The Tour de France vs Everything Else

The Tour is in its 99th year.  The summer race around France, with pastoral country side and towering mountains, through pouring rain and tire melting heat, draws 15 million viewers every July.  It spawns the sales of thousands of road bikes to people who would otherwise never even consider a bicycle at all.  It makes lycra ok.  Well.  Sort of.

Cipollini takes it to the limit, one more time.

Since the first edition of the Tour, raced on steel fixed gear bikes from sun up until long past dusk, riders have racked up mileage in excess of 220,000 miles, greater than the distance from the earth to the moon.  The tour has changed shape over the years, from the early days of zero support, where riders rode exclusively for themselves with no outside help allowed, to today’s team cars, radios, and group tactics.  The daily speeds have gone up while the distances have gone down.  Road surfaces have drastically improved, from goat tracks and cobbles to smooth, fresh tarmac.  The 1970’s saw a decreasing popularity in the tour amongst the municipalities the Tour went though.  Towns, embarrassed at the rustic state of their roads, saw fit to pave the country byways before the tour came through, gutting budgets and causing resentment.  It was not until recent times that Tour organizers were able to convince towns that the rustic roads were the raison d’etre, and that fans loved to see the riders suffering on historic roads.

Eddy Merckx and a founding member of The Specials wonder what’s around the bend.

Technology and science have changed the face of the tour.  Mandatory helmets, the move away from traditional clothing and frame materials, the increased, overbearing presence of science and power monitoring have all taken some of the guts from the sport and replaced it with logic, forgone conclusions, and a seeming inability to just ‘go for it’.  But there is still romance, pain, suffering, and victory against overwhelming odds in the Tour.  There are still surprises, breakaways that actually work, huge solo efforts against mountains that harken to the days before we knew what a Lactic Threshold was.  There are still bad guys and good guys, scandals and stories of redemption, winners and the ones you wish would win…

I don’t follow sports.  I fail to see the appeal of soccer, or football, or baseball, or car racing.  I don’t understand how poker is sport, or pool.  I love swimming, but only in a lake, with the possibility of ice cream afterward.  I don’t understand huge paychecks for tossing a ball around, or wacking one with a stick.  When I was a kid playing soccer, I never could remember which goal was ours, because I was so bored that I was constantly day dreaming.  My main concern was sliding through the grass and missing the ball, mainly so I could collect impressive grass stains and or scabs.  Our team always got some sort of pitiful trophy that looked like it had been microwaved, the fake gold soccer player sagging and possibly crying atop his faux marble stand.  It seemed to me like these were activities you partook in when there was literally nothing else better you could be doing.  Poking a mud puddle with a stick for instance, or filling model airplanes with firecrackers and tossing them out the bedroom window.  Important things, things with meaning.

“We’ll put the firecracker right here…”

My first real bike was a beautiful grey mountain bike with matching grey tires.  It was steel, and rode like a dream.  Every summer I spent hours climbing the mountain at the end of my street, a long, grueling dirt climb that ended in beautiful meadows, followed by a harrowing descent down the otherside, and a slow cruise back home next to a glacial lake.  This suffering was fun!  It had meaning! Views! Adventure!  Possible ice cream endings!  I was hooked, for life.  But I didn’t know about bike racing.  I wasn’t ready for the soap opera drama of it, the weird euro names, the impossible to memorize team monikers, the tactics, the length and depth.  I collected baseball cards for the stale gum, not the players, whom I knew nothing about.  Stats were something akin to IRS tax code, irrelevant, confusing, and pointless. Then I went to college.  Had free cable TV.  My future wife and I fell into the Tour De France because of the Controversial Texan.  He was a symbol, a story, a reason to watch.

Lance shows his math skills

Everyone has their own reasons to watch the tour, or not.  It takes time, lots of it.  The tour lasts for hours everyday.  If you were to actually watch the whole thing, you would have no life.  If you just watch the highlights, you might as well not watch.  It is within the daily struggle that the story unravels like a spider spinning a long lycra thread.  The commentary on the background of each rider, the suffering on the faces of the breakaway group and their inevitable demise, the riders who die small deaths off the back of the peloton, the disorientation of those who crash, the anger of those who suffer mechanicals, the passion of the sprint and the heroism of the climbers.  The nuance of the sport is lost in the highlight reel.  There is no history in the reel, no peeks into psychology, no lessons on the country side, stories about this Chateau or the upcoming climb.  There is just racing, at its most distilled.  Sometimes, as with good bourbon, you have to add a bit of water, so it can breathe.

Subscribe to the tour online at NBC.  It’s 30 bucks for a month of racing, and there is excellent, highly biased commentary that is occasionally really funny.  It’s like a book on tape.  Think of it as summer reading for cyclists.  Think of me as Oprah, and this is my book club assignment to you.  I don’t make any money off it, unless you come in and buy a road bike from me!


Shop Rides:

Tuesday and Wednesday’s rides are cancelled. Look for them next week though!

