Tuesday, December 11, 2018

“How the Race Was Won,” Peter Cossins

Bike racing is “chess at 150 beats per minute” is a central thesis of Peter Cossins’ book “How the Race Was Won,” attempting to elevate the sport to a battle of brains as much as legs.  The chess comparisons run rampant with the final line of the book “like chess—at 400 watts.”  He elicits agreement from two of the principal voices in his book, Matt White, who orchestrates the Australian Mitchelton-Scott team, and Nicolas Portal, a former French rider who is one of the generals of Team Sky, though neither show any evidence of knowing anything about chess other than that it is a cerebral game where one must think ahead, an esteem they are happy to confer upon their sport.  Neither of them though, nor Cossins, make comparisons to specific pieces or gambits, not even referring to a team leader as a King who must be protected, or discussing versatile riders who can execute extraordinary feats, such as a Knight maneuvering around others.

As an examination of race strategy, the book argues there is much more to the sport than simply riding hard.  There is no disputing that, but to compare it to the intricate game of chess, where every game came permutate tens of thousands of ways, forcing one to continually strain his brain, is a fanciful, unjustified metaphor that ought to outrage any aficionado of the game.

Teejay Van Garderen, another prominent voice in the book, prefers to compare bicycling racing to boxing.  Rarely is there fisticuffs, just elbows thrown from time to time, but the crux of the sport is trying to knock out (drop) one’s adversaries, pounding and pounding on the pedals, wearing out those one is riding against, trying to make them give up, to succumb to the pummeling, forcing them to essentially quit, falling off the pace.

Joe Dombrowski, another American Cossins prevails upon to explain the sport, further undermines his premise that bicycle racing is a cerebral endeavor.  He says, “A lot of great bike riders are kinda stupid.  You know, having nothing going on up there, just primal instinct.”  When Cossins asks Van Garderen if he agreed, he laughed and said, “I think some of the best cyclists in the peloton aren’t very intelligent and I reckon that’s often to their advantage.” 


Cossins is far from the first to compare bicycle racing to chess.  It is an all too common analogy. As a lifelong fan of cycling who has been reporting on it going back to the 1994 Tour of Flanders and the author of several other books on the sport, he ought to know better than to resort to this tired, cliched comparison.  Despite his expertise, he admits to being “often clueless as to precisely how a rider has won a race.”  This book was an exercise of talking to the principals of the sport to find some answers.  

Some of those he consults give tiny clues, such as Thomas De Gendt, a Belgian breakaway artist who this fall gained great notoriety by biking cycle-tourist-style 600 miles back to Belgium after the Tour of Lombardie with his teammate Tim Wellens.  He reveals that one way to extend one’s lead in a breakaway is going extra hard through a feed zone, knowing that when the peloton passes through it will be slowing to pick up their musettes. Peter Van Petegem says one needs to be a “nasty bastard” throwing elbows and shoulders to maintain one’s position, especially in the Classics, to come out victorious.  Cossins takes from Laurent Fignon’s book that one must never grip the handlebars hard on the cobbles.  These are all tricks, not chess-like strategy, just as a Canadian national champion once told me that he always pushed a little harder with his left pedal because it was the side his heart was on, figuring there must be more blood on that side of his body.

A racing friend who knew I was reading this book, whose subtitle is “Cycling’s top minds reveal the road to victory,” said that as far as he was concerned the largest single factor to one’s success is the “size of his balls.”  Cossins doesn’t say that, but he does dwell considerably on one’s ability to suffer, which could be related to machismo. David Millar says it is better to dish out the suffering, setting the pace, than to have it dictated, being in arrears trying to keep up and wondering how much longer one can take it.  Van Garderen recommends that one try to pass the pain one is feeling on to others, to “make them suffer more than you are.”  Bradley Wiggins simply advises, “Just try and soak up the pain, not show it.”  There’s no secret to success here, just ploys to endure, getting into “the mind set of suffering,” as Van Garderen phrases it.

The stronger rider doesn’t always win, even in time trials, where there is a modicum of strategy—how to pace one’s self and knowing the course.  It is possible to outwit one’s rivals, or bluff that one is suffering more than one is or bluff that one is stronger than one happens to be.  Racing can be compared to poker, not only bluffing, but taking outrageous, unjustified risks.  Portal much prefers the calculated, chess approach.  

White credits Johan Bruyneel and the Postal Team, which he rode for with Lance Armstrong, for pioneering recon, making more than a token effort to scout a race route.  “They caught a lot of teams out,” White said, knowing when to attack.  

Try as he might, Cossins doesn’t unearth any great secrets, as it’s unlikely that riders or directors would reveal ploys known only to themselves that make them successful.  The temptation might be to divulge bogus advice, to lead others astray, such as Sky claiming that riding on the front in a single line instead of being in the pack keeps riders cooler, “preventing the body’s core temperature rising to a level that would produce an added drain on physical resources.”  It would seem that the added effort, not being fully entombed out of the wind, might increase the body’s core temperature.  Sky has long trumpeted “marginal gains” as their key to success, which Cossins scoffs at as a “smokescreen.”

The greatest secret to successs would seem to be training methods and nutrition.  Geraint Thomas has said one of the keys to his winning The Tour was having two training camps at altitude, rather than the usual one. Sky has invested two such camps in Froome in years past, but none this year as he recovered from riding the Giro.  If one is asking “How the race was won” as regards his Tour de France, the answer could well have been on Tenerife. Yet Cossins doesn’t comment at all on training or nutrition.  

