It’s Here!

The anticipation has been palpable for the past six weeks. Hours and hours of riding, writing, and researching has brought me to this moment. I am proud to announce that BALM CO. is now live!

You can check us out at: http://www.balmco.com/.

BALM Co. will quickly become the web’s go to source for education, information, and in depth reviews on chamois creams, embrocation, and recovery products. In the next few weeks we will also be rolling out the web’s largest (by FAR) on-line store for these products.

Here are some things you can expect from BALM:

  • In depth reviews on chamois creams, embrocation, and recover products
  • Helpful tips and tricks
  • Race reports that illustrate how products work in intense, real world conditions
  • Interviews with industry experts and pro cyclists
  • Product reviews from athletes  like you
  • Answers to all your questions about these products

One of my favorite features of the site is “Embro in Action.” Embro in Action is part race report, part product review; BALM racers will be competing in the nation’s largest and most storied races, including the Tour of the Gila this week.

Check back each day for real-time race reports, product reviews, and interviews with pro cyclists.

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Fear Not

Fear not, Blogosphere.

While Off the Front has appeared to be off the back during the past few months, the brain itself has not been. The effort and drive has in fact intensified and sharpened; the direction has been different, however.  As my mini marble click-clacks around the contents of my head, ideas and words start to spew forth at once, alas clogging and clotting before reaching this medium.

fear Not, Blogosphere. 

Words have been put to paper (So to speak), even if said paper has been visible to very few eyes. Stay tuned. Something amazing is beginning to rise on the horizon, something that I truly feel can change the way people look at cycling, blogs, and training altogether.  With a bucket full of hope and legs drowned in miles, I cross my fingers and hope that you all will agree.

Fear NOT…

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The Subtle Shift

There is a change in the air, a change in the thinking, and a change in the riding. It was subtle at first, but it is much more noticeable now. Leg warmers-over-embro shift to embro-over-skin. Balaclavas curtsy and retire, paving the way for cotton caps.

Greenery. Warmth…relative, of course. Did a bird just chirp? The snow bank wallows in its self-loathing. Like the Banbino’s 714th homerun, it asserts its authority in an insecure way. While a homerun is a homerun, without the promise of more the vicious grasp it has on our psyche crumbles.  

Cobbles and dirt come to mind; it is almost time.

Fitness reminds us that it has not left us, nor left us with a surplus. Training hours begin to tick lower; intensity begins to tick higher. Light shines on the cyclist, literally. An agreement has been made—you ride harder and I will retire later. Prove you are worth the rays.

The morning was covered in a blanket of dampness when I awoke; the scent—Spring.

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Everywind

n. [ev-ree-wind]

  1.  A weather pattern that occurs on the Front Range of Colorado. It is characterized by strong winds from every direction, that are ever changing, and ever-present.
    • See also headwind
    • See also HTFU 

 

Sentence use: There was no escaping the everywind today. Around every turn I was smacked with unrelenting gusts.

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The Life of An Amateur Racer

Train, get ready, get nervous, pack, sleep….

Awake, get excited, get nervous, drive…

Warm up, get excited, get nervous, race…

Suffer, sprint, feel good, feel proud…

Pack up, drive, feel proud, dissect performance, critque…

Feel like you could have done more, feel bad, feel tired, sleep…

Awake, check results, check for pictures…

Repeat ad infinitum.

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On Trust and Sponsorships…

I don’t make any effort to disguise the fact that I am the President of PSIMET/Zilla Racing. I train, I race, and, yes, I get sponsorship deals. The difference between my team and many others is that I have hand chosen the sponsors. These are brands that I trust, have long-standing relationships with, and have integrity.

When a rider pulls up to me at a stoplight and asks what Aerocat is or where PSIMETs are made, I feel free to expound at length about the brands, the products, the quality, and my experiences. I am not trying to sell them, in fact, if you don’t ask…I won’t chew on your ear.

The most important aspect is that I trust these brands. I ride an Aerocat R350 and a handful of different PSIMET wheels throughout the race season. I train on them incessantly and I do not baby them. I hit potholes, I hold lines over manhole covers, and I bomb descents with double switchbacks and decreasing radii. I have also never broken a spoke, had a wheel trued, or had any feeling that I have reached my frame’s or wheels’ limits.

Fast forward to yesterday when I hit the freezing cold streets of Denver with the cyclocross bike to dodge leftover snow banks and pools of water. My cross bike is not made by Aerocat and my wheels, sigh, are not PSIMETs. In fact, while I absolutely love that cross bike for its ability to get my training in despite the road conditions, is has become wholly unreliable do to the wheelset.