Sunday evenings:  If it isn’t raining horribly, meet at the shop at 5pm.  We’ll hit the road around 5.30 for a 30-45 mile road ride at a decidedly casual pace.  We occasionally hit dirt roads, but it’s a road ride so you can bring a road bike, we promise.  The terrain will be hilly to downright mountainous, but done at a pace that won’t leave you gasping for air.  We even take breaks.  Bring these things with you:  Bright Lights (front and rear), spare tube (at least one), pump/co2, some food, some money for soda or whatever along the way.

Thursdays:  Mountain ride with Brian and Team Flying Dog.  Meet at 5.30 at the foot of the dirt section of Mountaindale Road, by that big maintenance shed.  Hilly, technical watershed mountain biking, but a relaxed pace. Back before dark.

Sunday Mornings:   Women’s beginner road rides from the Starbucks in the Westview Shopping center.  8AM 12-18 miles on low traffic roads.  Rides will be led by Tracy, who works here, and know the roads well, and all that good stuff.

What’s in a s24o?

John Muir walked into the woods with not much more than a journal, some flour in a sack and a pair of boots.  He would disappear into the wilds, exploring, making notes, making weird breads out of plants and the flour he brought, drinking from mountain streams, making house calls on lonely woodsmen.  These days he makes a decent tomato sauce.*  The appeal of Muir’s adventures has not diminished with time.  Every REI, Hudson Trail Outfitters and Patagonia advertisement calls upon his sense of the world: shedding the chains of urban or suburban life, forging a simple, if temporary life in the woods and wilds of the country.

Back before celebrity scents, Abercombie sold useful things, like tents. This ad is from 1925. Can you imagine buying an Everest worthy silk tent at Abercrombie today? At the turn of the last century, the basement of Abercrombie’s flagship store had a shooting range to try out the latest hunting rifles.

Americans have always loved the concept of roughing it.  Most of us just don’t have the time.  There are other concerns as well.  Lack of comfort, lack of know-how, lack of equipment.  Backpacking is a time and potentially equipment intensive sport, and many of us have enough expensive hobbies already.  It’s time intensive: planning, driving to a hiking spot, spending hours cruising through the woods to get to your camping spot, doing it all again the next day.  Long trips require more planning, from meals, to supply drop points, to potential bail points.  Weeks of planning cannot control the weather, which can dump rain, extreme heat or snow, depending on the season.  A preplanned trip can lead to misery, as tents fail to dry out, blisters form, snakes consume fellow hikers, etc.


Dr. John rummages while the Author looks at the morning coffee makin’ fire

Alternatives exist.  The sub twenty four hour overnight, or s24o is a great, cheap way to get out into the woods.  It works like this: leave in the evening, ride to your destination (don’t drive, loading the car adds time, complexity), camp, wake up, ride home.  All in under 24 hours.  You could leave Saturday night and be home before 10 am Sunday.  Despite the limited time, the s24o allows you to switch gears, relax, and get a good nights sleep in the woods.  Everything that makes camping fun is in place: the transcendent act of watching a fire burn down, the taste of sunrise coffee in the morning, the heart pounding scares at night when you think a squirrel foraging for night snacks is actually a bear waiting to devour the first person to leave the tent for a quick pee…


John’s Gunnar road bike. Not a sport touring bike.. this thing has a carbon front fork and tiny tires. He has standard road gearing, not even a compact up front. If the road gets to steep, you can walk, no big deal. Those panniers were homemade (by the Author’s wife) for less than 15 bucks. The huge roll up top is a car camping sleeping mat and a big ole tent. Perfect example of making due.

You’re thinking: man, I am not a tourist, I don’t have a touring bike or all that kit.  Well you might, actually have most of it.  It’s just overnight.  You don’t need advanced equipment, a stove, a titanium spork or a even a tent.  You just need a few basics.  A tent is fine, but a tarp works just fine.  A blue 8×10 tarp and some twine will keep you dry even in a nasty downpour.  That green thing in the picture above is just a tarp, pitched like a tent.  Blue tarps are under 10 bucks in the size you would need.  Most summer sleeping can be handled by a cheap foam mat and a fleece blanket.  You don’t even need the mat if you find a cushy place to sleep, like on moss, or if you make a pile of leaves.  So the three most expensive things, really, can be replaced by stuff you already have or can get for less than twenty five dollars, total.  You can bring a stove and cook, but really, just cook over the fire.  Bring something to shove on a stick, some snacks, and you are set.  Because it’s just an overnight, if you forget something major, it’s not a big deal.  Even if you forget food, you’ll live till you get home.


No, its not the first episode of Twin Peaks. That’s Big John snoozing under a tarp.

There are plenty of places locally to get your s240 fix.  Gambrill, Greenbrier, and Cunningham Falls State Park all have inexpensive camping, with showers, water supplies and bathrooms.  They are all a pretty easy ride from Frederick.  Cunningham Falls and Greenbrier both have swimming, which is rad.  There is free camping too.  A bit of a ride, but totally doable: head up to Michaux State Forest which is just above the PA line above Emitsburg.  Camping here is free, you just plop down in the woods where ever looks enticing.  This is real woods camping, no amenities, no water, etc.  Go prepared.  Slightly less rustic, but just as free, is camping along the C and O canal.  The canal is littered with decent camping spots, all of which have water pumps and porta johns, and is a pretty easy ride from Frederick to access.  I personally really like the area between Harpers Ferry and Hancock, which is scenic and has some great sleep spots.