Though the book may not be as thorough or as well-conceived as it could have been, it is still a worthwhile contribution to understanding the sport, rich in  tidbits that give insight into life in the peloton.  White revealed that he once listened to music on his headphones to help him survive an hour-long climb in the Giro.  Dirk Demol, a director for Trek, won Paris-Roubaix in 1988, a rare year when it didn’t finish on the velodrome, but rather in front of the headquarters of the race sponsor La Redoubte.  Phil Anderson, riding for Motorola, was the first rider to be equipped with a two-way radio, implanted in his helmet.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

“Higher Calling,” Max Leonard

“Higher Calling” might be the ultimate title for the memoirs of someone who has made the bicycle his life, but Max Leonard has appropriated it for a book on the allure mountains have for cyclists, mainly of the racing variety.  It proves to be a worthy premise for probing the psyche of cyclists while recounting many noteworthy events from racing lore.

Leonard approaches his subject with the tenacity and thoroughness of an investigative reporter, not simply relying on old newspapers and books, but going to the scene of many of the events he recounts, seeking a story behind the story.  He makes multiple visits to the Col de la Bonette, the highest road of The Tour de France at 9,193 feet, gaining a true intimacy of the climb, hanging out with the crew that is clearing the winter snow covering it and returning along with the Giro d’Italia on May 28, 2016.


He gets a wave from Joe Dombrowski, an American climbing specialist riding for the Cannondale-Garmin team at the time, who is part of a six-man break.  He has become a friend and is a recurring theme in the book, as Leonard seeks understanding of the climbing mentality.  One of their get-togethers is an afternoon at the French National Sports Museum in Nice.  Among its collection of bikes is one alleged to have belonged to Eddie Merckx.  As they speculate as to its authenticity, Dombrowski takes a photo of it and sends it on the spot to Eddie’s son Axel, who was Dombrowksi’s director for two years before he graduated to Team Sky, asking if he can verify it.  Such is the personalized detail of this most readable narrative, full of fascinating tales as was the previous book by this British author, “Lanterne Rouge,” about the last place finisher in each year’s Tour.


He recounts the legendary story of Alphonse Steinès, assistant to Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange, visiting the Col de Tourmalet in the Pyrenees to see if it would be suitable for the 1910 Tour.  Steinès encountered snow and barely survived getting over the pass in the dark of night, but informs Desgrange that it would be perfectly fine for The Tour’s first incursion into the high mountains, a year before the Alps were attempted.  Leonard goes beyond the dramatics of the story, detailing Steinès’ career working for the car manufacturer Martini testing hydraulic brakes on the cols of the Alps.  Steinès may be a minor footnote in Tour lore, but the bicycle manufacturer  Fiftyone just named its latest bike for Steinès.  It sells for $16,700 and was profiled in the October issue of Procycling.


One of the great services Leonard accomplishes in this book is getting to the bottom of the fable that the great French climber Rene Vietto cut off his toe during the 1947 Tour and that it ended up in a bar in Marseille.   He manages to track down the toe and even includes a photo of it in a jar of formaldehyde, label and all.  It once was in a bar, the Chez Siciliano of a military friend of Vietto’s, but now resides in the kitchen cabinet of a former bicycle shop owner who has a vast collection of Vietto memorabilia in his home.  Leonard compares it to a rarely glimpsed medieval relic of the saints, a bonafide link to the “Golden Age” of cycling.


Leonard establishes that Vietto’s small toe was amputated following The Tour, not during it, as some histories report.  Vietto injured the toe in Paris-Roubaix several months before The Tour.  It never fully healed and became septic to the bone.  Vietto received a shot of penicillin on a rest day during The Tour to cope with the pain.  Cutting it off would have been too severe of a medical procedure in the middle of a race.


Vietto is better known for a photo of him sitting on a ledge in tears during the 1934 Tour, his first as a 20-year old, when he gave up his wheel to his team leader Antonin Magne, who’d won the 1931 Tour and would win again in 1934.  Vietto was a climbing sensation, going on to win the Mountains competition that year and was a threat to win The Tour, though he was a domestique.  The photo is a potent symbol of the commitment and sacrifice that define the sport.  In his research, Leonard tracks down Vietto’s son, Jean, a truck driver, who says that his father never regretted his choice of giving up his wheel, and that the photo truly immortalized him.


Leonard also spends time with the the grandson of George Mallory, the Englishman who may have summitted Everest in 1924, twenty-eight years before Sir Edmund Hilary, but died near the summit.  His grandson George  invented the concept of Everesting, riding up a hill, any hill, time after time in a single session until one accumulates the vertical feet of Everest—29,028.  He first accomplished it in 1994 on a 3,300 foot peak in Australia near Melbourne.  Making the climb would be a feat for many.  Doing it eight times in a single go epitomizes the allure and challenge of climbing and the suffering cyclists willingly inflict upon themselves to accomplish something out of the ordinary—to claim some sort of bragging rights, though for an equal portion, simple personal satisfaction. 


This leads into a commentary on Strava, the Swedish word for “strive,” a widely popular program that archives the times of any cyclist who enrolls in it on any climb, long or short, in the world.  Now thousands of cyclists can compare their times to everyone else’s and compete to have the best time on any climb.  Retired racer Phil Gaimon is on a mission to accumulate as many bests as he can.  The program was created in 2009 by two guys on Harvard’s rowing team, one of whom was Swedish.


