The Earth Awakens

Still waiting for the trails to dry, but we are getting close in this neck of the woods. In the mean time, I am watching the world awaken from the seat of my road bike.IMG_0154 It is interesting when you go on solo rides through the country roads this time of year, that you can take the time to appreciate spring and how the word awakens to a new season. The sun splashed hillsides yield new floral growth similar to a newborn baby smiling when it is fed after a nap.IMG_0152 If you take it in, you can almost feel the frozen ground melting and draining and enjoying the benefit of longer days and warmer sunshine. The grass grows greener instantly, the air smells fragrant with the scent of blooming plants and blossoming trees. I have to say that for many years, I did not notice. I was always working hard to stay on the wheel of the guy in front of me in a pace line on a road bike. Like the saying goes,” if you aren’t the lead dog, the view is always the same.” I did not take in the signs and the scents of spring in my early days of road riding and road racing. Now I do and it is a very pleasant experience. IMG_0150
My fascination with spring growth was fostered, I suppose, by my dad. He loved flowers. When I was young, he grew marigolds, geraniums, alyssum, and other plants in the basement under artificial light. When he built his new house, he purchased and built a Lord and Burnham greenhouse and spent many a winter night meticulously planting seeds in his plant trays and carefully watering them with the appropriate nozzles and sprays. Miracle Grow was his “go to” plant food and the result was gardens full of thick, colorful growing flowers and planters and hanging baskets groaning under the weight of the thick lush flora.IMG_0124 Whenever I see flower beds or go to the spring flower show at Phipps Conservatory here in Pittsburgh( a National Historic Landmark- built by Lord and Burnham), I think of my dad. IMG_0126 When the plants came out of the greenhouse and were ready to be planted, my dad the engineer, devised a quick way to plant them. He had a drill with an over-sized auger and would drill the hole and yours truly would plant literally hundreds and hundreds of flowers in the beds every year. It was amazing how spring came to life at my dad’s house in Wexford and also our old house on Siebert Road.
My current road riding routine includes stops to enjoy the sights of the back roads of Sewickley, Pa. I will climb to Allegheny Country Club and sit on the bench and watch the golfers approach the holes on the back nine.IMG_0145 The lush green fairways, and the manicured greens remind me of my old caddie days and I take the time to drink it all in on sunny days. I pass horse farms and stop again to visit the horses grazing in the field. Sometimes they make their way over to the fence where I am standing wondering if I have an apple for them? Power Bars and Cliff Bars are not to their liking but maybe I might start bringing an apple or two for their enjoyment? Climbs up out of Sewickley back home are steep but I don’t ride them the way I used to, suffering to keep up with my group. I drop the gearing down and spin my way to the top without taxing myself too much. It is a much more enjoyable way to ride as the 60 year old kid. I enjoy the back roads and even though I can’t wait to get back in the woods on my mountain bike, I do enjoy the road with the sights and scents of spring- including the horse manure. 🙂
Forsythia is another blooming bush that is verdant in the spring. My mom used to bring in sprigs from our bush on snowy spring days and ” force” the blooms in a vase of water.IMG_0167 It was her way to welcome spring although Pennsylvania spring weather was not always cooperative. My dad never planted anything before Memorial Day but we were in high gear on those following weekends. It cut into my riding routine a little bit, but I enjoyed the time with my dad and always managed to get my rides in somehow.
As we age, we tend to appreciate things a little more. I am enjoying the spring and enjoying the growth and scents of an awakening earth. It is great to do it from the seat of a bicycle. You can enjoy life and “stop and smell the roses.” Thanks for reading and enjoy the spring. IMG_0134

