Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Years Ride

For The Complete Jewish Cyclist, the new year is already under way. It's already 5769, and that started back in September on Rosh Hashana. For cyclists and everybody else, though, the New Year on the Gregorian calendar begins tommorow at midnight. Of course this is reason to party, and as difficult as the world may seem right now (no reference to a particular issue), it's nice to know that we have a fresh, brand new year to write a new chapter in the continuing saga of our live - a clean slate in which we will try to author the best story possible.

So why not kick it all off on a high note and hoist a champagne flute at midnight, let out an exhuberant cheer, and kiss somebody special if you can, or at least give somebody a gesture of goodwill. And then start your year right with a January 1st ride.

Whether you live by the Hebrew calendar or by the Gregorian calendar, the cycling season truly begins January 1st for the serious cyclist. Just like you have the opportunity for a clean slate in life going into the new year, you also have a clean slate going into the 2009 cycling season. My recommondation for a New Year's ride is simply to enjoy it. Whether you are a recreational rider venturing out on an entry-level hybrid or a hardcore racer set to burn the road on your carbon fiber bling machine, this is a ride to simply enjoy. No pressure and no pressure yet. No goals and no agendas, just get out there, pedal, and enjoy the ride.

After all, hopefully you will have a very full and prosperous cycling season in 2009, and as it proceeds, so to will the needs, demands, and sacrifices to sustain such a season, especially for racers and high-performace riders. But on January 1st, 2009, there will be none of that, just a pure, clean, unhindered ride upon which to build on for another great cycling season, which B"H will be fun and safe.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Year-End Review

Well, Happy Chanukkah (or is it "Hannukah", or "Hanukka". Eh, don't bother - no matter how many ways you can misspell it in English, there's only one way to spell it correctly in Hebrew). Not that Chanukkah is a big gift-giving holiday, unless of course if you're a little child and a plastic dreidel and a chocolate coin mean the world to you, but if you are hoping for an awesomely cool present to out do your Xmas-celebrating neighbor, then I hope you get something light, blingy, and carbon.

As for The Complete Jewish Cyclist, I was hoping for some bottom bracket tools, but in reality, I'm not about gifts on Chanukkah. I prefer my festival of lights Israeli-style. Gimme the Chanukiah lights, a sufganiyot, and my family and friends, and I'm as happy as the Xmas-celebrating neighbor who just found a full Campagnolo Super-Record 11-speed gruppo under the tree.

And while I'm at it, for all of the non-Jewish cyclists checking out this blog, if it's your thing, then have a Merry Christmas. I hope you do get that Campy gruppo, but no matter what you get, ride safe, happy, and healthy anyway.

As seems obligatory, a blogging cyclist has to do a year-end review post, and here's mine, which I'll make brief do to me having a lot of work to do:

2008 was the best cycling year of my life. Not only did I rack up more miles than ever before and post my best-ever race results, but I also reached the highest potential of my riding yet. I put less focus on bikes, and more on riding and training. My focus was on the cyclocross racing season, from September through December, and along the way, I concentrated on conditioning my body to go hard for 40 minutes. I spent a year doing intervals, hill work, speed work, and fast endurance riding.

Best of all, I also rode this year while also being a first time father. Like some of you out there, I am not a pampered Belgian pro with nothing to do but ride, train, and race, and get paid to do it. I'm married with a family and a full-time job, plus Jewish commitments which come with time restraints. I rode in the early mornings, I rode in the late evenings, I rode on Sundays, I rode whenever I could invent or create the time, and I paid my way throughout (but with some great help from my shop and team - The Bike Rack).

I did a lot, but I didn't do it alone. No cyclist really ever does, and I can't be proud of this season if I don't stop and thanks those who helped me do it. So here is, to the best of my memory, a list of those who helped me have the best cycling year of my life:

My Wife
Behind many a weekend-warrior cyclist is a spouse, and the spouse sometimes has a hard a job to do off the bike as we do on the bike. My wife has risen early in the morning with me to go to races, helping out on race days when it was below freezing in some god-foresaken field at some ungodly hour so I could live my cyclocross dreams. She has put in overtime watching our son while I was out on training rides, greeted me after the rides with patience and support, and allowed me the financial flexibility to pursue cycling. She has sacrificed for me, supported me, encouraged me, and even disciplined me. She helped make my training rides and race days reach their full potential, and I could not have had this season without her.