The breadth of his research includes Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” and Don DeLillo’s second book “End Zone” a novel about football, though he identifies it as “End Game.”  That is just one of a small handful of faux pas. He refers to Pau as a “hilltop town.”  This frequent Tour Ville Étape is a large city near the Pyrenees.  It sprawls out on a small rise above a river, but would never be mistaken for a hilltop town which are common in Provence. He refers to Hollywood Westerns as Far West movies.  But his cycling knowledge is most astute and far-ranging, which is the essence of this superb book.  Just as after “Lanterne Rouge,” I eagerly await his next. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Ten People Who Will Inspire You To Never Stop Biking (from icebike.org)


By Euan Mackenzie of Car Free Living 

When he was 19, one of my friends biked everywhere. He biked to basketball practice, to class, to nights out, and to his part-time job.
He even rode the 15 miles to the nearest decent mountain bike trail so he could spend the day going up and down the side of the hill trails all day long (Admittedly he would often call for Dad to come and pick him up at the end of the day).
And when he got home, his Mom would hose him down outside and make him strip before he was allowed even as far as the porch. It wasn’t until many years later, he realized his parents could have made him take his riding gear off first…Looking back he wonders if his parents actually even liked him…
But the point here is that he was fit. Super fit. The fact his bike cost less than $400, was made out of steel, and weighed more than some compact Korean made cars didn’t matter. He could power it up any slope going, and could keep up with buddies riding bikes that cost 3 times as much. (And by buddies, he means me!)
It was just his life. But one day between the age of 20 and 42, he went from having a 6 pack stomach, to just having 6-pack of beer in the fridge. His doc. told him was seriously overweight…so he started playing basketball again.
He joined a local team, and prepared to amaze them with his Michael Jordan/Magic Johnson/LeBron James-esque hybrid collection of skills.
He strode onto the court like a pro, and collapsed in a blubbery mess of incompetence and heavy breathing on the side of the court. He consoled myself with the lie that he was just wasn’t young enough to play a sport like that.
So he tried something else. That something else was cycling

It was sheer luck that one day about 2 months into his cycling resurgence, huffing and puffing, as he was, to try and maintain a steady 19/20 kph average that a man in his 70’s pulled up alongside him on a road bike old enough to still have the gear levers on the lower tube, and started up a conversation.
My friend said he spent most of the time wheezing the occasional affirmative answer as the older rider happily chatted away in a walking pace style.
For my friend this was the final straw. Not only did he feel old and fat, not only had he been humiliated by teenagers at basketball, teenagers that had he been 20 years younger he would have taken to the cleaners, but now here he was being shown up by someone twice his age, and twice as fast.
Maybe, he said he thought, it was time to admit defeat and quit. But good manners, forced him to continue on.
Presently they came to a long steep backroad climb: The kind of near vertical ascent that buses would have to shift into the lowest gear in order to get up. My friend said he almost groaned, and was about to just tell the old man to f*** off and leave him alone, when the old man wheeled his bike to a stop and began pushing his bike up the hill, whistling as he did so.
My friend dismounted and walked up the hill alongside him. As they talked, my friend discovered that actually the old man hadn’t spent his entire life in the saddle, but had only learned to ride in his 50’s, that aged 55 he had a 42inch waist.
My friend couldn’t believe it. So why was this uber-fit old man pushing his bike up the hill when he could have been riding up it?
Word for word, this is what my friend said he said: ‘I’ve yet to discover the hill you can’t quite happily walk up. Why kill yourself doing it? I like biking, but I’ve no intention dying from a heart attack dressed in Lycra.’
And that was the thing right there my friend said he had forgotten. That was why he used to get up on a Saturday morning, at 6am and cycle the 15 miles to the mountain bike trail so he could be the first one down it that day. That was why he used to play sport 7 days a week.
He did it because it was fun. Because he enjoyed it.
At the top of the hill, the old man bid his farewell and rode off, literally into the mist.
To this day he wonders whether the old rider was real or whether he was a dream…But what did change, was my friend changed his outlook on cycling, and instead of constantly pushing, and huffing and puffing his way along the road trying to keep his average speed up, he began to just enjoy the ride.
He turned off the GPS, and just went out there and began to enjoy himself. He said he realized, the point of cycling wasn’t to lose weight that would happen if he just went out there, the point was to enjoy himself.
And just for the record, the old man was real. I know he is, because he lives 4 doors down from me. His name is Tom, and he’s originally from N.Y. State, and moved down this way about 40 years ago.
I sometimes wonder if I should tell my friend, but Tom thinks it’s hilarious that someone thinks he’s a ‘Ghost Rider.’ He says he doubles up in stitches every time he hears the story.
So, here’s the point though: You’re never too old to learn to ride, and you’re never too old to stop.
Tom won’t let me write an article about him, so here’s ten other people from the world, to inspire you to get out there and ride, and why you should never quit.

Robert Marchand

Trust the French.
At an age where most people are either long dead or dying, 103 year old Robert Marchand is beating records. In January 2014, he beat the world record for distance travelled in one hour on an indoor track by cyclists aged over 100. He managed to travel 26.9km in the time, beating the previous record by 2 km. That record was held by…oh…him, as well. He shows no sign of stopping either.
For his 103rd birthday, in November 2014 he celebrated his big day by climbing a mountain, named appropriately, the Col Robert Marchand…Yes, that’s right, he had a hill named after him. He claims his aim is to keep riding until his 105th Birthday, after which he will begin to slow down.
But Robert Marchand was no pro cyclist. Before he retired some 40 years ago, or so, he was a logger and firefighter. If that doesn’t give you a reason to get out there in the saddle, then perhaps this next one will.

