Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Down And Out Here In Paradise.

Back to work today, and it's knocked me fair on my ass. So even though about a million ideas for a million sweet articles are lingering on my notepad, you're going to have to make do with just a sweet clip from Johnny Cougar.

Monday, January 30, 2012


I'm supposed to be doing the commentary for the Victorian Masters Track Championships on Sunday, so this probably isn't the best time for me to be saying this, but here goes anyway: I think the concept of Masters racing is bullshit. This isn't to detract from the racing itself, which is often brilliant, and nor is it to cast aspersions on Masters racers themselves, some of whom are classy riders who intimidate me. It is, however, to question the validity of age-based categories for adults.

Why the hell would anyone limit themselves to only riding against people their own age, anyways? Who cares how old the other guys in your bunch are? Masters racing smacks of making excuses for yourself before you even start. If you're concerned that your deteriorating physical condition won't allow you to compete on even terms with the A graders at your club meet, then instead of complaining about how there are no Masters categories, just ride B grade! Far better to be grouped with people of your own ability, who challenge you each week, who you can occasionally beat, but who push you to your limits, than ride in a bunch of blokes who were born the same year as you.

Sure, doing away with Masters categories altogether may well mean that if you're a Masters rider, you may never win that Victorian Championship. But here's the thing about Victorian Championships: They're meant to be won by the fastest people in Victoria. Winning one of the races I'll be commenting on this weekend is pretty cool, because winning races is always pretty cool, but at best your "Victorian Championship" Gold Medal will be diminished by the most insulting thing that can ever be added to a results sheet: a footnote. Yours will say that you weren't the fastest person in Victoria over one kilometre, but that you were the fastest person in Victoria over one kilometre aged between 35 and 40. Loses a little lustre, doesn't it? I'm not sure why anyone would want to settle for that. Surely it's better to keep trying to win the Austral from a handicap mark that takes into account your ability, rather than the year you were born.

In closing, here's something to consider. Jens Voigt turns 41 this year. Technically he could be racing Masters 3. Instead he's embarking on what must be his millionth Tour de France. Imagine for a moment if Jens attacked in a flat stage and got off the front. Eventually the teams of the sprinters would start working to bring him back, and the chances are pretty good that they would catch him. But imagine if after that race Jens, in what Wikipedia refers to as his "affable, forthright and articulate style", informed the media that the result did not count, as far as he was concerned, because he was chased down by riders from a different age category to him.

I know I'll get letters about this, so in order to ensure that those letters actually address the point I'm making, I'll summarize it here: I don't care how old you are. Racing should be about your ability, not what year you were born. Enter a particular grade based on how fast you can ride a bike. Even if that means - as it often does in my case - being beaten by seventeen year olds.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Once Thought I Drew A Lucky Hand.

I fricking love track racing. Yesterday I started another day down at DISC, showing my track noobs how to ride bikes and headbutt each other simultaneously. And I finished the day watching some nineteen year old colossus beat the world champion in the keirin at the National Track Championships (and hey, fast forward to 6:55 in that clip if you want to hear what a deafening silence sounds like). While road racing - and to a lesser extent, criterium racing - offers the same chance that a weaker rider with stronger tactics may succeed, on the track you can see it happening right in front of you. And on the track the effect of tactical decisions are magnified, due to the short duration of the races. If someone attacks during the last two and a half laps of a keirin, and the field doesn't react immediately, then all of a sudden you are racing for second place. That makes for dramatic racing. And the best part is, if you do stuff up, miss a move, and end up dead last, it's ok, because you've got another race coming in fifteen minutes. For an ADHD type like me, it's all I could ask for, and then a little more.

And track racing is booming in this state, both at the grassroots level (numbers at DISC on a Tuesday night have been increasing for some time, excepting the Christmas holiday lull; Bendigo Cycling Club have occasionally had to add an extra grade to their Thursday night racing; last year's Austral was sold out) and at the elite level (much to my dismay, the Saturday night session at the World Track Championships here in Melbourne has already sold out. That's right. There's not a spare seat in the house, on a night which will likely also feature pre-season football, numerous first-release movies and fancy nightclubs that sell cheap alcohol. And the World Champs are still three months away).