Enjoy the Ride

It is mud season now. April showers bring May flowers but for mountain bikers, it is a time for us to wait until the trails are dry so we don’t trash them for the rest of the summer. I bring out my road bike and begin the long process of trying to get in shape after a winter of maintenance trail running, snowshoeing and skiing. I can always ride in the rain on the road bike because I am used to the drill. If you don’t ride in the rain in Pittsburgh, you don’t ride much in the spring. Trust me, as I get older, the process gets a little harder but I am dealing with it in a more mature way which I will discuss in a short. Suffice to say, I don’t blast out of the parking lot these days. I ease on down the road.
As I meander on the country roads north of my house, I think back to the painful rides at this time of the year when I raced a road bike. It was always a chore to try to get in shape so that you didn’t get dropped on a training ride or in a race. You had to scramble just to be able to ride with your friends. As I daydream on my current rides, I think back to when I used to meet Art Bonavoglia, Frank Habay, and George Sagan up on Saxonburg Boulevard waiting for a crew to come up out of Shadyside in Pittsburgh. I slowly dragged my sorry butt out of bed and made my way to the meeting point where George, Art, Frank and I waited for the freight train that was coming. Scott Dismukes, a former track cyclist- strong as hell, Bob Gottlieb- Cat 2 rider of local fame, Barb Katzenburg-national class road racer, and Mike Alex- PHD candidate in Electrical Engineering at CMU riding a mountain bike with slick tires. These guys(and gal), could ride and when they came roaring up the road, you better be warmed up and ready to jump on the pace line or you were history. I would see them in the distance and sigh to my friends,” Here they come.” The pain began. photo
The destination was always Lake Arthur up in Butler County. These are beautiful country roads here in Pennsylvania but all I saw on those rides was the backside of someone faster than me in the paceline. As we exchanged pulls, ( mine were always the shortest), we made our way through pastoral fields and dairy farms. Virtually no traffic which made the ride as pleasant as it could be but the pace increased with each country mile. By the time I got to Prospect, Pa with a stop at the country store to reload on food, I was exhausted. I can remember laying on the sidewalk jamming Fig Newtons in my face and washing it down with Gatorade as fast as I could swallow. I looked at Mike Alex and said,” How the hell do you ride that fast on a mountain bike?” He said the slick tires helped but he was only being humble. I looked at Art, Frank and George and said, ” How am I going to make it back?” But I always managed it somehow. Fig Newtons and bananas were the Cliff Bars and Power Bars of the day. That type of energy food was not available yet. The Newtons and the bananas generally did the trick but when I pulled into my townhouse I was totally gassed. The killer crew left me and roared back to Shadyside logging in excess of 100 miles. photo

As I come back from my daydream on my road rides now, I am usually alone. I think back to that far away time in a galaxy far, far away. Painful spring rides, wool jerseys, leather hair nets, toe clips and cleats, downtube shifters, and steel road frames. Today I ease into my spring road rides. The equipment is lighter, smoother shifting, and carbon fiber rides a lot more comfortable than Reynolds tubing, although there is something to be said for the classic steel frame. I don’t stress myself. I don’t need to train. If a hill comes, I shift down and noodle up until I reach the top. I don’t have to do what Mac Martin used to tell me. ” Take it out of park McCloskey, and when you reach the top of the hill, don’t just coast- put the hammer down because your competition will be coasting behind you.” I don’t need that pain anymore as the 60 year old kid. My road rides now are enjoyable. I can look at the spring blossoms, ride in the softly falling rain, and really……enjoy the ride. home02
I mostly mountain bike these days but I must admit that I look forward to bringing out the road bike in the spring. It reminds me of my past and I definitely don’t have the pain that I used to go through at this time of year. Like life- I am now enjoying the ride. I see flowers, trees, farms, and sights other than the back of some guys lycra shorts. Haul that road bike out guys and gals, let the trails dry out. Thanks for reading.

Cycling the Miles for a Cause

IMG00227-20100731-0812IMG00375-20110730-0915DSC00468 A number of years ago my next door neighbor’s son came to me and asked me to do the MS150 Bicycle Ride to Erie. It was dubbed the “Escape to the Lake” and it was a benefit for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society It was a lot of fun and especially for a young 8th grader who had never ridden much outside of our local North Park. This ride is always well attended and supported and the fun thing that year was staying overnight in my freshman dorm up at Allegheny College in Meadville,Pa. As I walked around campus and stayed in the dorm, I thought to myself,” Did I really do this” It seemed like the distant past.

As time went on, I opted for the camp out at Allegheny and also at Edinboro State University because I enjoyed the down time in my camp chair and sleeping under the stars in my dome tent. Always liked camping but I am the Lone Ranger when it comes to that sort of activity with my family. The neighbor kid eventually grew up and got married but I still kept up on the MS 150 until AAU Basketball got in the way of those weekends and I had to make a choice between being a good father in the stands at courtside or riding the MS. Fatherhood won out. But the MS Rides live on and they benefit research that is finding a cure for a very debilitating central nervous disorder. The money you raise goes to a worthy cause and you get a wonderful ride in the country with a well organized event as your reward.

