Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pavé, Pain, and Pesach: Paris-Roubaix 2009

Like many pro cycling fans, I look forward to Paris-Roubaix the same way an American football fan looks forward to the Super Bowl. My whole day was about anticipation leading up to this ultimate bike race, and excitement in preparing for it.

However, unlike most pro cycling fans, I'm an observant Jew, and since Paris-Roubaix this year falls on Chol HaMoed Pesach (the interim days of Passover), I had to curtail, or at least, customize my race-day party in order to fulfill the dietary restrictions of the holiday.

Luckily I'm married to an awesome cycling-supportive spouse, and in celebration of this classic race and in accordance with Pesach, we prepared kosher l'Pesach steak frites, matza pizza with fresh mozzarella and basil, and in lieu of a fine Belgian Ale (beer is not kosher for Passover), we sipped a nice, crisp kosher moscato. No, I don't think this is how they celebrated at the legendary Cafe de L'Arbre.

As for the race itself, Paris-Roubaix is something special. It's the race I saw in 1985 which first transfixed me and made me a cyclist. It's the race which inspires legions of cyclists and fans alike. It's a race which ignites national pride, especially amongst Flemish Belgian. Whether you know it as "The Queen of the Classics" or "The Hell of the North", the very visuals of this brutal race over the worst cobblestone roads in Europe through the barren farmlands of northern France, through the maddened throngs of fans and a backdrop of merciless rain, wind, mud, dust, crashes, and pain captivate us and draw us back year after year.

And it's what draws back men like Belgian Tom Boonen, who survived the merciless cobbles and stomped his way to an awesome third victory in a race which dates back to 1896. With the rare exception of men like Boonen, Paris-Roubaix is a race which favors nobody - the cobbles are blind assassins, but as Boonen himself has said: "You must be willing to suffer, suffer, suffer, and whomever suffers the most wins the race". Boonen knows how to suffer, but he also has that rare Belgian trait, which allows him to have a finer sense when racing at top speed on harsh surfaces in harsh conditions. And now Boonen has three wins, one away from tying the record of four wins by Roger De Vlaemick, though for right now he enjoys the company of great men like Eddy Merckx, Rik Van Looy, and Johann Museeuw.

Monday, April 6, 2009

De Ronde van Vlanderaan: Great Excuse to get rid of some Chametz

It's spring, beginning of April to be precise, and for Jews, that means only one thing: Pesach is coming. Pesach, better known when incorrectly translated as "Passover", is a week-long holiday commemorating the deliverance of the Israeli people from slavery in Egypt. The holiday has many factors, but the main one is the dietary angle, where leavened and grain products are completely avoided. This kind of food is known in Hebrew as "Chametz", and Jews the world over are commanded to completely remove all chametz from their homes and their possession. The result is a major round of "spring cleaning" prior to the holiday, where Jews go through their homes with proverbial fine-tooth combs searching out every last piece of chametz to either eat, throw away, or sell to a non-Jew.

April is also the start of the Spring Classics, a month where we see the hardest, most epic one-day bike races in the world, and the first race is always the Ronde van Vlanderaan. For those of you who don't speak Flemish (a prerequisite to being a real cyclist), the Ronde is simply "The Tour of Flanders". And of course, the Flandrian countryside is in Belgian, the spiritual homeland of cycling (kinda like cycling's Israel). So of course I was watching the Ronde, and watching Stijn Devolder ride away to his second straight win, and as is compulsory with watching pro cycling in Belgium, I had to drink a Belgian beer. In this case it was Leffe Blonde, which doubles as my official Shabbat beer.

The whole point of this post is this: I got to enjoy watching the Ronde, and in the process of finishing off my beers, which are chametz, I was both supporting my sport, supporting a Belgian Brewery, and doing the mitzvah of ridding my house of chametz prior to Pesach.

Jewish Cycling indeed!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cyclocross World Championships on TV Today!

Universal Sports TV, broadcast by NBC Television, will be showing the World Cyclocross Championships this afternoon. If you live on the East Coast on the United States, it will be aired from 5-6 PM. Local MABRA/MAC cyclists and cyclocrossers that subscribe to Comcast can find Universal Sports on channel 207. Otherwise, check channels and times on your local affiliate.

BTW, the Worlds happened back at the end of January in Hoogerheide, and pretty much all 'crossers know who won, but for all cyclists and non-cyclists, this is an awesome event to watch. However, don't forget to get your Shabbat preparations done, since right after the broadcast is over, it's gonna be time to set your lights and get dressed and ready to head out for mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 Lance Armstong Reveals He's Jewish!

...Actually, no he's not.

