Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Its sharky out there...

Anyone who has had the patience to talk to me over the last three months has heard me talk about the leg cramps I’ve been afflicted with. I’ve had no patience for my legs, I’ve been chomping at the bit, sullen at my lack of success. But last night, it changed, even if for an instant, I had a great race. My legs felt good at the beginning of the race, and by the last few laps, they were tired for lack of fitness, but strong, firing when I asked them, and most importantly, loose and supple.

Knowing my fitness level was low I decided before the race started that I would sit it, any notion of being on the front chasing anything down would be a mistake and a waste of resources. So for sixteen laps I basically sat in and tried to stay near the front, never behind more than a third of the pack, watching the moves, the sprints, the dynamics within the various teams play out. There was a strong cross wind on the course tonight, and I watched how teams negotiated it, used it to their advantage, or flatly ignored it when it was time to put the hammer down. I was in class.

I find several natural places within a pack; top ten, first third, second third, and rubber band wagon. Only in the back do I feel simultaneously tired from racing hard and absolutely out of the action. At the back you are constantly accelerating frantically and braking fearfully in response to relatively small movements at the front of the peloton. When the butterfly flaps its wings at the front of the peloton it turns into a chaotic storm at the back. Eventually, riding back there the rubber band wagon turns into the broom wagon- you snap off and free fall, exhausted, emotionally frayed, and with nothing to show for your efforts.

The 3/4 race at Tuesday PIR is a funny thing. It is a mix of sandbaggers, looking for points, teams of sandbaggers, looking for teamwork experience, proper 4’s who are racing within their abilities, and 4’s who are a danger to themselves and others with delusions of grandeur. Last night, the Gentle Lovers team was in our race. I put them squarely in the ‘teams of sandbaggers’ category. It is annoying and enjoyable to watch confident, strong and capable riders cruise around in the pack like sharks. They disappear when they have nothing to gain, and rise out of the darkness and chaos to claim whatever prize they are looking for when it’s time. I watched them do just that last night; it was beautiful in the way watching the animal channel is beautiful. So long as it’s not my baby getting eaten by a tiger shark, the tiger shark is beautiful. So I sat in and took notes. I formed a hypothesis on the second prime, and validated it on the third. When the bell lap rang, I became the shark. I marked the GL rider who had been led out on all the prime laps. When I moved to his rear wheel on the last lap I sensed an S&M rider had made the same connection. We fought for the wheel through the first turn, the second turn, and down the straight. He had the wheel, the position. I was squeezed out repeatedly. I stayed close. Several riders attacked and formed a break, establishing a hundred yards quickly. On the back straight, I got squeezed really badly. A rider who had dropped anchor was traveling backward through the middle of the pack on my right. I was caught between handlebars and kicking thighs, and in an instant I panicked. I fell back a length, breathed and shook it out. That was close, too close.

By the back turns I was back to my mark. I stole his wheel from the S&M rider through the fourth turn. Perfect. I would not lose it. As expected, He stayed out to the right, positioned himself in the crosswind through the penultimate and last turn, powering through it in confidence. As we rounded through the straight away his teammates collected around him, he was impatient. At five hundred meters: ‘Hold steady!’ one of his teammates called out. Four hundred meters: ‘patience!’ and the break was reeled in. Then at three hundred my mark spotted an alley between the tarmac and the barrier. Weeds, chain link, and stacked tires were all that were between my mark and the finish line. His fins twitched. He moved quickly up the shoulder, and I, right on his wheel. Perfect. He was going to lead me to the line and I was going to take the win from him. I was going to eat his lunch. Two hundred meters; we are hauling now, my 53x12 is starting to spin out. In an instant the door closes, a generic white jersey in the very front of the train drifts to his right, slowing, apparently gassed and giving up. I place this rider squarely in the ‘delusions of grandeur’ group. My mark screams ‘hold your line…hold your fucking line!!’ We are cooked! Immediately, I am looking for the backdoor on this domestic dispute. I hear the mark screaming etiquette lessons at white jersey as I find my door to the left. Exit. There are eleven riders in front of me now, I swing hard to my left, come around, and in the last hundred meters I push, push hard and gain three spots, spinning wildly for home. I am edged by a giant on a white bike and six others. My mark reopens the door, and finishes second. Patience.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

