Race report #3, June 2007: Giro de Grafton…
(OK perhaps this is more accurately just “report #3” as the other two were not races.. but then again – does this one count?”)
I realized tonight that I’m a practitioner of a dieing art – like homespun, cursive, and a hundred languages like Latin, Romansch and Frieslander, I’m likely one of the last of a generation that will understand the rational and intuitive aspects of a previously important activity.
Tonight I glued on a pair of tubular tires to their respective rims. For the uninitiated this means very little – and by the way, “why would you ‘glue’ tires on anyway?” For cyclists the world over until the mid-to-late 80’s this was an art – an activity that required experience, strength, and finesse.
It was sad, really, how much I remembered – and at the same time how much I forgot. I remembered exactly how much glue to press out of heavy metal foil of the tube onto the shallow concave receptacle of the rim. I rotated the wheels slowly, carefully in my lap and laid down beads of the world’s stickiest glue onto the thin aluminum shell lining the rim.
Tubular cement (tire glue) has the consistency of melted hot tar on the road right after application – viscous and extremely sticky - any touch of it tends to leave long glistening trails drooping with gathering glistening droplets like tiny spiders climbing down the shiny webs. It is quite easy to quickly find yourself covered with these webs on all sides and with multiple strands if you are not careful…
I remembered with perfection how to slide my fingertip around the finger-shaped concavity until the glue was perfectly spread from edge to center to edge, stopping just shy of each of the circular punches where the spokes connect. I remembered to let it slightly congeal for about 10 minutes. I even remembered to put down newspaper to capture the stray drops of glue.
However, I forgot, at first, to put a slight amount of air into the tube/tire combo before attempting to stretch it over the rim. I also forgot to “pre-stretch” the tires onto that old glue covered rim I’ve carried around with me for the last 20 year for exactly that purpose. “Tell me again John, why do you carry around that nasty old rim?” my wife has asked on more than one occasion…
The hard part about gluing on a tubular is getting the tire on without getting the glue everywhere. “Tubasti Cement” or variations thereof do not, actually, ever dry – they remain tacky for years and years. Without reading up on the physics of it, my guess is that the material in the glue resists sheer forces (i.e. sideways sliding of the tire off the “rimless rim” while remaining somewhat tacky keeps them relatively weak in bonding (i.e. the tires on not welded to the rim – hence you can remove them by pulling straight up and actually change flats).
Back in the day, you could spot a rookie “tubular” tire mount from a distance – strings of glue in the spokes, glops of the stuff oozing out from the tight intersection of the tire and the rim, and, inevitably, streaks of it on the sidewalls of the rim – right where the brake pads make contact (on road bikes). The days of squealing brakes due to glue residue are now a distant memory and even the thought of it now makes me feel like a relic. In the same way that I have very clear tactile memories of the quick finger-flicking motion and slow rasping hydraulic return of that clear plastic disk on the old rotary phones, these clichés are lost on the new generation of riders.
I managed to recover before getting glue everywhere, stretching the tube physically by putting a foot inside of it and then pulling upward with all my might, feeling the material give just a little. Then, after pumping in a small amount of air, I mounted the tire, very carefully stretching, pulling and wrapping the rim in its new rubber and silk shawl. Miraculously, both tires went on pretty straight.
So, WHY was I gluing on tires in an age of “clinchers?” (Clinchers: tires with tubes and the requisite rims that have tall sidewalls and a lip to catch the rim of the tires – i.e. “normal tires”).
I was preparing to return to race on the velodrome. My move to Chicago put me within striking distance of one of the few banked cycling tracks in the country. Velodrome or “track” cycling has some strong retro tendencies – not the least because the bikes used on the tracks are severely stripped down: no brakes, no gears, and – most importantly – no coasting. The chain is fixed to the gears and there is no ratcheting mechanism to allow you to coast.
Trying to coast on a track bike or “fixed gear” bike results in the “track bike rodeo” – your bike throws you – it bucks you right off. When your legs try to stop, the inertia of your weight and the grip of the tires on the pavement cause the “fixed gears” of the chain to redistribute that force in other directions and inevitably the rear wheel rises and the next thing you know, such a rider is upside down, bike wheels still spinning along with the legs attached in some sort of bizarre miniature carousel.
I weighed in again today. Last week I managed to catch one of those minor cold/flu things going around – though with less severe symptoms than most. It’s probably helping me lose weight 181.8lbs – only 6.8 lbs to go to my goal weight.
Sunday, June 17th, Giro de Grafton:
I was resolute in trying to get to my first race of the season on time, to NOT having a vehicle breakdown, to having my bike in good order, to getting in a good warmup, and hoping against all odds, to actually finish the race in my relatively new category of Pro I/II without getting dropped. Ideas of placing “in the money” or of a podium finish did not cross my mind.
The race was in the afternoon, and we actually left, more or less, with enough time to spare to allow a warmup. As it was father’s day, I convinced my wife to come along and bring my daughter. She even drove, and two hours later as I snacked on a Mojo bar, and drank Accelerade and water on the way over, we pulled into the small town of Grafton, Wisconsin – about 20 miles north of Milwaukee.
I had already changed into my racing skinsuit enroute, had my license ready and cash to pay the entry fees, and shortly after entering town we saw the barriers found marking bike races around the world for re-routing traffic – those orange and white diagonal stripes briefly igniting with the reflection of the sun.
I was about to suggest some shaded parking opportunities when I noticed that these particular barriers were actually pulled aside and were propped up on the sidewalk – the way was still clear. So we pulled forward, and at the next corner we found the same thing – barriers stacked neatly against a lightpost on the corner – but off the road.
We made a left turn, and it was about then that I had a dose of very cold blood run through my heart and lift a cold sweat to my skin… Where were the cars? The cyclists? The people? The loudspeaker announcements? The town was a ghost town – just carefully stacked barriers and empty streets.
We were just about to ask someone when I noticed a flyer in the window indicating the 2007 Giro de Grafton – on Saturday, June 16th.
Thank God it was father’s day. The look Shannon gave me said it all… but then again it was father’s day and all she said was, “Its father’s day, so I’m not going to say anything else – nothing else at all… except, I’m in charge of the schedule from now on…”
And we drove the 2 hours home…