Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas to Me: A Cyclist's Justification of (Another) New Bike

The last month has been stressful; the end of the semester always is.  For some reason, this year was even worse.  In fact, they have been getting progressively worse.  I think there are multiple factors at play here: 1) as you gain experience, your colleagues become more willing to give you more responsibilities, 2) as you gain experience, you get invited to participate in more things or write more papers, 3) in my case, as you gain more experience, you continue to procrastinate.  I'm not sure which of these factors is the primary culprit, but I do know the latter only compounds the effects of the first two.

The end of the semester always guarantees at least two extra things: writing and grading final exams (which sucks), and putting together final grades for the semester (which sucks2). Through my vast experience (this is my 4th semester), I have developed a strategy to post grades as late as possible to avoid the large number of emails that I get from students asking if there is any way that I can bump their grade up a level (i.e. A- up to an A).  Unfortunately, the rapid adoption of smart phones amongst the general population has made this strategy obsolete.  Students receive information, and send responses, in real time.

This year I received a very entertaining request a mere 3 minutes after posting grades:

"I just figured it was worth asking. Is there anything I could do extra to bump my grade from a C- to a B+. I supposedly graduated this semester, and didn't do too hot in any of my classes and and worried about my semester gpa. And this extra bump could be a huge difference maker."

First, I almost respect the magnitude of the request.  Most students only have the balls to ask for a bump of a single level.  This student was hoping I could somehow increase his grade 5 levels! Second, note that this student was not questioning my calculation of the grade, just that they wanted what they earned increased (considerably). Finally, the emails where the student references their graduation being contingent on the grade they get in my class always get me (by the way, I am not quite sure what supposedly graduating means).  If a student is in the position where a poor grade may prevent them from graduating, it is not that class that got the ball rolling.  There have been other courses where grades were poor; the professors in those courses just had the luxury of assigning those grades earlier in the students' career.

But I digress.

In addition to grades and the extension tour meetings this year, I also agreed to write a paper with a colleague for a conference coming up in February.  And I also had a grant proposal due on December 22nd.  We procrastinated on the paper, as is our wont, but finally got it done just 2 days past the "deadline" (in academia you learn quickly which deadlines are hard and need to be respected, and which deadlines are soft and can be disregarded either temporarily or indefinitely).  The grant proposal was a struggle, as is always the case with federal grants.  The first step in the filtering mechanism is the arduous process of putting the proposal together and actually gettting the online system to accept it.  Even worse, if you actually get the award (a less than 20% chance in most cases), you have to follow their ridiculous reporting and documentation protocols.  But I need to chase dollars to get promoted like everyone else.  So I do these things, and stress over them.  Kind of like buying Christmas presents.

Speaking of that, I hate Christmas shopping.  I like people most of the time, but for some reason the Christmas season brings out the worst in me and, in my opinion, the worst in every other person in the store when I am there.  People are slow and always in my way.  It becomes painfully obvious why the staff at the stores I go to are paid a low, hourly wage.  Parking is impossible. Lines are long.  Basically everything that the Christmas season is supposed to be about. 

What's that you say?  Something about a baby born in a barn to a virgin mother somewhere in the Middle East surrounded by a bunch of dirty camel herders and barn animals to the light of a star? I faintly remember something about that from my childhood, but that story sounds ridiculous!

The point of all this is that, from Dec. 13th through the 22nd, I felt as though I was losing hair at even faster rate than usual.  But I got through it.  As long as you consider a 30 year old having his mother buy about half of his Christmas presents for him as getting through something.

So I decided to buy myself a Christmas present.  Something that noone else would be able to get right, or willing to spend the appropriate amount of money on.  Yes, you guessed it, I bought another bike. 

But Nick, you already bought a mountain bike this year.  And you bought a carbon road bike last year.  And an aluminum road bike the year before that.  How could you possibly need another bike? 

Don't worry, we'll get to all that.  First, let me introduce you to my new friend.  I literally "built" this bike from the bottom up.  OK, the guys at the bike shop technically built it, but I picked out all of the individual pieces.  I started with a Surly frame - the steel Cross-Check to be exact.

For the comonents, I went with the SRAM Apex gruppo (with a small upgrade to SRAM Rival shifters because they are carbon instead of aluminum and look much, much cooler).

I won't bore you with the rest of the gory details, but it also includes a Ritchey stem and handlebars, a SRAM seatpost, Cane Creek headset, Avid Shorty 6 cantileveler brakes,and Bontrager Race wheels that I was able to get on closeout.  The bike is all black (with a little white) and looks pretty badass if I do say so myself.

So why in the world did I do this?  What function could this bike possibly serve that my other bikes do not?  That is a good question, and begs an articulate and well thought-out answer.  So let's start from the beginning.

The first road bike I bought was my aluminum Trek 2.1 in 2008.  I bought it as a Valentine's Day gift for myself as I was newly single after almost 5 years and wanted a road bike for RAGBRAI.  This may have been the best or worst decision I have ever made, but I am leaning towards the best.  It has led to a number of things, one of them being the guys at the bike shop knowing me by name and smiling everytime I walk in the door.  This purchase ended up being an epiphany.  I love bikes and love riding them even more.  I am a Trek and Lance Armstrong junkie.  I've ridden this bike more than 6,000 miles since then.  It is now my "trianing" road bike.  A bit heavier than my Madone (which I will get to in a minute), and I am more willing to ride it on rougher, dirtier roads.

The following year I bought my Madone, which may be one of my most prized posessions.  It is basically a Tour de France ready bike, with the carbon frame and components that the pros use.  Is that necessary for someone like me? No.  Does it turn heads (for those who know what to look for)? Yes.  Is it fun to ride? Most certainly yes.  Is it faster than my aluminum road bike? Yes, actually, it is much faster.  So this is my racing bike (where my bike races, until now, have consisted of triathlons).

Early this fall I bought the Gary Fisher Cobia.  A 29er hardtail mountain bike.  This bike wasn't cheap, but it was by no means a ridiculous purchase.  I almost wish I had spent more (in fact, of all of the dollars I have spent on bikes the past 3 years I regret exactly zero of them). It is "entry-level", but it is a very good level to enter at.  I didn't know if I would really like trail riding, but we have a few places within an hour of where I live to ride so I thought I would give it a shot.  It is a totally different workout, and has really helped my legs on the road bikes.  After many Sundays on the trails at Kickapoo, and a painful rib injury, I am hooked and planning trips to Colorado and Utah for some real riding.

Which brings us up to the latest purchase.  This bike is actually pretty versatile.  I built it to be a commuter, but also so I could start "racing" cyclocross. I can mount fenders to it, or a rear rack.  I can put racing slicks or knobby tires on it.  The tire clearance is pretty wide so I can run skinny or fatter tires.  It's a steel frame so I don't have to worry about every little scratch threatening the integrity of the entire frame like with carbon (and from what I am told about cyclocross, those scratches are coming).

So, in summary, each of my bikes have a very specific purpose:
  1. A road trainer
  2. A road racer
  3. A trail rider
  4. A commuter/cyclocross bike
In short, each one of these bikes is completely justified.  It would be tough to do the same for yet another bike.  Unless of course I decide to buy a Time Trial bike, or a singlespeed, or a fixie.

Merry Christmas!

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