The Five-Figure Bicycle—Who Am I To Judge

Sound like the Pope don’t I?

Yesterday, Rachel Bachman began her WSJ article “The Rise of the Five-Figure Bicycle” with a bang. “Last year,” she wrote, “Ted Perry dipped into his 401(k) to buy a $20,000 bicycle.”

The mind whirls. My first thought. As a public service, let’s plaster TP’s mug on a series of financial illiteracy posters titled “How Not to Manage Your Money for the Long Haul”. Obvious question one, why so damn much? Obvious question two, why, when Perry is 51 years old, use money designated for retirement? Not as obvious question three, why tap money that incurs a 10% federal tax penalty? Even less obvious question four, why advertise such a mind-boggling purchase to the world?

I would be too embarrassed, but maybe, like everything in life, a Perry-like purchase would make more sense in the larger context of one’s private life. With that in mind, let’s play “What if?” Imagine, if you will, the following possibilities:

• The Fed is artificially stimulating the market. Stocks are overpriced. Bonds = serious inflation risk. Cash = semi-serious inflation risk.

• A bicycle lover (BL) repeatedly finishes second to one of his* archenemies on mountain top finishes.

• Our BL receives a MacArthur Genius Grant of $625,000 for creating a comprehensive health care delivery model that addresses the medical and social service needs of high-risk patients in impoverished communities.

• While simultaneously receiving a life-threatening cancer diagnosis from his own doctor.

• Our BL never married or had children and his/her siblings and nephews and nieces are all well-to-do.

• Our BL is leaving all of his/her other assets to a long list of cash-strapped health care non-profits.

It’s conceivable, if all those stars aligned, a Perry-like purchase could make sense. The take-away? Pre-judge at your own risk.

* Had to use the male pronoun because women have way more financial sense.

Simple Green—The Key to Financial Well Being

Everyone knows that when it comes to personal finances, a long commute is a killer. Maybe literally. Health officials are increasingly aware of how stressful driving is, especially on congested roads. Financially, gas, insurance, and maintenance shrink paychecks. And worst of all, cars depreciate in value about 10%/year.

The smart people among us live near their work so they can walk, bike, or easily and quickly take public transpo. I’m not among the smart. I have a medium-long commute on an increasingly congested highway. Even worse, now that I’m returning to work full-time, I want to upgrade my commuter car, a 2006 Honda Civic with 107k miles.

I don’t need a new car, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting one. One with all wheel drive for Pacific Northwest rain and snow, rain sensing wipers, xenon lights because my winter/night vision ain’t what it used to be, a primo sound system even though I usually listen to National Public Radio, and one that is a perfectly quiet cocoon. Bonus if it makes my wife look at me the way she used to back before Al Gore invented the internet. Oh, and I’d like it to get 45+mpg and depreciate more slowly than most other cars.

Rough segue. Youngest daughter returned home from her summer camp counseling job last night. She parked my commuter car under trees for the last few weeks. Consequently, it was the most dirty it’s ever been. I attacked it last night like Richard Sherman on Michael Crabtree.

For literally the last 20 years, the Byrnes family cleaner of choice was “Basic H” an earth friendly Shaklee product that is not well known. And by “earth friendly” I mean it didn’t clean worth sh*t. But I didn’t know that until we just ran out and had difficulty (hallelujah) finding just a gallon of it. We had to signal Simple Green in from the bench, by which I mean a corner of the garage where it had been sitting for a decade plus. Talk about being ready to play. I mixed some up and decided to clean my cycling cleats. OMG a year long scuff magically disappeared.

Armed with my diluted bottle of SG I attacked the interior of the Civic like Richard Sherman on Larry Fitzgerald. At the end of the evening, dripping with sweat, damn if I didn’t have a new car. Today, when driving to Costco to fill up, I thought, this car ain’t bad. It can’t depreciate much more, I don’t have to pay for comp or collision, it’s as reliable as Felix Hernandez, and it gets 45mpg. I can’t make any promises about tomorrow, but for today at least, soy contento.

I’m excited about what my Simple Green future holds for me. Look out doors, baseboards, appliances. No more scuffling through life. More seriously, a Japanese headmaster was once asked why the children were required to clean the school. He said, “Cleaning creates a kind and gentle spirit.” That is poetry.

Based strictly on the value of one’s time, many people say it doesn’t make economic sense for them to spend two hours cleaning their car. But what if they’re using SG and that causes them to postpone a new car purchase? And how do you quantify a kind and gentle spirit?

Addendum.

On Robin Williams and the End of Life

In reading people’s reflections on Robin Williams, I’m amazed at how many people met him in “real life”. Nearly everyone has a story. Case in point. In the summer of 1997, our family was walking across the UNC Chapel Hill campus when I saw a crowd gathering. It was Williams on a break from filming Patch Adams. It didn’t matter that there were only twenty of us, he was “on”. My infant daughters were unimpressed until I told them he was Aladdin. In a few years, Mrs. Doubtfire would loop in our house for months on end.

