa auto parts store in Cooperstown, NY. I kept a piece of the cardboard box with the code number in my wallet so I could make sure I got the right stuff from the dizzying array of auto accessories in their stockroom. They never asked me what I was doing with all that trim adhesive. Maybe they thought I was some kind of car trim idiot savant, since I didn’t buy anything else from them at all. They likely new I was “Peter, that guy who races bikes”, but the question of my glue purchases never came up.

One early summer day, I think it was 1989, I went by the trusty Napa store to buy some Fast Tack only to discover their stock was depleted. However, there happened to be another 3M product by the name (I think…it’s been a while) simply “3M Trim Adhesive”. Trim adhesive is trim adhesive, right?

I should have been tipped off right away by the consistency, very close to toothpaste, not the uber-sticky nature of Fast Tack. But I was young and stupid. So I glued up that front wheel. And then I drove to Pittsfield, MA that weekend to race on said front wheel. And in no more than 2 laps of what should have been a 50 lap crit, that bad boy rolled off the rim like it wasn’t glued on at all. Because it wasn’t glued on at all. I was first through the 3rd turn, just beginning to contemplate the can of whupass I was about to unleash on these rubes, when I unceremoniously found myself powersliding across the pavement on my right side. Thankfully, I was the only guy that went down. And then I immediately fled the course, mere microseconds after burning huge swaths of flesh off my right leg and arm, and limped about 2 blocks off the course so I could hide out for a bit. I was not about to get suspended for being a dumbass, and I needed to remount my tire and deflate it so I could re-emerge at the ambulance and have a (kind of lame) excuse about flatting my front tire and then losing control. I still have scars on my leg from that horrific slide across asphalt, I still cringe when I re-live the medics wire brush treatment to raw flesh (I happened to slide through a patch of sand to boot), and I learned that the Fast Tack part of 3M Fast Tack Trim Adhesive is an element not to be trifled with.

2. ‘Roid Ragin’ in CT
I did quite a bit of racing in New England from 1983 through 1991, and one of the things I remember was the pre-race bike inspection. In theory, it was a good idea. A surprising number of people show up to races with bikes in various states of being about to fall apart due to negligent or incompetent home mechanic skills, and everybody had to get a sticker on their bars to prove their bike wasn’t about to jettison parts mid-race and likely take down a huge chunk of the peloton. One rather annoying aspect of this inspection was the dreaded “Let me try to roll your tubular” guy, usually an amped up, ‘roided up, simpleton whose sole thought was “I bet I can roll any tire off any rim”. This guy usually had biceps bigger than my quads, and enough mis-guided strength in his arms and hands that I bet he could have snapped the welds of my steel frame given a few minutes of frenzied effort. On one particular weekend in CT, maybe it was New Britain or New London…who knows, I rolled up to the bike inspection sporting clinchers. I was a newbie junior, and tubulars weren’t yet part of my arsenal (which was probably a good thing). And then, much to my amusement, Angry Tubular Rolling Guy went to work on my clinchers trying his damndest to roll them. Because he was a bodybuilder, not a cyclist, he couldn’t tell the difference. So I said, “Hey, I’ll give you a million bucks if you can roll that tire off the rim”. I think this doofus really thought the offer was legit, and he set to work. I nearly turned as red as him, although I was laughing while he nearly burst a blood vessel in his head due to the stress and strain. Thank god that clincher held.

3. The Last Turn at Fitchburg (Back when it was an off-camber near 180 degree turn about 200 meters from the line)
Maybe it was 1985, and I was racing in New England on 4th of July weekend. I’m pretty sure it was a 3 day affair, with racing on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Friday and Saturday were in CT, and the only excitement coming my way during those two days was an impromptu extended interval to escape a gang of hooligans determined to rip off my bike (from under me) while warming up in the wrong part of New Britain. But no matter, the real excitement happened that Saturday night, the evening before Fitchburg. I was a wide-eyed teenager with more fitness than race-smarts accompanied by an upstate New York dynamic duo: a rather savvy teenager with equal parts fitness and race-smarts (Rider A) and a very green teenager with substantially less fitness and smarts than all of us (Rider B). Rider B flatted that afternoon, and Rider A and I watched him whip out a new tubular and proceed to glue it on the rim that evening in our hotel. And we couldn’t believe our eyes, because (1) he was gluing on a track tubular and (2) the glue he was (barely) using wouldn’t be dry enough to race on the next day. But Rider B was absolutely convinced that no harm would come his way, and that the track tire would be his secret weapon in Fitchburg the next day. All Rider A and I knew was that we needed to avoid him like the plague in the peloton come Sunday afternoon.