With 20 miles to go yesterday the rear started to wallow beneath me—slow leak. I spun on, nursing a bit of air in every 5 miles, when finally it gave up the ghost. With my co2 empty, the temp sub-freezing, and the misses unreachable at the store, there was little left to do than pull an Olano for the last 6 miles. 

I wouldn’t advocate doing that…ever. I wouldn’t have done it on the PSIMETs, but this rear wheel is a consistent bastard and he got what he deserved.

In as much time as I have owned the CX bike (six months; keep in mind that I ride it maybe once a week) I have had as many rear tubes blow as I have ever had in the past five years. The wheels jump out of true if you so much as whisper callous things to them. In short, they have become untrustworthy.

I have trued them, bought new tires, deburred the inside of the rims, replaced rim tape, and then repeated the process; alas, they are a crappy excuse for a wheelset that do an injustice to the bike itself.

What if I had chosen that wheel manufacturer as a sponsor…just because they gave me a sweetheart deal? How would I feel with their name plastered all over my kit? What would I say when teammates, more so strangers, asked me about the brand? To spit on the brand would be spitting on myself for securing that deal.

Thankfully, I ride for a team that I am proud of. We ride PSIMETs. Ask me about them.

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The Truth About Bad Luck

“Santiago,” the boy beckoned, “why do we come to this spot, day after day, dropping a line with out a hook.” The old man does not answer.  Instead he continues to ply out the line, tying small loops every arm’s length. The boy turns and stares off into the distance, at the other skiffs far on the horizon. He feels the old man’s gaze upon his face and turns his attention back to the tiller.

Near the end of the line is large, leaden weight. The old man holds the line firmly, but gently so he can feel the weight scrape the sea bottom. His hands are a fine leather, well worn from age and work, sun and spray. Suddenly and sharply the line peels away from his hands, accelerating fast into the deep dark.

The old man jumps to his feet, “Ver, Manolin?!”

“Pescado?”

“No, querido niño. Eighty-five days and still you do not understand.”

“But…”

Later that night at the old man’s shack, after the lines had been coiled and sail fastened, the two sat shoveling cold rice and beans into their mouths.

“Manolin, do you know how DiMaggio strikes with such fierceness? Do you know why his homeruns appear so effortless?”

“No.”

“The ball has left the park before it even leaves the pitcher’s hand. The game has been won before the sun has risen.”

“¿qué”

“Niño…it starts with the preparedness. One must probe the deep, over and over, until he knows exactly where the darkness lies. That is the place where the beast lives; that is when the consequential catch occurs.”

The boy stares at his plate. Several hours go by in silence. Finally, the boy leaves stands to leave the room

“Manolin, where are you going?”

“To sharpen the hook, Santiago…for mañana.”

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Lonely Carbon Haiku

We hang on the Wall

Waiting for our Glory day

Sigh…Is it March Yet

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Dissecting The Rider

For all the reading I do (less now…less than I should, anyway), I had never read The Rider by Tim Krabbé. As a bike racer who has now read the book, I know that this was border-line sacrilege. I will not waste time with a synopsis of the book, for I cannot put it in better words than Krabbé has already done. I wish more to dissect the wonder that is the book.

First and foremost, is the ever-present notion that being a Rider is more about the mental element than the physical. Or perhaps more correct is the idea that the mental element leads the Rider through the physical; for it is by committing to the mental aspect that the Rider increases physical limits.

Krabbé delves into this thesis many different ways. The first comes from Willie Hamilton, who was the first person to push the hour record over 40 kph. Krabbé states that Hamilton was paced by a dot of light projected around the track and was subsequently disqualified. While I cannot find any evidence of Hamilton being disqualified, in fact his 40.781kph record is recognized everywhere I have researched, the point of the mental aspect (chasing a beam of light) pushing the physical is clearly evident. 

The second point that Krabbé makes is about the fantastical stories told about bike racers. He points to several examples: 1.) The belief that Jacques Antuetil used to take his water bottle out if its holder before every climb and place it in his jersey pocket to lighten his bike, 2.) The idea that Charly Gaul performed better on cold, rainy days because he was addicted to the suffering, and 3.) The statue of Tom Simpson on Mt. Ventoux, who died of heat exhaustion during the 13th stage of the 1967 Tour de France, is placed at 1.5k before the finish.