I propose we make t-shirts for the minority of people ripping Williams for being selfish. The shirts could say, “I’m clueless about mental illness in general and severe depression in particular.” Or “I struggle to listen and learn.” Or “I lack understanding and empathy.” That way we could side step them altogether. When you don’t understand something like suicide, it’s okay to admit it. In fact, it’s admirable. We’d all be better off if we demonstrated more curiosity and humility.

I’m far from a mental health expert, but I’m indebted to some of my first year college writing students for teaching me about depression. Other people, like Molly Pohlig, continue to teach me about it. I’ve learned, as sad as it is, some people get so depressed they think they’re doing their family and friends a favor by ending their life.

Journalists writing about Williams often reference recent suicide statistics which I find staggering. Especially for my peers, white men, 50-54, who have the highest rate of suicide. We have to get better at identifying and helping the most susceptible among us.

A positive thought. In part, Williams will live on through his incessant television and film work. That’s a cool aspect of being a successful artist. An easily accessible legacy. Today, in the U.S., I’m struck by how we ignore the elderly and quickly forget the deceased.

In thinking about Williams’s legacy, I’ve thought some about my own. Initially I thought, if anyone wanted to remember me, all they’d have is lots of academic publications including a lengthy doctoral dissertation. And no one loves me enough to revisit those! In all likelihood, not even the occasional newspaper or magazine essay, or this blog’s archive, will live on.

If I’m lucky, I suppose, some aspects of my kind and caring Mrs. Doubtfire loving daughters will remind people of me on occasion. Somewhere in Florida or Indiana my sister is saying to herself, “It’s not all about you.” Since she’s right, more than likely then, like most people, I’ll be forgotten in relatively short order.

Recommended.

The 5 Most Important Things You’ll Read All Week

1) Have you noticed? Increasingly, bloggers are inserting numbers into post titles to increase readership and improve search engine rankings. “5” has replaced “3” for most popular number. “17” is trendy too. I don’t know why numbers increase readership and improve search engine rankings. I find it disingenuous at best and insulting at worst. As if all anyone can process anymore is a list. My one-time use of it here is sarcasm. I should start a movement. . . force a number into your title and we’ll refuse to read what follows. Who is in?

2) Imagine a world in which everyone reads and discusses books with people different than them. My favorite story from last week.

3) The Seattle Mariners are the best team in baseball when it comes to this.

4) Is this a trend. . . dad’s helping grown daughters who aren’t necessarily interested in their help? I’ve never offered unsolicited advice to my daughters. . . that’s an additional serving of sarcasm. One of my daughters’ friends laughed at her dad for sending her an article on “How to save and invest money”. Another “couldn’t believe” her dad mailed her bicycle to her at college, then assembled it during a visit. The “extremely large” bike box was difficult and embarrassing to pick up at the mail room. The two wheeler was used one or two times during the school year. This isn’t limited to dad’s and daughters. Parents often presume their young adult children want to save money, invest wisely, prepare healthy meals, bicycle, etc., etc. Maybe I should start a movement where parents let their young adult children know they’re interested in sharing different “lessons learned” if and when they’re interested. And then we’ll sit back and wait for our young adult children to ask us for help.

5) I’m filing this under “Sometimes I Amaze Myself”. I’ve done it again, I’ve come up with a brilliant idea. This one will enable me to extend my triathlon career for many more years. Based upon my swimming, cycling, and running training log, I have a very good feel for how fast I can swim 1500 or 1900 meters, how fast I can ride 40k or 56 miles, and how fast I can run 10k or 13.1 miles. That means all I have to do is guess how bad my transitions would likely be, and presto, I can spend a few minutes on-line on Mondays to see what place I would’ve finished had I actually shown up at that weekend’s races. This way I save tons of coin and race every weekend without swimming through seaweed or increasing my exposure to the sun. I “won” my age group at a few recent races.

 

Women Pace Marathons Better Than Men

Gretchen Reynolds, a New York Times health blogger, summarizes a study of thousands of marathon runners. Abbreviated version:

• The researchers wound up with information about 91,929 marathon participants, almost 42 percent of them women. The data covered all adult age groups and a wide range of finishing times.

• They compared each runner’s time at the midpoint of his or her race with his or her time at the finish, a simple method of broadly determining pace. As it turned out, men slowed significantly more than women racers did. In aggregate, men covered the second half of the marathon almost 16 percent slower than they ran the first half. Women as a group were about 12 percent slower in the second half. Burrowing deeper into the data, the scientists categorized runners as having slowed markedly if their second-half times were at least 30 percent slower than their first-half splits. Far more men than women fell into the markedly slower category, with about 14 percent of the male finishers qualifying versus 5 percent of the women.

