Category Archives: BikeNYC

Lately I’ve gotten interested in my Strava heatmap. The randonneuring doesn’t show up on it much–I can see Patrick’s Queens-Montauk route, and little pieces of George’s up in the Hudson Valley, and the entirety of the Shore By Night, and I’m proud of those–but I didn’t get the Garmin until recently, and I didn’t use the iPhone much on brevets because it always died halfway through.

What I like is my tracks all over the grid of Manhattan, and the vectors radiating from it in all directions–East into Brooklyn and Queens, Northeast into Westchester, Northwest and Southwest into New Jersey. I’m a New Yorker, and I know these streets the way only a cyclist knows them. My legs drove every revolution of every wheel. I dodged all the cabs and potholes. It was me and the street and the bike in downpours, blizzards, blasting heat and perfect breeze. I did the uphills, I did the downhills, I dodged the trucks and stole interference from buses and deked around jaywalkers, and I fixed it or walked when it broke, or I broke it, or a mechanic broke it in a way that took 30 minutes or 3 days to show up. I leaned it against delis, I hit bad joints on bridges, I dropped roadies, I got dropped by guys with butts fatter than I accept that mine could possibly be.

“This is my city” is a nonsensical, gritty line written by writers who need another edit, but fuck yeah, this is my city. I laid the streets, I built the bridges, I mapped it. I rode it. This is my city. Whatever yours is, is yours. This one’s mine.

Keith’s Strava Heatmap

my_city

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April 1, 2014 · 10:06 pm

RIDE REPORT: Seven Gates 50K Petite Brevet

A BREVET STARTS when you wake up. Ride preparation is backstory. It ended last night. This morning, in medias res, you do what randos have always done:

  • Eat
  • Dress
  • Stop singing and find your hoody
Controle 1: P.S. 314

Controle 1, P.S. 314, 08:00

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IT WAS EIGHT in the morning, but the gray chill wasn’t easing off. “You’ll warm up as we go,” I assured my companions, who were wearing their new real bike shorts, and we went R OUT OF CONTROLE ONTO BROADWAY.

n_broadway_pigeons

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THE SEVEN GATES 50K is a three-controle out-and-back. It starts and ends in Inwood, at the top of Manhattan, so the first thing we do is leave New York City.

Marble Hill used to be part of both Manhattan, the actual island, and Manhattan, the borough, which back then were the same thing. When the Harlem River was rerouted to truncate the tip of the island, Marble Hill got amputated. In all meaningful ways, it’s now fused to the Bronx; but civically, it’s still a ghost digit of Manhattan, the dotted outline of a toe up where no toe should be. It’s populated by the tormented spirits of doomed New Yorkers, stranded forever in a twilight existence where the subways vanish. But the Broadway Bridge goes there.

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whirring of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whir of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls

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ON THE OTHER SIDE, my companions offhandedly mentioned they might be feeling the slightest sensation of coolness, so I berated them. “Are you randonneurs or children?” I sneered. “Are you riding? Like hardmen? Or OHHH, should we stop for COCOA at some nice little WARM PLACE?”

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Cocoa at warm place

Cocoa at warm place

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MILE 1.3: ENTER VAN CORTLANDT PARK BIKE PATH. If you don’t have a cue sheet, but you know where to jink over to the left past the bones of the abandoned train platform, where it doesn’t necessarily look like you should, you’ll be on a dirt-road-looking thing that soon narrows. If you did it accidentally, the sensation of being in the wrong place may stop you. You didn’t see any NO BIKES signs, but you might decide not to go in.

But if you know…

z_on_dirt_standing

 
The bottom mile and a half of what used to be the Old Putnam Railroad is now rideable hardpack, sometimes with a little mud—or more than a little—and always with stray roots and rocks and half-buried railroad ties. Then so sharp you can feel the surveyor’s line, the paving starts, and soon after this passage into Yonkers comes a passage both more profound and more nasal: Dad has promised to reveal to you the secret of the snot rocket.

 

Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness

Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness

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Boys!
Stay right!

THE PHRASES “NOT as steep as Henshaw, but longer” and “just downshift and you’ll be fine” trickled away almost as soon as Dad said them, weeks ago. “Two-mile climb” has remained solid in memory, and you have the nebulous sense it’s coming up. Is this it? No, this is flat. Is this it? No, this isn’t it. Is this it? Are we climbing? No. Then this isn’t it.

But now the surface has been tilted slightly up for a ways, and it’s tilting up slightly more. “Is this it?”

“This is the beginning of it…”

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“STOP!” BELLOWS THE voice falling further behind. “STOP! WAIT UP! STOP! HEY! YOU GUYS! HEY! HEY!

