Monday, June 2, 2008

It's Not About The Riding: Cycling, Blogging and the Grey Lady

One of my favorite things about cycling—and about our culture in general—is that you don’t have to deal with pesky things like time, effort, and experience if you want to do or be something. All you need is money. After all, “understanding” is overrated. It’s much more satisfying (and a whole lot easier) to simply bypass all that, fork over the Amex, and have everything handed to you in a shiny bag with a big logo on it.

Take for example “The Climb,” a new blog on The New York Times website to which a number of people have alerted me:

..The Climb is a blog that will chart my attempt, as a 41-year-old beginner cyclist who has never been in a bike race of any kind — and had never ridden even 50 miles in one day until last Saturday — to find out what it takes for an ordinary, not-particularly-fit mortal to survive a single, grueling, mountain stage of the world's greatest cycling race.

Basically, about a year or so ago the author, Robert Mackey, rode a hybrid around Central Park a few times and decided he wanted to know what it would be like to ride in the Tour:

I began to wonder how my struggles to get myself up the steep hill at the northern edge of the park compared to what the television commentators described as the "suffering" Lance and the rest of the peloton endured on their way up the Tour's great climbs in the Alps and the Pyrenees.

If Mr. Mackey had contacted me back then with that question, I would have saved him some time. Firstly, I’d have explained to him that they don’t compare at all. Secondly, I’d have told him that all real cyclists, regardless of ability or riding style, understand the “suffering” of the peloton because they too know what it’s like to suffer on a bike. They suffer in amateur races; they suffer on long solo rides; they suffer over technical terrain; they even suffer to and from work as they risk death on streets teeming with SUVs driven by road rage-addled idiots because they’d rather be injured doing something they love than while away their mornings in a box being miserable.

So had Mr. Mackey really wanted to know what suffering is like, he’d simply have kept riding as much and as hard as possible. Maybe eventually he’d do some group rides, which would introduce him to a new level of difficulty. Then, once he got comfortable, maybe he’d try a race and get to ride up that same hill in Central Park at race pace at the back of the Cat 5 field. (Assuming he wasn’t dropped by then.) But of course, all this would take time and effort. Also, we’d have been deprived of his blog. Thankfully, though, he wisely took the “spend money now and the results will follow” approach:

I found a travel company in Nebraska with a French name, Velo Echappe, that takes Americans to France to ride in L'Étape. I signed up for their deluxe package, which includes entry into the race, two private feed zones along the route, the attention of professional mechanics and three nights in "the finest hotel in the entire Pyrenees Region," conveniently located across the street from the starting line.

To that end, when I did buy a bike to take with me to France, I got a Cervelo R3, the lightest one I could (nearly) afford.

I suspect at this point some of you out there might be getting mad. But I say, Good for you, Robert Mackey! You’re special, and you know that as a special person you shouldn’t have to muck about with the tedious and indignant process of riding your bike before knowing what it’s like to be a professional athlete at the very top of what is very possibly the most physically demanding sport in the world. Some of you might also be wondering, What qualifies this person to blog about cycling under the imprimatur of a newspaper of record like The New York Times? Well, like all newspapers The New York Times is wilting due to increasing irrelevance, so it’s only natural that they would want to publish a cycling blog on their website in an attempt to seem vital. It’s also only natural that they would go for a blog with a stupid reality show-esque premise and an author who’s a complete dilettante and appears simply to be looking for an excuse to buy expensive stuff and go to France. And most importantly, the Times has a rich heritage to uphold of publishing insipid articles about rich idiots and their expensive bikes. Like this one. And this one. And this one.

Hey, it’s the right of every privileged person to put the cart before the horse (or in the case of Mr. Mackey, the Cervelo before the whore) by buying lots of stuff before understanding how to even use that stuff. And hey, how can you be expected ride your shiny new Cervelo when you’re busy?

... just over a year ago, fate dealt me a kind blow. I got a new position at The Times, as a Web producer, and the transition made it nearly impossible for me to devote enough time to training for the race, so I put it off for a year.

Never mind that the world is full of doctors, lawyers, executives, business owners, construction workers, parents, craftsmen, contractors, plumbers, law enforcement officers, and so on who also manage to ride their bikes and race competitively. Fat Cyclist has a full-time career, a wife who’s ill, and like seventeen kids, and he not only rides every one of his fourteen bikes but he also races them and blogs about it incessantly. None of those people are Robert Mackey though, and none of them understand the difficulty of being Robert Mackey nor can imagine the demands placed on Robert Mackey on a daily basis. Also, he got sick:

...I barely rode my bike all winter, felled first by a bad case of bronchitis, and then by a badly infected tooth and what might turn out to be an allergy to my cat.