My Son
He's only one, and soon he may just be kicking ass on the lil' Belgians circuit. In the meantime he's made sure that I began my rides and races with a smile and a baby giggle, and I finished my rides and races with just the same and more. He's been up with us at the pre-dawn hours to go to races and he's been a trooper on race day, keeping the smile at 7:30 AM on a sub-freezing day at the race course. He never had a meltdown while a race was in progress, and he waved a rattle during the races in the same manner as others wave cowbells. He's my inspiration, and he makes me the happiest and proudest father in the world.

My Family
My Mom and sisters were there with me all season giving support, as were my wife's family as well. Amongst Orthodox Jews, it's not easy to explain leg-shaving, expensive bikes, and 40 minute plus one-lap races in muddy fields, but they supported me none-the-less. Special thanks to my Mom for going the extra distance in the past and the present, and also to the memory of my father who long ago mutter those most important cycling words in my presence: "face it, he's obsessed".

My Friends
Sure they may have poked fun at my lycra and shaved legs, and made sure that I was missing a great Saturday night party because I was asleep early to race in the morning, but they also supported me and encouraged me in this. In particular, I want to thank my best friend Barry from Holland for his support, my Summit Hills crew for mixing good-natured ribbing with real and serious support, and to Andrew Matranga for keeping my work day velo, no matter how much productivity we sacrificed in pursuit of the best that two cyclists on IM can offer.

My Sponsor and Teamates
I've said it before, and I'll say it again; The Bike Rack DC, and in particular, John Bavier, opened the doors of cyclocross to me. Racing CX has always been a dream of mine, and Bavier initiated the grassroots effort on behalf of Bike Rack to start a CX team and give riders like me a chance to race. The Bike Rack itself has been a great shop to ride and race for. They're a new shop in the DC area, but they hit the ground running and reached out quickly and passionately to the local riding and racing scene.

Special thanks to Chuck Harney and Wayne Lerch, the owners of Bike Rack. Chuck helped me this year with the selection and purchase of my Giant TCR-C2 road bike, which made all of the difference in my training. Wayne is always a fun support, but was also a very real support at the DCCX cyclocross, where I had my best race of the season. David Fike is probably one of the smartest bike shop guys out there, and was extremely helpful in helping me with the wheel selection on my road bike. He also gave me technical support at the Tacchino Ciclocross. Also thanks to all of the great guys I've ridden with on the Sunday morning shop rides and at the cyclocross races, in particular Richard Murby, Seth, and Skinny Dutch Guy, for allowing me to keep at least one lung on the climb up Angler's Hill.

And of course, special thanks to the people who make the sport so special - the people I meet along the way. In particular, they are the people whom I spend plenty of time with from the end of September to the beginning of December. During the cyclocross races, I aim to tear them to pieces, but more often than not, they do that to me. And if I'm not racing in their races, then I am proud to cheer them on. Most of all though, it's before and after the races, where I enjoy their company and humorous banter about this very serious velo lifestyle of ours; Matthew Bartlett, Mike "Blue Dog" Giancoli, James "Unholy Rouleur" McNeely, Steve Riskus, Ryan Dudek, Tom Jones, Jim Ventoso, all of the cool Proteus, NCVC, HUP United, and Squadra Coppi folks, and so many other racers, many who's name I don't know but faces and competition I eagerly await every cold, muddy Sunday.

And Finally...
...Baruch HaShem. I wouldn't be The Complete Jewish Cyclist if I didn't acknowledge the Big Directeur Sportif above. Jewish Cycling is about more than keeping a riding and racing schedule around Shabbat and Chagim. It's about more than riding powered by kosher drinks and supplements. Jewish Cycling and Jewish Life are both about discipline and structure that bring about a great life worth living, and I feel blessed to be a student of the bike and a student of the Torah.

