Newsletter - 2008 Archive

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DNF - Time to Retire the Concept
by Kevin Bruce

The LM Spring 400 did not go well for me. I had chosen to ride at a very moderate pace, enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the Fraser Valley and the canyon up to Hell's Gate and back and for the first 140 km all went according to plan. At the start, conveniently located just a twenty minute ride from my home, I sort of mixed in with the others, said 'Good morning' to several familiar faces, introduced myself to a few others whose names I couldn't recall, and then about five kilometres into the ride felt a gentle flush of relief as I succeeded in my goal of letting everyone else run on ahead with myself riding considerably behind.

Where at one time my goal was always to finish in the top third of final times, I have this year adopted an entirely new approach which is to never feel the lactic acid build-up in my legs, enjoy the scenery, eat food not power bars, and avoid wearing clothing that makes me look like a super-hero-wannabe. I have decided to ride no faster than necessary and moderate my pace so that I am riding with the same energy output at the finish of a brevet as at the start.

I've even gone so far as to buy a new bike that emphasizes comfort rather than speed. The bike is a lugged steel frame, long wheel-base affair with wide forks that accommodate fat, cushy tires. The fenders are built in, so if it rains, it rains - big deal. A generator hub powers the headlamp so I never have to worry about batteries, and the top of the handlebars is even with the saddle so I can sit upright which, although not the most aerodynamic position, presents less of a challenge to my chiropractor when it comes to straightening out my spine. To top things off, I've applied a couple of innovations to the bike's set-up that relieve me of innumerable frustrations:

First, I've replaced the clipless pedals with platforms. No longer do I fumble with cleats clicking in to pedals and, when I get off the bike, I walk around like a normal person, not like a duck. The anxiety of potentially slipping on the ceramic tile floor of whichever Tim Horton's I happen to be in is a thing of the past. There may be some loss of pedalling efficiency by no longer being able to pull through the bottom of a pedal stroke, but there is some debate about whether cyclists pull up on the pedals at all, so to me it's a specious argument that cleats are superior to platforms, particularly for non-racing applications. What I can say with certainty is that I no longer experience the momentary frustration of accidentally unclipping and slipping off the pedal while consequently risking an unfortunate crash of the family jewels on the saddle. Also, when wearing rain booties I no longer have to make sure they are positioned precisely so that they don't interfere with the cleat's contact with the pedal. After years of cleats and Velcro straps, a return to platform pedals with comfy shoes is like coming home again.

Secondly, I've adopted a single chain-ring set up. Where I used to ride a double or triple chain ring, I've found that there are only about four or five gear ratios that I use seventy-five percent of the time, and once in a while go to a higher cruising gear on a downhill or a much lower spinning gear on a climb. After spending countless hours studying gear charts and making mental notes of which gears I use in real-world cycling, I have determined that the best set up for my style of riding is a 42-tooth chain ring with 11-34 cassette. Nine lousy speeds are all I need, and the beauty of it is that I never have to decide whether or not I should shift between chain rings because I now have only one. Between going with a simpler pedal system and an uncomplicated drive train, many of the potential frustrations and anxiety-causing decision-making have been eliminated thus allowing me to relax more and simply enjoy the ride.

Even with this move toward a more 'analog' way of riding a bicycle, I could not overcome a calamitous series of flat tires which put me more than two hours behind schedule. Riding at a relaxed pace to begin with meant that the added time deficit created a very real possibility of not making the later controls before they closed, and I was now faced with having to ride half the brevet in the dark while losing an entire night's sleep if I were to complete the ride. Having used up my spare tubes and all eight patches in my kit, I still had punctures after having completed only 140 km and found myself helpless just 10 km from Hope. Ride organizers Michel and Karen were extremely helpful and went above the call by fetching spare tubes and driving out to meet me and help me get going again. Though I made the Hell's gate control less than an hour before it closed, I knew that with my spirit sagging like a chain that had come off the ring, darkness setting in, and the thought of staring at nothing but a small patch of pavement lit by a Schmidt headlamp for the better part of ten hours, I just didn't have the will to carry on. So, I called it off at about 10 PM after 262 km.