Hey, Mackey’s hero Lance Armstrong may have ridden his bike while recovering from cancer, but I doubt even Mellow Johnny himself could have stood up to cat dander.

Fortunately, though, it seems Mackey has recovered enough from the sneezing and itchy eyes to start spending money again. It would appear that with a few weeks to go he’s done what any sensible non-cyclist would do and paid someone to bail him out:

I’m finally two weeks into a serious eight-week training program sketched out by a coach at a place called Cadence Cycling in TriBeCa here in New York, whose other clients all seem to be training for insanely hard triathlons on even more insanely expensive bikes than mine. When I described what I wanted to do, and what little I’d done so far, my coach offered this assessment of my chances: “it’s not impossible.”

“It’s not impossible” indeed. Nothing’s impossible if you pay for it. Speaking of money, Mackey wants you to know every dollar he’s spending on this ego-fest is his own:

I am paying for all this entirely on my own and am not in any way sponsored by any of the companies that I’ve mentioned or linked to so far. I paid full-price for the bike, the coaching package, the trip, and the three-day immersion course in climbing (and descending!) skills I took last summer in North Carolina.

Thanks, Robert. Some of us were starting to question the extent of your self-indulgence. I would have been dismayed to find out some of this stuff had been given to you, and I’m relieved to know every bit of gross excess is your own. I’m also glad that you’re writing about all of this now, instead of waiting until after you’d finished and maybe actually learned something. Because that’s the point, isn’t it? Buy now, pay later. I’d wish you luck, but it doesn’t sound like you need it. Once you do cross the finish line, you will have accomplished something truly special in that you’ll have gone from being a clueless hybrid rider to a clueless Tour de France stage finisher without ever having experienced the joy of cycling or the satisfaction of discovering something for yourself. So in the spirit of putting the cart before the horse, I’d like to congratulate you on your fine finish in advance. I look forward to hearing what expensive hobby you decide to flirt with and blog about next.


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CorporateImposter said...

IRONY anyone?

A biker masquerading as a writer
A writer masquerading as a biker

Someone somewhere is Vlogging about this on YouTube

Anonymous said...

术+术:可能是唯一有可能冲上2300的同职业组合,天赋一般选用双恶魔法+贼:控制+爆发型,法师的爆发力略胜术士,不过容错性非常小,游戏相似组合还有法+野D,法+暗牧法+法:双冰法控制,综合来说还不错,续战力也存活能力也很强。双奥法的秒杀流一经提出就被喷的面目全非,我本人其实尝试过这个组合,可惜装备只有S2,法伤最多也只能撑到102X(现在能高不少),魔兽队友情况也差不多。这样的组合容错性低的离谱,虽然有10000+HP 400+韧性,但是感觉一被打就瞬间死,而且跑还跑不掉,所以这个打法还是更适合高端副本装,反正一样死很快。组合上还是克死战士队,别和我提盾反,网络游戏那么明显的动画效果能吸到个火冲不错了。网游基本上能够硬顶过我们5秒的职业只有骑士,冰法,盗贼和恶魔SS了。打盗贼队伍,如果是盗贼+看的见,一律先把看的见的OOXX了,双盗贼很难打,2斗篷我们免费网络游戏直接去一人。最后被一个队恶魔SS+骑士卡住了,因为奥法的后续爆发几乎没有,开局秒恶魔SS和骑士都不成功。感觉装备足够猛的话,2000是没问题的,2000以后看能否连好沉默来秒SS了。法伤最好是NOBUFF 1200+以上,最新网游保证秒杀的成功率,可以不用考虑血和韧性,建议装备牛B的法师们平时娱乐使用,非常畅快的战斗贼+暗牧:爆发力非常强的组合,而且他们的视频里很不厚道的最新免费网络游戏吃了金童3场贼+野D:第一赛季闷+盲+消失补闷+飓风的完美控制秒杀型队伍,不过在徽章能解所有控制技能之后容错性大大降低了。

Adam Dawdy said...

I agree with rowing across the ocean with our old, steel bikes (neo-modern duathlon?) and racing this guy. My LeTour has gotten me through more crap than this guy will ever see on a bike.

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Anonymous said...

Over here in Singapore, there is this cycling prick who used to run a cycling group Paul Goh, PGSK - a cycling group. Ego got the better of him and it reached some egomanic levels that he believed he was God.

He started dictating how rides should be run, and started booting members who he perceived did not comply or were against him. This prick belongs to the olden ages when kings and slaves were in exsistence.

People who do not show good genuine leadership potential should just not pretend to be good enough to lead a cycling group.

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