'nuff said. Thanks to all, and I won't go into what I'm thinking about for 2009. I'm just thankful for 2008, and for that, I say thanks to so many people out there, thanks to cycling, and most of all and above all, Thank G-d.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Year-End Mileage

This is the cyclometer from my singlespeed road bike. About 120 miles of this is from Sunday training rides and playing around, but the rest of it is from riding to and from work and using those commutes as training rides. I live nine miles from my office, but depending on the route, the morning rides could be up to 30 miles, and the ride home could be up to 15 miles. Through it all, my little Specialized Langster suffered only a broken spoke and no flat tires, though it took a beating and kept on ticking.

This is from my road bike, which I bought in August and only got to ride on a few Sundays plus one weekday ride. However, being that the bike is full carbon fiber, those were 507 fast, comfortable, and confident miles. If you're thinking about buying a carbon bike, I highly recommend the Giant TCR line.

BTW, no mechanicals or punctures on this bike either, plus no flats on my 'cross rig, so that makes 2008 a flat tire-free season for me. Yes, 2,633 miles for 2008 and the only damage was one popped spoke and no flats. Sweet!

(update: just did a quick 12-miler before Shabbat. No flats, no mechanicals. Made it through the year safely - B"H. Shabbat Shalom to everybody, and I'll see you on the roads January 1st, 2009).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bikes of the Jewish Peleton - Neil's Specialized Roubaix Comp

While the term "Jewish Cycling" is still up for definition, no matter what it involves or how it evolves, one thing's for sure; bikes will be a part of it. So for the time being, I'll leave others to work with Jewish Cycling's more esoteric aspects (such as Hazon, which includes using cycling in bulding "sustainable Jewish communities" and Bike n' Brunch, which focuses on social rides for singles), and we'll focus on what we love best; bikes and riding.

With that in mind, welcome to the first installment of "Bikes of the Jewish Peleton", where we profile some of the bikes being ridden by all types of Jewish cyclists. Our first bike is Neil Feit's sweet new Specialized Roubaix Comp, an everyman's version of Tom Boonen's Paris-Roubaix winning Roubaix SL2. Based on Specialized's revolutionary "plush" model, a design which revolutionized the cyling industry by adapting high-performance road bikes for endurance riders and racers, the Roubaix Comp shares the same basic geometry as the top-end Roubaix models while using Specialized's mid-level FACT 7r carbon with monocoque fork and Zertz elastomer inserts in the fork and chainstays. Combined with a taller headtube for a more upright position and a longer wheelbase to relax the bike, the Roubaix provide a silky smooth and very comfortable ride.

Neil began riding only a few years ago, and with a growing list of long-distance rides behind him, he has graduated from a older retooled Schwinn ten-speed to a newer hybrid to this new Roubaix. The bike itself was purchased from Toga Bikes, a shop which I used when living in NYC and highly recommend, and was custom fitted by Will, which I also highly recommend (I forgot his last name, but he did the fitting on my cyclocross bike and I haven't changed it in three years now). With this Roubaix, Neil rolls on a full Shimano kit - including a 105 gruppo and RS-10 wheelset - and sits on Specialized's highly-praised Toupe saddle while resting his hands on thier cushy Body Geometry Bar Phat tape. I had the same tape on my Specialized Langster, and I reccomend it to every roadie and 'crosser out there.

'Nuff said. Thanks to Neil for submitting his bike, and we hope (and know) he's gonna put plenty of miles on this sweet rig.

Got a bike you want everybody to see. Paste a picture of it into an e-mail (sorry, no attachments or downloads please) and send it to jewishcycling@gmail.com, and get the velo "nachas" you deserve.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trish Cohen is going to the Maccabi Games.

I am please to announce that my fellow Jewish Velo Blogger and fellow Jewish Bike Racer, Trish Cohen, is going to be representing the United States of America at the 2009 Maccabbee Games in Israel. Trish is the person behind the popular OyVelo website and blog, and has done a commendable job of popularizing Israeli cycling and the Israeli bike manufacturer, Segal, here in America.

Trish is also a powerful racer. She's a Cat. 1, which is very impressive since she began racing in 2006 as a Cat. 4. She's a common sight on the podiums in Florida and also races in the Professional National Race Calendar. She will be part of the 900+ delegation representing the USA, and a female cyclist can get lost in a crowd like that, especially amongst competators in more popular events like track or swimming (which, BTW, are more popular, but no where near as exciting). Think of her as the Katie Compton of Women's Jewish Road Racing, and let's give her support, both of the "allez allez" kind and also of the financial kind.