Benjamin Piovesan

If this 80 year old cyclist defines anything, it’s passion. But passion is nothing if you don’t enjoy what you do.
“I’ll keep cycling. Because I really enjoy it. It brings me joy. So for the moment I don’t consider stopping. Even, even if…” – and isn’t that the thing. Benjamin came to cycling later than most did in life, only getting a road bike after his son began racing at an almost professional level.
He rides an average 8-9000 km a year, although he prefers to do it in good conditions. For Benjamin, it’s about having fun, not competing. It is as much about mental focus as it is about physical conditioning

A 74 year old woman from the UK is stopped by police…

Of course no matter how young you feel, or how fit you are, or even how many people stop and applaud you ‘keeping on riding as you advance through the years, if you do crazy things. In the UK, in August 2014, this 74 year old woman was stopped for driving down the ‘hard shoulder’ of a UK Freeway.
This is illegal in England, and rightly so because it’s seriously f***** dangerous. There are 3 lanes of traffic flying along at 70 mph. It is no place for a cyclist, of any age. However if you look at the video, she really seems to be going along at a fair rate of knots, and seems steady on her bike.
My heart was in my mouth watching her cross all those lanes…

Tony Stramipz

Tony Stramipz from Vancouver cycles every day around his local Stanley Park. He cycles around the park 6-7 times a day.
That doesn’t sound all that big a deal when you first hear it. But then you realize that that’s somewhere between 60-70km a day.
He’s also been doing it for the last 10 years. Last year alone, he clocked up around 14,000 kilometers riding round Stanley. To put that in perspective, he drove his car a mere 2000km. Even then you might think that that’s not all that impressive.
It’s also like he says in this video, that what else has he got to do with his time. He has to keep himself occupied.
But here’s the thing; Tony is 90 years old. That’s impressive. For me though, the most impressive thing is the bike he does it all on. It’s not even a fully-fledged road bike, but just look at him go.

Bicycles, and the art of Zen

Of course there’s never being too old to ride a bike, and there’s plain old bat crazy never being too old to ride a bike.
According to the comments section on YouTube, this man is apparently 76 years old. Another commenter also notes quite succinctly that this guy has the body of a 16 year old. You can’t argue with that. You also can’t argue with the fact that for an elderly looking gentleman the man has an extremely well-honed sense of balance.
But what is he at? Is he meditating or practicing a martial art? I can’t tell exactly where this video was taken, but that’s obviously somewhere in Seattle. Just kidding, it’s obviously San Francisco.
Well, wherever it is, no matter how Zen or New Age you may happen to me, can I recommend you don’t try this at home….

Carl Georg Rasmussen

Here’s a guy who proves that you don’t have to keep on riding like everyone else.
76 year old Danish cycling pioneer Carl Georg Rasmussen shows that age is just a number, and he shows no sign of slowing down. He decided he wanted to build a bike with a cabin on it like an airplane…and so he did.
Carl Georg Rasmussen is the man who gave Europe, and the world the first modern velomobile. That in itself is a fairly major achievement. With his experience building and designing gliders and planes, he came up with the idea of building the first modern, lightweight, and fast velomobile.
Carl built his Leitra as a compromise between form and practicality, and the result was something truly eye catching and exceptional.
Perhaps the most exceptional thing about this exceptional man isn’t the distance he still manages to ride; a mere 10-12000km a year at the age of 76 but the way he talks.
He says that riding his Leitras it what keeps him going, and it makes him feel good. It’s the fact he truly believed in his dream. He freely admits that he keeps making his Leitras because he loves to do it.
Just listen to him talking about ‘Peak oil’, and the future of mankind. It makes perfect sense. If I could meet for coffee with anyone on this list, it would probably be this guy.

Bill

New York. I don’t know what to say here.
This video is about a guy named Bill. He’s a 50 year old pizza delivery guy on a bike. Is he living the dream? Just watch it and see what you think.
I guess the upshot here is that he spends life on a bike, day in, day out. But he’s also homeless. Admittedly he’s quite a character, the kind of character shaped by the harsh reality of life and his environment. He says he enjoys it, but really I don’t think he does.
But would it kill either Bill or the guy who runs the Pizzeria to buy him a shelf on the back of his bike so he doesn’t have to carry the pizza with one hand…I mean, come on! Seriously...

Octavio Orduño

Octavio Orduño is unfortunately no longer with us. He passed, in January (2015) this year at the age 106.
Fortunately there is this, now, rather poignant video of Octavio from 2011. Octavio was known as the oldest cyclist on Long Beach.
The story goes that he took up golf in his 60’s, and only took up cycling when the State took away his driving license at the tender age of 100.
He started cycling on 2 wheels, but quickly found the 3 wheel variety was best for him. He preferred 2 wheels though, but his much younger wife, Alicia, (81) insisted he get a trike after a few falls.
I include Octavio’s story in this list not because he was setting records or doing 14000 km a year round a park, but because he was active.
Cycling helped keep him independent. It helped keep him fit, but he also ascribes his long life to not eating processed foods and being vegetarian. “Processed foods make you fat,” he said. “They poison you.”
Octavio didn’t travel far when he rode. He rode to the grocery store and farmers markets. He would also ride to the local Bixby Park where he would sit and watch the BMXers and skateboarders do their thing.
He only stopped riding his trusty red Torker trike, when one day some utter, b****** stole his front wheel. Perhaps time had caught him up with by then anyway, but what we should remember is instead a man who was always determined, disciplines, and more than anything had a lust and a determination to keep on going.
His secret to a long life? “Keep moving and eat healthy.”

