By: Gustavo Cinci Oct 17

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It used to be, or it still is, that when you refer to a motorcycle, the consensus is that one would envision at least a 750cc machine. A crotch rocket if you will. One of those from Honda or Ducati, or if you’re really picky (and have a tree sprouting money in your backyard), a magnificently gorgeous Buell. Yes, those that
race really fast on pavement tracks, not unlike the daredevils who clock way upwards of 300km/h (yes, three hundred) at the Isle of Mann GP. Maybe that’s why Cavendish is so fast, dude grew up conditioned to seeing motorcycle drivers, “pilots” actually, risking their bones at that famous race. I’d also suggest that some could just as well conjure an image of a chopper, with a “biker” astride its custom handmade seat, donning shiny leather chaps, and further whatnots. On the other hand, few would say “yes, of course – a moto. I’d love to parade around on a Puch, or a Lambretta; those are certain to attract me some ladies.” However you imagine a motorcycle, its shape, image and engine grumble will largely depend on the area you grew up in. To me, for instance, a moto comes in the form of the aforementioned crotch rocket: slick, potentially dangerous, considerably aero and most importantly, very fast. Not a chopper. Not a Lambretta either.

“It was very common, or better yet, not uncommon, to be thrown out of a race by vocally cursing a commissary.”

Spring of 1990 or 1991, can’t quite recall. We did a lot of racing, the junior fields were generally numerous; most of the races were consisted of either out-and-back stretches with a rotary on top (imagine a lollipop), or circuitous venues that required skills and consistent accelerations. They were similar to crits actually – but not quite. And as in most races, we had the commissaries on motorcycles making sure nobody was doing sneaky stuff. For road races we had police detail with the required big motos, actual patrol machines that were large and had chromed parts and were very pretty. For local circuit events, the officials would ride a slightly better variation of those Puchs, maybe a souped-up Lambretta scooter. The problem was, many juniors started in the sport really early and already had big boy skills, in other words: the boys moved fast and could easily handle the push-and-shove, including jumping on and off the sidewalk to move up (which was not allowed) and further stunts. And the motos didn’t. Meaning, put a race official in one of those little things through corners that lead to steep, short hills, up, left, down a stretch, right, left, right, etc., and the motos would become a hindrance. The combo commissary + put-put horsepower made it so it lingered, moving a tad slower out of corners and up short inclines. As you may figure, its involuntary pauses in rhythm infuriated the racers, the accordion effect would be multiplied as we tried to ride around the scooter or push it out of the way. It was very common, or better yet, not uncommon, to be thrown out of a race by vocally cursing a commissary.

“I felt slightly put off, damn Belgian stealing my lines, then I realized that my sport was actually our sport.”

Every cycling community has its bad-asses. They come in several forms: tall, short, lanky, thick, skinny, the engines within betraying a seemingly bad posish or not so fluid pedal stroke. Some of them look horrible on the bike, but can make you pay for questioning his/her lack of style or grace. Those are the folks whose innate power would have you wonder where is all that speed coming from. In my junior days we’d refer to that as “riding like a motorcycle”. It did not matter if your head iconized a Puch scooter or a Honda Ninja; the assumption was that a motorcycle is faster than you, so it always came as a compliment. We felt so smart in our world of nicknames and clever associations, that we claimed many of those aphorisms as ours and ours alone. Till a few years later, when I was watching the 1995 Tour de France. Miguelón, then a 4-time winner, perhaps was irritated at the media for accusing him of passive racing, decided to take the matter on his own legs. On the first week of the Tour, which is generally reserved for bunch gallops, he attacked hard on the closing kilometers of a flat stage. “What the hell is he doing?” I thought. It was something else to watch his big frame TT’ing at 50km/hr-plus and leaving everybody in the dust. That is, except for a plucky Belgian (unironically, Mr. Johan Bruyneel) who was glued to his rear wheel and had just enough “juice” in the last few meters to come around and win the stage. Later on, during post-race interviews, he mentioned feeling like he was “riding behind a motorcycle.” EXCUSE ME? Sorry, sir, that is my analogy. I felt slightly put off, damn Belgian stealing my lines, then I realized that my sport was actually our sport. And that general terms reserved for extraordinary feats of strength can only mean so many things. It’s not like in other countries they don’t have motorcycles, or that Bruyneel would refer to him as going as fast as, well, a Siberian Husky-pulled sled? A rapidly-moving… Tank engine? Please.