His real name is not really Levi Aronovich, he doesn't use a non-Jewish body double to race on Shabbat and Chagi'im, and Mellow Johnnys will not be opening up a shop in Tel-Aviv.

I've been getting smacked around all day by cycling-related April Fool's posting on the interwebs that I felt obliged to do one myself (Jewish-theme, of course). However, since today is a busy day for me, I did this post in, like, three minutes.

Here's a much better job of an April Fools post. This one is good also.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On Judaism and Crashing Nice Bikes.

Many years ago, I read a very useful tip in Bicycling Magazine.

The tip was about using the palm of your cycling glove to clean potentially hazardous debris off your tires while riding in order to avoid a puncture. Little did I know that this tip, which I've used successfully on countless occasions over so many years, would one day come back to bite me in the ass (almost literally!)

By many years ago, I mean back in the days when high-end race bikes cost a wallet-burning $2000, the lightest pro bikes weighed a feathery 19.5 pounds, and shift levers were brazed onto beautifully painted down tubes. And talking about those down tubes, all bike frames consisted of round tubes. So when you did this tip of cleaning the tires with your gloves, you gently touched the palm of your cycling glove to the tire while the bike was in motion. After brushing off the front tire, you reached back and brushed off the rear tire. Brushing off the rear tire was a trickier motion, so you reached back, felt for the seat tube, and then slid your hand between the seat tube and the tire. This was generally a safe thing to do, since between the round seat tube and the spinning rear tire, you still had a safe amount of space to work with.

Over the years, this practice became second nature to me, and I used it safely on six different bikes, all with round seat tubes. Then, one day a few weeks ago, I did it on my newest bike, a Giant TCR-C2. The one with the swoopy and curvacious carbon frame. The one with the compact geometry. The one with the airfoil down tube, which barely allows for a grain of sand to fit between the tube and the tire. This is how it went down, or rather, this is how the bike and I went down.

So I ride through a sandy patch on the road and hear the gritty sound of grainy rubber on asphalt. As always, I reach down and rub clean the front tire. Then I turn around to do the same to the rear, and the moment I feel the back tire, I realized that I was about to do something terribly wrong. As I make contact with the back tire, my pinky, then my glove, gets sucked into the airfoil. The back wheel locks up, the rear end slides out, and down I go.

It was quick, and thankfully painless. High-speed slides are easier on the bike and rider than low-speed slams. The bike suffered only a scuffed-up Ultegra shifter and a scraped-up Easton skewer on the rear wheel. As for the rider, my clothes stayed intact, but my butt and elbow shed a little skin, and that would become plainly evident the next morning in a most Jewish of fashions.

The next morning I'm at Minyan (yishar koach!). In an experience unique only to Jewish cyclists, I had the scathing pleasure to wrap Tefillin around fresh road rash. Yes, those first two wraps around the lower arm were indeed a bit to the sensitive side. Even better, the rabbi called me up for Hagba, where I and my sore and battered body would get to lift the Sefer Torah for everybody to see. Great! One day after nearly trashing $3000 worth of bike, I have to try to lift and not drop $100,000 worth of hand-made Torah, which itself weighs as much as a bike with Mavic Aksium wheels. Luckily, I didn't drop it, but my form was rather shaky.

Either way, the Giant, the Torah, and The Complete Jewish Cyclist all lived to fight another day. And BTW, if you do go down on your bike in the DC area, might I recommend having the folks at the The Bike Rack check it out afterwards. One reason my bike survived and survives is because of the phenomenal build and servicing my bike has received from them.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dude, Seriously, Update Your Blog (Part 4)!


The "Complete" Jewish Cyclist has been "The Incomplete Jewish Cyclist" as of late. Practically no blog entries and not too much riding.

As for the latter, my days are spent looking for a job (I got pink-slipped along with half of my company). Granted, I do steal time during the week here and there for a quick spin or a serious workout, but as of late, the wildly unpredictable and raw late-winter weather of the Mid-Atlantic region has made for spotty weekday riding and Sundays ridable for only the heartiest of flahutes and men with names like Jens Voight.

As for blogging, there's no excuse for that. I suck. But I do have lots to blog about, like my crash a few weeks ago (me and bike are OK), my new kosher cycling drink, and the upcoming Spring Classics like Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, and Pesach/Passover.

'nuff said. Go ride. In the meantime, blog entries without photos or links suck, so there's a picture of some of my gear above, and here's a link to an insane amount of insane bike porn from the North American Hand Made Bicycle Show.

A New Definition of Jewish Cycling

What is Jewish Cycling? Well, while I may have a few definitions of what it may be, it's still a very unexplored question with the potential for many answers, but as The Complete Jewish Cyclist, I will offer up the first:

Jewish cycling is riding to minyan in the frigid predawn hours through fresh, deep powder from a recent blizzard on your cyclocross bike with a tallit and tefillin in your backpack, and then saying shacharit while wearing, amongst other things, Shimano SPD shoes wrapped in Pearl Izumi thermal booties.