George Christensen

Well, I should say I’m surprised that George Christensen is still going. Of course, I’m not. All you have to do is look at the others in this list to see that a man I first read about in 2006 is still out there touring the world.
Back then he was a 55 year old bike messenger who only worked the winters because there were less pedestrians, and the money was better because there were fewer messengers.
George has literally biked the world, including the most dangerous road in the world in Bolivia, done Cambodia, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Colombia, China, Japan, Iceland, Madagascar and Chile. He’s also travelled extensively across his own United State of America.
So when I was doing the research for this article, I remembered reading about George all the way back when I was honeymooning in Fiji, and set out to track him down.
It took a while because I couldn’t remember his name, but after about 10 minutes of Googling or so, I found him. At the time of writing, his daily/weekly blog has him on his way to Belgium in Europe reliving the 1947 Tour de France.
He’s seen and done things most people who ride will never see. His seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of previous Tour de France winners is fascinating, especially his hunt to find the memorials and shrines to its previous winners. He writes in a previous post: “The bicycle has the unique capacity for making one feel good, whether by riding it or looking at it.” I can’t help but agree.
A quick calculation on my part sees that if he was 55 in 2006 that would make him 67 now. This is also why I didn’t become an accountant. I actually had to work out that…

Darby Roach

And straight away here we are at another world tourer. You know I’m not an inactive person myself, and I feel I’ve done quite a lot with my life, but the like of George above, and now Darby Roach, is beginning to make me feel like I should buy some panniers and set off today.
Darby has had quite the life, having setup his own ad agency and raised 3 daughters. So at the age of 62 when most people would be considering slowing down, Darby instead decided to set off and bike his way around the world. But why?
Because he could. He said he realized that for the 1st time in 61 years that the only responsibilities he had left were to recurring bills.
So he sold his car, house, and almost all his worldly possessions and set off without a concrete plan in mind, and began to tour the world…How incredible is that. Now, I imagine the guy probably has some money saved away in a bank somewhere, but still, it’s a fairly radical step. His aim was simply to live simply and learn as he travelled.
He’s also written several books, 2 of which chart the life of a perennially consistent tourer. So yeah maybe you don’t want to tour the world, like Darby, or George Christensen, but you might find their words encourage to go out there on your bike a little bit more often.
Having read his blog, I’m not too sure if he’s actually finished riding round the world or not completely, but at the time of writing, he currently seems to be in British Columbia, and still having the time of his life.
One thing I noticed about all these riders is the fact that while all have much more experience than I do in general terms, you can’t help but notice how youthful most of them look. Yes, you can’t help????

The reason and the science

Here’s a fact. Cycling 4 miles a day decreases your risk of coronary heart disease by 50%.
Here’s another one. One of the major issues with modern society is that as a species, we are becoming less active.
Sedentary lifestyles cause physical and mental damage. People are designed to be active. Sitting for long, extended periods of time, is just as bad for us as smoking.
It also helps you lose weight, and helps keep all those brain cells firing for longer than they might otherwise.
And that’s not just in people over a certain age. That applies to everyone. It’s also been proven that cyclists in their 70’s are physically much younger than most people their same age.
I have a motto I try to live by: It is my intention to die young at a very young age. So far I think I’m doing ok. But there’s more to all of this than the inspirations above. The lesson here if there is one, is that it is that you should never stop riding until you can’t ride any more.
Cycling is a particularly low impact form of exercise. It uses smooth regular movement, and doesn’t put a huge amount of strain on your body.

It’s never too late to learn to ride

There are classes, and bike clubs out there, instructors and family members who will be more than happy to help you learn how to ride.
Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you’re not a dog…and that’s not even true. You can always learn something new. No one is saying you have to enter the Tour de France or climb a mountain. Maybe all you want to do is ride to the beach, or the grocery store.

Fun and enjoyment

With the exception perhaps, of Bill, the pizza guy, the one defining characteristic of all the people mentioned above, is that they all enjoy cycling. And in the end, isn’t that what life is supposed to be about.
So it doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 85. Get out there, and never quit.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Kewanna, Indiana



If the quartet of Carnegies in Garrett, Angola, LaGrange and Albion in the northeast corner of Indiana were stars in the celestial sky, they would form a crown sitting atop the other 145 Carnegies in the state.  They made for an appropriate climax to these travels, bringing me to within one library of my completion of the entire slate of Carnegies, with the last in Kewanna, one hundred miles away back towards the center of the state. With my arrival in Angola, I had reached all four corners of the state in this three week 1,500 mile excursion which began with the pair of Carnegies in East Chicago in the northwest corner.   My route hasn’t stuck to the state’s  perimeter, though many of the miles have been along it, especially beyond Mount Vernon six hundred miles ago in the southwest, where I began following the Ohio River.

Corn fields and forests were the predominant geographical feature top to bottom, and also my usual camp site.  I nestled into a corn field on the coldest night of the ride when I awakened with ice in the water bottles I left on my bike.


The sleeping bag I brought, not anticipating such wintry temperatures, was only rated to forty degrees.  I needed my tights and sweater that night, but they weren’t enough as I awoke at one a.m. feeling a slight chill on my chest.  I pulled the bag’s extended flap tighter around my head.  I failed to return to sleep, even using Tony Kornheiser’s remedy for insomnia of listing all fifty states in alphabetical order.  Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press and weekly guest on Kornheiser’s podcast giving football picks, said he puts himself to sleep by running through all one hundred senators state by state.  There can’t be too many people who can do that.  Few can probably even name their own two senators.  

