Saturday, October 31, 2009

Musings: Revisiting Armstrong, LeMond and Hinault

I used to believe Lance. I respected Greg LeMond but thought he turned churlish in recent years. I liked Bernard Hinault because I have a soft spot for crusty, pugnacious, anti-social, extremely talented people who don't really give a damn what others think of them.

Now, my opinions of them are changing.

I'm not so sure about Lance anymore. I don't want to get into a debate about the issue, but I have my doubts now, especially about the first couple of years of the comeback. Still, I won't deny he's an incredible athlete and symbol for the sport.

I'm a big LeMond fan again because I think he's just an all-around likable, good guy. This article influenced my new appreciation of LeMond. It's wonderfully written. The author shares my favorite observation of LeMond. In most of the photos I've seen of him winning a race, he's crossing the line with this wonderful "Jeez, I can't believe I won!" expression of wonderment on his face. The article also points out that the French public loved LeMond because he had a certain panache. He often found himself in some sort of crisis or trouble and managed to dig his way out of it. I wish the article explored why LeMond decided to speak out against Lance. He did it at a great cost. Perhaps LeMond knew something that he couldn't publicly bring up because of libel issues.

One more thing about LeMond. If you haven't yet, check out this clip of LeMond beating Fignon in the Worlds in 1989. Fignon attacks on a hellish climb and Phil Ligget says it appears that the Frenchman is going to win the race. Then, seemingly out of no where, LeMond pops up on the screen and catches Fignon. Ligget pronounces, "That is a fine piece of riding by the American."

Now for the "Badger." Lately, I've been watching the three-disc set of the "Red Zinger/Coors Classic." It has been fascinating for me because I know a bit about Euro racing in the late 70s and 80s, but I've never paid much attention to the race scene in the U.S. during the time. Last night, I was watching the 1986 edition of the race, with Hinault riding in the last stage race of his career. He's on LeMond's team, of course, and they battling it out again. LeMond says something like he spent the Tour fighting with Hinault, and he was hoping to come to the U.S. to just race without all the extra drama.

There's a classic scene in a mountain stage where Hinault is in a three-man breakaway with Davis Phinney and someone else I didn't recognize. I don't think the third guy was on Phinney's team. Anyway, Hinault declines to pull and spends the entire time sucking wheel. In the final few meters, he rockets off Phinney's wheel and wins the sprint. He crosses the line with a huge grin on his face, as if it's the first victory in his career (It is his first win in the US). In the post-race interview, Phinney is obviously angry and agitated. As he wipes his face with a towel about 20 times in five seconds, Phinney says something like, "If you want to win a race like that, you can win like that." When Hinault is asked why he didn't help out in the breakaway, he says something like, "It would have been stupid to do that. I wanted to save my energy for the end."

I'm not an expert on race ethics and honorable cycling behavior. But Hinault was already a legend, and his tactics seemed desperate, far beneath him. For me now, Hinault = Jerk.

Health: To come back or not to come back...

Usually at this time of day, I'd be 30 km into my weekend morning ride, well warmed up and hammering along. But I've decided to stay off the bike this weekend so that I can completely get over this insidious viral infection from hell.

It's always difficult to determine when to stage a comeback after an illness. Sometimes hopping back on the bike seems to speed up recovery. It blows the bugs out of my system. There are times when you've got a cold and your body feels all stuffed up. The physical exertion seems to loosen up things.

Of course, the risk is that your body really needs rest, and the exercise just wears it down more and prolongs recovery. I think that's what happened in my most recent case. Four days ago, I was feeling somewhat OK in the afternoon and decided to do an easy 30-minute session on the rollers in the evening. Once I got going, I felt terrific. I easily got into 40-43 kph territory and was able to hold it there without much strain. I finished the workout thinking that this bug was just a nagging injury that would let me continue working out.

But the next morning, I felt awful and ended up seeing the doctor. The next day (Friday) was just as bad, and I felt like I was dragging all day. Yesterday, I put my kit on and rode around the neighborhood for 5 km, then headed home because I wasn't feeling great.

My plan is to stage the official comeback on Monday with a 30-minute session on the rollers at steady pace. I'm starting to feel normal again. The past two days, I've been able to wake up at 5:30 a.m. without my body craving a few hours more in the sack.

The biggest upside for my readers is that I'll stop obsessing publicly about my health! Many thanks to everyone for putting up with this!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Firewall: Defeated in today’s battle but the war rages on

I spent a good chunk of this morning trying to upload an interesting cycling photo. But this time, my siege against China’s Great Firewall was unsuccessful. I lost this battle but the war rages on. I’ve spoken to many expats who agree with me. The ongoing restrictions on the Internet has them seriously rethinking their future in China. It’s got us thinking that maybe it is time to leave. The irony is that Chinese leaders keep urging industries to be more creative and innovative. But how can this really be done in such a restrictive environment?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Must Reads: Lennard Zinn on removing a stuck seatpost

Check out Velonews' tech guru Lennard Zinn's helpful advice here about removing a stuck seatpost. I had this happen with a steel frame with a carbon seatpost.

Health: Sacrificing the short-term for longterm

I know people who add extra salt to their daily bucket of KFC and deep-fried mozarrella sticks. They prefer filtering Guangzhou's smoggy air through a cigarette. They unwind after work with a pitcher of beer and a few shots. They never work out. They're like walking trash cans. Yet, they don't seem to get sick as often as I do.

I live on a diet loaded with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. I eat fatty meats only when I have to be polite at Chinese banquets. I only drink on the weekends - perhaps a bottle or two of Belgium beer. I keep a close eye on my weight, and I'm generally where I want to be on the scale, though it would be great to lose one more kilo.

But I'm constantly breaking down my body and battering my immune system on the bike. Long rides in the damp cold and dehydrating heat. Groggy morning workouts when my body would have been happier to stay in bed an extra hour. Breakfasts that are rushed and fail to completely refuel a body that needs to quickly shower, be dressed and be out the door for work.

I think in the short-term, the trash-can people may be healthier (though I always wonder how they really feel day to day). But I guess my consolation will be that in the long run, they'll be the ones who break down, and they'll do it spectacularly.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Health: Struck down by a stomach bug

Last weekend, I was on a ride over the spectacular Nankun Mountain outside of Guangzhou when I told my riding partner that I’ve been extremely healthy this year. I’ve generally been spared by the colds, fevers and stomach bugs that frequently afflict us in China.