Like much of this route, the leg we’re on wavers more-or-less straight, with no intersecting trails or cross streets. There’s nowhere to go but forward or backwards. Instructions have been given a thrice of thrices: If we’re separated, we’ll meet up at the top of the climb, which is Gate 1.

But this rider, who on the flats enjoys passing his clubmates and wiggling his hiney at them, can be lazy on hills, a laziness that turns to indifference when he’s passed and fury when he’s dropped. His countertactic is to allow the escape group to build their lead until the gap seems too wide to bridge, and then, many heartbeats after seasoned observers will have written off his chances, to brake, plant his feet, stand in the middle of the lane, and holler.

There’s mild discussion at the front of the group, but these domestiques have been riding with him a long time. They continue to gain elevation. The occasional two-story roof shows through breaks in the treeline; the toys in those houses’ front yards look like toys. The echoing sounds of outrage become more distant.

Then an increase in volume and a decrease in echo, the words now intelligible: FINE! I’M SO MAD, I’M GONNA PASS YOU! repeated several times, and soon a red-hoodied blaze churns past on the left, past his companions, one of whom latches on and sprints. The other companion smiles silently and watches them race around the final bend—to Gate 1.

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YOU DID THE two-mile climb. What do you get on the way back?

A two-mile descent!

Stay right!

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EVERY PETITE BREVET—yearly, except I couldn’t get it together last year—I add another element. Last time it was more distance. This time it was more distance and a cue sheet.

Seven times between Manhattan and Elmsford Falls, the rail trail crosses a street or entry road. Cars could turn onto the trail if there was nothing to stop them, so there are not just bollards, but gates.

It may be conceivable that this only happens six times, and that the route designer, who’d already ordered medals with SEVEN GATES 50K engraved on the backs, had to go looking for a seventh gatelike thing on the final pre-ride, but this could not be confirmed by press time. Regardless: This cue sheet has a column called GATE, in which appear the numbers 1 through 7, for riders to whom monitoring TOTAL and LEG seems like less fun than you should have on a Saturday.

A seventh gatelike thing

A seventh gatelike thing

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Stay right!
Bike up, hold your line!

“IT FEELS A lot stronger after lunch, doesn’t it?”

“My legs feel brand new!”

Mile 15.8 is the turnaround, Elmsford Deli.

Around mile 18, a boy paying too much attention to giving his brother a very sweet pep talk and not enough to—something, we’ll never know what—went down. I heard the tone of sincere encouragement passing between them ahead, and then there was a low tangle of bike, boy, and lost shoe, and that sound of short metal tubing and forty pounds of flesh hitting pavement and sliding.

I have failed him at this moment before. When he got creamed on the flat between the two Little Red Lighthouse descents, and I carried a 16″ bike and a screaming six-year-old down to the bottom, I was angry. It was with myself, but that distinction clarifies too late to make a difference to a hurt child. And when he ate it on the playground and the first-aid pack with FAMILY BIKE on it in green marker wasn’t in my pannier, I had to borrow whatever little Band-Aid was offered from the bottom of a purse.

So first I did not run him over, and then as he shrieked so hard, still sprawled and tangled, that his voice distorted like a guitar, I leaned my head tube against a bench back and unbuckled the pannier and dug out the first-aid pack.

If this story had a different ending, my first words being Pick it up would now be slotted in behind the other things I regret in painful detail years later. But gently and firmly, opening the pack: Pick it up, you can get up, and he did. I helped him out of his frame. His brother retrieved the shoe.

The wailing had stopped. I noticed the suddenness.

His hands were okay—half-gloves—but there was road rash. Dirt was ground into abrasions up his leg and there was a good half-inch rip filled with blood, and a couple of smaller versions of it.

“It just stings,” he said. His voice was shaky. I felt my surprise change my face. “It’s fine,” he said again, still uncertain. “It just stings.”

I gave him a wipe and had him gently cleanse the wound while I got the big Band-Aid ready. How the heck had he done that? He didn’t know.

“I think you were doing a good job of encouraging your brother, and talking to him a lot, so you weren’t paying attention to the road.”

He said, “The thing about helping people is you don’t help yourself.”

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“I’M VERY IMPRESSED with you right now,” I said as I bunched up the first-aid wrappers to shove into an outer pannier pocket.

“I’m acting like Johnny Hoogerland right now,” he said.

As we rode out, he murmured, “I didn’t know I was like that.” He said it again, maybe twice more, only partly to me.

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MILE 20.1: X SAWMILL PKWY, R INTO CONTROLE. Controle is unstaffed, so timestamped receipts take the place of a signature.

