Canyon Let Me Down

I’ve eagerly anticipating the Canyon USA launch for months now, waiting to order the Ultimate ALX frame which I would then build into my beautiful new road machine. I already have the Mavic hoops, leaning quietly up against my wall, waiting for some pavement to roll smoothly along. Handlebars, saddle, pedals: all ready to go.

And, as promised, Canyon did launch in “late summer.” I was thrilled to check the website today and see the text below the close-up of Tony Martin’s face during a staged time trial had changed, announcing that they are finally open for business stateside. I grabbed my credit card, excitedly navigated to the Ultimate page, and found…four carbon bikes. No aluminum, complete or otherwise. Their other offerings were similarly limited.

Noooooooooooooo.

canyon
Well, kind of.

I had read the fine print about a launch of “some” of their products but they never said which ones that included, so I assumed my dream bike would make the cut. Guess it didn’t. I called Ian in customer service, feeling sorry for him because I’m sure they are being besieged by calls right now from Americans starved for German-engineered bikes made in Taiwan or wherever, and he said that they don’t envision selling aluminum framesets in the USA anytime soon.

So. What to do?

I’ve spent most of the day reconsidering my options. I could get an aluminum frameset from Trek or Cannondale (Specialized offers one, but it’s an aero crit beast, not a well-rounded lightweight style I’m looking for) or find a boutique aluminum frame maker like VYNL, or switch my path altogether and go with a handmade steel frame. There’s no shortage of great builders. But my wallet isn’t bottomless, and I really hate the look of external cable routing. Call me vain.

I probably shouldn’t decide anything yet. Sit on it for a couple days, sort through the different possibilities.

But, come on Canyon. I’m disappointed in you.

Gratitude

Times like these, home from a fun ride on a gorgeous late summer evening, I realize how many things I love about cycling. How grateful I am for everything it adds to my life, how lucky I am to be able to ride. It can be far too easy to take a strong heart and pain-free joints for granted.

So here are some things about cycling I love, the transcendent parts of riding that make all the boring and painful parts worth it. We’ve all seen lists like this on websites and in cycling magazines. They seem a little too easy, a little clickbaity. Maybe this list will sound like that. I don’t know. All I know is that I mean these things.

Quiet roads along quiet creeks.

The way light from a sinking sun shatters though the treetops, bright but not blinding.

The unspoken agreement to pause a conversation on the descent and resume it seamlessly at the bottom.

Pre-ride panckakes. Post-ride pancakes.

Two-hour loops with a little bit of climbing but not too much, where you get a workout but still feel fresh when you get home.

Swooping through shady spots, feeling the rush of cool air.

Waving at old men on porches who would normally never wave at a man in lyrca, and seeing them smile and wave back.

Talking about rides you’ve done. Planning rides you might never do.

Riding two or three wide in the middle of the road because you know there are never cars on it.

Coming back into town after rush hour.

Seeing the light change to green just as your faux-track stand is about to peter out.

Riding with friends, sometimes.

Riding alone, sometimes.

Discovering a perfect new road.

Forgetting your heart rate strap, and realizing you don’t miss it.

The first pedal stroke. The last pedal stroke.

Pressing “save” on your Garmin.

Realizing a hill wasn’t as steep as you remembered it.

Taking the bike path back to your neighborhood, even though you say you hate maneuvering around pedestrians, because sometimes it’s nice to just  ride a bike like a kid would ride a bike.

Thunder, Gravel, Questions

“This is so stupid. Why do I do this? What was I thinking?”

I half-gasped, half-yelled these things (and other, more unprintable things) into the forest, slogging up the shoulder of a ridge on a gravel road beneath a bruised afternoon sky threatening rain. No more gears, no end in sight. Seventy-something miles already in my legs, over seven thousand feet of climbing. A loaded seat pack hanging like an anchor off my saddle, empty water bottles clinging to the frame.


I haven’t gone on a true bikepacking trip since last November when I rode out to Michaux State Forest the week before we somehow elected Trump and spent a lonely, somewhat scary night in the woods. I figured my first experience, the surprisingly overwhelming physical/mental/emotional wallop it packed, wasn’t unique. I figured future trips (in the summer, not near-winter) would be a lot easier. Less stressful, more fun. I’d be more confident, not intimidated by the prospect of sleeping alone in the forest. The daylight would be longer, the air warmer.

This weekend I found out that I was both right and wrong.

I put in time off for Friday and mapped a 130-mile loop out to Tuscarora State Forest. Mostly pavement to get there, gravel roads in the forest. Eleven thousand feet of climbing. I packed the night before, feeling that rush of excitement that comes before embarking. Tent and sleeping bad in the seat pack, spares and tools and a bag of dates in the frame bag, a loaf of banana blueberry bread and some polenta cakes in the handlebar bag. The heat made a sleeping bag unnecessarily, and the likelihood of rain made the tent a more sensible option than my bivvy.  On Friday morning I woke up, lingered around the house, ate a big pancake breakfast. Then I lugged the bike down the stairs and out the door.



Almost immediately, the feeling of excitement morphed into something else. A kind of low-grade anxiety mixed with joy. Last time, it was mostly joy–the anxiety didn’t hit until darkness crept in. Maybe it was the heavy sky, or the knowledge of so much climbing ahead of me, or the desire to have someone to do these trips with. Maybe it was just the tedious act of getting out of the city to the actual ride.

From an airplane this part of Pennsylvania looks like a wrinkled sheet, the land bunching itself into ridges. They are snakes,  rippling varicose veins. My route took me towards them and I climbed them one by one, trying to spin in my granny gear, breathing heavy. Miller’s Gap, Rambo Hill, Route 74 out of Ickesburg. They grew increasingly high, increasingly steep. Between them was farmland, rows of GMO corn scalloped into the land, big houses set back with long driveways and big SUVs. The miles ticked past in silence. I stopped a couple times to eat handfuls of sticky dates, once to refill my water bottles. The sky looked like rain but the clouds held back whatever moisture was in them.