So imagine my dismay when I read more declarations on the internet that "Track Cycling Is Dying". Usually written by folks who only race on the road and in criteriums, these articles / tweets / updates are not only statistically incorrect, but they also represent a trend that can only do damage to track racing. Take for example Joe Wiggle, who is kinda into cycling, and has maybe ridden a few crits and seen Cam Meyer in the Olympic points race on TV. If he reads on the internet that Track is Dead, then despite how much fun Cam seems to be having, he's hardly going to splash out the extra cash on a track bike (and, conversely, if he keeps reading over and over again that Cyclocross is totally the most awesome thing since the French reinvented kissing, he's not going to hesitate to drop a thousand bucks on a new Specialized Crux, no matter how garish the colour). This may sound obvious, but people want to be involved in things that other people also want to be involved in. These articles become self-fulfilling prophecy: If you say something is dead often enough, it eventually dies.

Strangely, though, these declarations haven't yet had the predicted effect. As I wrote earlier, the numbers are increasing, the racing is getting better and better, and the volunteers are eager to help. All these articles do is illustrate the lack of understanding that the authors have for the format. It's like when old music critics try telling you that Punk died when Sandinista came out. It didn't, of course. It just morphed into something that those music critics didn't understand. Unlike punk, track racing hasn't morphed into anything, and this time it's this incongruous constancy that has left pundits confused. I mean, come on! Folks have been riding Madisons, for example, since 1898! If just a few of these doubters would write about Madisons, or the bizarre world of track sprinting, or even the Hour Record, then all of a sudden racing on the track would be a less mysterious and more appealing prospect. Old mate Joe Wiggle would spend $400 on an entry-level track frame and be diving off the banks in no time.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


For some reason a few people have asked me about this lately, so I thought I'd do people a favour and make speaking to me in person completely unnecessary. I also thought labeling a post like this would result in a greater SEO, so here goes: Mr B's top five best track wheels. Please note I receive no endorsements from any of the companies mentioned, but would totally accept some if they were ever offered. Especially if Mavic want to give me an iO.

5. Whatever wheels are currently on your track bike.

Are they round? True? Does the cog go on alright? Then shut the hell up and get down to the track. I'm guessing you're new to this. At this stage, training will do you more good than any fancy new wheels.

4. Velocity Deep Vs.

When we were watching that Shane Perkins documentary Casey and I noticed two different things. She noticed how many calories he was eating each day, and how they were targeting specific amino acids. I noticed that he was training on Velocity Deep Vs. And he - barring any more hotel punch-ups - is going to the Olympics! There's a reason he's riding them - Deep Vs, despite their adoption by the hipster hoards, are strong, stiff and - unless you choose a ridiculous colour - unpretentious. Get these as you move up the grades, and keep on training on them until you too are able to give two-fingered salutes in front of millions. Some may have inserted Mavic Ellipses into this position, but I've had them, and they're ok, but if you have to constantly change you cogs - as you do when you race track - the hubs tighten up, and they're a pain in the ass to adjust. Typical French engineering.

3. Campagnolo Pistas.

Welcome to the world of tubulars. I don't actually own a pair of these, but I've ridden on them, and I'd go so far to suggest that they're almost as stiff as my Shamals. Perfect for outdoor velodromes, still unpretentious and surprisingly economical - I've seen them priced as low as $700. Hit that, get some Veloflex Record tyres and you'll have a sweet set of race wheels. This being said, I wouldn't lash out on race wheels unless I was riding in Opens. You don't want to be the guy who brings all the bling out on a Tuesday night when you're competing for ten dollars. You wanna be the guy who has the "These Wheels Go Fast" edge in the wheelrace final at the Austral.

2. Campagnolo Shamals.

The shit thing is, Campy don't make these any more. The not shit thing is, you can find them on eBay pretty often. The shit thing is, it's difficult to find original track ones. The not shit thing is, you can get the road rims and swap out some hubs. The shit thing is, 16-hole track hubs are hard to find. The not shit thing is, Miche make some, which is what I run - coupled with some ceramic bearings to give me the psychological edge. I've also seen folks use Dura Ace hubs, with every other hole in the hub skipped. You could also hit up Phil Wood or Royce (!) for some custom drilling patterns.

The first definitely not shit thing about Shamals is their stiffness. They're not light by anyone's standards, but when you go to put the power down you will not lose one watt due to flex in your rims, on the clincher or the tubular version. They're also as aero as you would expect from a high-profile rim, and not too hard to manage in a fierce crosswind - my old training partner Joel "Chopper" Leonard once told me they are the wheels he would always choose when racing outdoors, and he put down more power than anyone you know.

The second definitely not shit thing about Shamals is they look fucking hot. Polish that shit up, motherfucker, and let people see their reflection in your wheels as you cruise past for the win.

1. Mavic Comete / iO.

Apologies to Fast Foward, Bouwmeester, Hed and even Zipp, but why the hell would you fuck around with second rate disc wheels or third rate five spokes? You've already saved up a few thousand dollars, save up a few thousand more and get the best. Sure, they've got stupid French names, but 17 of the gold medals won on the track at the Beijing Olympics were won on these wheels. That's some serious intimidation factor. No one is intimidated when they can see you've settled for second best.