None of these reveries put me to sleep, nor was I warming up, so I put on a vest.  That worked, but I woke up cold again three hours later.  I added my wind-breaker to my layers, knowing I still had a lightweight down jacket in reserve.  That got me through the night.  The sun was shining bright in the morning.  It’s direct rays warmed me until I started riding through the frigid air.  I needed plastic bags over my gloves to keep my fingers from going numb, but otherwise I had enough layers to be fine as I closed in on Angola.

I had paid my respects to the Carnegie in Garrett the evening before, arriving after it had closed.  It was the last of these travels unencumvered by an addition.


The Carnegie in Angola had had two additions.  The first to its back side wasn’t enough.  With no more room to expand behind it, Angola settled on the extraordinary measure of enclosing the Carnegie within its second, much larger addition, turning it into a virtual museum piece.  It’s bricks walls and original entrance are inside the library.  So is the fountain that used to stand in front of the library.  



It now serves as the reference library and is overseen by a woman by the name of Margaret who patronized the library as a child and is now nearing retirement.  She feels very fortunate to spend her days behind a desk in the Carnegie she grew up with.  She had vivid memories of the liberian during her formative years, Vera, who ruled the library for 47 years.  She was the stereotypical small town librarian, unmarried and a stern taskmaster, hushing any one who spoke out of turn and monitoring what people read.  

She wouldn’t let Margaret check out books that she didn’t think were appropriate for her age.  She was reading above her age level, having gotten an early start with a mother who taught at the local college.  Her mother had to come in and attest to her reading capabilities to Vera before she’d allow her to check out what she wanted.  While we talked, another librarian came in who was aware of my interest in Carnegies and asked if she could take my picture and put it on the library’s Facebook page.  I should have stood under the portrait of Carnegie in the room, but didn’t care to rise from my comfortable chair,  resting my legs for the battle ahead with a strong headwind.





It was twenty-two miles due west to LaGrange through Amish country.  One-third of the county’s 37,000 residents are Amish.  There are 1.2 million Amish scattered around the world in 63 countries,and this is one of its largest concentrations.  I shared the road with a few horse and buggies and saw another parked in front of the library.


This library had a large addition to its rear.


The pair of tri-globed lights at its original entrance don't receive as much appreciation as they deserve, since the entrance is no longer used.  It was the first library in a while that required a password to use its WiFi and also the presentation of ID.  

I completed the final leg of the crown by turning south twenty miles to Albion.  It’s Carnegie had been replaced and now served as the prosecutor’s office.  It faced the towering courthouse in the center of the town.  It closed at four, after I arrived, so I couldn’t gain entrance to confirm that it had been the Carnegie.  It had been greatly marred by bunker-type additions to its front and rear, turning it into an unseemly fortress and rendering it virtually unrecognizable as a Carnegie.  I had to duck into an antique store on the square to verify its previous existence.


Large glass windows had been inserted into its sides.  Only a close look at its original intricate brickwork, compared to the generic new, gave a hint of its former glory. 

The eighty-mile ride to my final Carnegie in Kewanna took me past the home of the last Indian chief in the area, Papakeecha of the Miami tribe. He died in 1937 shortly before the forced removal of the Indians from the area.  

Kewanna took its name from the Potawatomi chief Kee-Wan-Ney.  Kewanna announced itself as “A Small Town with a Big Heart.”  Half its stores were boarded up, a rare site in Indiana.  With just a population of 613, it seemed to be a small enough town that I had hopes that its Carnegie would be in its original state, unmarred by any additions, making it a fitting finale for me.  No such luck.  It had had an addition to its side in 2012 that now served as its entrance.  It at least had “Carnegie” chiseled above “Public Library” over its original entrance, and also had a Main Street address, as did about a quarter of Indiana’s Carnegies.  It radiated the usual quiet dignity of a Carnegie and stood out as the most significant building along Main Street.


The town had never had a population of more than 728, so it was remarkable that it had an addition.  One wall of the original library had been knocked out, making for a large extended room.  It had been fully modernized.  A trio of boys sat in a corner at a table on their computers.  Another sat in a comfortable chair speaking in a hushed voice into his phone.  There was no mistaking which century I was in.  But I was in another Carnegie and that made me feel good.

It’s now 120 miles back to Chicago.  It will be a triumphal ride. The winds will dictate whether I make it back in time for the most anticipated Bears game in a few years against the Patriots.  It has been another fine, fine ride despite the vagaries in the weather.  At the start I had concerns of having enough water to drink in my tent at night.  Lately I had to hope my water didn’t freeze.   I haven’t had a single flat tire or encounter with the law.  But I did accumulate a bounty of neckerchiefa and bungee chords, fully authenticating a ride through rural America. 














Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Warren, Indiana


It was the wet and the cold that forced me into a motel outside of Franklin, though it might have been the subconscious concern of the many ghoulish creatures on the loose during the Halloween season.  I checked bookings.com to find a cheap motel that included breakfast, as I knew that I could stock up on food for the day.  Franklin, twenty miles south of Indianapolis, with a population of 23,000 and intersected by Interstate 65 had plenty of motels to choose from, many with breakfast, though none were specific about what it might include.  I was happy my choice was one that offered waffles, a not-uncommon feature of motels these days.  Some enterprise has made a fortune selling do-it-yourself waffle-makers.  

Franklin was also large enough to boast of two colleges—Franklin College and one of the forty Ivy Tech Community Colleges scattered about the state.  I’m always surprised by the amount of “higher education” going on that I come across in small-town America.  It may be concentrated at the massive name colleges, but there is plenty more.