Yitgadal v'yitkadash...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cross My Heart Cyclocross - Quick Report

Competed today in the C-Mens race at the inaugural edition of the Cross My Heart cyclocross, sponsored by the guys at Proteus and held at the Cherry Hill RV Park in College Park, Maryland.

Awesome race. Course was very creative, well designed, and with a nice flow. Additionally, while it was unseasonably mild, the course was still snowy, icy, slushy, and muddy. Also known as "fun". The atmosphere was a social and enjoyable as to be found at any 'cross race: complete bike culture, competitive racing, but no elitism. Just a good 'ol time with lots of bikes, riders, and mud. Kudos to the Proteus guys on a great race and a great job, and I hope they have this race again next year.

I raced in the C Mens race, and place 5th in the field of 57 riders - my best result ever in a CX race. Afterwards, I took advantage of the fact that one of the very few kosher restaurants in the area, Pita Plus, was just down the road, so The Complete Jewish Cyclist was able to grab some real meaty kosher food post-race.

More to come...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dude, Seriously, Update Your Blog (Part 3)!

Oy Gevult!

It's been way too long since I last updated this blog (yes, The Complete Jewish Cyclist has been rather incomplete in his Jewish blogging duties).

So since I've last "blogged" (BTW, I don't fancy the verb "blogging". Sounds like "blob", and as we know, cyclists aim to move a bit faster than a blob), some things have changed. I received a piece of my paper from my company. Actually, it was less of a piece of paper, and more like a slip. In fact, it even had a color. It was pink.

And if you're not familiar with these pinkish slips (lucky you - for now at least), you can ask any of the 70,000 people who received one on a single day last week, or the 515,000 people who received one last week overall, or the 700,000 who received one last month, or the too-many millions who have received one last year. If you're not familiar with them, here's a great way to spot one; they're the people who have gone from choosing between Dura-Ace and Record to choosing between spare tubes and lunch money. Sigh...

As for The Complete Jewish Cyclist, the time has been spent taking a breather from the previous job, prepping for a job search, and riding 225 miles in January alone. Normally this time of year, the riding is merely spinning - high cadence in a low gear - but with a 'cross race coming up February 1st, the rides have been a bit more intense, especially in the area of climbing. Either way, my goal now is to find a job which will be commutable by bike, be a bike-friendly workplace, and be a good job for a racing cyclist to live with and live around.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Giant Riders - Rejoice!

Since becoming the owner of a Giant TCR-C2 last summer, I quickly became an erstwhile fan of Team Columbia, the Pro Tour squad that grew out of the rubble of the former T-Mobile team. Aside from being an early fan of Mark Cavendish and a longtime fan of Eric Zabel (and sadly, I was duped into being a fan of their doped-up Kazakh beast), I was never really excited about the squad. But since owning a bike of the same namesake as those of team Columbia, I suddenly felt an affection for the revitalized and now American-based team. In fact, I even made the purchase on the same day Marcus Burghart won a stage of the Tour de France on a Giant TCR Advanced.

So imagine my sadness when I learned that Columbia would no longer be aboard Giants, but switching instead to Scott. It happened at a time when seemingly every team played musical bike sponsors, including Saxo Bank on Specialized and Silence-Lotto on Canyon. Then a silver lining appeared on the clouds of Giant riders everywhere when Rabobank, the legendary Dutch squad and one of my favorite teams, announced they would be riding Giants in 2009.

That's right all of you riders out there on TCRs and OCRs, even if you're not aboard a TCR Advanced SL, you still will share the same namesake as Oscar Friere, Juan Antonio Flecha, and Robert Gesink, whom The Complete Jewish Cyclist pegs as a future Grand Tour winner. And yes, you can check out the Giant line of bikes at The Bike Rack (link to the right). The Rabos had a down season last year despite some great riding by Friere, Flecha, and Gesink, but they're a refocused team this year with some smart goals, and as any Giant owner will tell you, they will be riding some really awesome machines.