Don't bust these out in a club race though. No one takes that guy seriously. Even at Opens you'll get some funny looks. State, National and International events only, please. Or any Masters event, anywhere. With those guys the most important competition is won on Wiggle.

So there you go. Best track wheels. I'd try to also review track frames, but there are about a thousand out there, and I've only ridden five or six of them. I'd also review groupsets, but I've only ever ridden Dura Ace. Maybe gloves next. I go through a lot of gloves.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You Ask Too Many Questions.

I've just this last hour or so returned from a few days at a beach house in a secluded town in Victoria's south-east. The house receives no mobile phone signal and has no internet connection. I'd wake up in the morning, throw on some shorts, grab a towel and walk over the road. The path from there was kinda creepy, weaving through the tea-trees, ribbonned with spiderwebs, but eventually it broke out on to the expanse of 90-mile beach. I'd bob around in the water for a bit, swim against the undertow for a couple of minutes, then hike back up to the house.

I hadn't wanted to take a bike at all, but threw in my beater at the last minute, and it was this bike that I'd jump on immediately after drying off. I'd ride the four or five kilometres to Marl's Foodarama (actual name), which, as well as selling newspapers, was the only place in town to receive mobile reception. I'd buy the papers and spend a few minutes checking my emails, answering texts, and generally interacting with the outside world. When that was done I'd ride back to the house, make some cereal and coffee, and spend the next hour or two reading the paper.

My Scottish friend KA Nicholson once asked me if Australian kids, when they're trying to make difficult life choices, really do go down to the beach and stare out at the water, like they do on Home and Away. I was honest with her, of course, and said that they actually do. I didn't do any staring out at the water while I was away, so I guess I didn't have any difficult life choices to make. I did, however, have a number of minor epiphanies while reading Boy Racer, but those were more along the lines of, "Man, as well as being a decent bike racer, Mark Cavendish sure knows how to pick a ghost writer!" and, immediately after finishing, "I'm not going to buy any more books by bike racers whose careers are not yet over. " With the Cav book it was kinda ok, because he'd done a fair bit by the time it came out, and he's definitely a character, but for some reason Nicholas Roche also has a book out, and his career hasn't even really started yet. Just what the hell does he have to write about?

I also borrowed Blakey's copy of Russell Mockridge: The Man In Front, but it was so fucking godawful that I couldn't finish it. And that's really saying something. I mean, I'm pretty tolerant of bad writing - sometimes I can even finish columns written by Anthony Tan. But this book was pretty much the worst biography I've ever read, sporting or otherwise. Part of the problem is the subject matter - while Mockridge was definitely an interesting character, his relatively short life doesn't leave much to write about. However, instead of milking the stories, the interviews and the tall tales, most of this book concentrates on his death and the subsequent coronial inquests. Which, incidentally, is not interesting reading. Nor is it what I want to be reading about while I'm lazing on the beach trying to eliminate my lycra tan.

I also finally finished the Woody Guthrie book. It was pretty good, even if it did result in me having 'Takes A Worried Man' in my head for the entire trip. For the past few days I most certainly have not been a worried man, but apparently not even that can stop me from singing a worried song.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tell Mama.

I went out for a roll the other day. The weather was nice and I didn't have anything else to do. In light of the Shane Warne controversy I decided to stay off the roads, instead heading north on the Craigieburn bike path, with the intention of turning around after an hour or so.

And this was all hunky dory, and I wasn't feeling too bad, until I nearly ran over a two metre long brown snake, which I have just discovered is the second most venomous land snake in the whole damn world.

After that, I decided to stick to the road for a while.

Rest in peace, Etta. Sorry you occasionally had to play with incredibly dorky jazz nerds.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Teardrops Start.

A flurry of activity here at The New Timer. First of all, the blog now has it's own twitter and facebook pages. Hopefully this will mean more consistent posting, this could just be the school holiday rush still speaking. It will definitely mean that I'll let you know via twitter and facebook whenever a new post does eke its way into existence.

I also have some writing gigs lined up for Cycling Tips Blog, so keep your eyes on them for my witty repartee, as well as their excellent line in headline news, race results and commentary.

I'm also in the process of organizing some interviews with local riders. As I stated below, I'm a big fan of doing these interviews, and hope to do a lot more as the year goes by.

So yeah, there are certainly things afoot. I wouldn't call them big, but they are definitely things.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Imagine Fighting That 500 Years.