If you want to know more about bike camping, what you need and don’t need, stop by the shop and we can chat about it.  If you want to go full hog, and get some dorky backpacking kit, we love that stuff and can either source it or point the way to it.  We have a great selection of panniers, racks, and all that.  Again you don’t need that stuff, but if you get into it, life gets marginally easier with it’s use.

If there is more interest in the topic, I can write about how to make some kit, but, probably there won’t be, so consider this the final word!

*That’s a joke, I know he really runs Ken Burns’ Civil War themed Laundromat.


Shop rides:

It’s a huge summer o’ shop rides!

Sunday evenings:  If it isn’t raining horribly, meet at the shop at 5pm.  We’ll hit the road around 5.30 for a 30-45 mile road ride at a decidedly casual pace.  We occasionally hit dirt roads, but it’s a road ride so you can bring a road bike, we promise.  The terrain will be hilly to downright mountainous, but done at a pace that won’t leave you gasping for air.  We even take breaks.  Bring these things with you:  Bright Lights (front and rear), spare tube (at least one), pump/co2, some food, some money for soda or whatever along the way. 

Tuesdays:  8am road ride from Starbucks on 7th street.  45 miles or so right now, by the end of the summer we will be doing 80ish.  This is a long ride, with no fixed schedule, and ridden at ‘James touring pace’ which is to say slow.  Climbing, back roads, stuff you maybe haven’t seen. Bring: food, money, tubes

Wednesdays:  Hill ride with Brian.  Meet at the shop around 5, wheels down at 5.30 in the evening.  Fast (but not insane fast) road ride up into the mountains, back down again, back up again, and down again.  Back before dark but bring a rear blinkie in case of mechanicals.

Thursdays:  Mountain ride with Brian and Team Flying Dog.  Meet at 5.30 at the foot of the dirt section of Mountaindale Road, by that big maintenance shed.  Hilly, technical watershed mountain biking, but a relaxed pace. Back before dark.

Sunday Mornings:  THIS WEEK’S WOMEN’S RIDE IS CANCELED BUT WE WILL BE BACK NEXT SUNDAY!  Women’s beginner road rides from the Starbucks in the Westview Shopping center.  8AM 12-18 miles on low traffic roads.  Rides will be led by Tracy, who works here, and know the roads well, and all that good stuff.

The Cycling Cap: a Statement of Intent

Goggles not Included

The rain has begun.  Drops fall fat on steaming forearms.  Tires on the pavement sounding like lost AM radio signals.  Dial it in.  Face drawn, eyes up, flip the brim of your cap down.  The connection is made.  Bikes are time machines.  Moving not like the reenactment of some Civil War battle, but like Marty McFly through the past.  They are direct conduits to times past, hardships endured, battles fought, won and lost.  A rider, subconsciously or not, moves with the same motions and facial expressions of the rider 100 years ago.  Sits in the same position, fears the same hills.  The hunger is deep at the end of a ride, the legs have the same feeling of day old room temp jello.  And the cycling cap is there, perched Belgian style, high atop the head, or pulled down low against the rain, or backward on a steep decent, or rakishly canted, a ship tossing on a storm writhed sea.  The colors and the pattern and even the origin of the hat are cues: teams supported, races ridden, swaps attended.  We learn the origin story through visual cues.  Is the hat dirty?  The brim sweat stained? Holes burned in it from campfire sparks?  Is it crushed? Threadbare? Perfect and crisp?  Not this authors.  The hat must come from a place to go to a place.  In other words, the cap must be procured for a reason, so that it may exist with reason.  Sometimes you are what you own.

Aero Tassle

The cycling cap has humble origins.  Original cycling caps where just appropriated from other walks of life.  Baker’s brimless skull caps, the chicken and egg problem of the Welder’s cap, knit alpine beanies for mountain stages.  The first caps were just whatever would get the job done.  There is validity still in the found cap concept: it’s hot, out, you need to get the sun off your face, almost anything will do, even a Redsox hat.  But the quiet grace of the cap, its packable construction, its minimalist fit, the telegraphed poise, these attributes elevate the cap to the level of gestalt.  Nothing can be added.  Nothing removed.

The casquette is in trouble.  How does perfect design fall onto hard times?  Progress means forward movement towards a greater goal.  In the case of professional cycling, this greater goal is the ability to plaster more sponsor names on any given garment.  So the small, quiet grace of the cycling cap is being supplanted by the gaudy Nascar-esque fitted baseball cap.

Andy, Al, and Lance wait for the 3rd inning

The podium is now mounted three men who look like rejects from the Class A Short Season Minor Leagues.  The compulsory helmet laws of the past decade in pro racing have also helped with the demise of the ubiquitous cycling cap.

Coppi and Bartali, on their way to a Gnocchi eating contest

The racers’ abandonment of the caps has caused a vacuum in the universe.  The universe, abhorring vacuums, (and house hold cleaning in general) gave us the hipster, who has appropriated the cycling cap.  The hipster, his world clouded by pastiche, wears the cap as a statement of fixed gear solidarity. Perhaps they don’t actually own a fixed gear, or, owning one, know how to properly ride one.