I had been drawn to Franklin for its Carnegie, long abandoned for a much larger library.  It still functioned with great mobility, divided into two condos.  It fully acknowledged its heritage, not buffing out the “Franklin Public Library” on its facade and mounting a portrait of Carnegie in the hall separating the two units.  



The front had been embellished with patios and shades over its windows, but it remained as stately as when it was built, magnified by the flourishing vegetation surrounding it.


I bypassed Indianapolis to the east passing through Shelbyville to check on the site along the Big Blue River where a friend from Chicago, Michael Helbing, would be erecting a forty-foot high sculpture of intersecting tubes next month.  He had won the $150,000 competition that attracted an international field.  He was a most fitting recipient, as he grew up in Shelbyville.  Janina has written about Michael’s work and also about the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago that he helps run, as a Vietnam vet.  Michael’s wife Wendy is also an artist and ardent hiker having soloed the Appalachia  Trail.  She and Janina regularly hike together.  She has also joined Janina and I on a couple of mini-bike tours.  We will most definitely be on hand for the unveiling of his latest work.  Chicagoans who would like a sample of what he does can go to Wicker Park in Wicker Park to see a thirty-foot tall stainless steel tree of his that he erected this past July.

Michael’s Shelbyville sculpture will face the Highway of the Vice Presidents, Highway 9, that runs for 196 miles in eastern Indiana from Columbus to the Michigan border.  It passes through the home towns of four of the six Vice Presidents from Indiana—Columbia City, home of Thomas Marshall, who served under Woodrow Wilson, Shelbyville, home of Thomas Hendricks, who served under Grover Cleveland,  Huntington, home of Dan Quayle, who served under the first George Bush and Columbus, home of Michael Pence, presently serving under Donald Trump.  Indiana’s two other Vice Presidents were Schuyler Colfax, who served under Ulysses S. Grant and  Charles Fairbanks, under Theodore Roosevelt.  Of the 48 Vice Presidents, fourteen went on to become President, but none of Indiana’s.  Pence has the chance to be the first if the Democrats take over Congress next month.  Indiana might be known as the state of Vice Presidents, but eight were born in New York and three others considered it their residence when they were elected.

I had visited Shelbyville’s Carnegie, one of the most preeminent in the state, four years ago on my first ride to the School of the Americas protest, but was happy to pay my respects once again.  The same with the Carnegie in Greenfield to the north on Highway 9, that has been repurposed as an upscale restaurant called Carnegies.  I turned east from there to Knightstown, whose simple, but solid Carnegie hadn’t changed much in its one hundred years.  I was concerned that a sign in the window saying “Grant Recipient” meant that it was going to have an addition.  There was no need for alarm, as the librarian said that the grant was just going for furniture for the chidlren’s library in the basement.


Along with the Read posters there were other urgings to read posted on the walls—“Just keep reading,” “To read is very wise”—and most wise advice from Dr.Seuss—“The more that you read, the more things that you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  That could be by new slogan.  The library retained most of its original features, including a vintage lamp on the circulation desk.  It may not have been adorned with columns or a dome or stained glass windows, but it was as regal as any Carnegie.


When I told the librarian the next Carnegie on my agenda was in New Castle, twenty miles away, she didn’t realize it was a Carnegie.  That was understandable, as it has been overwhelmed by a huge addition, increasing its size ten-fold.  At least it wasn’t like the abomination in Lawrenceburg that smothered the original Carnegie.  This was just added to the side with the original entrance turned into a patio and the original library rendered a large reading room.


Back into the northern half of the state, the forests were minimal and the camping more of a challenge. I could have stayed at the Steve Alford All-American Motel, named for the star guard in the Bobby Knight era, outside of New Castle. A giant sneaker in the UCLA colors, where he is presently the head coach, was out front and the marquee said “Go Bruins,” the UCLA mascot.  There was nothing about free breakfast, but there was still an hour of light left, so I wasn’t tempted.  

I ended up behind an abandoned farm house overwhelmed by vegetation.  The thick, unmown grass made for a soft mattress.  It was cold enough, below 40 after dark, to necessitate my wool cap for the first time.  My tent was encrusted with frost in the morning.  I needed two layers of socks and two layers of gloves until mid-morning. The weather continues to be most in fall-like.  The first week was in the high 80s, twenty degrees above normal, and now it has been ten to fifteen degrees below the normal of 65.  It is quite a contrast to last fall when the weather was so perfect all October I couldn’t stop riding, extending my ride week by week.

 It was a fifty mile jump to the next Carnegie in Elwood. It was in the upper tier of Carnegies, constructed of limestone rather than brick, and bigger than the smaller town one-room school house style, but it had been outgrown and replaced by a new bland library across the street twenty years ago.  It was presently vacant and in disrepair with a few broken windows.  The last tenant had tried to turn it into a museum, but couldn’t raise the funds to do it.  What will become of it, the librarians didn’t know, other than that there was no chance that this monument would be torn down. 


The small town of Warren had an unaltered Carnegie akin to the one in Knightstown.   



It exhibited its pride with a standing plaque out front, as every Carnegie should have, emphasizing its significance.


I had the chance to correct the address and status of the Carnegie in Rising Sun on Wikipedia.  I wasn’t able to change the coded color of green to yellow, indicating that it no longer served as a library, but a day later someone else had tended to that, renewing my faith in this great resource that is much more right than wrong and continues to be indispensable.  