Moving on, I had the opportunity to ride some events with my friend Scott Weiner down in Maryland at the Catoctin Challenge. The Maryland events were fun and organized by a really funny and good guy, Phil Heffler, who made a habit out of heckling his riding friends. He painted” last hill” on the road for miles even though there were many killer ascents ahead of us. He painted lanes for his riders and then a separate lane for a girl who was riding. Those signs read,” this lane for good riders.” Then he had the separate lane for his lady friend right next to it. Really hilarious stuff and Phil roamed the course having fun berating his friends and supporters. Phil organizes rides every year from Frederick, Maryland to Pittsburgh and if you want to take part in his hilarity and well orgnized rides, contact Phil-

Several Maryland rides benefitted the 1-6 Organization for men who were abused as children. This organization was supported by the Roz and Marvin Weiner Foundation as title sponsor with the honored guest being none other than our 3 time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond. The interesting thing about riding with LeMond was that he is a very engaging person. The funny thing is that most of the people on the ride either did not know much about LeMond or had their own agenda on the ride so about 6 of us got to ride both days with the former Tour champion. The stories that he told on the road were amazing and the development of a lot of current companies involved in cycling equipment had their seminal influence from LeMond. Scott time trial bars, Giro Helmets, and countless others were entrepreneurial and research endeavors by LeMond. You learned a lot about world class cycling and the development of product by riding weekends with Greg LeMond. These were also camping events and my fix for the outdoors under the stars was satisfied in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland.

My friends Pete Hilton, Eric Durfee(the local) and Mike King and I rode in “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride” in Lake Tahoe one year which benefitted the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Riding a road bike around the most beautiful lake in the country surrounded by the Sierra’s is indeed breathtaking. This ride also supports a very worthy cause and riders come from all over the country to these events. My friend Tim Hamburger is very involved in this organization and if you are inclined to ride or support this organization, Tim would be appreciative. His countless hours of training riders for this event is exemplary and his volunteering spirit is appreciated by all of his riders and event organizers.

Sometimes, these events hit close to home. My friend Jim Pottinger is riding an event in Vermont to beneft the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in honor of his son who has T1D juvenile diabetes. Becket is a cheerful little guy but the stress that he goes through with daily testing of his blood and the disruption to his young life as well as his parents is something that the JDRF addresses on a daily basis. Please consider supporting Jim on his ride.

This weekend, Maggies Marauder’s go into action at the MS150 Keystone Ride up in State College,Pa. Pete, JR, Cyndee and Barry, Don, and a bunch of my pals will take part in this ride that benefits MS. Maggie Schneider is dealing with MS and this group rallies around her as she rides to raise money for the issue that she deals with on a daily basis. Consider supporing the Marauders who are led by team captain Bob DeZort and the memory of our friend Chip Kamin who helped found the group that rides in this event.

Riding the miles for a cause is not only worthwhile and a really fun event to benefit a particular organization, but it is amazing to see the folks who can ride those kinds of miles. You have the experienced cyclists who ride a lot of miles and these events are not much of a challenge. But you see most of the people on less than adequate bicycles riding with a smile and making it to the end with folks scratching their heads and saying,” How could that bike and that person make it 150 miles?” You see the same thing at marathons and ask the same question. But the heart of individuals who have a goal not only physically but the goal to support their favorite cause is impressive. Please consider supporting these organizations, riders, and I encourage you to take part in these events if you have never done so. A worthy cause, riding a lot of scenic miles, camping under the stars( or hotel room if you prefer) great entertainment, good food, all make for an exciting weekend. Now that I don’t have the AAU Basketball excuse anymore because my baller is headed to college, I may have to make a return to the roads of the cause. Thanks for supporting and reading.

How to prevent instant gratification

71cr58xVSJL._SX522_997986_400633-654_AovCGXfzygdIiZDDlJ3-6npdSpB71zymeSujS4UF_DEo%2ChpncG10y59DzJ3rHUYQlSFNvHtSzbQFxWhXweHL4cmIovCGXfzygdIiZDDlJ3-6npdSpB71zymeSujS4UF_DEo%2ChpncG10y59DzJ3rHUYQlSFNvHtSzbQFxWhXweHL4cmI A number of years ago, I wrote an article that was published in BIKE Magazine that referenced the sadness caused by individuals who steal valuable bikes. The article referenced my friend’s Merlin mountain bike that was stolen at a race, no less, by some individuals who apparently were not willing to save and earn the right to ride a bike of that value. Theft is a common occurrence in most areas but to have a theft at a venue where everyone has the same interests and values is intolerable.

