La Vie Velominatus, Part V: Un Jour Sans

A view from the cockpit; a reminder to meditate on The V

As I sat down to write this article, I noticed that the battery on my laptop needed charging. I stood to reach for the charger, picked it up, and then watched helplessly as it slipped from my hand and pin-balled off every possible surface between my hand and the floor. I then muttered something that suggested it was birthed outside of wedlock and asserted that it may not in fact be comprised of plastic and electronics, but entirely of fecal material, as is the customary reaction to such events.

Having successfully insulted the inanimate object and thereby preserved my dignity, I picked it up (again) and unwound its cord which then promptly whipped around and smacked me in the face. On some days, I’ve come to learn, I just don’t have it.

This pattern of general discombobulation spread it’s tentacles beyond my benign computer-charging activity; it affected my cycling. Having spent 27 years climbing aboard a bicycle, most of the associated activities are second-nature and thus require very little focussed effort. Shifting, drinking from the bidon, clicking into the pedals; all these things happen without so much as a second thought and never do they require me to look down.

Or, I should say, almost never.

On this day I found myself with the chain crossed on two separate occasions; once on the little ring and once in the big ring. The fact that I only noticed I was in the big ring as I came to the top of a climb I found unusually difficult did little to temper my disgust at the incident. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of a chain cross out of necessity, but I’m usually aware of it. What I found intolerable was the simple fact that I was caught completely unaware; that the connection between rider and machine had somehow been severed. But what I found most insufferable was the fact that I had to stare down at my feet and concentrate on the pedals in order to clip into them, lest my foot was left to dangle uselessly in the air just adrift of my pedals. I’m surprised I didn’t drop my bidon while attempting to replace it in it’s cage. Infuriating.

But even on these clumsiest of days, I can still spin the pedals smoothly enough to lose myself in the sensation of flight as my machine and I sweep through a series of hairpin turns together. I find I can still breath in the delightfully damp smell of a stand of deciduous trees or the sunbaked smell of a cedar pine forest. I find I can still indulge in the urge to make my legs burn for no reason other than to quell the doubt that I still can. Even on these days, when all the little things seem to conspire together to wear at my patience, the beauty of The Ride still unfolds before me.

Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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64 Replies to “La Vie Velominatus, Part V: Un Jour Sans”

  1. @wiscot

    To me, Di2 is like any one of the electronic devices that fill our everyday lives, they work but most of us have no idea of how. I love how I can look at my bike and know exactly how everything works.

    Rouleur had a section on Shimano and the Mr. Shimano commented that the idea behind Di2 was that they wanted to simplify the mechanics of shifting for the user, but that it necessarily complicates it for the machine internally.

    I don’t like the direction that’s headed, to be honest. As a recreational cyclist (i.e. I am not a Pro), I have the luxury of being allowed to choose art over efficiency. I was back in Wisconsin over Labor Day riding with my dad. Naturally, I was aboard one of his many bikes with Mavic Mektronic. It works fine for him, but I feel very disconnected from the action. And, this is just an artifact of not having gotten used to the notion, but I just don’t like the idea that I don’t have a cable connecting me to the derailleur. If I push the button and nothing happens, I have no recourse to make something happen. With a cable, I’ll get that fucker on the cog come hell or high water.

    On a related note, I always wonder why Pros do/don’t adopt products they have access to. In particular, Leopard Trek and BMC were specifically sponsored by Shimano in order to use Di2; the agreement was that they were to ride Di2 and not the cabled versions of DuraAce. Yet, after riding it for a few months, Faboo moved to away from Di2. Initially, it was said he was just switching for the classics, but he never switched back.

    What gives? I suspect he just missed the connection to the shift.

    @Dr C, @minion
    Post edited by request.

  2. @LA Dave

    There is something therapeutic for me about installing and tuning a cable system. From threading the cable through the brake levers, down through the tubes, guides and into the derailleurs, the first hand pull of the cable, the initial adjustments, hearing the rub of the chain on the cage disappear as you turn the screws and the satisfaction of reaching that beautiful silence as everything gets perfectly aligned. Even cutting the cable and crimping the endcap is an opportunity to make your bike as perfect as possible. I just can’t imagine pushing a button and turning a limit screw… no matter how easy or efficient… could be as satisfying.