• This disparity in race pacing held true in all age groups and finishing times, the researchers found, even among the fastest runners. The difference, however, was most pronounced at the back of the pack. There, female runners were much more likely than men to steadily maintain the same, less hurried pace throughout.

• Using this data to adjust for marathon experience, the researchers found that men, however many marathons they had completed, were still more likely than equally experienced women to slow during the second half of a race.

• The study was not designed to determine why men more frequently fade during marathons. But the reasons are likely to be physiological and psychological said . . . the senior author of the study. “We know that at any given exercise intensity, men will burn a greater percentage of carbohydrates for fuel than women, and women will use more fat. Our bodies, male and female, contain considerably more fat than stored carbohydrates. So men typically run out of fuel and bonk or hit the wall earlier than women do.”

The study’s senior author also found that men are more prone psychologically to adopt a “risky strategy” in their early pacing. “They start out fast and just hope they can hold on,” she says. She points out that strategy can sometimes pay off in a swifter finishing time. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing to push yourself at the start of a marathon,” she says, “if you have not catastrophically overestimated your capabilities. And Hunter notes, “An evenly paced race is not a well-paced one, if you run slower than you were capable of running.”

Reynolds, the Times blogger concludes, “The message of the study, then, would seem to be that an approach to marathon pacing that borrows something from men and women might be ideal. Maybe go a bit harder than you think you can in training, aiming to calibrate what your actual fastest sustainable pace is. Then stick with it during the event, even if your training partners tear away like rabbits at the start. You’ll reel them in.”

Unless there’s a large percentage of women with “gas in the tank” at the end of marathons, which I highly doubt, this conclusion strikes me as odd. As the study’s authors acknowledge in the larger post, evenly paced marathons are almost always faster than uneven ones; therefore, it’s logical to conclude that women marathoners, on average, are tapping more of their potential on race day relative to men.

And why are men running out of fuel and bonking earlier then women? It doesn’t matter that men “burn a greater percentage of carbohydrates for fuel” when every race provides ample fluid and carbs every few miles. Why don’t men do a better job replacing what they’re burning? Are women more intentional then men about integrating race simulation long runs in their training? Are men more prone to winging pacing and nutrition on race day?

Even if the study wasn’t designed to address why men are more prone to run too fast too early, I have a theory. I used to run with a friend who routinely sped up whenever we came upon a female runner or two on our wooded trails. He wasn’t conscious of this quirk. That experience, plus two decades of watching mostly male marathoners start out way too fast, makes me think male runners’ egos get the best of them.

When passed by older runners, heavy runners, really young runners, or heaven for bid, female runners, the self conscious male runner is prone to pick up his pace, with disastrous results an hour or two later.

Knowing this, I always strive to run my own race based upon the quality of my pre-race training. Consequently, when you pass me at a future race, I will wish you well.

Postscript—during today’s 5.5 miler, I realized my playlist needs some tweaking. Which of these doesn’t fit?

Bonus vid for making it to the finish line.

Which Way the Economy?

One of the perks of living in the upper left hand corner, is getting Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television programming. I dig me the CBC. So much so if hockey was my religion, I might move North.

A recent CBC documentary titled “Secret Suppers of Vancouver” was interesting on several levels. This 2+ minute trailer provides a nice feel for the case study of grassroots economic change.

When new business models bubble up, like Uber and Airbnb, the established businesses they most threaten, such as city-based taxi cab companies and hotels, hire lobbyists to get legislators to pass more and more legal requirements for businesses to operate which makes it virtually impossible for cash-strapped startups to comply.

No surprise that most of Vancouver’s restaurant owners find this loose network of semi-secretive personal kitchens threatening. The restaurateur in the trailer who says, “. . . and I respect the hell out of hustlers” is an outlier.

Some regulation is necessary for large swaths of consumers to trust businesses are competent, and in the case of the food service industry, to ensure public safety is maintained. But it’s wrong to use regulations as a tactic for limiting competition. Doing so stifles the creative destruction that’s part and parcel of a vibrant economy.

I couldn’t help but think about my industry, teacher education (and also charter schools) while watching Secret Suppers of Vancouver. My industry works tirelessly to make sure teacher licensure requirements remain sufficiently rigorous, thus protecting our jobs. Clearly though, one person’s “rigor” is another’s excuse for limiting competition.

Whether Vancouver, San Francisco, or your municipality is getting the regulatory dance just right is something upon which reasonable people will disagree.

It’s too simpleminded to generalize about regulations, we have to ask whether the current level is appropriate on an industry-by-industry basis. Once public safety is assured, we should error on the side of limiting regulations so that new new types of economic activity, like Secret Suppers of Vancouver, will regularly bubble up. Large, established companies should be expected to adapt to upstarts creatively meeting consumer’s needs and desires.