Having just bought a Dokken album, Larry remembers his record player is still in his mom’s basement. Then he realizes: that’s perfect, I live in my mom’s basement.

It is time for real cyclists to reclaim the cap.  Pull it low, hide the suffering, and destroy the mountain.  Dip it in a silty drainage ditch and let the muddy water cool your broiling head. If you race, take the podium in a cap, not a hat.  If you race in the rain, wear it under your helmet.  If you go out to eat, wear something decidedly unhip, and a cycling cap, to undermine those who wear it with senseless irony.

what podium winners should look like


Shop rides:

We’re about to embark on a huge summer o’ shop rides. Join us for a few, maybe you will get hooked.

Sunday evenings:  If it isn’t raining horribly, meet at the shop at 5pm.  We’ll hit the road around 5.30 for a 30-45 mile road ride at a decidedly casual pace.  We occasionally hit dirt roads, but it’s a road ride so you can bring a road bike, we promise.  The terrain will be hilly to downright mountainous, but done at a pace that won’t leave you gasping for air.  We even take breaks.  Bring these things with you:  Lights (front and rear), spare tube (at least one), pump/co2, some food, some money for soda or whatever along the way. 

Tuesdays:  8am road ride from Starbucks on 7th street.  45 miles or so right now, by the end of the summer we will be doing 80ish.  This is a long ride, with no fixed schedule, and ridden at ‘James touring pace’ which is to say slow.  Climbing, back roads, stuff you maybe haven’t seen. Bring: food, money, tubes

Wednesdays:  Hill ride with Brian.  Meet at the shop around 5, wheels down at 5.30 in the evening.  Fast (but not insane fast) road ride up into the mountains, back down again, back up again, and down again.  Back before dark but bring a rear blinkie in case of mechanicals.

Thursdays:  Mountain ride with Brian and Team Flying Dog.  Meet at 5.30 at the foot of the dirt section of Mountaindale Road, by that big maintenance shed.  Hilly, technical watershed mountain biking, but a relaxed pace. Back before dark.

Sunday Mornings:  (starting June 10th) Women’s beginner road rides from the Starbucks in the Westview Shopping center.  10am (I think, check Facebook for details) 12-18 miles on low traffic roads.  Rides will be led by Tracy, who works here, and know the roads well, and all that good stuff.  She’ll have more details in next week’s post, so stay tuned for that.

How to Get Fat this Spring

Until the early 1980’s, road bikes were made to ride on roads.  Not perfectly groomed asphalt, with no cracks, broken pavement, or glass.  Real roads, asphalt and chip seal to cobbles to dirt to gravel.  And they were designed to be ridden in all seasons, not just dry summer days.  Road bikes, even pro level road bikes, bikes that Eddy Merckx would win tours with, bikes the Jaques Anquetil would dominate time trails on, had the ability to be used for all sorts of roads, in all sorts of weather. These weren’t touring bikes, or cross bikes, but died in the the wool road racing bikes, with the highest end Campagnolo Record bits, and drilled out chainrings, and super light modified saddles. They were able to achieve this amazing versatility because of one thing: tire clearance.

PX-10 _ Weinmann rear brake

A 1970s race bike with clearance for fat tires and a fender. Note the centerpull brakes, which were long derided as paupers brakes, are coming back into vogue on the highest end time trial bikes.

If you have clearance for big tires, your bike suddenly goes from being a one trick pony, to a versatile, year round machine built for exploring the world we live in.  Some of the very best roads in our area are not smooth or groomed tarmac but chopped up pavement or just straight dirt and gravel.

The concept of riding a normal road bike on dirt is basically a non starter for most road cyclists.  They have tiny tires pumped to over 100 psi.  The thinking is; tiny tires have no grip on that terrain, and the ride quality will be atrocious.  The prevailing philosophy of tire size is that narrower is faster.  Narrower tires have to be faster, because they have less of a foot print.  A smaller contact patch means lower rolling resistance, right?  Wrong.  The size of a contact patch at a given pressure does not change depending on the tire size.  If you have a 100 pound weight on a 23mm wide tire at 100 psi, there will be a 1 square inch contact patch.  If you have a 100 pound weight on a 32 mm wide tire, at 100 psi, there will be a…. wait for it….. 1 square inch contact patch.

Image stolen from Velonews

Here’s the kicker though: narrower tires have longer contact patches than wide tires, which means that even though the contact with the ground remains the same size, the shape changes.  The shorter, wider contact patch of the wider tire means that when you are pedaling there is less sidewall of the tire flexing.  Sidewall flex is caused by friction, and friction is bad.  If you doubt that sidewall flex is a major cause of friction, touch the side of your car tire after a road trip.  It’s hot, from the flexy friction action.  All lost energy.  So not only does a wider tire have the same contact with the ground, but it also rolls more efficiently.  The added size adds safety: resistance to pinch flats, protection of the valuable wheelset.  The larger air volume allows you to drop pressure on crappy road surfaces or when its raining or snowing out.  Major classics races are raced on fat tires at pressures that would make the average american road rider flinch.   80 psi, 60 psi…  Way lower than the 120 psi that many people ride.  And these are the fastest riders in the world, riding over real roads of varying surface quality.  Tom Boonen won Paris Roubaix on 29mm wide tires at 60 psi.