    Working on your own machine is such a beautiful thing…so very well put. I firmly believe that everyone should get a workstand (or fashion one), take apart their entire bike, and put it back. Repeat until it all flows smoothly. There is something amazing about starting with a frame and ending with a perfectly running bike. The first turn of the pedals when everything works is magical.

    The feeling is even more pronounced when you build the wheels from scratch as well, lacing the spokes, through, then snapping the hub to get the three-cross started and you go from having a mess of wires poking through a bunch of holes to having something that looks like a wheel. Then you continue on until it’s something you can ride. Amazing feeling.

    It’s always been a dream to build a frame from scratch…I’m sure once I buy tubes and build a frame, I’ll move on to thinking that it would be even better to draw them myself, and then it will be to go mine the ore yourself as well, the way potters collect their own clay. Digging in as close to the roots of something you love is a sublime experience.

  3. @frank
    Frank, this is speculation on my part, but with the abuse pro bikes get in the classics, I suspect they just want the good old fashioned reliability of cables. If installed properly, and avoiding a crash, they’ll work in all kinds of crappy conditions.

    In a similar vein, I’ve always opted for stick-shift cars for the same reason – I feel like I’m more engaged with actually driving when I have to change gear. I’m sure that sooner or later I’ll have to go automatic, but it’ll be reluctantly.

  4. @frank

    @LA Dave

    There is something therapeutic for me about installing and tuning a cable system. From threading the cable through the brake levers, down through the tubes, guides and into the derailleurs, the first hand pull of the cable, the initial adjustments, hearing the rub of the chain on the cage disappear as you turn the screws and the satisfaction of reaching that beautiful silence as everything gets perfectly aligned. Even cutting the cable and crimping the endcap is an opportunity to make your bike as perfect as possible. I just can’t imagine pushing a button and turning a limit screw… no matter how easy or efficient… could be as satisfying.

    Working on your own machine is such a beautiful thing…so very well put. I firmly believe that everyone should get a workstand (or fashion one), take apart their entire bike, and put it back. Repeat until it all flows smoothly. There is something amazing about starting with a frame and ending with a perfectly running bike. The first turn of the pedals when everything works is magical.

    I freely admit that I am only taking my first baby steps on the path of the Velominati. I am so very proud of my Machine(tm) that I am nearly fearful of tinkering with it. I take it one small thing at a time, so as to be sure I don’t really Schleck things up. I have even gotten to the point where I don’t put my bike away – it sits in the corner of my living room so I can see it everyday and admire it.

    But I wholeheartedly agree: I do want to be able to do all my service myself, so as to become one with it. I installed new brake cables on my commuter bike, and that seemed to go ok, and in the process acquiring the needed cable tool fro Park. I wrestled with my VMH’s FD for half an hour on the bike work stand to get it perfect. (Really, if there is something worse than your own Machine(tm) disobeying the Rule of Silence, it is having one’s VHM’s bike disobey the Rule of Silence.) In so doing, I discovered the nature of Ultegra trim functions. Ah ha. Works differencly than my own SRAM doubletap system.

    I have plans to take the commuter bike (a Trek 1000 with 12,000 miles on it) down to its components this winter, and replace all the bits (and remove the annoying “5 time tour de france winner” decal it came with) with fresh stuff. But my #1 Machine(tm) now needs new cables and bar tape. A straightforward thing for sure, but the path of the Velominati is not to be traveled lightly. And of course, it requires perfection.

    So I’ll end this massive verbosity with a question: should a budding Velowrench take the bull by the horns, and go right to the desired expensive Gore Rideon or Powercordz shifting cables first time out, or go with stock (cheaper) cables as a learning exercise “just in case” I accidently go all Dave Millar on the thing?

    Merckx bless you all for your guidance.

  5. @scaler911
    My nipples seem to like this.

    @frank
    Wheel-building is definitely on my list… need more tools first, and wheel-truing is not my strong suit, so I will definitely seek out a sinsei if I ever take this up.

    @eightzero
    Wrenching enables me to know everything I can about how my bikes operate and what they need. Plus regular fiddling doubles as an inspection regimen; I frequently discover mechanical problems on the stand before they manifest themselves on the road or trail.