The second I said this, I knew I had jinxed myself. Sure enough, a day later, shortly after dinner, my stomach began churning and I developed the slightly queasy feeling that I know so well.

Ever the optimist, I laid out my riding clothes on the kitchen table before going to bed, hoping that I’d be well enough to do my workout the next morning. I set my alarm for 5:15 a.m.

But overnight, I made a couple trips to the bathroom and I never fell into a deep, restful sleep. I woke up feeling fatigued, and I scuttled plans for a ride. I had no appetite and felt sluggish throughout the day at work. Lunch consisted of bananas and crackers. Whenever I ate or drank anything, sharp stomach pains would hit, the churning would start again and I’d have to run to the bathroom.

In the evening, before going to bed, I set out my riding kit again on the kitchen table. But I didn’t bother getting out of bed the next morning because I felt worse than the day before. I spent most of the morning in bed falling in and out of sleep. I dragged myself out the door at noon for an important work appointment. When I got home about 4 p.m., I crashed on the sofa.

This morning, I slept in again but was able to eat some oatmeal and began to feel normal. I hated to miss two training days, but then again I lost a kilo. Cycling sure is a sick subculture. We see an upside in sickness. It’s a great way to lose weight.

My body seems to naturally be about 78 kilos. When I stray from my training diet – start eating seconds at dinner, have desert and drink beer on weekdays – it only seems to take a few days for my weight to tick back up to 78. When I get down to 75, I tend to get sick.

I’ve read about the great pains pros take to stay healthy. To avoid germs, they use their elbows to push elevator buttons. In Daniel Coyle’s book “Tour de Force,” he describes a scene with Sheryl Crow turning heads and igniting a wave of worry by sneezing near Lance Armstrong during the Tour.

But club riders like me have to take even greater care of ourselves. After the morning workout, we can’t retreat to our villa in Gerona for a long nap. We need to go out and earn a living among the sniffling masses everyday.

China is a place that’s especially fraught with bacterial threats. Many people don’t have a habit of covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze. Hand washing is a skill still being learned. Many bathrooms don’t even have soap. I was once in a fancy new hospital in the nearby city of Shenzhen and was amazed to see that restrooms off the main lobby didn’t any kind of hand cleanser.

The part of southern China where I live is one of the world's biggest sources of new flu strains because of a dense population of humans living in close proximity with water fowl and pigs. The first known cases of SARS were reported in Guangzhou. The city was the launching pad for the deadly bug that toured the world in 2003.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Race Report: Finally, the race

A few ex-pros joined the race and stayed up at the front. They included Sven-Ake Nilsson, who placed 7th in the Tour de France in 1980. Also racing was Bernt Johansson, gold medalist in the road race in the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

The race start with a series of long rolling hills. We had to ride along a 24-kilometer stretch of highway before we got to the lake. The elite bunch shot down the road and quickly opened a big gap on me and the other weekend warriors.

We made an analytical mistake a month earlier when we studied the course on paper and decided the race would be mostly flat with a few undulations. We did most of our training on flat roads and scaled back our climbing workouts.

Fuxian Lake turned out to be breathtakingly beautiful and amazingly pristine for a body of water in a country of 1.3 billion people. In America, such a lake would be crowded with homes, resorts, marinas and bait-tackle-and-beer shops. The tranquility would be spoiled by the roar and whine of jetskis jick-jacking over the water.

But Fuxian Lake was virtually undeveloped. We rode along long stretches of road without seeing any buildings or even boats on the water, which was a clean deep blue. The villagers lived in clusters of red brick homes with tile roofs. They lined the roads screaming the most common Chinese cheer: "Jia you!" (which literally translates as "Add oil!). One group of boys wore nothing but underwear soggy from a recent dip in the lake. A couple guys yelled at me, “Come on!” in English. I’ve never heard a Chinese use this phrase and I wonder who taught them.

I'm reminded on an almost daily basis that China is an authoritarian police state, but I'm always amazed by how many cops and other security forces can be mobilized for an event. The police did seem to come out of the woodwork. More than 1,100 of them were used to shut down all the roads, which were generally in good condition and free of traffic. However, several spots were littered with big pieces of gravel and in one case a brick, which an elite Norwegian rider hit, breaking his wheel and ending his race close to the finish.

There were also many speed bumps. Most of them weren’t painted yellow or marked with signs. I hit several of them that were positioned at the bottom of hills. I was lucky to be able to stay on the bike.

Aid stations were set up all along the course and were staffed by enthusiastic volunteers who handed out bottled water, Snickers bars and bananas. Powerbar was one of the race sponsors, and I thought the aid station tables would be piled high with them. But Powerbar wasn’t handing out freebies. They were selling them before the race at prices that were a bit higher than I pay in Hong Kong. I still pledge my allegiance to the Clif bar.

I spent most of the race with three guys I occasionally ride with in Guangzhou. Our abilities were roughly the same so it worked out well as we rolled along at 32-34 kph against a blustery headwind whistling off the lake.

About 120 kilometers into the race, we caught up with a strong Chinese rider from Beijing. The guy was really amazing. He would do a long pull, then go to the back of the paceline for a few minutes. Then he would sprint back to the front and do another long pull. He finally rode away when we stopped to pee. But about 10 kilometers down the road, we spotted his bike parked next to the lake and saw him bobbing in the water, taking a dip in the lake. He got back on the bike and went back on duty at the front of our paceline.

I snarfed down a Snickers bar and a banana at the 150 kilometer mark, and the food hit my stomach like a rock. My back was aching and the nerve endings on my feet felt like they were dipped in gasoline and set aflame. One of the riders in our group developed foot problems and told us to go on without him. The two other riders picked up the tempo on a long hill and I cracked and tumbled out the back door.

I began feeling nauseous in the last five kilometers of the race, and my main concerns shifted away from my fatigue to coping with the potential embarrassment of puking in front of the crowd at the finishing line. But as I came around the final turn and heard the crowd, I began to sprint and pretend. I barely made the cut in the top 50, about an hour behind the winning rider _ Darren Benson, an Australian riding for Trek.

A band playing rockabilly tunes was jamming at the finish line. After my friends finished, we rode back to the hotel, cleaned up and walked to McDonald’s for a quick meal. Most of us didn’t bother to put suntan lotion on and suffered some bad burns. I was one of them and displayed some of the ultimate signs of bike geekdom: sunburn markets down the side of my head where my helmet straps were.