Yo, in light of the Shane Warne vs Cyclist controversy, here's a heads up: when you're part of the majority (white / male / heterosexual / human / car driver / meat eater / you get the picture), it's your job to make sure the minority are doing ok. That's the price you pay for getting everything else in your favour. Trust me, you're still getting a good deal.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

There Was So Much Space That I Cut Me A Piece.

Post-500th post funk over and done with, we now return to our regular programming.

I took some noobs - who also happen to be good friends - around the track today. It was pretty rad. A few of them hadn't even ridden fixed before, so there was a fair bit of practicing stopping and starting. We rolled up and down the infield a bit, played some games, then headed out on to the track. By the end of the day all of them had reached the top of the banks, and most of them were able to roll turns with the bunch. We even had a mock race, which I didn't win. I was pretty stoked for them all.

Afterwards we went for coffee. It's been a while for me, and I'd kinda forgotten what it's like to sit at a cafe, sweaty and worn from exertion, and talk shit about the race or training session immediately before. It's pretty nice. That's what it's like.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Whole World.

500th post / 5th year. This blog started off being a collection of stories about me going to punk rock shows, and would cause controversy every time I said anything bad about a band. Then, somewhere in the middle of 2008, I started riding bikes competitively, and wanted to write more about the experience. Instead of starting a new blog I just changed the byline on this one and continued on my merry way. A few years later, perhaps in acknowledgement of my increasing years, I changed the title and the URL, swapping the name of a Submission Hold song for the name of a Springsteen song. Right now I'm considering quitting competitive cycling, and am wondering in which direction this blog will then take. I think I'd like to keep writing about cycling, but I'm not really sure how. I have a feeling that I'll start out trying to write race reports, but that they too will end up being more like stories of me going to bike races. And that'll be a nice conclusion, a coming full circle. I'd also like to do more interviews, like this one, because I kinda enjoy them, and like hearing what my friends think about this stupid life that means so much to us and so little to everyone else. Other than that, well, I'm open to suggestion.

Anyways, happy 500th to me.

All Our Answers Sound The Same.

When he was around the same age as I am now, my old man got sick, and no one could figure out what was wrong. He went and saw a handful of different doctors, and then a handful of different specialists. He was subjected to a handful of different tests, including a bone marrow test, the description of which still lingers horrifyingly in my brain. He was getting sick all the time, and was tired all the time. Eventually one of those specialists lucked upon the correct test and he was diagnosed with chronic idiopathic neutropenia. Since that diagnosis - and I'm assuming the subsequent treatment - it has had no bearing on his life whatsoever.

Before you ask, I've already been tested for it. I don't have it.

When I think about being sick now, it's always in the context of cycling, and the question is always a relatively simple one: Will I be able to keep doing it? The lack of a definitive answer is the only difficult thing. When my dad got sick the context was broader, the questions more difficult. At that time he had a wife and four children under ten, all four of whom could be described as a handful. In the time before his diagnosis I'm sure he knew the illness wasn't killing him, but it was leaving him incapacitated, incapable to work. How could he care for his family if he wasn't able to do his job? How could he continue to support those dependent on him? What the hell was he going to do now?

Eventually, of course, he didn't have to answer any of these questions. He was able to go on doing his job and raising his family. I'm not bringing it up here to garner sympathy for the bloke, but rather to provide some context for me. Because sometimes I need a handful of context.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Promised Land.

Saturday afternoon racing at Brunswick Velodrome. AKA the sweet life.

Brunswick Velodrome from Amsterdamize on Vimeo.

Friday, January 6, 2012

I'll Be Out On That Hill With Everything I Got.

Sean "The Man" Hurley / Flyin' Ryan Schilt / Yours Truly

Oh, and I forgot this story until this morning: Over the Carnivals the Juniors were usually on in the afternoon, the Seniors in the evening. We'd arrive a little early, so there'd be some overlap, which gave us the opportunity to find out how the Brunswick kids were doing. My Fitzroy Revolution teammate Flyin' Ryan Schilt in particular seemed to be killing it, the benefits of four rounds of the National Junior Track Series plain for everyone to see.

I ran into him again in Shepparton, looking all tired and worn, and asked him how he went. "Not too bad," he replied, "Won a couple of races. How about you?"
I shrugged my shoulders and mumbled something about not going so great and the racing being pretty tough.
"Maybe," the thirteen-year-old started, "You need to listen to some Bruce Springsteen."

So I did.

It seemed to help.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Behind A Locked Door.