DiLuca is a bit too good

I'm probably not the first to say it...And DiLuca has a track record...But I think he's a bit too good, the way Basso was too good a couple of years ago. The way Ricco was too good a year after that. I really think the controls are generally working- these other guys are struggling, but they are bunched up around the same time- there is parity. But DiLuca looks like he's playing ball on an 8 foot hoop with some grade schoolers. I'm not buying it. Doper. Quote me.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Kick Axe: the eulogy

The Kick Axe..I wish I'd come up with the name. So something that you learn as a designer of things is that rarely, if ever, does the actual merit of the design have much to do with whether it is successful in the market place. Yet, as you also learn, you are often blamed for that lack of success. Conversely, and predictably, you are rarely rewarded when it is successful. Since it is often the sales team, the marketing team, the company president, your immediate supervisor who takes credit when its being dispensed. We are often like Milton waiting for the piece of cake and getting to the end and having nothing left. But I digress a bit. This isn't about credit, this is about the failure of the development process with respect to getting good products to market.

My part in the kick-axe, as designer came after a false start by the design group where the first aesthetic and mechanical design did not resolve several key problems. As a result it was postponed, sent back into orbit until another development cycle began. That is when I jumped on the project team. The original aesthetic language was scraped. I fell back to a suite of design cues that had been established for the brand. I began again. Engineering was simultaneously working on solving and refining the mechanical and safety issues with the original design. In tandem we developed a new design. The design above was a push and pull between engineering and industrial design. Where I had very clear visions of what this would be like, what it would feel like to hold, swing, and fold, engineering had specific mechanical requirements, manufacturing requirements and costs that constrained their ability to meet my aesthetic vision. this is often frustrating as a designer. Most often, particularly if you don't work for Apple, or Ferrari, the cost constraint is often the most prominent, most pervasive, and constant drag on innovative aesthetic and creative use of material. I hate cost ceilings. By the same token, it is often the source of great creativity. When I was racing in Italy as a junior, my coach and I were riding past an old church steeple that had a modern, almost skeletal renovation that was a clear result of not having a deep budget. 'Being poor forces you to be creative' he told me. I knew exactly what he meant. Not only had the church steeple made the point, but my year of scraping, working and sweating every penny had been what got me to Italy. I knew what being poor would do to a person. And creativity is but one reaction.

The kick-Axe design team surmounted a number of design challenges; aesthetic, ergonomic, mechanical, and personal. Despite the doubt of some in the group the tooled sample pictured above made its way into the hands of product reviewers, magazines, PR folks, bloggers....everyone loved it. Everyone was excited and intrigued. This is the first really new look for an axe in a long time. The design itself isn't exactly a totally new idea, but in its current iteration it represents a step forward. We won an award from Adventure Magazine for gear of the year. It was placed in several publications like Men's Health, including blogs like Uncrate. There was clear demand for the product and it got canceled, by a corporate attorney who felt it was unsafe (news flash: we specialize in sharp pointy things). It was unilateral.

It is frustrating to be at the whim of others, no matter the situation. As a designer, in a corporate setting, I don't really get to pick what things I work on or don't work on. It is a challenge therefore, to find 'reason' to work on something. A reason to care, a reason to want to see an idea through to the market shelf. Besides the notion of doing a good job, I want good product out there. I want my hard work to result in something that someone really, really loves and cherishes, using it as it was intended, and owned proudly for years. That's the goal. So when a product like the Kick-axe is canceled despite what I believe to be a great design, it is galling.

stolen beauty.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spud sucker

Will someone PLEASE slap Michael Ball in the cake hole. What a prick. He was clearly a jackass when he started his pro cycling team. The attitude, the trashy models, the cadillacs, hiring dopers left and right, the horrible team kit...but then the way he's managed his team into the ground. The lack of respect for his riders. His dishonesty about what he's done. Please someone slap the smug motherf*cker! And get him out of professional cycling...