Our travel package included a post-race banquet in the hotel. The food wasn’t near as good as the night before. Throughout the meal, local Communist Party hacks and government flunkies gave loud, long-winded speeches. We were all given a thermos as a gift.

The top of the hotel had a bar and we spent part of the evening enjoying free drinks purchased by the friendly guys at Nordic ways. Everyone I rode with enjoyed the race and planned to return next year.

Photo Note

Unfortunately, I'm having trouble uploading photos. I think this happens occasionally because I need to use a VPN in the U.S. to access Blogspot, which is blocked in China. As usual, I'll keep trying to upload photos so revisit this blog post in a few days.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Race Report: More surprises in Yuxi

Part II:

Nordic Ways sold us a seamless travel package for 2,250 yuan (US$330) for each rider, including two nights in a hotel, breakfast, dinner and shuttle bus transport to and from the hotel. We just had to pay for our own airfare to Yunnan's provincial capital of Kunming, about an hour's drive from Yuxi.

We arrived at the airport in the early afternoon, and a tour bus was waiting for us. We spent about an hour waiting some other riders who never arrived. The cargo compartment beneath the bus didn’t have enough room for all our bike boxes, so we had to load them on the bus and pile them up in the back of the vehicle. It would have been an ugly scene if the driver had to slam on the brakes. There would have been an avalanche of bike cases burying or beheading all the riders in the rear half of the bus. But safety never comes first in China.

Two friends who arrived in Kunming on an evening flight were held up for a couple hours while the bus waited for another cyclist whose flight from Hong Kong was delayed. The riders decided to make good use of the time, unpack their bikes from their travel cases and start the arduous task of rebuilding the machines in the parking lot. They had to constantly fend of an elderly woman who was scavenging for recyclable materials and kept trying to take things out of their boxes.

Before I travel in China, I usually research my destination. I at least crack open my Lonely Planet travel guide to see what kind of outdated information it has about my destination. But this time, I didn't bother to because I felt like I had a good mental picture of Yuxi: a sleepy town on a lake with a couple of resorts. Besides, Lonely Planet didn't even bother to profile the town, as I learned after I got home.

I was surprised when Yuxi turned out to be a bustling city of 2 million people with fastfood joints like McDonald's and KFC. The city even had a Wal Mart store. Cities like Yuxi have become the hot new markets for global retailers. Most of them have a sturdy foot hold in major markets like Beijing and Shanghai. The expansion is going on in the second- and third-tier cities.

The cyclists were put up in the Red Pagoda Hotel, owned by a famous tobacco company of the same name. The staff were friendly but the rooms smelled like wet ashtrays and the carpet had cigarette burns. The view from my fifth floor room included huge metal water storage tanks and a dirty swimming pool drained of its water.

We got right to the most-dreaded task: unpacking and building up the bikes. I live in fear that I’m going to discover that something is missing or broken when I open my box. Fortunately, everything was OK and fitting together without problems.

Once the bikes were ready, we set out to recon the first few kilometers of the race course. We were dismayed that most of the start was uphill – long hills. Something we weren’t ready for.

The night before the race, we were loaded on buses and taken to a restaurant for some of the best banquet food I've ever had in China. Ten of us gathered around a round table that was quickly crowded with 14 dishes: slice beef, peppery chicken, fish over spicy noodles, peanuts with dried shrimp, stir-fried mushrooms, eggplant smothered in chili sauce. It was all washed down with soda and the local beer – a watery lager.

After dinner, we were bused to the opening ceremony in the town square, where local Communist Party and city officials gave longwinded speeches over public address systems that left our ears ringing. The event wrapped up with a series of dance routines from Yunnan's colorful ethnic minority groups. One performance seemed to be a seduction dance with men trying to put donut-shaped cushions over the heads of lovely women with pointy beehive hairdos. The symbolism wasn't lost on us.

The next morning, about 120 cyclists lined up for the 175 kilometer race around Fuxian Lake, and about 110 others raced in a shorter 78.8 kilometer competition. The organizers had said they would round up about 1,000 locals to join the race. They also said their would be no effort to segregate the serious cyclists from the masses. Whoever got to the starting area first got to keep the position. This worried us.

But the newby masses never showed up, and we rode off safely without any pileups. But just after the gun went off, one of the strongest riders in our group noticed his front tubular was leaking, and he had to stop for six minutes to fix the flat. When he tried to rejoin the race, a policeman misdirected him and he ended up riding around the city aimlessly asking people for directions before he got another flat and abandoned the race.
Next: Finally, the race

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Race Report: The Vattern....what?

Summer was quiet in Guangzhou racewise. The Chinese think it’s too hot and humid to organize anything. But the expat riders here were getting bored and needed a challenge.

The challenge finally arrived. It was the Vatternrunden-China _ a 175-kilometer road race on Sept. 5 organized by Swedes and held in the city of Yuxi in Yunnan, a lush and mountainous southwestern province that borders Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Yuxi – which means "Jade Stream" in Mandarin - seemed like an improbable place to hold a race. The city is famous for its cigarette industry. And it apparently feels no guilt or shame about pushing a deadly product. Before the race, a beautiful woman in a glittery blue gown kicked off the event by telling the crowd with a big smile, "Yuxi is the home of tobacco!"

But the area also has Fuxian Lake - the second deepest in China - and that's what attracted the Swedish race organizers.

The race name - Vatternrundan China - was borrowed from the world's largest recreational cycling event: the 300-kilometer ride around Lake Vattern in Sweden. About 20,000 people are expected to participate in the next one in June.
The famous "Vatternrundan" brand name has only been used for the ride in Sweden and the inaugural race in China this year. The China event was put on by Nordic Ways, a Swedish company that also organizes running, mountain bike, trekking and nordic skiing events across China.

The group of expats I occassionally ride with found out about the Vatternrundan about five weeks before the ride. That’s light years before we're informed about most races. Usually we get a week’s notice. Events are routinely poorly publicized or sorted out at the last minute.