Sunday, October 14, 2018

Osgood, Indiana


Halloween and fall decorations are competing with political signs as the most predominant roadside feature on this ride around Indiana.  The campaign signs invariably come in clusters.  Of those driven to erect a sign for a candidate in the upcoming election none seem committed to just a single race but weigh in on at least a half dozen contests for clerks and sheriffs and assessors and congressional seats and more.  Pence signs abound as the Vice President’s older brother Greg is running for Congress to fill the seat long held by a Republican. It’s the first time this former marine has run for office.  After his military career he went on to sell antiques. He has a Chicago connection having attended Loyola where he majored in philosophy and religion.  He’s all in with his brother in making America great.


After a couple of days riding along the the Ohio River Scenic Byway at the bottom of the state I turned north from Corydon to Salem and its magnificent Carnegie, perhaps the plum of the trip so far.  It was highlighted with a dome and a wide variety of intricate ornamentation—on its columns and wooden staircases and star-patterned mosaic and stained glass window in the dome and carved  scrolls surrounding the dome.  The town had spared no expense in its construction, spending an extra $200 for iron clay bricks of Roman form.   It’s million dollar addition in 2000 only added to its majesty.


Under the Carnegie portrait over an antique roll-top desk a brochure detailed the library’s history.  Up until 1903, when the Fortnightly Club applied for a Carnegie grant, the town’s library amounted to a reading room.  It had been established in the 1840s from a grant given out by the will of William Maclure, an early day Carnegie, who had lived in the utopian community of New Harmony, one hundred miles to the west on the Wabash River.  I had passed by the town not realizing its significance.  Maclure had established a Workingman Library there in the 1820s that still serves as a library, and offered grants of $500 to other communities to establish what  was considered a library in those times—a room with some books, such as what Carnegie took advantage of as a youth in Pittsburgh.  I’ve stumbled upon a few utopian communities dating to the 1800s in my cycling around the US.   With no present-day utopias to search out, I consider myself a traveling utopia—self-sufficient, non-threatening and wrapped in contentment. 

The Salem brochure described the opening of its Carnegie in July of 1905 as a celebrated event attracting more than 3,000 people for their first look into the grandest building in the county.  The brochure offered a strong endorsement for libraries saying more people visit libraries in a year than attend movies and sporting events combined.  It said there are more than 16,000 public libraries in the US, with 282 in Indiana.  Carnegie provided the funds for 167 libraries in Indiana, of which 98 still serve as libraries.  They were so well constructed, all but eighteen of the 167 still stand.

From Salem I turned east back to the Ohio River Scenic Byway fifty miles away and three more Carnegies in towns along the Ohio.  In Madison in front of its courthouse  I spotted one of the 200 Statues of Liberty the Boy Scouts of America made available to towns in 1950 to celebrate its 40th anniversary in a program called Strengthen the Arm of Liberty, the second I’ve come upon in my travels, the first last year on my circuit of Illinois.  Wikipedia lists about 150 of them.  There are five others in Indiana that I might be able to add to my itinerary.



Madison had a fine old library, but not a Carnegie.  The next was in Vevay.  I arrived on Saturday as it was celebrating its Fall Festival with carnival rides and vendors selling food and all matter of items—bird houses, crafty art, Halloween costumes and decorations along with pumpkins and gourds.  When I asked a pair of young women the whereabouts of the library, they couldn’t tell me as they said they weren’t from around there.  

The library was down Ferry Street near the river.  It had replaced the Carnegie, which was now the City Hall.


Facing it was an arts and crafts store that drew attention to its self with a bike sculpture.


It was thirty miles to the next Carnegie in Rising Sun on a winding road following the Ohio.  I passed a couple of campsites for Recreational Vehicles, many of which looked like permanent habitations, where I could have camped if it weren’t so easy to slip into a forest.  As elsewhere along the river there was a large casino complex and large factories belching billowing white clouds.  Much of the traffic was pickup trucks. 

The address Wikipedia gave for the library on 2nd street was wrong and also the information that the Carnegie still functioned as a library.  The new library was on 2nd street.  It closed at one on Saturdays, after I arrived, so I couldn’t ask about the Carnegie.  Rising Sun, as other towns along the Ohio tryi;g to attract tourists, has a visitor center.  The guy tending it had lived his entire life there but couldn’t precisely remember where the Carnegie was, though he patronized it up until it had been replaced a little more than a decade ago.  He just knew it was down the next road up and down aways.  He suggested I go to the History Museum a block away to find its exact location. The guy there knew it’s precise location at the corner of Main and High.



The building was vacant and no longer bore any designation on it of having been a library.  An old-timer across the street was having a yard sale.  He said, “They would have been better off to have kept it.  I like the old stuff.”

It was another thirteen miles to Lawrenceburg, a veritable city where the Ohio River turns south from Ohio twenty-five miles beyond  Cincinnati and commences being the boundary between Ohio and Indiana.  It’s Carnegie had sadly been swallowed up on three sides by a huge addition.  All that could be seen of it was its roof and a side wall.  It was closed when I dropped by.  I had to confirm with a police officer at the station a block away, that it had indeed been the original library.


Then it was west into the setting sun to Osgood, thirty miles away.  I had so many options for camping I could wait until just before dark to duck into a forest.  With the temperature not much above fifty all day I was able to buy a half gallon of chocolate milk early in the day for a lunch time bowl of shredded wheat and then another first thing in the morning.  No need to stop at McDonalds the past two days for its one dollar unlimited cold drinks.

Osgood’s Carnegie had an addition to its back making that its new entrance, closing off the original which had Carnegie Public Library chiseled above it.


The next Carnegie is in Franklin south of Indianapolis, then its up to the northeast corner of the state for a cluster of four with three others on the way and a couple more afterwards on my return to Chicago.  Ten to go and I’ll have completed my mission.