As a junior I never really got thrown out of a race for cursing an official. And the very few times when I was riding well enough to do most of the pulling, my training partners would praise the speed as “riding like a moto”. It was nice to hear that, imagining myself as a crotch rocket when in reality I was more of a Lambretta due to the slight build. But I still attracted the ladies.


Beautiful Silence

By: Gustavo Cinci Oct 3

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We were busy that rainy afternoon, all business actually, trying to work on a friend’s bike – his first road bike – with a wall of noise around us. And there were about 6-7 guys.. I am not sure. This was a long time ago in the early 90’s. The owner of the pieces that would become the bici just wouldn’t shut up. He had purchased a DeBernardi steel frame and fork, very nicely lugged with Columbus pipes, but he was nervous that we would screw up the build. Or that I would screw up the build, seeing that I was the only one with half-capable mechanical skills that would actually put the rig together. From the group sitting there, trying to hack it without a proper stand, the whole ensemble looked like that Rembrandt painting where medical students huddle over an open cadaver, including the bad lighting and low tech tools. So he kept intruding, literally sticking his hand in the process, distracting me with the harried demands of a nervous new bike owner. The other guys piled on: two of them didn’t even enjoy the sport, one was a triathlete and the others added so many extra hands that if you turned the sound off, the excessive gesticulating looked like a heated soccer argument in sign-language. It eventually took a while to assemble the bike, especially because Hélio (the owner) had particular, almost capricious requests. He wanted it to work like bzzzz. Bzzzz? What does that mean? That’d be the noise, or lack thereof, that results when the chain moves through the chain rings, zigzagging around the pulleys and coming on the other side. In sum: it had to sound smooth, efficient, purposeful and, well, quiet.

Back in the day, as in 20 years ago, stuff was simpler. Nostalgia doesn’t apply here as I do prefer modern machines. Have you ever tried to maintain a Campy Delta set of calipers? Well, good luck, never mind finding a 3.5mm Allen wrench to work with. But to their credit, parts back then were actually mostly fuss-free: a 7 or 8 speed Regina freewheel that was screwed to a threaded rear hub; derailleurs and gear controls were very straightforward in that as long as the chain wasn’t skipping, it was as good as it was gonna get. There was no index shifting (there was but it sucked), the levers were screwed to the down tube and the chain was thick. If you were cutting edge you’d sport a set of Simplex Retro Friction levers, those that are smooth when you shifted to lighter gears, but offered resistance when throwing the chain down the sprockets. Charly Mottet and Marc Madiot had them on their bikes back in the RMO days, so they had extra cool points (man I’m old). You could potentially mix parts and the setup wouldn’t complain, except due to neglect. And I carried that standard of sonic efficiency through my years as a competitive Joe Racer and amateur mechanic, making sure that every single technical development had to be SHUSH in order to pass muster.

Naturally, the more time I spent with the bike, the better I got as a mechanic and rider. And that resulted in a synergistic sense that was sharpened through years of close relationship. The feedback became more organic, some sounds are prefaced by ticks or clicks that translate to “there’s something off going on here”. A well-trained ear can potentially discern several micro irregularities in a similar way an Eskimo can detect multiple shades of ice (or at least I suppose they could). The point is, as we add more gears, goodies, parts, electronic doo-dads, one can get detached from the experience, neglecting the dynamic altogether. How many times have you been on a ride and some hapless roadie shows up on a filthy rig that is so noisy you wonder if he/she has imprisoned a small animal inside the bottom bracket? “Hey, there’s a bird inside your rear hub or something”. We all have that friend, right? Recently at a training race I had an issue with a piece of leaf that somehow wrapped around a spoke on the front wheel. I felt something wrong but couldn’t really hear it because a thick, horse-sized junior nearby was torturing his bike with each pedal stroke. His bicycle was protesting loudly and for a moment the distraction was welcome. Which is my point here: for most pros (and some elite-level amateurs) the bike becomes a commodity, going fast requires a lot of work, so cancelling out unwelcome static becomes a priority. That can be a good skill when you’re changing diapers while the wife is asking questions from another room and the cat is screaming because it hasn’t been fed yet. But for those of us who didn’t get to be pros (or elite racers), we have to resort to paying attention, good wrenching abilities and developing extra spider-senses.

My buddy, Hélio, although he has always been an awful mechanic, knew to appreciate a well-running bici. You may want to ignore your boss, the neighbor’s dog or the nagging partner, that’s all fine and sometimes necessary. But please promise me you’ll always listen to your bike.