When I worked up at Sugarloaf, Maine after college, there was an incident at the ski area where a large number of skis were stolen at one time and the management called in the State Police who blocked the northbound roads to Canada and the southbound roads out of the area. There was a massive traffic jam but the police caught the culprits who had all the skis in one van headed south. This incident sparked the area to work with the local police to register skis and give individuals a sticker that referenced the fact that the skis were registered with the police department. Not much of a deterrent but maybe someone would think twice before lifting that particular pair of skis.

When I was a teenager, my friend’s ski poles were stolen and he immediately went to take another pair of poles. When I asked him why he was doing that he responded,” well someone took my poles so I can take someone elses. It is only fair.” I talked him out of that flawed logic and wondered how he could possibly think that was the right thing to do.

In the article for BIKE, I referred to the fact that in today’s world, there is too much emphasis on instant gratification. A lot of people want things right now and are not willing to save and earn them so they max out a credit card or in the more base cases, they steal what they want. People want things now and they will do whatever it takes to get things……….NOW!!!

My friend called me the other day and told me that the cable lock that he and I have used for a while was easily cut and both of his bikes were stolen from his bike rack in Florida in a matter of 6 minutes while his wife was in a convenience store. The police told him that close to two hundred bikes are stolen each week in the Fort Lauderdale area and unless you have a really good lock, you are at risk.

So- what is one to do in this day where you really have to watch your stuff or it will grow legs? One of the more ingenious technical advances has been created by a company called Dropcam. These small portable cameras can be mounted in your office, home or vacation home allowing you to monitor issues by activating the cameras in your wireless network and actually seeing the activity on a PC or a hand held I-Phone or other form of smartphone. Dropcam equipment can be used to send you a message when activity is viewed on the camera. Dropcam can be used to give you full view of your sports equipment in your garage or anywhere where you store your valuable equipment.

After the incident in Florida, I began researching bike locks and although any lock can be breached by a really good professional, there are locks made by Kryptonite that are very hard to beat. I bought myself the New York chain lock. They also have a U lock which is named the “Fugheddaboutit” to honor the New York lingo of not happening. Although I know that any lock can be beat, I also know that if you protect your equipment, most thieves will bypass you and look for easier prey. The real purpose of bicycle or any equipment security is to thwart the possibility of theft by making it as inconvenient as possible for the potential thief to run off with your stuff.

Instant gratification is something that we all have begun to accept as a flaw in our modern times. Most people want things right away but are not evil in their motives. However, there are those who are and in those cases, items like the Dropcam and Kryptonite locks can bring some peace of mind. I have another friend who never locks his stuff and says that if it is stolen, his insurance will pay for the replacement. Personally I don’t want to go through the hassle and in most instances, I like my skis and bikes and don’t want anybody taking them. But that is me. Bottom line, be aware and know that there is some help out there if you value what you have earned. Thanks for reading and watch your stuff will ya?

The Allegheny Cycling Assn. Old School Road Racing

photo This beautiful Memorial Day Weekend took me back to the days of leather hairnets, wool jersies, leather cycling shoes with toe clips, and classic road bicycles at races on the Eastern Seaboard. Now you might not know it, but Pittsburgh has produced some very good competitive road cyclists. Guys like the Chew brothers, Dan and Tom, who along with Mac Martin, Matt Eaton, Bob Gottlieb and Jay Wolkoff blazed a trail for todays cycling stars in the burg. Back in the day, these guys used to compete at the Wednesday Night Races at the Highland Park Zoo parking lot. These highly competitive races were training criteriums for a lot of the local superstars as well as the ham and egger, weekend warriors like my friends George, Art, Frank and me. Many times the Sheriff( Gary Bywaters- USA Cycling Official extrordinaire) would line up the ” A” racers and the “B” racers together and off we would go contesting a tight criterium on one of the city’s classic racing venues. Even the Sheriff did ACA time trials back in those days.