We had little time to ramp up our training for such a long race. Most of the 20 or so regulars in the group are middle-aged guys struggling to juggle cycling with the demands of careers, families and erratic travel schedules. On weekdays, I woke up at 4:45 a.m. to get in a two-hour ride before work. I stuck to the schedule even when the fringes of a tropical storm were soaking Guangzhou. The rain filled up the numerous potholes in the roads, making them look like harmless puddles. I rode into one during a dark morning ride, badly dinging my front wheel and cracking a weld on the custom-made steel frame I planned to ride in the race.

On the weekends, I did 160-kilometer rides that kept me on the saddle for five hours in the August temperatures that often climbed into the high 90s F. On one ride, the temperature hit 107 degrees F. We didn’t have much information about the race. But somehow we decided the course would be mostly flat, so we spent most of our time hammering on the flats.

I thought I was ready for the race. I was wrong.

Next: More surprises in Yuxi

Monday, October 19, 2009

Musings: A dark, cold downpour

I went riding this morning in the chilly, wet darkness. It was wonderful. The weather in Guangzhou has been spectacular in the past two weeks. The hot, sticky summer is finally over. Until about mid December, we'll have a second spring - sunny, dry weather with temperatures at 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees F) in the early morning and climbing to 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees F) by noon. But I was getting sick of it. Lately, I've been hoping for some rain.

Well, I got it this morning. I forgot to look outside before I got into the elevator and pushed my bike out the front door at 6 a.m. A steady rain was falling. There was a perfect combination of demotivating forces working on me. It was dark, wet and a bit chilly. It was like stepping into a cold shower shortly after getting out of bed.

I didn't want to bother going back to the apartment to get my rain gear. I got on the bike and did a circle in my apartment complex and started thinking about canceling the ride and doing a run on the gym's treadmill. I was just about to hop off the bike when I started thinking how dissatisfying such a workout would be. I wouldn't be pleased with myself. I'd feel defeated by the weather, and I don't want to be that kind of cyclist. I thought: Hell, it rains like this everyday in Belgium, and it's usually at least 10 degrees colder. Plus, afterwards, I never regret doing these types of life-affirming rides. They're a way to renew your vows with the sport. And you always come back with some kind of story or memory.

I love how the migrant workers just throw on a plastic rain poncho when it's pouring and just pedal to work. They're tough, hearty people, a real inspiration.

Today, when I was just two kilometers into the ride, I had to cross the Pearl River on the Guangzhou Bridge. It was still dark and I thought I saw a cyclist up ahead of me, halfway over the bridge. But as I got closer, I saw that it was a broken-down scooter that someone had left on the bridge. It took up about one-third of the right lane. The abandoned gray or dirty white vehicle didn't have reflectors or any other illuminating devices. I see this all the time. Someone just walks away from a vehicle and doesn't bother to move it to a safe place. It amazes me that these things don't cause more accidents. My theory is that the vehicles are probably stolen or the drivers - who probably don't have licenses - are too drunk to bother with them.

A plea: Can anyone recommend a good rain jacket? I've got a decent Pearl Izumi windbreaker but it doesn't repel rain. I'm looking for something that is waterproof and can fold up somewhat flat and compact and can be placed in a jersey pocket without creating too big of a bulge. Any suggestions?

Musings: Smiles and tuk tuks

I was on a morning ride in a dingy industrial zone when I saw a three-wheel motorcycle cart up ahead. In Thailand, they call these vehicles tuk tuks. I'm not sure what the Chinese call them. There aren't many of them in Guangzhou, but a few cruise around industrial parks, offering cheap transport to factory workers making quick runs to the convenience store or to a friend's dormitory.

When I pulled up to this one, I noticed it was hauling three women in their early 20s. They might have been migrant workers or students at a nearby university. They were cute and cheerful, though it was only about 6:30 a.m. Were they going home after a wild night on the town or were they getting an early stary on a special girls day of shopping? It was hard to say.

They quickly took an interest in me, a goofy foreigner in a helmet and covered in skintight Lycra. I decided to pass them and had no problem doing it at 33 kph. As I rode by, they yelled the popular Chinese cheer: "Jia you! Jia you!"

When I opened up a 10-meter gap, the ladies started urging the driver to catch me, and he sped up and was on my wheel again. He passed me, flashing a big mischievous smile as he putt-putt-putt-putted by me. I ramped up my speed to 36 kph and cruised by them again. The girls smiled, cheered and then began yelling at their driver to catch me.

He caught me again, and I ramped it up to 38 kph and held it for about 20 meters before I had to turn off and ride to a place where I planned to meet up with other riders. I regret not pushing on with the three-wheeler. It was great fun racing them, and the smiles on the women's faces were wonderful.

I bitch a lot about China, so I want to make an effort now to try to say something positive. Chinese are generally quick to smile. Friendly gestures toward me are common on the road. This is especially true in the countryside and mountains outside of Guangzhou. People are usually eager to chat or joke when we stop for water or a Coke. Passengers in cars will often lean out the window and cheer for us in the middle of a long climb.

Chinese roads are rough and dangerous. I have a good friend who has become fed up with them and has pretty much stopped riding. There are days when I feel the same. But the roads do make me feel alive. The challenge. The difficulty. The emotions. The rough texture they add to my life. It can all be invigorating. I often wonder whether I'll miss it when I eventually leave.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Must Reads: PezCycling on Frank Vandenbroucke

If you haven't already, check out this obituary for Frank Vandenbroucke. It's beautifully written by Edmond Hood, who did a fantastic job finding great anecdotes that really flesh out the troubled Belgian star. It's a classic example of the show-don't-tell school of journalism. The story is also illustrated with terrific photos. (Will anyone ever be able to top the design of the old Mapei team's kit?) The other cycling news sites that I follow offered perfunctory coverage, picking up AFP stories (lazy and rarely a good idea) or just mining their archives and rewriting the material. Kudos to Edmond and PezCycling for making an extra effort.

Musings: Need for anger management trumps fitness

By now, it's probably obvious to readers of this blog that I have a love-hate relationship with China. So far, I've written more about the hate side. But there is love, and I'll get into it later. On most days, I rarely feel an even balance of the two emotions. That's especially true when I'm riding. This morning, the imbalance was on the hate side. It was so bad that I decided to shorten the ride, which should have been two hours but ended up being one. The roads seemed more dodgier than usual, and I felt like I was using up too many lucky charms.