Boonen went chubby this spring and won.

Is there a limit to how fat you can go before it starts to negatively affect the speed at which you can ride?  Yes, but no.  Yes, if you are riding at the highest level of the field and maintain an average speed in excess of 20 mph on your rides.  You’d probably want to top out at a 25mm tire if that is the case.  The slight added weight will be out weighed by the contact patch shape change.  Any bigger, and the tire starts to have aerodynamic consequences.  BUT: only if you ride really fast, everywhere.  If you are a typical enthusiast rider, your average speed is under 20, and in that speed range, aerodynamics are basically worthless.  You could ride a 28mm tire, and the only thing holding you back would be your psychological resistance to such a fat tire.  The slight added weight gain can easily be offset by a lighter rim strip and or lighter tubes, if you care about such things.

Personally, the smallest tire I ride on the road is a 28mm tire.  I like to be able to go out and ride whatever I come across, be it a grassy path into the woods or a big hill like Coxey Brown road.  I’d run bigger, but my frame won’t allow it. 28’s reach their limits in really really rough terrain, like a newly graded gravel road, but otherwise can take anything Washington, Frederick or Carroll counties can throw at them.



Shop rides:
Sunday evenings, at 5.30, meet at the shop for a group road ride.  We’ll head out and explore some less traveled roads in the Frederick area.  You’ll need: a spare tube and something to pump it with, a tail light and possibly a headlight, and a road bike you aren’t afraid to get dirty on.  Almost all of these rides have at least one dirt road on them.  It goes till around dark, sometimes a little after… Casual pace but hard roads…

Tuesday mornings: Meet at the 7th street Starbucks at 8am for a mixed surface road ride.  We’ll go from between 40 and 70 miles, depending on various variables.  Not a fast ride, a chugging ride.  Climbing, dirt, some place to eat something, even if it’s a gas station…

Wednesday evening shop ride with Brian.  This is THE CLIMBING RIDE, pretty quick pace.  The route is up Hamburg road, a real corker of a climb, and then decisions are made from the top of the climb as to the route. Back to the shop at dusk.  A tail light isn’t a bad idea.

Thursday evening mountain ride at the Frederick Watershed with Brian and Team Flying Dog.  Meet at the maintenance shed at the foot of mountain dale road, right where it goes from paved to gravel.  Call at the shop if its been raining: we don’t like to ride on wet trails because it leads to damage.  5.30pm.   Lots of climbing and tech rock sections.  Experienced mountain riders…


Do we stock fat tires? Yes.

Thanks for reading this week,

-The Bike Doctor Crew of Sublime Subliminal Subterranean Sorcery

Cacophonous Cobbles Quest

In this post:

-An article about the Paris Roubaix race.

-New shop ride schedules

-State of Winter Clinics

-Changes at the bike shop

-Our Grand Reopening

First off, apologies for not having written in a while.  We are currently (this is changing, soon) understaffed and so it’s quite hard to find time to write.  Bare with us through the spring, we have at least two new hires coming down the pike to help us out, as well as a fantastic new head mechanic currently in place.  So things should be back to the new normal soonishly.


Sean Kelly shows his pearly whites

Winter fades.  Frozen soil thaws, new life begins.  The professional cyclist, who has let himself grow plump on two Coors Light beers and a victory burger, buckles down for a season of suffering and angst.  The Spring Classics, relatively short races held across continental Europe, distill road cycling to a high proof essence.  The races are brutish, filled with chance, crashes and mechanical failures.  Often riders will crash multiple times in a single one day race.

Bernard Hinault crashed 7 times in his only Paris-Roubaix victory.  The final crash was caused by a small dog named Gruson.

Hinault, about to show Gruson why dogs shouldn't mess with Frenchmen

This final crash enraged Hinault to the point where he sprinted past all challengers and won the race.  Misfortune and bad luck dog every competitor.  The race has been called ‘a lottery’ and ‘nonsense’ by those who have ridden and lost.  Theo De Rooij, a Belgian cyclist in the 1985 race, was interviewed right after the race.  Crashed out and caked in mud he offered this non-sequitur:

“It’s a bollocks, this race!  You’re working like an animal, you don’t have time to p**s, you wet your pants.  You’re riding in mud like this, you’re slipping… it’s a pile of s**t.”

Immediately after this comment, he was asked if he would race the Paris Roubaix again.  He answered:

“Sure, it’s the most beautiful race in the world!”

In 1919, the western world was reeling from the end of the Great War.  The Paris Roubaix had been halted during the war, the race course (and France in general) being the subject of constant shelling, death and other worldly destruction.  Riders and journalists set off to recondeer the course.  The corresponding report from the next day’s L’Auto (a cycle racing publication) laid the conditions bare: “We enter into the centre of the battlefield. There’s not a tree, everything is flattened! Not a square metre that has not been hurled upside down. There’s one shell hole after another. The only things that stand out in this churned earth are the crosses with their ribbons in blue, white and red. It is hell!”  