Mary-Anne's Yuge

By: Gustavo Cinci Sep 17

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For the past few years, on most Fridays, we have gathered at a friend’s place to enjoy food, good company and mutual cajoling. It started as a way to herald the idealized awesomeness that the weekend would bring, or a bitch-fest to unload the nasties we each went through during the week. It became a usual thing; we have been doing this before life tribulations turned most of us from racers to dilettanti. We kindly refer to this semi-impromptu micro-sized box social as The Yuge. People show up, bring the kids, adult beverages and the respective partners. For those without kids (yet), dessert wine is preferred to celebrate the oh-so sweet uninterrupted sleep. Geography and its conveniences dictate we meet at the most central spot available, so The Yuge takes place at Dimitri and Mary-Anne’s, not that far from most of us. Now who the hell are Dimitri and Mary-Anne? Both are former road racers who met through cycling, and as love would have it, things happened: marriage, 2 kids, and all but total suspension of their athletic endeavors. That is, until recently. In the past few years they decided to rekindle their combative spark and resume sports competition. Beautiful, right? Well, both are primarily roadies and spend most of their active time on the pavement, both have raced cross before, so coming back into the fray would be a no brainer, especially in a cycling-heavy area such as New England. But no. Much to my horror, they decided to engage in Triathlons, the short distance kind, also referred to as “Sprint Triathlons”. But we are friends, Dimitri (or Demetrius) and I go back 12+ years, and we love each other, so we offer support.

Which brings me back to a recent lovely summer afternoon. The kids were trashing the yard, Kyle had brought some Moscato, and the conversation was flowing as smoothly as a master racer’s pedal strokes. I already knew the results of their latest event, which had big “X’s” on the calendar, meaning those were target dates that would potentially qualify them for World Championships (it’s true). This was no “gotta gets me a top 10 at Joe Hobo crit”, no sir. And for the sake of expediency, both qualified. Hooray. But this is not the crux of this article. As we know, results alone don’t tell the whole story. As athletes we like to know how the proceedings developed, the sensations pre/during/post the event, the whole dynamics. Dimitri already relayed me his heroics, and I wanted to hear from Mary-Anne’s experience. And this is exactly what I’d like to explore here.

Mary-Anne prefaced her account with a very long list of disclaimers, similar to the ones when you rent a video and cannot fast forward, so you just sit there and try to mentally be elsewhere ASAP. But the ASAP never happens, does it? “If you consider that I had a bum shoulder, haven’t swum in 5 weeks, so I couldn’t really ride my bike like I wanted, and the water was choppy, and I didn’t sleep well the night before because I ate something funny, and Dimitri stole my wheels during training and I couldn’t practice on my real bike, and I had to wake up earlier than usual, requiring me to…”, by that time she had already lost me, and my attempts to fast forward by drinking more Moscato was resulting in a funky stomach and a sweaty brow. And I wondered if she was talking to me or reading from an obscure passage of the Bible that no one knows about, or reciting from memory one of Fidel Castro’s famously long, 4-hour speeches. As she rambled I thought “damn triathletes and their several sports. It only makes long stories longer.”

Then I snapped to and realized something. As much as we (or I) love to poke fun at other sports, I suppose the “disclaimers” are a most-leveling and quasi-mandatory feature in many post-event commentaries. Because disclaimers add color, they can also airbrush or blot an athlete’s adventure throughout the day. They provide spice by exaggerating difficulties or mercy by pre-handicapping in exchange for better appreciation of the efforts at hand. Hear Joe-Division-3-Pro telling how his week was prior to a big classic he has no prayer of finishing, and it’s not that different from one of the flagship guys’ pre-race dictum. You hear tales of diarrhea, colds, saddle sores, crashes-that-are-not-yet-healed, muscle-twinges, or some impending suspension due to shady medical associations. You name it, we’ll find a disclaimer. And that, my friends, is how we distill sports to their essence: we go to the core, explore, dissect, handle and move on with our innermost neurosis. Naturally her insecurities are a result of a long hiatus from competitive activities, and I understood and embraced her adventures. And you know what? It was unusually fantastic for me, witnessing first hand about her dealings in a very ass-kicking trajectory to Worlds, years after she hung up her cleats, had knee surgery, not to mention having kids not so long ago. And I hope this becomes her new usual method of success.


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