She needs to race $3,300 for the team, and you can help her out here:

And you can also check out the Oy Velo website by clicking on the link to the right under the "Must-Visit Cycling Websites" section and also by clicking on the link to her blog.

Good luck to Trish, and to all of the cyclists at the Maccabi Games, but for The Complete Jewish Cyclist, he's pulling for Cohen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2008 Capitol Cross Classic - Reston, VA

A true cyclist is not a fair weather cyclist, and a fair weather cyclist is certainly not a cyclocrosser. Nowhere was this more evident than at this Sunday's Capitol Cross Classic; a thin sheet of snow and ice covered the ground as air temperatures hovered at or below an icy 30 degrees for most of the day while the winds blasted from 20 to 40 mph over the frigid waters of Lake Fairfax.

And it was to this quaint suburban summer retreat that the MAC cyclocross series came to on this barren and desolate winter day for its series finale, the Capitol Cross, presented by The Bike Lane and the Potomac Velo Club. Inhospitable as the weather may have been, the Capitol Cross is the de-facto end of the season party for the MAC/MABRA 'cross scene, so the atmosphere was warmed up by the good social vibes and celebration of all things velo (velo with knobbies and cantilever brakes, of course). Also warming things up were the heated bathrooms and the heated "HQ" building, where riders could sign in without frostbitten fingers.

Not heated, however, was the course. In fact, the open section along the Lake Fairfax dam concentrated the worst aspects of the day's weather to all those who had to race along it, leaning precariously into the brutally strong and icy winds. But once across this forbidding no-mans land, the course turned into a true cyclocross paradise. The run-up from the lake was longer than ever, and harder with the installment of new railway ties. After a grueling slog through the ensuing gravel (read: rocks) section, a key feature of the course reared it's infamous ugly head - the technical downhill and the very slick off-camber, where many a bike and rider met the ground.

Being my last race of the season, I was looking to go down with all guns firing in the C Men's race, even as I was just getting over being sick. Two years ago I came to this race as a spectator, witnessing my first ever cyclocross race. Last year I came here to race at the tail end of my first 'cross season, finishing 44th. This year, after a season of three top 30 finishes and two top 20s, I came looking to keep this season in the top 30. Despite falling on the off-camber, I made up time and positions on the run-ups and the climbs, and finished the day in 26th, taking that position in a sprint to the line. Otherwise, I had a great time out on the course, making my passes on the run-ups and climbs. At the end of it all, it was nice to finish and find the warmth of my car and the warmth of my fellow 'crossers afterwards on this very arctic day.

Afterwards, I turned my attention to supporting my Bike Rack DC team mate, Matthew Bartlett, in the B Men's race. Bartlett won the C Men's race at the DCCX, and has been riding strongly in the Cat 3/4 races since. Bartlett had a strong day out on this very challenging course, finishing the day in 25th after steadily moving up all during the race. Also in the race was my friend Mike Giancoli of Hup United. He missed the C Men's race earlier in the day, and made it up with a brave ride in this field of some very fast and strong riders.

Overall, a great race and a tough day and an awesome way to end an awesome season for myself and my team. 'Nuff said, here's lots of pictures. Thanks for reading this and checking out the blog, and stay tuned to The Complete Jewish Cyclist for more of your kosher cycling fix.

C Men's Race

The cold and frigid start of the C Mens race at 9:00 AM. I'm in the blue and black Bike Rack kit, just behind Steve Riskus of AABC.

Charging the fast downhill section out of the forest behind Lake Fairfax. This descent became dicier with each pass.

The infamous off-camber was the crux of the race, especially for the C Mens race when the ground was slick and hard, offering little purchase. I went down here.

Getting back on while being passed by Elliot Caldwell, whom I would have to race against later on in a sprint to the finish line.

The run up was a real challenge, as it was made longer this year than in previous years, but turning off of the frigid exposed section of the Lake Fairfax dam was actually a nice relief.

The run up was crucial, as I was able to make up a few places here, but it did take a massive effort.

Descending out of the forest and off of the dam, this was a part of the course to gain plenty of speed and keep the pace high, as a brave spectator looks on in the freezing cold.