The cobbles and craters were not what earned the race the title “Hell of the North”.   This was how all roads looked in Europe, so what we view as especially brutal riding conditions were at the time simply par for the course.  The title arose from the physical scars of war, evidence of 9 million lost lives and the inhumanity of man.   Henri Pelissier said of his victory that year: “This wasn’t a race, it was a pilgrimage.”

Henri Pelissier, in 1919

Dig around on the web.  There are many back door ways to watch the Spring Classics, even though ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN Poker, ESPN Classic, ESPN Snooker, and ESPN Bowling don’t cover any of it.  I don’t have any links for you there, but they are out there, hiding in forums.  Find some, and share them in the comments.  The races are fun to watch, and almost always have exciting finishes.

Here is a good clip of Hinault taking a beating in the ’81 Paris Roubaix:

There is a slow, but interesting documentary on the race, called Hell of the North.

It’s a long one, but show’s the whole enchilada, from the prepping of the mechanics to the showers in the velodrome at the end.  Eddy Merckx more or less stars in it, and puts out this huge effort, way too late in the game.


Shop Rides are gunna start up again.  This week we’ll have just two, but soon we’ll have a good number up and running.  Brian is starting his popular hill climbing ride this Wednesday.  Meet at the shop around 5, and hit the road around 5.30.  Fastish pace, but it’s a no drop ride, so if you like climbing, or want to get better at it, come on out.  Ride goes till dusk, and mileage will increase as daylight permits.

Tuesday morning, at 8 am, we’ll be heading out for an easy peasy road ride.  Nothing major, nothing long.  Maybe some dirt, maybe not.  Sub 40 miles.  Probably some coffee in the middle there.  No set schedule, a good ride for a day off.

We’ll be starting up more rides soon, stay posted.


Winter Clinics are more or less finished for the season.  We’re too busy to do them now.  We’ll still do our free fix a flat clinic on the first Wednesday of every month at 6 pm.  It’s comprehensive, so even if you know how to, say, put a new tube in, we’ll show you how to boot a tire or what to do if you run out of tubes.  Got ideas for next years winter clinics?  Leave ideas in the comment section.


Changes at the shop:

As most of you know, we’ve done a big refit on the shop.  We now have a dedicated road and tri side of the shop, and are working on a good womens area as well.  The season has been insanely busy, and there have been a few personnel shake ups, nothing bad, just changes.  We got a new service manager, named Zach, who has gobs of experience: pro team mechanic, pro wheel builder for wheelsmith, trike maintenance guy for a huge industrial plant that used trikes to get around, lots of shop experience.  He is fast, knowledgable, and really solid.  We’re trilled to have him.  He is going to be training John, who has worked with us on a part time basis for a while but is now full time, to be his second in command.  John, for those who don’t know him already, is a long time cyclist who rides mountain, races cross, used to race road, and does a bit of lite touring too.  He’s a PhD is evolutionary biology, to boot.  Brandon tries to stump him with questions, but it doesn’t work.

We’ll be joined shortly by Tracy, who is a local road rider with a ton of enthusiasm.  She’ll be part of our growing sales team.  Look for her out climbing Hamburg Road, her favorite local pitch.


Our Grand Reopening is set for April 21 and 22.  We’ll have food, drink, music, and things like that.  An actual schedule to be emailed out later this week, but it should be good, and you should consider this an early warning/invite to keep that weekend free.

Thanks for reading!

-The Bike Doctor Team of irregarded englishnessery

Correlatives and the Cycling Cosmos… Plus, Tent Sale News and Some Other Things

To read about TENT SALE, scroll way down, to where it says TENT SALE…


Art School was nonsense.  Four years of learning how to look like an artist but not one class on how to sell your work.  There were classes in song lyrics, no-math quantum physics, painting classes that required you to form a band and play at a club (lectures consisted of watching movies of Mick Jagger prancing around on stage), and color theory classes that were neither about color nor theory.  I learned far more about life in art school than I learned about art.

Mick, getting his swerve on

I forgot things about art, it was that retrogressive.  The fourth year was pure coasting.  I took classes for a second time, because they were so despicably easy the first time around that I just had to come back for more.  Easy classes meant more bike time.  I would often report to class after having been absent for a few weeks offering apologies about the weather and the appeal of the trails.  It didn’t matter.  Even abject zero-talent kids got through these classes.  Displaying a modicum of effort was an instant A.

In my final year, I signed up for a class called Painting Over the Lines.  Basically, this was a painting class where you never had to touch a paint brush.  I didn’t.  Nor did my then current girlfriend/future wife, who decided this was a great time and place to try to launch an ultra lite backpacking company called  two peak twenty, or ^^XX*, as the logo would have it.

ye ole logo



At the time, backpacking was undergoing a huge revolution towards simplicity.  Decades of packing had been based on bringing items for every concievable situation.  Emergency blankets, knives with one million gadgets attached to them, pillows, huge tents, and heavy boots, to name a few.  Backpacks had evolved into mini vans: cup holders, too much storage space, and too many hidden compartments that filled up with Cracker Jack crumbs.  People went on weekend trips with 40 pounds of crap on their backs, and went on cross continental trips with more cooking utencils than a French kitchen.