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected

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RANDONNEURING, LIKE MOST things, is mostly about the basics.

  • Eat again.
  • While you are doing your shoulder check, do not run off the road.
  • If your penis hurts, put Lantiseptic on it.
  • The Lantiseptic will warm up.

Is this the two-mile descent?

No.

Is this the two-mile descent?

No.

Is this the two-mile descent?

Are we descending?

No.

Then this isn’t it.

Heads up!
Stay right!

z_n_downhill_zoom
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“THEY SMELL THE BARN,” says Laurent, the man I followed around for my first year randonneuring, to explain why bicycles speed up at the end of a brevet.

n_elevated_train

MILE 29.6: SOUTHBOUND BROADWAY SIDEWALK. CAUTION: PEDESTRIANS, DRIVEWAYS.

We’re moving in 2014, and not sure where yet, so the randonneuring element I’ll add a year from now may reveal itself when we get there. If not, time limits to the controles are the obvious addition. For what is a brevet without a faint, constant trickle of fear?

But months before the Who Knows Where We’ll Land 75K, there will be the 40-mile (64-kilometer) Five-Boro Bike Tour, a fitting goodbye lap of the city where you were born, and with it maybe a little more understanding that even compared to grownups, a little dude like you can sling some respectable skills.

Or it may just be a bunch of whining—you never know what’s coming, this far out.

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n_medal_results

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Johnny Hoogerland was hit by a car and thrown through the air into a barbed-wire fence within minutes of our sitting down to watch our first Tour de France together. Parts of him were torn to ribbons. He finished the stage.

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Every rider has a rider he dreams about.
I dreamed of one day being as good as Barthélemy.

 
—The Rider
Tim Krabbé

 

seven-gates

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The work-at-home bike commute

In 2009 I lost my job on Wall Street.

(I assume you know me well enough, but I’ll remind you anyway: Wall Street, not WALL STREET.)

Wall Street is at the bottom of Manhattan, and I lived way up at the top where cabbies think you’re trying to trick them into going to the Bronx. Three days a week, I rode my folding bike twelve miles downtown, folded it up, hoisted it up onto a shoulder (it was a Dahon Matrix; at the time, I didn’t get small wheels) and carried it into the building. And then—I was cheery. I rolled with idiocy. Crisis? No crisis. Problem? No sweat. After solving everybody’s problems in the whole world, I rode twelve miles back home, where I was also cheery, and nice to my family. Then the recession came and I lost the job. Well, sort of. I got insulted by a poorly handled pay cut and took my desk fan and walked out.

And very soon was not cheery, and did not roll with idiocy, and was not nice to my family.

I know people do lunch rides, but I just won’t, ever. There are probably reasons for this. I don’t know what they are. But thing was, I had found the secret magic that got me riding: my commute. It took  the same time as the train, and—the real thing—it didn’t have to be wedged into my day between other things. I didn’t have to find time to ride; my hour of exercise was simultaneous with the hour I couldn’t avoid spending on transporting my person to work anyway.

So I got my 24 miles and my cheeriness and it didn’t displace a single other part of my life. Sunlight glittered. Angels hummed Count Basie.

Then recession and a new business—which meant working from home! I can go climb Fort George Hill at lunchtime! I thought, and I’ll be surprised if I do that even once!

It’s not that far to Fort George Hill:

It’s just that for those unknown reasons, I won’t.

The solution didn’t come for I don’t know, a year of complaining how I missed my commute. But here it is. Somebody’s going to read this and look surprised and go DUH! out loud and wonder why neither of us thought of this sooner, and buy a new pannier and change their whole life.

Here’s what you do.

You get a pannier that carries a laptop. (I have an Arkel Bug.)

You get a laptop suited to your work that fits in the pannier. (I have a MacBook Pro 17″. I didn’t buy it until I took the Arkel Bug to Tekserve and had the guy put the computer in it and made sure the zipper would close.)

You find a Starbucks twelve miles away. It doesn’t have to be a Starbucks, but you get where I’m going here.

That’s it. That’s your commute. Mount up on your Xootr Swift (because now you do get small wheels) and ride there in the morning and work.

Up to Dobbs Ferry

Then when you’re done, ride back home and don’t be all cranky and resentful because Congress. Be cheery and harmonious because leaves and sunshine and roots and railroad ties on the South County Rail Trail.

Or, you know. Distant caravans silhouetted along the Nile. Whatever they have in your neighborhood.