3/4 Mens & B Masters

The Unholy Rouleur himself, Jim from Squadra Coppi, leads a group up one of the technical climbs out on the course.

Joseph Ventosa of Proteus is both an very nice guy and a hearty racer. He does something like two or three races, and can be found hammering on both a geared bike and a single speed.

Not everybody is Sven Nys, but everybody races 'cross, and anybody who races 'cross is commendable and exciting to watch.

Around the Race Venue

The heated bathrooms just yards from the start line came as a luxury on this brutally raw day.

The strong gusty winds had the course tape flapping wildly all over the place, even tearing it down in many sections.

It was a long windy drag to the finish line, where the banner flailed in the strong breezes.

The race venue provided an nice gathering area, providing exhibitors from The Bike Lane, REI, and a food vendor serving warm food and drinks (sadly, none of it kosher). Many of the tents actually blew over in the winds.

Steve Riskus (AABC) on the left, and James McNeely (Squadra Coppi) on the right trading war stories from out on the course.

Tom Jones and Chris Mattingly of Proteus.

Hmmm...now which of these free sponsored BMC 'cross bikes is mine...

...none. Mine is my trusty, tried and true Cannondale Optimo Cyclocross (not free nor sponsored, but masterfully serviced by the master mechanics at The Bike Rack).

B Men's Race

Riders warming up and staying warm for the B Men's race...

...and look who's doing the Bs! Michael Giancoli of HUP United came for the C Men's race, but showed up late so decided to mix it up in the upper classes. Mike's a kick-ass C racer, so it's rad that he made an on-the-spot decision to do the notoriously fast Killer B's race.

James Mcneely having a pre-race chat with Giancoli ("dude, my hat and sweater are so much warmer than your helmet and skinsuit right now").

My Bike Rack DC team mate and winner of the C Men's race at the DCCX lines up for the start of the B Men's race.

Giancoli at the start as well, with yet another cool variation of the HUP United team kit.

Bartlett in the opening lap, working the switchback midfield.

Giancoli comes through the same section a few moments later.

Bartlett powers up the climb, beginning his surge up through the field.

Giancoli climbs the hill as well as riders begin to fall behind him as well.

Off the damn and through the forest, Bartlett settles into his rhythm.

Giancoli also finds a line through the increasingly slippery corners.

Bartlett working the run up, where he displayed fine form as the race progressed.

He also showed fine form on the slick off-camber, staying on his machine through this dicey section.

Giancoli on the off-camber, guiding his Rock Lobster through a good line.

Nearing the end of the race, Bartlett gives it full gas towards a fine 25th place finish in this grueling race on a brutal day.

Giancoli powers up the climb, also near the end of a good race. He came to race the C's, and ended up racing the B's, and with a series of excellent finishes this season, this was an heroic way for him to finish up the 'cross season. HUP HUP HUP!

Photographic Self-Indulgance

We love cycling for many reasons, and one of them is purely visual. Cycling is a very aesthetic sport, and to a greater degree, lifestlye. Whether the images be of bikes, riders, or landscapes such as the serpantine road up L'Alpe D'Huez or the brutal cobbles of the Foret du Arenburg, cycling's visual library is both vast and ever enticing. And in particular, cyclocross holds its own special place in the library of cycling imagry; raw weather, muddy courses, faces twisted in painful contortion, and empassioned fans. Of course this imagery is played out on a grand and epic scale on the legendary 'cross battlefields of Belgium, but for us MABRA/MAC cyclocrossers, we'll take what we can get, and we are very appreciative of what we have.

Here is some random photos from my 2008 cyclocross season to enjoy while I'm busy assembling a photo essay for the 2008 Capitol Cross. Thanks to Ryan Dudek who took most of these photos while cheering me on (C'MON JASON!!!). Thanks also to everybody who's snapped photos of me as well. If you see one of your pictures here, please let me know so that I can give you credit, or take them down if that is your wish.

2008 Ed Sander Memorial Cyclocross - Buckystown, MD

2008 DCCX - Washington, DC

2008 Rockburn Cross - Elkridge, MD

2008 Tacchino Ciclocross - Leesburg, VA