You ride differently when you know you aren’t coming home that day. You can’t think about finishing, about halfway points and the other gimmicks that keep you going. You just put your head down and pedal and periodically check the odometer to see miles slowly piling up. A few times the thought of turning back crossed my mind, ending the night with a shower and warm bed. I didn’t seriously consider them, but I was leery of their presence. What did it mean that they arose?

I started bonking a few miles into the state forest, on a spongy gravel/sand mix that made progress slow and frustrating. The mosquitoes followed me when I slowed down. My legs were tired. The road seemed to keep winding uphill. On my Garmin it looked like New Germantown, the small village on the other side of the ridge that  I thought might be a good stopping point, wasn’t too far away. I walked the bike for a while and the dot didn’t get any closer. I weighed the speed vs. comfort dilemma and climbed back on and kept riding. I just wanted to set up camp, eat dinner, lay down, relax in the comfort of the tent. But I didn’t know how long the gravel section would last and I didn’t want to have to confront that unknown in the morning. I hate procrastination; it makes me more anxious rather than less.

More gravel, more hills. My terrible brakes made the descents a white-knuckle experience. Each corner offered the hope of pavement, then dashed it. So on the biggest climb of the day, crawling up some unknown ridge with New Germantown still an invisible oasis somewhere below, I was forced to confront all the questions that had been lurking.

Why do I do this? Sure, these adventures are fun to look back on, but why don’t I thoroughly, completely enjoy them while they are happening? Why does gravel always sound like so much fun, and then sucks once you’re riding it?

I don’t really have a good answer. Why does anyone do anything?

I want to have an adventurous life. I want to push myself outside the comfort of warm beds and electronics, at least sometimes, if only to renew my appreciation for those things. I want to spend time in nature and gain confidence and be empowered. I want to know I am capable. I want to look back on a life spent breathing hard and racing nightfall.

Still, I can’t help but think that other people have more fun than I do on their bikepacking adventures. Or maybe Instagram and The Radavist just make it seem that way. Maybe I just need some friends to go with, and that would change everything.


After another bone-rattling descent I made it to New Germantown, where I camped on the edge of a cornfield. Darkness rolled in, followed by a massive thunderstorm. It rained hard for two hours and the underside of the tent was soaking wet but the seams held. I spoke to Autumn on the phone and she talked me down from my loneliness.

The valley was shrouded in fog the next morning. I woke up, feeling better at having made it through the storm alright. Stuffed the wet tent into my bag, ate breakfast, pedaled away from the sleepy winter-worn clapboard homes lining Main Street. I rode past farms tucked up on the hillsides, cows clustered by fencelines, my neon rain jacket flapping in the wind behind me. Later I was home, returned to the spread gingers of the suburbs and then the clench of the city. The whole trip was 24 hours, more or less. Only a day outdoors, a day away from routines and comfort. Really not much. Hardly anything compared to other adventures.

But I’ve grown a little from it, and I’m a little more confident now, and the memory already has a place in my mind. And I know I’ll do it again even if sometimes I can’t make out the reasons.

Bikepackin'

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Free at Last

If you were a fly on the wall (weird), you would have seen me in my living room last night, wrestling with the near wheel of my bike wielding scissors and knives like some kind of demented surgeon. There was cussing, strange noises, and things breaking. What in the world was I doing?

Only trying to remove the dork disk, the world’s most harmless-looking, unnecessary, frustratingly difficult bike component. You’ve seen them. Maybe you even have one on your own bike. They are the dinner plate-sized plastic discs that bike shops are required to insert between your spokes and cassette, Trojan horses of goofdom that remain unnoticed on people’s bikes for way too long, sneaking home with you like a tick in your armpit. I’ll say it again: they are unnecessary. Sure, maybe your chain could slip off your biggest sprocket. A lot of things could happen. A childish ape could become president. But come on.

 

The dork disc had remained on my Jamis Renegade for way too long. I tried a few times to remove it, wildly attacking it with dull scissors, but I was unsuccessful. Since it’s my get-around bike and I don’t ride it too often, I was content to let the disc remain, though I was never happy about it. The risk of being judged by a fellow in-the-know cyclist while running errands or camping in a state forest was pretty low.

But in preparation for this weekend’s bikepacking trip, I decided the disc had to be demolished, once and for all. The scissors wouldn’t work. I would need another tool. What could I find in our sparsely populated kitchen drawer?

Dull butter knife, can opener, plastic fork. No, no, no. Then the epiphany. That little-used (quite frankly, terrible) Christmas gift from a couple years ago: super strength knife set. The kind you see on infomercials that can apparently cut through granite blocks or a human femur or whatever. I’ve never used them for food, and thought I gave them all to Goodwill before my last move, but luckily somehow one was still lingering in the back of the drawer. Bingo.

I began sawing through the disc, and sure enough, the knife worked. Damn, the infomercials weren’t lying, I thought. Halfway through, I ran out of space; the knife was dangerously close to the near derailleur cable, and I accidentally put a few saw marks into a spoke or two. So I turned to my other tool: brute force. That’s where the cussing started, as I tussled with the disc, sliding it around, finally breaking bits of it until I could get an opening to saw through the rest. Towards the end I just pulled until the plastic shattered.

Then, in a glorious gesture of triumph, I ripped off the last chunk, heart rate spiking. I looked at the pile of plastic, which now appeared so meek and fragile, like it was innocently saying “what do you mean, I caused you so much frustration? I’m just a little bit of plastic.”

But I knew better.

IMG_4360[1]
Dork-free, finally