If you do it, would you tell me? Obvious as it is, it’s still one of the better things I ever thought of, so I’d like to know.

work-at-home-commute

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Two bikes for sale

I’m happy to sell the white one, the first I’ve put together so I could understand bikes better. (It’s been thoroughly checked out by the bike shop.) Selling it to make room for the next assembly.

I’m sad to sell the little yellow one, which taught me how deep a four-year-old’s pride of ownership could be. He rode it until he was seven.

UPDATE: The little yellow bike is sold.

Both prices firm. I’m no good at haggling, so I don’t.

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Night Ride

night_ride_cover_for_blog

AT THE TOP OF THE RISE he waits for the signal from the bottom, and when he hears GO! he lets off the brake and pushes the pedals. It’s not a big chainwheel he’s got, so his feet are spinning at top speed in about three seconds—but by then he’s already flying.

Last weekend he flashed past the dip at the bottom and got twenty feet up the other side before he had to stand out of the saddle. You had to stand when you climbed because it gave your legs more power.

This time he’s going to hit the uphill with great strength, pump right up it, even the steep part, and then take the curve at the top without stopping, all the way behind the trees where no one can see him.

GO GO GO GO the words whip past his ear and make him grin, sun and shadows strobing in his eyes, and then he’s ten feet up the shallow grade, twenty, thirty, the bike slowing so soon on the steep part and he’s up out of the saddle, fists clamped around the rubberized grips, King of the Mountains, polka-dot jersey. He chants:

I-must-con-cen-trate.

I-must-con-cen-trate.

I-must-con-cen-trate.

GO GO GO GO! behind him. YOU CAN DO IT YOU CAN DO IT CLIMB LITTLE MAN CLIMB CLIMB CLIMB CLIMB!

Bobby is six.

His daddy’s cheering for him. He climbs, climbs, climbs, conquers the little part where it’s steepest and you have to push your legs hard instead of just riding your bike, and then he’s out of sight where Daddy can’t see him, which is a great joke.

Walking up the paved pathway toward him is an old man.

“Hey, Bobby,” the old man says. “Remember me?”

Bobby’s still looking at him when he hears his daddy’s bike come rolling up behind him.

“Dad,” his daddy says.

“Bob-by!” says his grandpa to his daddy.

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My bicycle confession

  1. I’D LIKE TO formally apologize to people I’ve scared inadvertently on the bike path. I saw you for quite a while before you saw me, and adjusted my line to swing wide around you, but I could tell it startled you.
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  3. I’D ALSO LIKE to apologize to the two I scared intentionally. One was on the bike path in Venice, California about fifteen years ago. You were walking next to your girlfriend and I thought you were aggressively taking up the entire lane, plus part of the opposing lane, so I blew past you close enough to lightly clip the edge of your arm with mine. I take full responsibility.

     

    The other was on the West Side Greenway in New York City, about four years ago. You meandered straight across the path from the street without even glancing to look at oncoming traffic. I zipped by close enough that you probably felt some wind, and I heard you shriek behind me. My thought was to keep you from doing that again, because the greenway is chockablock with people on bikes who aren’t skilled or alert enough to save you from your lunkishness, and I don’t want you hurt.

     

    I concede that I was also annoyed with you.