The ride got off to a bad start. Although it was sunny and warm, my shoes, socks and shorts were already soaked five minutes into the ride. That's because a road-cleaning truck (the one that doesn't have a sweeper so it just creates a thin layer of slippery mud on the pavement) had sprayed the roads before a 100-meter-long tunnel that I ride through. Guangzhou has developed a tunnel fetish since I moved here two years ago. Two tunnels have been built along one of the routes I frequently ride along the Pearl River.
Bikes aren't allowed in the tunnels. Although they were completed months ago, the city still hasn't constructed a proper bike path or lane above the ground. During rush hour, a little grouchy policeman (the tunnel troll) guards the mouth of the tunnel and blocks cyclists from entering. But he's not there at 6 a.m. when I shoot through it at 50 kph.

I think if you build and operate a tunnel, the project demands that you accept a certain amount of responsibility and expense. For safety's sake, the tunnel must be properly illuminated. Few things are scarier for a cyclist than bombing through a dark tunnel with trucks and cars roaring up to you from behind. This often happens to me because the tunnel's lights are often switched off, or they're left off on the right lane. Saving money at the expense of safety.

This morning, I cleared the tunnel and just as I got out of it, a gray micro van zipped in front of me from a side road on the right and turned into the one-way tunnel. I was able to swerve out of the way, but if I arrived at the spot a split second earlier, wham! It was luck that saved me from pure idiocy. Such things are way too common on Chinese roads. This really makes me angry. I've been noticing in recent weeks that gray micro vans (about one-third smaller than a mini van) are driven by certified boneheads. Just being aware of a source of danger is extremely helpful and gives you a huge advantage. Now, when I see a gray van, I go on high alert.

About 20 minutes after the near miss, I turned onto another one-way road and was almost hit by a taxi driving against traffic. I pedaled down the road to another tunnel and was halfway into it when I heard a bus bearing down on me from behind. As he got close, he began leaning on his horn, creating a deafening noise that echoed through the tunnel. I was riding close to the tunnel wall, but his honking really pissed me off, so I shoulder checked, then moved to the center of my lane and slowed down in front of him. He continued to blast his horn and pulled up to my back wheel before moving a bit into the left lane and overtaking me, missing my shoulder by about one meter. I looked through the passenger door and saw him smiling.
The tunnel had two lanes and he could have easily moved into the left lane and passed safely without beeping. This is the third time this has happened in that tunnel. I used to think that the Chinese honk like this because they foolishly think it's a safe thing to do. But I can't accept that anymore. For me, it's obvious that I'm a cyclist who's aware of traffic coming from behind because I wear a red blinky light clipped to my back jersey pocket. I got to thinking today that the bus driver was just being a bully. I think the bully gene is very common in the general Chinese genetic makeup. Mao was a classic bully and destroyed most of his comrades who helped him found the People's Republic of China. Think of how mobs of Red Guards terrorized people during the Cultural Revolution. Almost daily, you can see how people lord their power over people whenever they can. You see it in restaurants when diners treat waitstaff like they're slaves. You see it on the roads when someone in a big metal vehicle feels like he can harass someone riding on two skinny wheels.

Since I finished the ride early and had some extra time, I decided to finish a project that has been dragging on for weeks: the building up of my custom Colossi frame. I cracked it in riding into a pot hole and had to get the top tube and bottom tube replaced. After I ate breakfast and showered, I collected all my bike parts: frameset, fork, Dura Ace gruppo, wheels, handlebars, etc. I walked out of the apartment with my hands full and flagged a taxi. When we got to the bike shop, the driver - as usual - didn't bother to help me gather together all the pieces. I was able to manage on my own, though, and I walked into the store with all the stuff.

There were three guys gathered around the front counter eating breakfast: various types of greasy dumplings and stuffed steamed bread - spongy, starchy stuff with no nutritional value. I smiled and said in a cheerful voice: "Good morning! How you doing?" Did any of them jump up and offer to take a wheel or something else off my hands? Nah. One guy who was blocking my way in the narrow walkway to the back of the shop was considerate enough to step out of my way after I paused a second to give him time to move. The back of the shop was as chaotic and messy as usual, with boxes and half-repaired bikes all over the place. I put my things down on a box and waited for help. I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more. After a few minutes, I walked toward the counter and asked the guys who were still munching away, "Excuse me, I really hate to bother you, but can I get a little service here?"
Finally, one of them walked over, and I told him I wanted someone to build up the bike and he said that wouldn't be a problem. I told him all the parts were there, and he didn't bother to do any kind of inventory. I asked him where we should put the stuff, and he said to leave it just where it was. I saw an empty space on a workbench and moved the pile there. I knew I wasn't dealing with the shop's best and brightest, and I was hoping the A team would come in later and sort out my rig. I know the shop's manager well, and sent him an e-mail when I got home. He promptly replied, saying my bike would be in good hands.

Service is a big problem in China. I once had a long chat with the regional head of Starbucks in China, and he complained about how hard it was to find decent frontline workers for the coffee shops. He shared the popular view that Chinese kids don't understand service because they are the product of the one-child birth policy, which restricts most families to having only one child. The kids turn out to be little emperors and empresses, who grew up being waited on. They really don't know how to serve. They don't know how to do things on their own. I grew up with three siblings and often had to fend for myself or pitch in to keep the house running.

I hope my next posting will be about what a great job they did on my bike. When I find something I love about this country, I do like to talk about it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Musings: China, the land of the speed bump

Speed bumps are everywhere in Guangzhou. They aren’t used to deter speeding. They're used to punish speeders. I say this because rarely are there signs posted warning drivers to slow down because there are speed bumps ahead. The logic seems to be: If you're not speeding, you have nothing to worry about. If you're going too fast, you'll pay for it. Bam! I guess ambulance drivers are expected to remember where all the bumps are in the city.

The bumps are usually made of unpainted cement or asphalt so they are camouflaged, blending in perfectly with the road so that it's hard to see them. Near my home, officials have opted for a low-budget approach by just laying a thick pipe across the road. They anchored it with roughly cut spikes of rebar hammered into the road _ perfect for slicing open a bike tire.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Book Review: Doping in "A Dog in a Hat"

Like many cycling fans, I’m tired of reading about doping. That’s partly why the first half of my review of “A Dog in a Hat” was drug free. But Joe Parkin’s book has so many insights and anecdotes about how pervasive doping was in cycling during his day that I thought it was worthwhile to break out the interesting bits for this part of the review.