In each case, Krabbé points to the falsehood of the statement to further glorify the subject. Proof comes from the fact that nearly all photos of Antuetil on climbs has his bottles in its holder (not that moving it around changes anything anyway), Gaul’s body performed better on cold and rainy days do to the increased oxygen levels (his coach attested to this), and the fact that footage of Simpson has him collapsing 3k before the finish.

Krabbé points this out not so much as to debunk the stories, but to further illustrate how the mental aspect matters so much to racers, even when they are thinking about other racers. By tweaking the stories a bit, the Rider is forced to dig deeper within him when he needs motivation the most—just like a beam of light projected on the track, compelling him to suffer better.

Krabbé himself echoes that notion in his own writing. While the vast majority of what appears in The Rider is indeed fact (Especially about the actual exploits in the Tour de Mont Aigoual), he does tweak ideas here and there to make a point. The most noticeable (to me anyway) is when Krabbé talks about Charly Gaul losing 15 minutes in the 1958 Tour de France following diabolical climb up Mt. Ventoux. Krabbé states that on the 21st stage, one marked with torrential rain and cold, Gaul flew off the front to take back all his lost time, which set him up to win the Tour.

In reality, while Gaul did claw back the majority of his lost time during the stage (coming in 8 minutes ahead of the next rider), it was in the 74k time trial two stages later where Gaul would secure the win. Is this a small detail, yes, but omitting such does add to the mystique of Gaul’s addiction to bad weather suffering.

Lastly, is the mental struggle against competitors. In The Rider, Krabbé tells of a personal battle between himself and Reilhan, where the one marks the other, refusing to work together, or at all, if it benefits the other. This illustrates another mental aspect of the sport, one of race tactics, as well as personal feuds. There are a plethora of examples of this backbiting resulting in both race favorites being marked right off the podium (Krabbé illustrates some, the list is ever longer).

Is it prudent to not work if there is the chance that your opponent sucks your wheel to the finish and out sprints you? Is it more dignified to drain yourself with the miniscule chance that you can drop your opponent before the sprint? The answer to each of those questions is personal and mental. Both evoke the image of Ouroboros.

It is truly amazing what this book manages to convey in 150 pages. I could easily write a 150-page dissertation on the points in the book that are fresh, original, pertinent, and amazingly eloquent.

In a recent tweet, Bill Strickland noted that The Rider is single-handedly the best cycling book out there, adding, “That book is so damn good sometimes I hate it. How does he *do* that? Seems near-impossible.” As a bike racer and small-time blogger, I have to agree. Krabbé’s words are both succinct, yet complexly mellifluous; and he seems to do so without trying.

For me, the most amazing part of The Rider is that it seems to be one of the first examples of a text that both illustrates the bike racing mentality and resonates with audiences in a timeless fashion. As Strickland points out, it is almost a silver bullet for those that write about bike racing though, for what can you say that Krabbé already has not.

In that way Krabbé is to race literature what Poe was to crime literature.

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1,000 Questions

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That may be the case, but I continuously find myself with more questions than answers. Just take a gander at a few of the photos in my vintage cycling album on Google+. I have a sizable collection growing on the hard drive, but these are some of my favorites.

Charlie Gaul marking Bobet up a climb. Merckx setting the hour record. Franco Bitossi leading a group up the Stevio, through a wall of snow. Perhaps these are the pictures that illicit more answers than questions, the others though…are nothing but questions. 

Who was Tomy Hall? Who are those two guys breaking away up a gravel climb?  It is not even so much as to know their names; really, who were they? Sure Paul and Franz Sutor were track riders at Madison Square Garden, but did they really love the sport? Did they take it seriously?

What about Grenda? Did he race because his family needed food on the table and thats all he was ever good at? Was he a forklift operator by day and a fire-breathing sprinter by night? Was Elmer Collins a drunkard? Did he squander his nightly velodrome winnings on the horses?

What bike is that? Moreover, what long-extinct Belgium board track is that? Is he still alive, waiting for someone to ask about how he

dominated that track, day in and day out, until he touched wheels once and broke his back? Perhaps no one asks, so the memory and the story fades, so that he is not sure if he even did those things when he was young. Maybe that picture is the only proof.

I’ve become mildly obsessed with digging out these photos. Why, I do not know. Perhaps there is something buried in them that holds the key…the reasoning behind why I do what I do. Maybe it’s the key to the suffering. Maybe it is knowing that there have been those before me, who have ridden hard, fast, and completely, without completely knowing why or how. Maybe it’s none of those things. Maybe a photograph is just a photograph.

Did Gaul just wink at me?

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