Yesterday I had a rest day on the bike, easy spin into and home from work, 25 miles of nothin' doin'. Today I did a 20 minute power test, to figure out if the riding has improved my threshold any. Answer: Yep, considerably.
It was a rest day at the TdF, with the riders napping and getting massages and maybe doing a 25 mile easy spin too, VandeVelde thanking his lucky stars, the Golden Crash Monkey stewing in his own juices and getting ready to unleash his General Offensive in the next few stages - that offensive being comprised primarily of boring his opponents to death with non-attacks. Today - the tape of today's stage to Foix is still on so no spoilers. Yeah, Bob Roll, I get the message - if I'm in a break with Allesandro Ballan, I need to get the hell out of there or he'll beat me in the sprint. Could you say it again? I think my speakers are actually starting to echo that sentiment even when you aren't talking.
No cheese, no booze today. Meanwhile, here's a really fascinating article on how a good quality farm was run around the turn of the last century. There's a lesson in it for you if you want better composting and a better garden. Amazing how sharp the author's grandfather was, what a bright man he must have been.
Which brings up a side point.
Back when I was a kid, my father used to take great joy in riding on very old roads which flowed nicely with the lay of the land, of which there were many in Upstate New York. I'm talking real Upstate, not the "Upstate" where stock brokers live when they aren't living at their office in Manhattan.
He used to say, "You see this grade, and the way the road goes over this hill? The old boys did this without calculators or even slide rules. They couldn't go through the hill, so they had to work with it. Those old timers knew a thing or two."
My father had a great admiration for the craftsmanship that "old timers" - the men who lived roughly from the period of the French & Indian War up to the 1930's, put into their work. Many of the technologies we enjoy today simply didn't exist, so they had to do things the hard way. For instance, hand-carved dovetail joints are a response to the fairly low quality natural glues of the day. Roads that follow the brow of a hill, instead of bypassing it by a long distance or cutting through the middle of the hill, are what resulted from a lack of dynamite and heavy movers that would have permitted a blast & build approach, or a highway-style bypass. Heavily overbuilt old bridges and planes used to make him chuckle; thirty years before I heard anybody else make the same point, he was saying that "the old boys just didn't know how light they could actually make something, so they overbuilt just about everything." Possibly his favorite engineering feat in the entire world was the Douglas DC-3, military version C-47, the most overbuilt, durable, survivable, and long-serving aircraft in the world. Many of them built 60+ years ago are still in service. The old man loved that.
I share some of the same fascination that he did, and the interesting thing I find is that it is cross-cutting. I love old roads and adore old tools - I have a woodplane that my grandfather used, and when I use it on a woodworking project, I admire its heft and durability, and the history that is in it. I have an even older set of tools that belonged to my wife's great-grandfather - we're talking handmade tools, planes with bodies made out of wood and shop-cut, improvised steel blades.
It hits me, sometimes, that we're in an era of things the common man can't possibly understand. Those old tools - a basically competent man or woman could figure them out, and learn to make one pretty easily. My grandfather's plane was harder to make, but he was a machinist and if push came to shove, he probably could have knocked one out. On the other hand a nice planer from the local woodworking shop is beyond the skill level of all but the most talented technicians, and even those would have to have experience in making this line of specialized tool to be able to manufacturer a planer.
So too our bikes. I was reading about the old pros in the TdF having to stop at local blacksmith's forges to fix the forks and frames on their bikes. How many of you think you could learn to weld and do very basic metal fabrication? Probably most of you. Blacksmithing is a bit of an art, but you could probably learn to do the same welding and fabrication in a smithy, given a bit of time. But could any of you repair a carbon fiber frame to the point where it was suitable to ride? That would be a much tougher gig, wouldn't it?
While specialization brings us great advantages, it brings great disadvantages too. If you need a legal issue resolve in a couple areas of law, I could hook you right up, providing it's the right area. But if you needed a will executed, or a DWI tried or pled out, it would be a huge stretch for me to try to do what the old school general practitioners could do for you without blinking. I may have some blingy-sounding things to say about what I can do, but my knowledge is an inch wide and a mile deep; broad general knowledge and horse sense may be more useful than what I know in the long run.
So what does this have to do with bikes? Well, maybe not a lot, or maybe some. I've been starting to get ready for 'cross season, and this means more focused training on the Powertap-equipped carbon bike. It's a lovely, lovely bike to ride, smooth and efficient, and most of all comfortable to ride. Yet I miss the hell out of my fixed gear, which I ride quite a bit over the winter. The fixie is a welded steel framed Surly Crosscheck which would look familiar to Charlie Gaul. It has a flip-flop hub and the rims are simple box section deals from Salsa, steel I believe. There's nothing fancy about it, in fact it rides a little bit raw compared to carbon with tubulars, but it's a damn good bike, and damned if the basic design isn't the same as what the TdF riders rode 80 years ago. You could fix the thing in a blacksmith's forge if it broke. Sure, it's got a modern stem, and the orange bar tape isn't exactly olde skoole, but everything else would be recognizable to Pellisier. Riding it is a bit different too; you're a bit closer to the truth about your skills as a rider on a fixie, and the truth about the essential nature of a bicycle is nearer within your grasp compared to a 15 pound carbon wunder-cycle, which may function wonderfully but which bears little resembles to a normal bicycle. My fixie is the one bike I really miss riding when I haven't hit it for a while, and it (along with my single speed MTB) is the only bike I ride through horrible conditions without a worry about whether it will hurt the bike.
So what does this talk about bikes have to do with my riff on life? Well, it's about the old timers. My father was right. They knew some things. A lot of people talk smack about how bad the old days were, and yes, there were some social problems and life was tough, but in some ways the old days were better. People weren't so specialized as to be useless outside of their narrow little corner of the world. Yes, the old timers wanted an easier life for future generations, and they would tell you. There ain't no glory in things being unnecessarily hard. We got the good life the old timers wanted for us, and we know it's easy, so one we know for sure is that the old timers were right about life being tough and how making life easier through technology would benefit us. If there's anything that market economics has taught us it's that specialization in economic endeavors creates greater profit. Old timer Adam Smith taught us that, for what it's worth. Greater profit equals greater standard of living, and you only get to that greater profit with greater specialization. So your inability to do your own indoor plumbing is connected, maybe ineluctably, to your narrow (and lucrative) expertise in your job. That the carbon bike is wonderful is a result of specialization in materials, design and manufacture; that I can't fabricate, design or build it due to its specialization is one consequence of its specialization. On the other hand, I could learn to make a Crosscheck pretty easily, could learn to fix it, and in fixie trim, by God, it isn't going to break or be hard to adjust. It is the stone ax of bicycles, and will hang in there long after the carbon bike gets terminally out of tune or cracks.
Steel bikes, fixed gears, wool jerseys and eating real food on the road. They may not be the easiest way to get things done, but like the roads designed by the old boys, they damn well get it done, and often under conditions that ultra-modern kit wouldn't hack.
Yep. Them old timers knew a thing or two.