Parkin says he tried to resist the pressure to dope, though he describes at least one occasion when he took a little something.

He says to prepare for a kermis race, he usually just had three delicious tarts from the local bakery, half a Coke, lukewarm tea in his bottle “and a couple of Animine (caffeine) tablets in the pockets just in case.”

One of the strangest things he saw during his pro career happened before his first kermis. It’s illegal for racers to change into their team kit in or around their cars. So riders have to find a homeowner in the neighborhood who will let them use their garage, kitchen or living room for a locker room. Parkin was allowed into one home, where a third-year Dutch pro was already set up in the kitchen. About an hour before the race, the Dutchman took out a syringe and began injecting a clear liquid into his arm. Parkin says, “Ten seconds later, he started giggling like a 4 year old and pointed to the hair on the arm he injected … He was apparently hoping we’d enjoy the sight of hair standing on end as much as he did. Five minutes later, he did it again, and then again and again after that. After each injection, he was equally amazed.”

Parkin says that for some kermis racers, the competition was just an excuse to take amphetamines. When they were jacked on speed, they weren’t necessarily able to ride faster. But he says they had no inhibitions; they were always ready to go, attacking again and again. They also tended to speak English more.

Just like there’s a “Blue Code of Silence” in the police force, Parkin says there was a “Lycra Code of Silence.” As an American, he already stuck out a lot and he didn’t want to attract more attention by flying the clean-bike-racer flag. He also said many of his teammates, managers, friends and fans would consider not taking drugs as a refusal to give 100 percent to the team. It might get him left off the roster for races.

In one race, Parkin was struggling with stomach problems when his team car pulled up and he was handed a small plastic bottle with a cork. He was instructed to drink half of it and save the rest for later if he needed it. He says it tasted like a cocktail of Coke, a syrupy sugar drink called Champ and something chalky. Within minutes of drinking it, he was at the front of the group, climbing with ease. He says goose bumps started forming on his legs along with sweat with a baby oil-like sheen. He stayed at the front, setting a tempo that was torturing riders who have won classics and Tour de France stages. “I was inflicting excruciating pain on every inch of my body, but I didn’t care. It was amazing,” he says. But he didn’t go with the last attack, and when it was clear he wouldn’t win the race, he decided to stay off the podium so that he could avoid doping controls. Only the top three riders and two random picks would get tested. He says a doctor once told him that a well-trained rider can perform at 85 percent of his potential. But a well-trained athlete on amphetamines can perform at 105 percent.

Near the end of his Euro career, Parkin’s team doctor approached him with a new drug called erythropoietin, the now famous EPO. The physician thought the drug would help Parkin with the anemia that plagued him throughout his career. The big problem was that the drug cost nearly US$1,000 per month, and Parkin couldn’t afford it. He says his poverty probably saved his life. Doctors had yet to figure out how to safely administer EPO and riders from Holland and Belgium were dying left and right.

Snapshot: Cargo bikes

I'm always amazed by how much can be loaded up on a bike. This guy was pushing his bike up a pedestrian bridge ramp that was so steep it had one switchback. Whenever I need get out of the office for a break, I like hanging out on this bridge over Dongfeng Road, watching the guys push their cargo up the ramp.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: Thumbs up for "A Dog in a Hat"

Joe Parkin sums up his professional career in Belgium this way: He could ride hard when called upon, but at the end of the day, he had more desire than natural ability. The American journeyman never had a win while riding on mostly second-tier teams in 1987-91. But he left Europe with loads of fascinating, colorful anecdotes about the sport’s personalities, customs and its holy land – Belgium. These descriptions and insights make his book “A Dog in a Hat” (VeloPress, US$21.95) well worth reading.

Parkin won a few races as an amateur in Minnesota and California before he decided to skip college and try to turn pro in Belgium. He was taken in by a bike mechanic, who rented him a room and served as his coach in the town of Ursel. Pro teams got interested in him after a few good results, including a third place in the amateur version of the Het Volk Classic.

He says he achieved a high degree of fluency in Flemish, and he sprinkles phrases from the language throughout the book. One of them is “een hond met een hoed op” or “a dog in a hat,” from which the book gets its title. The phrase means something that looks out of place, like an American racing with the pros in Belgium in the late 1980s.

One of my favorite anecdotes comes from Parkin’s description of his first pro classic, the 310-kilometer Paris-Brussels. Parkin said he was still in the peloton with Sean Kelly as the riders were sizing each other up for the final push with 20 kilometers left. But at the 10- kilometer mark, he got dropped and eventually got swept up by the bus just kilometers away from the finish. The winner – or the “man with the hammer” – was Wim Arras. Parkin ends the chapter with a great statement about how cruel life can be – how the sport and world move on no matter how fast you were on the bike. “Four years later, he (Arras) would be turning wrenches on my bike,” he says.

Parkin can turn a nice phrase when he’s inspired. In a chapter about kermis racing, he says, “If the grand tours are like classical music, kermis racing is punk rock, Belgian style.” He notes that the races are all about the same length, between 150-180 kilometers, and involve circuit courses of about 10 kilometers. He says he figured out why the circuits are this length after watching a race from a cafĂ©. “The time it takes for the pros to cover 10 kilometers is almost exactly the time it takes to order, receive and drink a beer.” The drinkers can hear the race coming, drain their beer and step outside to watch the riders speed by.

In 1989, he signed up with the ADR team, which also featured Greg LeMond, who pulled off his amazing Tour de France victory that same year. But LeMond rode on the A team, while Parkin was relegated to the B team – a bunch of misfits he describes as ADR’s “redheaded stepchildren.”

Another of my favorite anecdotes involves the Belgian great Eddy Planckaert, who also rode for ADR. Parkin says he once arrived at Eddy’s farmhouse about 9 a.m. for a ride and had to wake him up. It was January and Eddy’s last ride was sometime in November. His bike was still caked with months-old mud. But as soon as Eddy started riding, he began complaining about the speed wasn’t fast enough. “A few minutes after we started, he attacked …. Less than a minute after the attack, Eddy was back with us, cursing his bike, his legs, the food he had just eaten, the cold, everything.” He complained they were riding too fast so early in the season and that he wouldn’t train with them again. Parkin insists they were only going 25 kph.

