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Friday, June 30, 2006

The Art of Getting Dropped

Getting dropped is not a science because a successful drop cannot be independently duplicated. There are no measurable results. There are no national security applications worth government funding for the development of getting dropped. No, getting dropped is an art pure and simple.

All art is not good art. In fact 99% of the art world is of the dogs sitting around a table playing poker variety. Just so in the cycling world; most practicioners of the art of getting dropped are about as sophisticated as Thomas Kinkaide, the schlocky ‘painter of light’.

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Marla with her bike group

The roadways are filthy with the soft porn of bad drops, like the indecent pull-out where a rider simply drops from the pull rotation and falls off the last wheel of the peloton.

The all too common and cheaply executed drop like the never making it to the top of the hill, serves no noble purpose. Such cliches will not inspire future generations. They belong in the kitschy junk heap along with the, ‘it’s too rainy to ride’ excuses for staying in bed. Just so with any heart rate monitor related/periodic training regimen related drop.

Whether you are in a large group ride or just out with a couple of friends, the straightaway slow down where the rider slips silently over the vanishing point of the horizon like in an Escher knock-off in a suburban mall’s gallery/head shop, gives all of us ‘artists’ a bad name.

There should be some subtlety, perhaps even irony, which alludes to the cycling world’s collective sense unworthiness from never having been a varsity sport in high school. Remember, art is born in misery, not ecstasy.

Getting dropped by your betters will never turn you into an Andy Warhol either. I mean, where is the art in getting dropped by riders who are simply faster. Artistry lies in the sublime ability of getting dropped by riders who are no better than yourself.

When I was a neo-pro I went through the predictable phase of the strategic mis-shift. However, I finally did make the enlightening breakthrough that you really can’t utilize ghost shifting for this purpose when you have the services of a pro mechanic at your disposal.

I then cycled through a ‘I already did intervals this morning’ period for a while and almost fell into a rut of, ‘I just got back yesterday from racing in Europe and I must be suffering from jet lag’. While getting dropped do not let yourself fall into a caricature!

It may take years of studying the classic moves before you can develop your own style of how to get dropped. The palette that I’m working with currently is heavy on taking an invisible to all but me alternate downhill line, with overtones of I think you guys are going the wrong way; see you back at the trail head! and undertones of my Treo is vibrating, I better take this; it could be a very important NORBA Board conference call.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Getting Back in the Racing Saddle

Sue Hayward is fast. So is Lea Davison. I found out by eating their dust, on multiple occasions, during the pro Super D at the Mount Snow NORBA national last weekend.

The Super D is a mountain bike race that most closely resembles the typical weekend warrior race that arises naturally among riding buddies. It’s not too long, usually not more than half an hour. The super D, like your local beer can race, is mostly a downhill run. It’s got some technical stuff to see who has the huevos (an anatomically correct term if you race in my class), but some flats to see who has the lungs, and a few climbs to see who has the legs. The Super D is like what would happen when you throw a bunch on friends together with mountain bikes on the top of their local hill.

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Marla on the Super-D Podium

To make it more fun, the race organizers assembled the field for a Le Mans Start. That means when the starting gun pops you have to sprint en masse to the bikes, find your own, and hopping on it cyclocross style, pedal like crazy so that you hit the single track first. To make it even more deliriously fun on the morning of the race the organizers told us we would be using the ‘Modified’ Le Mans Start…we would still start off by running with our bikes…about 100 yards…uphill!

And since I am more of a downhiller I truly had to ‘run what I brung’… not a light weight cross country set up. But my full suspension, big forked, heavier by at least five pounds, Orbea Rallon.

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Marla stops for a recovery drink...

In this kind of race if you get into the woods behind somebody who doesn’t know how to ride, or behind somebody who doesn’t know when to pull over politely, your “race” has effectively ended. You might as well start looking around for red bellied, fantailed warblers. I was not beset by either of those two problems.

My problem was that I got into the woods behind Sue Hayward! Sue is a two-time NORBA national series short track champ and winner of numerous NORBA national cross country races. She also won the Super D the week before in North Carolina. She knows how to ride and therefore the occasion to pull over never arose.

There were a few rooty, rocky, off camber downhill turns where passing was dangerous, ill advised, and unwarranted; so that’s where I would slip past the Trek girls. But, there always seemed to be a climb immediately after and they would just float right past me giddily chattering about their dinner plans, “Pasta at the Silo or a burrito at Gringos?”

We three swapped the lead back and forth, but rolling down to the finish Sue was in front by a bike length and there wasn’t a gap jump, or a triple double, or a rock garden of baby heads to help me out. I couldn’t even hang on to second place because I my eyes were popping and my lungs searing so much I was unable to manage the correct gearing over the last little riser and Lea clicked right past me like I was on my single speed.

I guess that’s to be expected. I’ve heard it’s hard to return to work after maternity leave.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

How Marla Got Her Groove Back

It's all beat up. Now five years old, practically geriatric. Tarped alongside the bike shed with a flat tire and bent bars. My KTM 520 SX is just a big droopy mess, and if I lived in a red state I’d write a country/western song about it.

Never thought our relationship would end up in a heap like that.

In the beginning I was so taken with its slick graphics, smitten by its power band. We even trailer’ed it all the way from California back to Baltimore to meet my family.

Typically, they weren’t very impressed, but I interpreted that as a back handed endorsement. Mom and Dad were simply blind to its most appealing virtues: cleaner than the others four stroke, red stickered for those whimsical urban assaults, custom suspension, and its biblical power to weight ratio. My brother, Chris, sniffed that it would be ‘way’ cooler if it burned soy diesel.

I didn’t care. It was love.

True, we didn’t motocross as much as I had hoped, but hey, that’s life. I was happy.

However, there were little things. Didn’t even notice ‘em at first, but they were there nonetheless like a fly in the soup. The soup began to turn cold after a time, and since I discerned the fly, I searched around for larvae.

Don’t even know when I began to resent the way its long wheelbase didn’t quite sit on my trailer.

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Marla's Moto

My KTM’s body mass index (BMI) was always a little on the high side, but I really began to loathe lifting its dead weight off the ground after we broke up.

Brake levers might grow on trees in Austria but they sure don’t in California. Before too long I was twisting ‘em up with baling wire. Later, I just squeeze the broken nubs.

It wouldn’t get busy without a hundred good kicks to get it started. Made me not want to go for a ride at all.

In this world a girl has to take care o’ hersef. Oh, me and the KTM still went on some “dates” now and then, but let’s just say we really weren’t hooking up like we used to. Forget about throwing down for new graphics; duct tape on that saddle was all it deserved. This momma was getting busy with the classifieds in the back of Racer X.

I’m not ready to make a new commitment just yet, but I am willing to ride some strange.

Just the other day I enjoyed some real quality time with a younger, fresher, tight little unit: a hungry KTM 250 F.

Next week I have a date with a ‘lectric starting, fold-away lever YZ250 F. That might be my new love.

I reckon that ole KTM is about ready to be shipped off to Texas with the rest of my Exes.