I figure I'm not great at writing race reports, and as we move through each day after sweltering day, I'm less and less inclined to write up what happened in each individual day of the Victorian Christmas Carnivals. So instead I'm going to outline what each day generally entails. There were, of course, variations, but none of them were particularly outstanding - usually just a battle to find coffee, or different issues with bike parts. I'll provide the outlines and you can use your imagination to fill in the details.

* Wake up, shower and have breakfast. It is hot, and everyone feels kinda gross, so that morning shower is vital. We've brought along our own cereal, and I smash a delicious protein shake made of protein powder and water. Yes, that was sarcasm.

* Two hours on the road. Generally this was just Hurley and I, but on different days we had different company. On day one I had some sprints on the program, which we both did, but for the other days Hurley did his sprints then waited for me to catch up.

* Find some food. Some days this was easy, like when Casey made us all salad rolls, but some days it was kinda difficult, like in Shepparton. At this point I'd like to make the claim that Shepparton is the worst town in Victoria. This realization hit Hurley the hardest, as he has to live there next year.

* Drive to the next town. The initial plan was for Hurley to drive, in order to rack up some L plate hours, but his driving had an odd effect on Casey, who suffered car sickness for the first time in years. Hurley claimed it was not the first time he had made a woman sick, but it was possibly the first time he had done it by driving.

* Find a place to stay. We stayed with my parents, with Hurley, and at this vegan bed and breakfast just outside of Shep. It was pretty easy, for the most part, and certainly better than driving around looking for a hotel.

* Find some dinner. I ate a lot of salads from the Coles deli, a lot of chips and dip, and a lot of mixed nuts. What I assumed were the local Iraqi community were catering at Shep, which would have been rad, but I was a bit skint by that point, so I missed out.

* Find the track. Again, mostly this was pretty simple, but I'd never been to the Wangaratta track, so it took some finding. With this was finding a place to sit. For the most part Jess Morgan had arrived before us, and had claimed an awesome spot (including the annual Brunswick location in Shep, on top of the hill), but by the end of the carnivals seating had become a political proposition - a feud was developing between the Bendigo riders and the riders from Croydon Cycleworks, and in order to appear non-partisan we Fitzroy Revolution riders were careful to sit in neutral spots.

* Fix broken parts. This was the first year I've had mechanical issues, and they came in droves. On Christmas Eve, before we even left, I broke a spoke on my rear road bike wheel, and had to borrow Hurely's. In Horsham I loaned my spare wheels to Gene, who had forgotten his, and by Bendigo he had broken a locknut on the rear one. After Horsham I put my track bike on the roof of Dave Morgan's car, and by the time we arrived in Bendigo the heat and the vibrations of the road had melted a whole in the tyre. I switched to Hurley's spare and promptly blew up one of his latex tubes. In Shepparton I discovered that the rear hub on my race wheels had almost seized up - Hurley and Neil attacked it with their cone wrenches and some chain lube, got it back on, and I promptly won a race. In Shep I also punctured the rear on my road bike, destroying another of Hurley's latex tubes. Have I mentioned recently that Shepparton is the worst town in Victoria? In Wangaratta I didn't break any bike parts, but my iPod did stop working on the way there, which was perhaps a greater loss.

* Get changed, get water, get warmed up. Sometimes we'd have a little time on the track, but mostly this was done on the rollers, which was never much fun. I took the road bike and it pretty much took me until Bendigo to realize that I'd be better off warming up in the big ring, to get the blood flowing to the legs, instead of just spinning for thirty minutes.

* Watch Hurley win some races. Apparently the usual handicapper was on holidays in the States, which meant there were some interesting decisions. As well as Sam Crome ending up in B grade, Hurley somehow ended up in D grade. He wasn't proud, and promptly went about getting bumped up to C. His finest effort was perhaps in Bendigo, where he hit the bunch with six laps to go - on a 4oo metre track - and stayed away. By Wangaratta they had moved him up, which didn't stop him winning. He must've come home with at least five hundred bucks. I made him pay for petrol.

* Suffer. After last year, when I had some really fun times in B grade, I was definitely going to be in A grade. I knew this was going to be hard work, especially given my lack of fitness, and compounded by the hard training week immediately previous (Tapering? Never heard of it). Despite lining up against a number of former and current Olympians, I managed to finish almost every race, and by Wangaratta was starting to feel ok, even managing to win my handicap heat and make it into the Keirin final. Still, it wasn't the most fun I've ever had, and not collecting money at the end of the night took some getting used to.

* Recover. Drink more delicious protein drink - there's that sarcasm again - and put on some wanker pants (aka compression garments). Pack up all the shit we'd managed to spread around and drive back to wherever we're staying. Wash some bottles, possibly do some laundry, probably shower, then try to sleep.

* Repeat.