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  5. I CONFESS THAT Monday evenings have become my favorite time of the week, because first I walk from SoHo to Chinatown for banh mi and Vietnamese coffee, which I think is just iced Cafe du Monde with condensed milk, and then I walk back to SoHo for a bike repair class. Walking through the dark and neon of Chinatown has always made me feel like I’m in Blade Runner, even back before I had children and stopped remembering what it’s like to be out in a big city at night. This is as close to giddiness as I get.
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  7. I ADMIT WITHOUT the basic human decency of guilt that I have spent money on bike tools and a repair stand, including both sizes of Park Tool torque wrench, two tubs of Phil Wood Hand Cleaner, and a honking 32-oz jug of ProLink chain lube. It grieves me that I feel no regret for this, and if paroled, will do it again. Further, I admit to a glow of satisfaction upon taking a bike off the stand in better shape than when I put it up there, and to liking the image of myself with a spoke wrench and a beer.
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  9. IT IS TRUE that I only noticed the wide-open quick-releases on both brakes once I was descending Henshaw St. at considerable speed, and I aver that I may not have effected as decisive a Flintstone stop if my children hadn’t been watching from the bottom. I additionally stipulate that I have stood on a bank of the St. Lawrence River in the sub-freezing dark, straddling the frame of a hybrid bicycle, eating the best apple of my life, and that the bridges upon which you hop little islands back into Montréal, to catch your train home, are sometimes locked when you didn’t expect it.
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  11. I CONFESS THAT I do not know why even though my boys have identical bikes, one keeps dropping its chain.
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  13. I VERY MUCH regret that my actions have caused smudges on the walls in the bike area; that I have betrayed the goodwill of rugs that trusted me; that I will, at some point, kick a snapping dog; and that I hope it’s a solid kick.
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  15. I SWEAR THAT I have never felt as exhilarated as on two downhills, both mountain descents, both firsts. Exhilaration one: on a practice brevet before my first 200K, a single downhill spanning a longer distance than could fit into the boxy little dresser drawer of Manhattan. Exhilaration two: 49MPH on what I’d find out, a year or two later, is the same road the boys and I now take to our second-favorite campsite in the summer.
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  17. I SHAMEFULLY CONFIRM an excited “Boys! C’mere! C’mere!” when I saw a Calfee leaning against the wall at Darling Coffee, but plead nolo contendre to the charge that I have received a cheap frame and build kit for my first home bike assembly. I furthermore refuse to respond to any and all questions regarding dining room and repair stand, relative sizes of.
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  19. I ADMIT TO thinking poorly of:
    • Pathetic slugs slower than me
    • Arrogant showoffs faster than me
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  21. BUT ALSO TO thinking well of:
    • Kids faking out traffic and practicing BMX tricks under the GW overpass
    • Carcinomic septuagenarian, shirtless on ten-speed
    • Pasty pudgy guy, hybrid, motorcycle helmet
    • Wiry older woman who knew good hills in Edgewater
    • Ethiopian lady on mountain bike in Van Cortlandt Park
    • Local kids with tall bikes
    • Danny McAskill
    • These women
    • Guy who tossed me an inner tube when, for some reason, I didn’t have one, halfway back from Bear Mountain
    • Slender guy with a mullet I followed uptown when I couldn’t see the road because of my messed-up glasses and a bad storm, but could see his blinky
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  23. I CONFESS THAT I saw the diagonal expansion joint coming before my kid got to it on his 20″, and didn’t yell anything because I thought startling him would be worse than letting his natural reflexes handle it. I was wrong. That was one bad 15MPH wipeout and neck-twisting crash into metal railing. For this, Daddy is truly sorry.

     

    Daddy also thinks not wearing a helmet in urban environments is generally not the brightest choice, having seen where aforementioned child’s head went, and admits both to knowing who that statement will annoy and to thinking their logic is mostly confirmation bias; and moreover regrets both his lack of interest in fighting about it in the comments and the likelihood that he will anyway.

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  25. I ADMIT TO resolving the dilemma of where to look when an attractive woman zooms by on a nice bike by staring, as though riveted, at absolutely no particular component of the bike whatsoever, with great interest, until the crisis has passed.
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  27. I CONFIRM THAT I once hung by one arm from the base of a metal post near the very top of the hill above the Little Red Lighthouse, with my bike downhill from my prone body, gripped by my other fist, because I tried to ride up when the path was iced over, and I am honor-bound to tell two additional truths: I saw the neck of the guy in the little kiosk at the bottom swivel 180° as he stared after me on my way up the first rise, and I will probably try again.
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  29. I HAVE CLIMBED and descended mountains, hit potholes, and lost traction on the metal lips of driveways in downpours. I have pretended to knowledge I did not have, offered advice that turned out to be wrong, and given just the perfect fact at the perfect time. I have ridden the beaches of two coasts and glided alongside pelicans.
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  31. I HEREBY CONFIRM that the consequences of my actions have brought enhanced harmony to my family; increased productivity and tolerance of bureaucracy to my employers; and exhilaration, reduced heart rate, and damn shapely calves to myself; and I cannot, in good conscience, swear that, given the chance, I would not repeat any and all of them until my final moments on Earth, except for the one with my kid wiping out.
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  33. AND THAT I love the smell of Proofide, and finally taking off night gear at dawn on a rural road between misty pastures, and that I will always cherish towing my two-year-olds to preschool, riding with my six-year-olds to PS 178, and cheering crazily for my seven-year-olds when they finished 16-mile rides or climbed like champions. FURTHER, DEPONENT SAYETH NOT.
  34.  

     

    wing_96W

     

     

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A Saturday 200K Brevet — Part 3½

Part 3½
(half-installment—more to come)

Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.


 

ANOTHER WORD WE use is randonnée.
It’s basically the same thing as “brevet,”
a self-supported ride over long distance,
which means we can’t get personal assistance
except at checkpoints, which we call controles.
In France, they use the circumflex: contrôles.
Americans delete the e: controls.
I guess in 1337 it would be spelled <0И72Ω135,
which is a forcéd rhyme, but irregardless:

Don’t ever ride away from controles cardless Continue reading

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