As Fitchburg frequently does, the Junior race came down to a frenzied field sprint which wound up a few laps out. Rider A and I avoided Mr. B according to plan, and set about setting up a leadout to earn some cash. We had a monster Suburban with twin tanks on E which needed feeding. Rider A was speedy, wily, and knew the ropes and my mission was to drop him off at the head of the peloton just as we approached the final death turn to the line: a 180 degree uphill off camber. I don’t know what came over me, since I really dreaded crits during my Junior years, but I managed to weasel and worm my way up the right hand side of the peloton in the closing laps with Rider A glued to my wheel. I made one last mighty surge up the back stretch, nearly scraping skin off my right arm as I threaded the needle up the right hand gutter adjacent to the snow fence, and Rider A wormed past me into maybe 4th place approaching the final turn with dollar signs for eyeballs…And then he rolled a tire while negotiating said hairpin turn. And then I plowed into Rider A, laid out in said hairpin turn. And I had to drive that scary ass Suburban back home, having had a learners permit for maybe 2 weeks, since Rider A had no skin on his ass and couldn’t drive. And Rider B took great pleasure in mocking Rider A nearly the entire drive back home, since his track tubular didn’t roll and all the huffery and puffery and indignation coming from Rider A the previous evening was just a load of crap.

4. Not the Wisest of Moves
Like I said earlier, cyclocross renewed my vigor and enthusiasm for competition and training. After racing for a couple of seasons on clinchers, I decided that maybe the leap to tubulars really made sense. And it just so happened I had a pair of tubulars left over from the heyday of my road racing years. Now I’m sure some of you out there may cringe or cry when you read this, but those tubulars were a well-preserved set of Mavic GEL 280s. Sure, I thought, they’re not noted for strength and durability, but I got my money’s worth out of them so what the hell. Well, about 1 minute into their inaugural ‘cross race in Boone, I plowed into a barrier at warp speed and that front wheel damned near transformed itself into a mobius strip. RIP.

5. Henk and I Luv Us Some Wachusetts Mountain
1991 was the first year that the esteemed Fitchburg Criterium morphed into its current incarnation as a stage race. They had some bugs to tweak, like the order of the events. For the Pro/Am field, this was my weekend lineup: Friday morning…105 mile Wachusetts Mountain RR, Friday afternoon…11 mile TT, Saturday afternoon…62 mile circuit race, Sunday afternoon…50 mile crit. There wasn’t much drama regarding the outcome of the stage race after the 105 mile slaughterfest concluded, particularly since Coors Light showed up with the A team: Davis Phinney, Steve Swart, Roberto “2×4″-ioli, Dave Mann, and maybe Roy Knickman. I believe Coors Light won all the stages and swept the final podium with Davis Phinney emerging victorious. What still resonates was how god-awful that road race was for me. The second time down Wachusetts Mountain, in a nasty rainstorm that felt like buckshot due to the peloton’s 60+ mph speed, my rear tire exploded when it got pinched in a frost-heave asphalt chasm. I thought it was all over. I had minimal braking, minimal control, I couldn’t see too well from the road spray, and I couldn’t raise my right arm to warn fellow racers or the wheel van about my flat rear tire. I drifted out the back of the pack, managed to stop the wheel van with a well-timed primal scream as the tail end of the caravan cruised by, and thanked the Lord that I was riding a well-glued tubular instead of a clincher. Because you can still ride a tubular when it’s flat, as long as you don’t have to turn too much. Just ask Abraham Olano about the 1995 Worlds, or just ask me.

Of course, once the jitters and the shock of thinking I was going to die wore off, there was the matter of those pesky 88 miles still to race. By myself. In the rain. Thank goodness the officials had mercy on me and turned a blind eye to the time cut. I was actually amazed there were still officials on top of Wachusetts Mountain waiting for me.