It’s all relative.
This was the phrase that my yoga instructor said to me when we were comparing notes on how our lives were going. She had just finished the chaos of outlining and then facilitating a Yin Yoga teacher training curriculum in addition to her regular classes. I had to juggle my professional, personal and amateur schedules. The busy-ness and the amount of energy required to upkeep ourselves, to keep engaged was immense. It’s part of the reason I haven’t written anything in a while. I’ve been too busy training, racing and traveling for work. On top of that, I’m also a single dad, so my son requires my attention about every other week.
Another way to put it is:
“It’s all about perspective.”
Because it is.
Having completed the Purgatory Road Race in Sutton, MA, and it did live up to its name, every ride afterwards seemed much easier. The course was a power course – fast and unrelenting with no respite because of the even quicker downhill sections sprinkled with bumps and ruts in the pavement. The climbs were short, punchy and steep, but long enough to discover that you need to lose another few grams of fat. Hill repeats did its job in preparation for this race. Just. Everyone pushed the pace. It felt like the couple of CompuTrainer sessions I attended earlier in the year, panting like a dog with my tongue out, drool dripping onto the top tube. The race was soul depleting but fun nonetheless.
As a way to build form and to give back to the community, I participated in the Trek Across Maine – a charity ride to raise funds for lung health. This was my 8th year riding 180 miles for three days. Granted, I’m certain I could do it in just one day and not make it into such a big production. Still, it’s a great cause.
Two out of the three days were sunny and pure bliss. Little did I know the third day would become an adventure. Having passed most of the field (of 2000 cyclists) on the first two days, that didn’t change on the third day – except for one thing. It was a deluge. Not only did I pass most of the field, it seemed like over half the field abandoned because of the rain. I saw truck after truck with racks full of bicycles pass me on the road.
“He must be crazy.”
I’m sure the warm passengers thought as they buzzed by me. But I wasn’t the only one on the road. Others had toughed it out to finish the ride. The pros do it (in snow too). And any cyclist as passionate as myself would do it. Those who do are badass. (See Rule #9.) It’s also a matter of being prepared mentally and physically – in terms of the clothing you wear. As I was riding in the rain, it came down harder until there was a point in time when I suddenly felt my base layer saturated with water. The arm and leg warmers weren’t enough. But then again, I doubt any high-end softshell rain gear would’ve protected me from the elements. I picked up the pace to keep warm and had to skip most of the rest stops.
At one point, I got so cold, I couldn’t feel my fingers. And I couldn’t shift my gears easily to something easier when I hit the climbs. I had to use my left hand to shift my right lever down a gear, and sometimes, I couldn’t even accomplish that. I was stuck on 53×15 and doing stomps when the gradient increased. I recalled this having happened on some early winter training rides, but not in the summer.
At the end of the jaunt, I was treated for near hypothermia, trying to return color into my face in a heated BMW X5 medic vehicle. Hot chocolate and the Trek volunteers were more than helpful in getting me sorted out.
Not all goes as planned
Here’s where things went downhill – literally.
See the frame failure at the bottom bracket? The result of 11,000 miles.
Sasha had broken. The adventures she had taken me through since 2011 have ended. I named her Sasha because at the time, I considered the frame quite exotic and not everyone knew of BMC. She was the third of my BMC frames – the first being the impressively engineered, SLT, with its mixed use of aluminum skeletal lugs and carbon. The second being an earlier version of the Team Machine SLR01. It was near identical to the third. The bottom bracket shell of my beloved Sasha had given way, sheared off of the frame with only strands of carbon holding it together. The crankset moved with a click-clak every time I pedaled the downstroke. At first I thought it was just the bottom bracket bearing needing replacing but a more careful inspection revealed that wasn’t the case. Taking her to a bike shop confirmed my worst fear – she was irreparable.
My world stopped. It was cathartic.
This happened several days before I were to race in the Berkshires in Massachusetts at the Tour of Hilltowns. I was gutted. My competitive advantage had vanished despite having trained hard for it weeks before in the White Mountains with my Tall Sock Racing teammates. 15.5 pounds of bike was no more. I was left with riding with my backup – a 1994 TIG welded, Columbus-tubed, steel frame. The complete bike weighed 20 pounds, and now probably just under that having stripped the BMC of its parts and swapped the carbon wheels and brakepads. She was called, “Panzer”. The couple of days of getting acclimated to Panzer wasn’t enough as it was evident on the first 8%+ climb in the race.
That morning before the race, I had also done a few things wrong which affected my performance. I had mistakenly ate dairy for breakfast, upsetting my stomach. I also took a shower thinking it would be the only chance to feel like a human that day. But that made my legs feel heavy. I tried to counter that with a warm-up, knowing too that the first climb would be brutal without a proper warmup. But that didn’t help. On top of that, during the race, I had a mechanical while riding Panzer – her handlebar suddenly twisted after hitting some rough sections of the course. The quill in the stem wasn’t tight enough. I had to stop to get it fixed.
Everyone has a bad day. I had a bad week.
A broken Sasha, started my downward spiral. I was a mess even before the start of the race. But there was a silver lining (if you can really call it that) I didn’t discover until during the race.
Panzer at a coffee ride.
With her weight advantage on the downhills, Panzer ate up the road. The uphills didn’t matter (but really, it did) because time would be made up on the downhills. Because I was diligent in my climbing and descending at slightly higher speeds, I had caught up with a small group of mixed categories (but not before being passed by the leading group of CAT 5’s mid-race). The course was similar to Purgatory RR with its notable difference being the longer 5 mile climb before hitting the midway point. It was something Sasha couldn’t do, even though she was a better all-around bike. But alas, it wasn’t enough to win the group sprint. Panzer’s added weight was a disadvantage.
With Sasha broken, I’m without a competitive bicycle for the hills. I tried to get BMC to honor a full warranty, but the rules they set out made it unfair. And their frame failed in a most catastrophic way. I even have proof that I’m the original owner, of not just one but three BMC’s. And being one of the biggest BMC fans out there, (I wore the team kit religiously the last couple of years,) it seems loyalty means nothing to them.
Two broken BMC frames hanging like carcasses.
In order to get a proper replacement, I have to go through the crash replacement policy, which is bittersweet. It means I’d still have to pay for the frame but at a reduced cost. And if you know how much BMC frames cost at retail, you know it’s still a good amount. With the Green Mountain Stage Race in Vermont looming in September, I don’t have much time to prepare. I’m without a bike and it takes time to acclimate to one. So now, I’m having second thoughts and considering other brands.
I’ve ridden Specialized once, and I do like their lineup. Venge or Tarmac? Cervelo’s R5 is another consideration as well as Wilier’s Cento 1SR or Zero 7. I also heard from a friend that Wilier replaced his broken frame that was “out of warranty” quite easily. Exceptional service goes a long way to produce customer loyalty as does companies standing by their products. Our sponsors (most notably DeFeet and Maple) in our Tall Sock Racing Team stand by their products. Why shouldn’t the bicycle companies who produce the bikes we ride do the same?
Of course, things could be worse. To put it in perspective, I’m still able-bodied and living out my passion. And I will always remember that it’s all relative.