    Bikes are pretty simple machines; don’t be afraid to tinker. Just make sure you remember how things came apart when you go to putting them back together… (Hint: take pics if in doubt).

    PS I’ve always used low end cables and housings, so I can’t help you re; fancy cables.

  6. Regarding nipple tweeking.

    It may not be a new idea but for folks without a wheel truing jig a marker pen can be helpful.

    spin the wheel on the bike and hold a marker on the frame/fork and wher the rim comes closer the pen leaves a mark. I’m happy with the results. Are there any reasons this is a bad idea?

    Further, is it important to get the same tone from the spokes when one pings them? I’d assume yes.

  7. snoov & mcsqueak – I was able to mount, after many hours of work, the Planet Bike Cascadia mudguards on my rain bike/winter bike, which is a De Bernardi with 105. It provides very little room though due to how the brake holes/bridge are positioned. Had to pull off the Continental Four Seasons in 28 mm that I had on there and use 23 mm Gatorskins I had. Not happy about that, but already ridden in heavy rain for a full day and full coverage fenders are incomparable. Going to see if 25s might fit, but need to borrow some to try out, as I don’t own any.

    The last two winters I rode my #1, a LOOK 566, with Crud Mudguards. Those worked well, but didn’t like putting my #1 through that, nor having to clean it so often. Very pleased to have picked up a solid, dedicated rain bike.

    On another note, set my cx bike up tubeless last night. Much easier of a job than I imagined. Feels good so far, eager to try it out on a proper course. The Stan’s folks must be making a fortune though…rim strips, rim tape, a cup, and some latex for a pretty penny seems steep. Oh well.

  8. @Ron

    Yeah, I’m not into the extra cleaning either – but my only other bike is an old steel beast that has almost no breaking power when the rims are wet, and I’m not going to spend the cashmoney needed to bring it up to being rain-worthy.

    Oh, how I pine for a nice CX bike. The sport has really taken off here, so I’m sure I could find a decent used one if I really put some effort into it.

  9. I was contemplating ‘le jour sans’ just this weekend.
    Spring is making it’s way here in the antipodes,though it’s taking it’s fucking time.
    Two weeks ago I had a warm say for my long Sunday ride. It was a pleasure to be out in the hills without arm warmers, leg warmers, rain jacket, etc. I felt good, I felt strong and I had in my mind to smash every major climb I encountered. And I did. Due to the wonders of Strava, I had recorded best results on all of the big climbs and took 5 minutes off my 70+ k loop.
    Fast forward two weeks and 30 hours of overtime in the last week, I was feeling a bit tired (understatement) but determined to fit my ride in. It was cold but fine and I struggled a bit with the motivation to get out, but I did. And it hurt. It wasn’t easy.

    I was contemplating the ‘jour sans’, the day without power, the day that you just get out on your bike because it’s what you love doing more than pretty much everything else, even when it’s hard or when it hurts. I didn’t have the mental picture of Giblets cresting the rise like I normally do on the steep pitches to spur me on. I was thinking ‘pace yourself, save yourself’.

    After I returned from that ride, I checked to see just how much of a disappointment this ride would be from the standpoint of my self competitive nature.

    I discovered I was 23 seconds slower over 72 km.
    I still don’t know what to make of this.

  10. @mouse
    Sometimes you think you are fast and feel good. If so you are suffering from delusions caused by oxygen debt. Meditate on Rule #10.
    Sometimes you go fast and feel like crap. See Rule #10.
    Sometimes you go slow and feel like crap. This is commonly known as a jour sans.
    Sometimes you go slow on purpose. See Rule #71.

  11. @frank

    “The feeling is even more pronounced when you build the wheels from scratch as well, lacing the spokes, through, then snapping the hub to get the three-cross started and you go from having a mess of wires poking through a bunch of holes to having something that looks like a wheel. Then you continue on until it’s something you can ride. Amazing feeling.”

    So true Frank. Was lucky enough to have a bicycle repair class for two years in my high school (this was back when California’s school system actually had decent funding…) and was able to learn from a teacher who had a side business building wheels for local shops. Haven’t built a pair in quite some time, but plan to get back to it in the future, it does take bike assembly to it’s ultimate level.

  12. Saw this on twitter, one of those photos that makes you love the sport that little bit more…


    They’re not even in the same team!

    From the Tour San Luis

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