Guys like my buddies from North Park were treated to seeing the “A” guys come blazing by us and give us tips along the way during the race. It was not uncommon to hear Matt Eaton, the National Road Champion at the time, come up beside me and tell me to move up or try to hang on his wheel to move up a few places so that I would be in a more competitive position to contest a sprint. He didn’t have to do that, but he believed in sharing his knowledge with us. Mac Martin, who was a US Team guy who did not get to go to the Moscow Olympics because of the Carter boycott, would go on road training rides with us and tell us tales of racing in the Tour de L’Avegnier in France or racing in Mexico with the Soviets. Mac used to tell us that the KGB could always be spotted in their black suits and wingtip shoes in the 100+ degree heat. He had great stories and made all of us feel like we were part of something special racing and riding with the ACA in Pittsburgh.

Every Memorial Day weekend for years, we would really be treated when we went east to contest road and criterium races in our 3-4 Division, and then get cleaned up to watch the 1-2 races with our guys contesting. We really got to see how good Mac, Matt, and the boys really were lining up against national competition of which they were stars in their own right. Matt raced for the prestigious G.S.Mengoni team from NYC, and Mac was a long time member of the New Jersey Bicycle Club of national fame. Many of our guys landed spots on big national teams and it was really something to see them race at the Tour of Somerville and win. Our guys from Pittsburgh! But we really got to see how good they were when they raced out of town and were part of the big national road racing picture. Art, Frank, George and I would eat it up when we would see these guys at the end of the race with the media all around them and congratulate them because we were on their inner circle of friends from home. But these guys were stars in their own right and when we returned from a weekend of racing and watching we had a newfound respect for how good our guys and gals really were. Sophie Eaton, Matt’s sister, won Somerville several times and that race, held on Memorial Day still to this day, was the biggest and most prestigious criterium race in the country.

Our little band of weekend racers got really juiced when we went to the east coast as we were fueled by the performance of our Pittsburgh Superstars. We would get into our 3-4 races with our game faces on just like the good guys and in our Walter Mitty way, imagined ourselves contesting the Tour of Somerville when really we were contesting the local 3-4 race of the Tour of Montclair. The east coast 3-4 racers were very competitive and with all of the races and events of the Memorial Day weekend around us, we all raced with a little more pizazz because of the atmosphere during those weekends. There was nothing like the road trip starting with watching the Friday night track races at Trexlertown, racing in our own category races and then witnessing classic road races like the Tour of Nutley,Allentown, and Somerville. On many occasions, my friend Eric from Vermont came down to race for the Stowe Shimano Cycling Club. Eric was a Cat 2 and lined up against Mengoni and 7-11, the two most noted teams of the time. Pretty good for a hard working Vermonter who raced on weekends and was not a professonal. One year he lined up with Eric Heiden who raced for 7-11 at the time and when the race was over, we discovered that we were staying right next to them in our hotel. The nice thing about road racers is that they like to share their passion with the weekend warriors who are their fans. Heiden invited us over to their room to watch some TV show and share some pizza with us. The multiple gold medalist speed skater from the Lake Placid Olympics was sharing some post race comraderie with the ham and eggers from Pittsburgh. We were amazed. What a weekend to spend with world class athletes in a most unusual venue of cycling history- Somerville, New Jersey.

Those rides home in our caravan of vagabonds seemed to go so quickly because of all of the stories that were retold over and over on the way home. ” Hey- how about Heiden’s thighs? Yikes.” Hey Art and Frank, how did you guys move up like that with all of that traffic?” ” Hey George- what did you think about those guys from New Jersey?” ” How about Rebecca Twigg at the track races? What a hottie and wow can she ride fast!” The rest of the summer at the Wednesday night races were always filled with conversations of the Memorial Day weekend and when we ventured out to some other 3-4 out of town races, we felt that we somehow had some sort of an advantage because of our club and the national class racers who took the time to work with us and enjoy our company.

Those days are long gone now and on those quiet road rides that I do on my way from my house to Sewickley and back, I think about the ACA and the good old days. Sometimes I get fueled up and work really hard on the way home imagining those days at the Zoo, New Jersey and the old road races in Sharon,Pa with the finish over the railroad tracks. Lots of crash and burn memories there. But all good. I come into my garage with a smile on my face as I get back to reality and change to cut the grass. Leather hairnets, wool jersies, Italian road shoes with cleats and toe clips on the pedals. Those were the days my friend- we thought they’d never end. Thanks for reading.