Parkin ends his European career with the IOC-Tulip team. He he constantly battled anemia and low testosterone levels. He recalls that after one tough climbing stage in the Tour de Suisse, he was famished and searched through his jersey pockets for leftover snacks – “squished little sandwiches and pastries in foil wrap” - when he returned to his hotel room. Still hungry, he began digging around in the trash can looking for food that his roommates had discarded. He passed out while still wearing his race kit and later woke to the sound of the team doctor trying to wake him up. The physician said, “This is not good,” before leaving the room. He returned shortly to give Parkin a big injection of Intralipid, which was mostly fat.

After going back to America for good, he rode for U.S. pro teams, including the Coors Light squad. When his road racing career ended in 1994, he recorded some solid results as a mountain biker. Unfortunately, the book doesn't provide many details about how Parkin settled into a civilian life and how he earns a living now. It's also a shame that Parkin didn't stay in touch with many of the people he knew in Belgium, so the book provides no updates about them.

Next: Parkin's low down on Euro doping.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Musings: I fought the law and the law...

I was nearly finished with my 150 kilometer ride and was hammering down a four-lane thoroughfare when I saw the police van on a side road to my right. It wasn't really a van. It's hard to describe. It was a weird, creepy vehicle with a large container in the back that is used for transporting people swept up at mass arrests at protests or factory riots.

I could tell the vehicle was preparing to turn into my path. The question was whether it would stop for traffic before merging onto the busy road. As usual, it didn't. It pulled in front of me and cut me off, causing me to grab a handful of brakes and swerve to miss its back bumper. I yelled out, "Wei! Wei! Wei!" (meaning "Hey, hey, hey" in Mandarin). The two police in the cab saw me out of the corner of their eyes, but they did what Chinese drivers usually do when they blatantly mistreat me on the road: Ignore me, pretend that I'm not really there.

The close encounter gave me an adrenaline rush and reawakened my contempt for the Chinese police, who for me symbolize one of the worst parts of the authoritarian regime. I sprinted to catch up to the vehicle and was almost able to pull up to the passenger side. I yelled, "Fucking assholes!" But they didn't acknowledge me before speeding away.

One of the great things about living in a foreign land is that the police usually don't understand your English expletives. However, they're often savvy enough to realize that you're disrespecting them, so I rarely confront them in this way. If they wanted to, they could haul me down to the police station because I didn't have my passport with me. It's the law that foreigners must carry their passports at all times. I never do when I'm riding because it can easily get wet or mangled. I've photocopied and laminated the important pages and keep them in a plastic ziplock bag in my back jersey pocket. But technically, this isn't good enough.

It only took me a minute to feel stupid about the incident. It's never wise to indulge in bouts of road rage on Chinese roads. While I was yelling at the police, I was unable to watch the road, and I rode over a big mound of concrete and almost fell off the bike. Lumpy, concrete blobs are common on the streets. I'm not sure how they get there. Maybe concrete trucks spill excess material and no one bothers to clean it up. They're extremely dangerous and you must be constantly watchful for them.

Venting in traffic is also bad form because a foreigner - especially a white man - rarely gains sympathy from the locals by yelling and screaming in public. It never looks good. As soon as you lose your cool, you've lost the battle. I think half the time, the Chinese don't even understand why you are mad. Last weekend, I was cruising down a road about 38 kph when a small sedan cut me off. The driver saw me coming, but, as usual, he didn't think he had to stop for me. I road up alongside the vehicle, slammed my palm on the car's roof a couple times and called the driver a "zhu tou," or a "pig head." The guy gave me a bewildered look, stopped his car and apparently had a brief conversation with his passenger about what the hell just happened. Why was the weird foreigner in Lycra yelling at him?

On my better days, I yell to the drivers, "Zhongguo pengyou! Xiao xin yidian!" or "Chinese friend, be careful!" Drivers usually acknowledge me when I do this and I don't come away looking like an uptight foreign jerk. I'm not sure if I'm able to convey the right message to the driver, but it certainly leaves me feeling better.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Musings: Pot holes, mud and the ultimate obstacle - the trash heap

Guangzhou's roads are constantly covered with dirt, gravel and other debris because of a construction frenzy ahead of the Asia Games, which the city will host next year.

Water trucks cruise the streets before rush hour each morning, spraying the roads to control the dust. However, the trucks don't have a sweeping mechanism, so they don't remove the debris from the roads.

They just create a slippery thin layer of gritty, sticky, cake battery mud that's perfect for downing bikes and coating expensive bike components with sandy grime.

New potholes seem to appear almost daily, and it's essential to mark them on your mental map. I discovered a new one recently after a hard rain. The muddy water filled up the hole, making it look like a harmless puddle. I hit it at a high speed, cracking my custom-made bike frame and breaking a front wheel. It turned out to be the most expensive ride of my life.

The most hazardous road obstacles are created by the midnight mystery dumpers. They load up their trucks with construction waste _ chunks of cement, broken bricks, dry wall scraps, splintered plywood _ and routinely dump it on major roads in the middle of the night. This helps them shave their costs by avoiding landfill fees. It's the same corner-cutting attitude that puts lead paint on toys and melamine in milk powder for babies. On a couple of occasions, I've almost run into the mounds of trash during groggy-headed and dark early morning rides.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Musings: The Chinese driver's best friend - the horn

Honking at cyclists is another popular pastime for drivers. In America, horn toots usually convey a driver's anger or annoyance. Motorists might think you're taking up too much space or riding like an idiot so they'll honk at you. If they respect your right to be on the road with them, they'll give you some room and pass by quietly.

But in China, a honk usually just means, "I'm about to pass you so don't do a blind U-turn into my path." It's a good example of a fundamental difference in how Americans and Chinese approach driving.

Americans and Europeans think in terms of "lanes." Or "flight paths" for planes. Or "lines" for bikes. We've grown up in fast-moving vehicles that require plenty of space to operate. Drivers own the lane space in front of them, and others who want to enter the lane must first check to see if there's enough space. In the same way, a bike rider owns his line and is expected to hold it.
The Chinese don't seem to think in terms of lanes. They drive as if they're surrounded by a space bubble or a force field that's about five feet thick. If they decide to turn or merge, it's up to other drivers to notice them and stay out of their space bubble. Chinese motorists don't do much shoulder checking. They ride their bikes the same way. If they want to join a pace line, they won’t start in the back. They’ll just try to merge their way into the middle of it. You’ve got to make room for them.