Ultralite backpacking was based on a simple philosophy.  You don’t need everything.  You barely need anything.  Less is less.  As in less stuff to haul around, less stuff to break down, less stuff to wash in a cold stream.  Ultralite was also started by people, not corporations.  People making gear in their own living rooms, testing it in their backyards.  Dorks with sewing machines and space age fabrics considered too flimsy by the backpacking industry.  It was DIY, before that was a buzz word stolen by that fraudster Martha Stewart.

Over the course of the semester, she sewed a couple of backpack prototypes, a super lite tent, some sub 2 ounce raincoats, and other basic items, like waterproof stuff sacks.  The packs and tents involved prototyping, fabric testing, huge creative leaps, and lots of swearing.  It was probably the most work she did in the whole four years.  And frankly, the sewing part sucked.  Not craftsmanship wise, but labor wise.  It was hard on her back and fingers and especially hard on our collective geometry skills.  Far more fun was the creation of the ^^XX literature: product surveys, photoshoots on location in snowy mountains in virgina, anti-corporate graphic design.  We traveled constantly to local outdoor shops and conferred with outdoors experts, climber friends and potential customers, read lots, and spent lots of time outside carting around the finished works.  We still use some of the stuff today, and are reminded of the all fun that went around making the stuff.  The activities around making the stuff would not have existed without actually making the stuff.  Making the stuff was the core, but the parallel activities were the raison d’etre.

Cycling is too often viewed as an activity in an of itself.  You pedal around to get fit, to race, to meet up with the local group of riders and hit the trails.  You catch big air, bomb steep hills, do two hours on the canal.  You put on special clothing (or don’t), ride around, drink flavored water, eat see-through food, and then…

Bike camping, right outside Frederick

Well then what?  For me, the then what is often the most rewarding part.  The things that lay outside and after and before.  The stuff around cycling is what keeps me cycling.  Hanging out with friends at the parking lot, covered in mud, drinking IPA out of a sweating cooler, telling stories that lapse into and out of cycling, scarfing big breakfast sandwiches at a greasy spoon at a halfway point on a cold road ride, stopping to take a swim in the stream after a hard climb on a hot summer day.   Taking your bike and going camping, or for a picnic by the river, or just riding downtown to go for a bite to eat.  You used your bike as a tool to get to this other stuff, and that somehow heightens the experience.  Maybe its the air, the wind, the whisper of the tarmac under carbonized rubber.  Maybe it’s the endorphins released by exercising on your way to whatever.  Let’s not over think it.  These parabiking activities are better because you rode.  In a sense, your parallel activity is enriched by the act of biking, because being on a bike is fun.  You had fun riding there, so you are gunna have fun once you got there.  Simple.

*to the peak (of a mountain) with twenty pounds or less on your back and feet.


Maybe you know this, but we just did a big refit here at the shop.  Tore down a wall, made the space bigger by 33 1/3 percent.  We did this because we feel that LP records always win over mp3s.  Just kidding.  We did it because we had outgrown our old space, and needed more space to properly show off merchandise, and we wanted to sell things the way we like to buy things: in a cool, interesting and personal environment.  The renovation is maybe 83 percent done.  We have a laundry list of major things that still need to happen.  I won’t bore you with them, because no one likes to see anyone else’s laundry pile.  I don’t even like to see my own.  Here is a link to what it looked like a about a week ago.  New floors and all that.  Looks better now, but this is just an idea.

Anyway, if you haven’t been by recently, stop by soon.  We’re having a big sale this weekend, which I will talk about in a minute, but you won’t be able to see the store then, because it will be covered in a thick carpet of customers.  Come to get a deal, not see what we did.  Really, a great time to plan to come is for our grand reopening, which will take place in April, on the 21st and 22nd.  We’ll have deals, just for you, there, and live music, and records, and the Common Market is going to cater it, and we’ll have the grill going, too.  Schwag giveaways, and other fun diversions will be had.  Come to that one, for sure.  I’ll send a more formal invite soonishly.



Tent Sale is big.  It’s the one huge sale of the year.  Everything in the store is on sale.  Bikes, accessories, cheap dates with Brandon, EVERYTHING.  We’ll have special deals on great, awesome, fantastic shoes, tools, huge insane nutso blow outs on clothing that will get more nutso by the day, because we will make the discount even heavier with each passing day.  We’ll have good deals on bike racks, car racks, gloves and socks.  Fell of the back of a truck pricing on some computers.  Stolen and sold on Canal Street pricing on floor pumps.  In short, good deals.  Stuff you need at prices you desire.  Come check it out.  It’s happening Thursday – Sunday, and once its over, everything goes back to full price, and the world continues to spin as before.  C’est la vie.


Next week, after the sale, things will get back to normal, and maybe Brian will have time to go to the barber.  We’ll do regular updates on the blog here, and also start our group rides again.  We’ll do a few more free clinics, and keep doing our regular 1st Wednesday fix a flat clinic.

Thanks for reading,

-The Bike Doctor Frederick crew of unctuous unified utility.

Sometimes the best isn’t the Best.