Alright, here's the problem: in riding a randonneur event, one is credited with either a "Finished" or a "Did Not Finish" designation, the latter of which is abbreviated as a "DNF" (which doesn't even make a good acronym). The term 'did not finish' implies that one failed to accomplish something and that's what I have a problem with. Merely attempting a rando ride of any distance is worth celebrating, and any rider signed up for an event has risen to at least a small challenge by merely getting up that early on a weekend. Those who choose to ride only part of the prescribed distance are unfairly having their efforts downgraded by the negative connotation of "not" attached to their accomplishments. I would therefore like to suggest that we consider alternatives that applaud achievements rather than denigrate failures.

Moreover, the term "DNF" doesn't tell us anything about why the rider did not finish the event. This puts the rider in the awkward position of making excuses the next time they show up for a ride. Many of us have been in such a situation, and we say things like, "Well, I had ducked behind a bush to have a pee when, suddenly, out of nowhere, a bear..." I think it would be much better if we had a longer list of abbreviated terms that at least gave some description of the reason that caused the rider to abandon. Here, in alphabetical order, are some suggestions:

AAA - Absolute Apathy Attack. Could happen at any time.

D - Died. It happens to all of us and there's nothing we can do about it.

DWMHG - Didn't Want to Miss the Hockey Game. This is Canada and we watch hockey in May and June when rando events take place.

FGAAS - Felt Guilty About Abandoning Spouse. Not all randos are happy couples who ride together, so we must be respectful of non-cycling spouses.

FGAAHP - Felt Guilty About Abandoning House Pet. Let's face it: the family dog, cat, budgie, or goldfish tend to be way more faithful than the humans around whom we build our lives.

FBB - Forgot to Bring Bike. I'm sure that somewhere out there, probably Scotland, there was an occasion where someone showed up for a ride, signed in, paid their entry fee, and then discovered that they'd forgotten to bring their bike. ("Ach, naye!!! Aye've firgutten ti brin' mah bike!!!")

FR - Found Religion. You have to be careful who you talk to in places like Chilliwack.

GAPIJ - Got Arrested Put In Jail. With all the brevets that cross the border there must be temptations for terrorists posing as randos to use the occasion to ply their trade. There's a conspiracy theory about 9/11 and bicycles, but I won't go into that just now.

HFA - Had Fun Anyway. Self-explanatory.

HHVFE - Hurried Home to Vote in Federal Election. With the minority parliament we are currently enjoying, this is a distinct possibility.

JPGU - Just Plain Gave Up. Why demand a reason for a person's actions?

RRST - Red Robinson Show Theatre. The rider was coming into the last 10 km of a brevet along United Boulevard, saw that Wayne Newton was performing at the Red Robinson and just couldn't resist.

So, what would be the abbreviated shorthand for why I abandoned the 400? Well, there are a few that come to mind:

TMFT - Too Many Flat Tires. When you find yourself, as I did, on the side of busy highway cursing loudly at inanimate objects, it's time to re-think why you ride a bicycle.

DNWWTV - Did Not Want to Waste the Time of the Volunteers . They're real people who need their sleep, and why should they sit around for five hours after the second last rider has finished just for me to roll in? I'm not so selfish as to think that they should wait for me. Hell, my mother wouldn't and several former girlfriends didn't.

TIFHIJLMI - The Island Four Hundred In July Looks More Interesting. Yeah, I'm going to try the distance again just to complete a series, and this looks like a really interesting route, so I'm going to make give it a go. Besides, I have a friend in Parksville with a hot tub I can drop in on to refresh myself mid-ride.

I plan to ride slowly.

Event Results - Photos


June 5, 2008