I can't count how many times I've had to swerve or yell at drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who were blindly merging into my lane like Mr. Magoo. I recently T-boned a migrant worker who tried to zip across an intersection without checking for ongoing traffic. Neither of us was seriously injured, but I badly bruised my hip and wrist as I hit the road hard and bounced for a few feet.

Chinese drivers cope with this unpredictability by honking at anything that might turn into their path. Few people seem to get annoyed by the cacophony of car horns. It bugs the hell out of me. I'll never get used to it.

Sometimes, drivers seem to just be beeping to say hello to the weird cycling foreigner in spandex. Once while I was barreling through a tunnel, a cement truck rumbled up on my back wheel and the driver started tooting his horn at me. The sound was deafening as it echoed off the tunnel's walls. As I cleared the tunnel, the truck pulled up alongside of me. Just as I was about ask the driver what the hell his problem was, I saw him and another guy bouncing around in the cab, laughing and yelling the common Chinese cheer at me: "Jia you!" or "Add oil!" At sporting events, the Chinese don’t yell “Go!” or “Come on!,” they scream, “Add oil!”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Musings: Gotta new car, now ya need a license

Many of the people behind the wheels of the shiny new vehicles on China’s roads just got their licenses after finishing a crash course in driving. They're adults, often in their middle ages, but they drive much like I did when I was a sophomore in high school.

Some are courteous and sympathetic to cyclists because it wasn't too long ago since they were pedaling to work. But many drivers - especially the nouveau riche in Audis and BMWs - show an obvious contempt for bike riders.

China has a very clear caste system, and those on bikes are usually regarded to be at the bottom of it - the untouchables doing the crap blue-collar jobs. They’re the losers who haven’t figured out a way to capitalize on the economic boom of the past 30 years. Most are among the bedraggled masses of millions from the countryside who come to the city to work. They pedal their rusty, squeaky bikes to sweatshops, where they churn out the latest plastic trinkets for Wal Mart shelves. They’re digging the foundations and welding the steel beams for the gleaming skyscrapers featured in the articles in glossy business magazines about how China’s economy will be bigger than America’s in a week or two.

The nouveau riche won't yield the right away to cyclists. Cutting off bikers seems to be a skill they're constantly trying to perfect. Usually they do it without even acknowledging you. In rare cases, they will.

Once I was on a training ride with a friend. It was 6:30 a.m. and we were hammering down an empty three-lane thoroughfare at 40 kph when a driver began honking at us. He was about 100 meters behind us and approaching fast. He raced up beside us in his new black Volkswagen Passat, and we exchanged obscenities for a few seconds. Then the driver swerved in front of us and nearly knocked us down before roaring away.

I got a good look at the guy. He was beefy with a crew cut – a hair style popular with the police, military and the mob. In China, he could have been all three.

Musings: Bikes no longer welcome on China's roads

When I was studying in China in the early 1990s, I’d often unwind after a long day of classes by hoping on my rusty black Yongjiu bike (a Chinese knockoff of a Raliegh from the WWII era) and cruise around the city. I never worried about traffic because bikes ruled the road. The city’s streets were designed for bikes with wide lanes demarcated by barriers made of iron bars.

The scene of seemingly millions of people pedaling down China's streets has become an iconic image for the nation. But it's an outdated one. So much has changed since my student days 20 years ago.

The changes are most obvious in big cities like Guangzhou. Most residents - especially those in the swelling middle class - have long given up commuting by bike. The city has a clean, new and speedy subway system. Buses are also cheap and convenient. And cars are more affordable for the swelling middle class. Autos rule the roads now.

Two years ago, city officials announced with great pride that the number of cars on Guangzhou's roads has hit the 1 million mark. When the country held a “No Car Day,” Guangzhou was one of the few major cities that decided not to participate. This year, it joined the campaign, but it was a half-hearted effort. A few roads were blocked off by police, but when they left after rush hour, the cars took over again.

Guangzhou wants its future to be tied to the automobile. The city aspires to be the Detroit of China and has factories that make Honda and Nissan cars. Last year, 180,000 new vehicles hit the city's roads, the government said. That's nearly 500 a day.

There seems to be a quiet campaign to push cyclists off the roads. One of the best examples of this is a bike lane near my home that's marked with a thick white line, a sign and a symbol of a bike painted on the pavement. But the line has recently been bisected by short white lines that chop the lane up into parking spaces for cars. The lane is for bikers as long as motorists aren't using it.

On some roads, police with whistles and flags order cyclists to pull off the road and ride on the sidewalk. I usually ignore them.

The Chinese view the car to be a symbol of modernity – evidence the country has made it to the big time. They scoff at foreigners who say China is making the same mistake as other countries, namely America, who fell in love with the car. I discussed the subject with a Chinese friend who had a new mini van. He said, “When we rode bikes, foreigners laughed at us for being so poor and backward. Now that we can afford cars, they say we’re being wasteful polluters.”

I argued that bike-friendly cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen are truly modern and civilized. But this seems so silly to most Chinese.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Musings: I once thought cycling in NYC was scary

A friend sent me a Youtube link for a video called "Insane Cycling - New York City." I clicked on it and got ready to cringe as I watched bicycle messengers darting through traffic and doing kamikaze sprints through the streets of the Big Apple. I lived in New York 10 years ago and didn’t dare ride there, partly because I was barely breaking even paying rent on an Upper West Side shoebox and couldn’t afford a decent bike at the time. But mostly because the streets seemed to scary.

As I started watching the video clip, I realized my heart rate wasn’t rising. I wasn't perspiring. I wasn’t wincing. Instead of a thrill, I was experiencing disappointment. I thought I would get Mad Max, but I ended up with Sesame Street.

The disappointment started to fade and be replaced by envy. New York seemed like a wonderful place to ride. Sure, there was a lot of traffic. But pedestrians used the crosswalks. Buses lumbered along like gentle whales. Taxis used their turn signals. The streets looked so clean. Where was the insanity?

To be sure, there was some insanity. But it was more in the choice of equipment by the cyclists. Most of them were riding fixies. I didn’t check closely, but it seems that few or none had brakes. This qualifies for insane. I’d never ride such a rig in any city.

But I’d like to see them race their fixies in the streets that I ride daily in Guangzhou, once known as Canton – a sprawling, gritty city of 10 million people in southern China.