More personally, I was really conflicted by some aspects of Vancouver’s secret supper network. In all honesty, I would love to be a member of the club eating amazing food with all the cool kids. But the movement also has an exclusionary feel to it. You have to have ample social capital to even learn about the personal kitchens and to score an invite. Then you have to have more money than average to be able to afford the exquisite, personalized service.

Watch the full length documentary and then help me be less confused.

 

 

 

 

Ride Around Mount Rainier 2014

Start time, 5:45a, finish time 2:30p. 8:45 gross ride time, 8:01 net. 146.4 miles. 18.2 mph average. Max speed, 40.5. Elevation estimate (non barometric altimeter), 8,222. Calories, 8,337.

I had fun and rode well and think I’m continuing to improve as a cyclist even at my advanced age. I credit that to a deeper and deeper base and a continually improving feel for pacing and nutrition. The vast majority of RAMRODers ride way too hard in the a.m. and pay for it dearly in the p.m. I routinely let guys go in the morning who I pass mid-day.

I only had one “friend” win the lottery like me, but being a University of Washington Husky, he tucked his tail between his legs and bailed on me when he learned the route had to be altered due to road construction in the park. So this was my first time riding solo.

I met Dave from Maryland about one mile in and he was velcroed to my back wheel all morning on the way to Packwood. We sat in the back of “Cycle Tuesdays” a 15+ sized group from Seattle. They set a perfect, slightly downhill, first hour or two pace of 20-22mph. I probably drafted for 60 of the 78 miles on the way to Packwood. At that point I launched on my solo ascent of Cayuse, not stopping until the Crystal Mountain deli stop.

During that stretch, miles 78-105ish, I passed lots and lots of people, most of whom stopped at one or two food/water stops. Also, even though I was only going 7-8 mph up Cayuse, I leaped frogged people the whole way.

We enjoyed nearly perfect conditions. I was wishing I had worn gloves in the first hour when it was in the mid 50’s, but when the climbing began in earnest, around 10:30a, it was around 70. The only time I was hot all day was while standing in the sun at the Crystal deli stop. And surprisingly, the wind was a non-factor over the last 40 miles.

I bailed on the suggested out-and back for additional mileage and elevation. I figured riding all the way from Packwood to the finish solo was sufficient. Also, I didn’t have any homies to question my manhood. With just a little peer pressure I probably would’ve turned right off of Hwy 410 at the 123 mile mark.

Because I went “short”, I was one of the first few people to finish. After showering, downing a Diet Coke, and eating an ice cream bar, I felt considerably better than I did post Grand Canyon hike, post Bachelor/Lake Paulina ride, post Sunriver-Bend trail run. I was the first car out of the parking lot and on the road at 3p.

Pre-ride, Lally gave me specific instructions to stick it to any Team Fishcer Plumbing guys after their Central Oregon antics of non-stop surging and erratically going off the front. On the way to Ashford, about five FPs passed me, too strongly for me to hook on. Different guys, but I knew Lally would say they were guilty by association. So sorry Mark for not doing shit for payback.

In related news, a guy passed me at mile 131-132. Cervelo, aero bars, probably one of those narcissistic triathletes. Quickly, he just flat out disappeared up the road. That helping of humble pie was well-timed.

Other observations from the day.

• No CAMROD sighting. Disconcerting.

• Some people, who aren’t too concerned with weight or aerodynamics, are riding with their Garmins AND gigantic smart phones attached to their headsets and bars. Then again, I’ve never known the joy of streaming Netflix while climbing Cayuse. One rider was in line for the prestigious Dennis Peck Tech Geek award (a TomTom nav device). He was wearing Peck’s Google jersey with his TABLET attached to his headset.

• Despite the recent lotteries being plagued with glitches, the Redmond Cycling Club does an amazing job putting on this event. Tons of exceedingly friendly and helpful volunteers at the start/finish and all over the course. The course was marked extremely well (there’s some serious pot holes on the Skate Creek descent and the bottom of Mud Mountain Dam Rd). Police escorts through the four or five primary intersections. Very easy to read course arrows at every turn. Every other event similar to this, take note, state of the art.

• I overheard the race photog say to a volunteer, “These are people who spend $5k on their bikes, they can afford to pay $12 for a picture.” Can’t speak for any of the other riders, but Rider #327 carefully shopped his steed—heavily discounted frame from the U.K. and components from Australia. Consider this Mr. Photog, the only way most people can drop 5 large on a bike is by being value shoppers! Digital images are ubiquitous these days (Maryland Dave has one of me on his iPhone). Your pictures are overpriced. Thank you, but I will pass.