(Update: Nick Nuyens will also be riding for Rabobank in the 2009 season. Nuyens is a killer Classics rider, and expect to see him as the Rabo's key man in races like Het Volk and Kurne-Brussels-Kurne. Flecha will still be their man for races like Ronde van Vlaandaren and Paris-Roubaix, but expect to see Nuyens placed up in any move Flecha goes in, with Nuyens either being the solo break set-up guy or the main rider is Flecha has a bad day. And no matter what, he'll be doing it on a Giant!!!)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bikes of the Jewish Peleton - Tom's Kona Jake

While Tom Jones' Kona Jake is the second bike to be featured here on The Complete Jewish Cyclist, it shares the dual distinction of being the first cyclocross bike and the first race bike (yishar koach!). Though mainstream cyclists may not be familiar with the Kona brand, serious enthusiasts and racers have an almost cult-like affinity for the Ferndale, WA-based company. Perhaps the best known Kona is the bright orange Major Jake of newly-crowned U.S. national cyclocross champion Ryan Trebon, and the Kona line of 'cross bikes, including the Jake, are a popular sight on any local cyclocross circuit such as the MAC/MABRA series, which Tom races as part of the Proteus cycling team.

Tom's Jake is the entry-level model amongst Kona's three 'cross bikes, but shares the same geometry and 7005 butted aluminum frame as the mid-level Jake the Snake, differing only in the use of a steel fork versus a carbon fork. Still, even though the Jake is geared towards a broader range of riders than the top-of-the line Major Jake, which is geared towards racers only, the Jake itself is very much a race-ready bike and is the race bike of many local cyclocrossers. With its versatility, however, the Jake also makes for a fine commuter or long-distance touring bike.

Tom himself put the Jake through its paces in his first-ever cyclocross season this year, and pulled it (and himself) through in one piece with some pretty gutsy performances in some very demanding races. He also plans to put the bike to an equally demanding challenge by riding all 186 miles of the C&O Canal in one day later this year, a ride which The Complete Jewish Cyclist is also giving serious consideration to doing. You can follow Tom's riding and racing at his blog (

Thank you Tom for submitting your rig to Bikes of the Jewish Peleton, and be sure to keep it nice and muddy.

If you have a bike you would like us to feature on The Complete Jewish Cyclist, send an e-mail with some info on the bike and a picture of the bike pasted into the e-mail (sorry, no attachments or downloads) to

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009 First Ride

So here it is, and here we are.

It's January 1st, 2009. The cyclometer shows nothing but zeros; all of the numbers from a massive 2008 cycling season are now erased, and there is left to do is spend the next 365 stuffing as many new numbers in there as possible. Of course, they're not just numbers, but over the course of 2009, they will represent experiences and memories - pacelines, climbs, sprints, descents, breaks, chases, open-road cruising, and even relaxing recovery rides. They will be experienced alone, with team mates, Sunday morning group rides, and most of all, those riders we hook up with along the way out on the open road who's names we don't know, may not know, might not remember, but for a few miles will become friends in the our cycling world.

As for The Complete Jewish Cyclist, the new year is only Gregorian. I greeted fellow velojew Tom Jones ( this morning with a hearty "Shana Tovah", Hebrew for "happy New Year", though it was all in humor as shana tovah is reserved for Rosh HaShana rather than January 1st. He was one of a group of riders out in Washington, DC to turn laps on the 3.2 mile circuit of the Haines Point peninsula. Now of course, people called me everything from "brave" to "crazy" for venturing out this morning - it was 28 degrees with frigid northerly winds - and also strange since at 11:00 AM on January 1st, people are supposed to be in bed with a hangover.

Well, I may seem to be brave and/or crazy, which is understandable when you're just one cyclist rolling out of your apartment building. But when you join about 30 or 40 riders doing the same thing, then you find that normality comes in numbers, even if normality is defined by being brave and crazy. Actually, we are neither: we aren't brave because it really is quite pleasant riding on mornings like this (there were even people out golfing on Haines Point), and we are not crazy because we are highly prepared, geared, and practiced in riding on days like today.

As for today's ride, it was not what I was planning for. I usually make my first ride of the year an easy spin, simply working out the kinks of a month off the bike and starting off my base mileage. Instead, 17 miles of today's ride was like a Sunday morning A-paced ride. Pretty much all of the local teams were out on the Point, including Vday, Bike Lane, Squadra Coppi, NCVC, Kenda, Proteus, and myself as the sole Bike Rack DC rider. There was another team out there who's name I couldn't recall, but thier two guys had matching kits and bikes. Fair to say there were some guys (and gals) out there who live for things like upgrade points. The pace was fast and furious, the big rings came out the moment 2009 dropped, but the riding was still intense. Not how I planned today's ride to be, but I'll take it anyway since it was a lot of fun and a nice way to begin this new year.

All in all a good day on the bike, but there's still 364 days to go, so B"H it will be a season that sees success, prosperity, health, and happiness on and off the bike, a 365 day period to improve on the great 365 days that proceeded it.

Here's the stats from todays ride on the Giant TCR-C2:

• 2 1/2 hours of riding
• 42.06 miles
• ave. speed: 16.5 mph
• max speed: 28 mph