A quick note: we’re still figuring out how to best format this for your inbox.  We have a program to do it, but we don’t have time, right now, to learn how to use it.  In the meantime, just go to our blog and read this, so your eyes don’t melt.

Random Picture of Records. Not mine, so no snide comments about the Al Kooper. No offense to Al Kooper fans...

I’m riveted by records.   Obsessed, possessed, tormented and torqued.  My tastes run round, relaxed at 33 1/3 revolutions a minute, or faster, flying at 45.  45’s run short.  4 minutes, max.  One good side, the other ostensibly offal.  33’s, AKA long players pose problems and test tolerance.  3 good songs on a side in the 60’s, if you were lucky.  But the player takes time to operate.  You don’t jump up and juke to the next song, shucking sorid tracks for spectacular cuts.  You sit, soak, ignore and subconsciously sublimate the song.  You hear how you didn’t hear before, because you have to sit and soak.

It’s not how we listen anymore.  We can pick, chose, discard and download.  Skip, remix, fast forward and repeat.  We can cut and paste into cell phone ring tones.  Songs are psychotic sculpted to sound terrific on tiny ear tumor technology.  We learn about music like it’s a celebrity, and cherish it in the same way.  The sounds are intrinsically tied to tortured tabloid ritual, and charts chart charisma and chutzpah more than ideas, artistic vision and virtuosity.  We consume pop culture in the guise of music.  It is no longer music videos about music, it is music soundtracks to music videos.

Somehow watching an Ipod play an MP3 isn't as interesting.

Turn back the ticking clock.  Hug a big speaker.  Embrace a crackle and skip.  I dig deep into voluminous 10 cent bins of dusty vinyl.  I delve down into piles of dirty discs.  Dust balls bite my brain and send sonorous sneezes skyward.  I find fantastic forgotten tracks, songs from bands blackballed by history and highlighted by histrionics.  Labels loom large, I paw and purchase knowing records will rate based on who pressed it.  I cull copious names from a lifetime of learning and lay dubious dimes on faint remembrances and recollections.  Records piles reach preposterous proportions.  My wife groans and gripes about our collapsing shelves. And then she adds 3 more to the pile.

I’ll leave the Record Exchange, or the Rock and Roll Graveyard with 67 new discs.  I’ll bundle them into my basket and pedal home to wash them.  I’ll have spent less than 10 dollars.  I’ll wash and dry and listen later.  I pop dodgy discs by Bill Black or Lee Dorsey on the player.  I’ll crank up the speed.  Blasts of pop bliss boom from paper speakers.  The floor moves in wooden waves and we have to dance.  This music was not made for snippets and sound bites.  It was sculpted to move souls.  Rugs are removed, floors are polished with socks for maximum James Brown moves. The dust and scratches are there to prove this music moved a previous generation.  This music has history, but a history that validates continued play and discovery.

Often new cycling magazines roll through the shop.  I pursue them, pointing and ooohing at pictures of crazy carbon and lighter than light aluminum.  Velonews captures me, I read it daily, dissecting fact from paid press pandering.  Technology pulls me, twists me, and tempts me.  But  the best bike I own is my oldest, with the most miles.  My Witcomb is so wonderful I wonder why I would ever need another bike.  It’s ride is rapturous and rich in history.  It’s seen the most changes in my personal philosophy and still rides righteous and regal.  It has my crappiest parts collection on it, woeful wheels and chintz cheapo tires.  The handlebars are as old as my Mom.  The chain has more run out than cricket, it can’t clear big tires, the headset is horrible and mangy.  The paint is more putrid than a salt pitted ’72 Pinto.


None of that notches notable.  It’s all about the ride, and how the ride makes you feel.  I can’t handle a lack of history in my bikes or my records.  There has a to be a connection, beyond the point and click, and that connection has to result in some meaningful benefit.  A good ride, a rapturous dancesession, a memory reclaimed and remolded.


Clinics:  We do these because we want you to try stuff at home, get in over your head, and then, in fits of anger and dispair come in, so we can charge you to fix what you messed up at home.  Not really!!  We do these to help you understand that bikes aren’t hard to work on, and NO ONE should be afraid to try to fix them, with a few basic tools and some patience.  It’s not the space station we’re talking about here.
3/7:  First Wednesday, so it’s a fix a flat clinic.  Comprehensive, to say the least.

3/14:  How to overhaul and adjust a headset, assuming it can be overhauled and adjusted.  What’s a headset?  That thing that lets your turn the handlebars and therefore the front wheel, as well.  Sometimes these get coated in sweat and grossness and need a good wash and regrease.  If you generate lots of forehead sweat, or ride the trainer a lot, this is a great clinic for you.

3/21:  NO CLINICS.  Tent sale will be that weekend (thursday-sunday) and we will be busy and nervous.  Drop off comfort food and beer for bonus points.

No shop rides this week, we’re busy busy getting ready for our expansion.  Shop rides again, soon, we promise!
Thanks for reading.  If you used to be our friend on facebook, and don’t know what happened, here is what happened: we went to a business account as opposed to a personal account.  We’re still there, just wiggled around.  Click on that facebook thing next to this post to follow that.

Thanks again!

-The Bike Doctor Crew of

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