Bikes of Sunflower: Paul's LeMond Versailles

  "In March of 1999 I moved from Kansas City to Portland, Oregon.  I was 26 years old.  Growing up as a cyclist, the move to this town offered a renewed interest in one of my life’s passions.  Sometime later that spring, I found out that Greg LeMond was to make an appearance at one of the bike shops that I would frequent.  What an opportunity – to see one of my childhood hero’s!  The event was to promote his line of bicycles, but it became more of a Q&A session with the signing of autographs afterward.  The line for meeting him snaked throughout the store and I found myself close to the end of it.  Once it was finally my turn I figured he probably would have had enough of being there and would just sign my poster and jersey and motion to the next person in line.  This couldn’t have been further from the truth.  He actually took the time to get to know a little something about me, asking what I was up to.  So, we got to chat for a while and even took a photo together too. He was incredible gracious and this is one of my fondest memories of living there. 

Fast forward seven years later and back in Kansas, now attending KU and on the cycling team.  The 2006 road racing season was upon us and I was focused on winning at least a race and moving up to the A squad.  To be able to do this, I was going to need a new bike!  Paul Davis, longtime fixture of Sunflower Outdoor and Bike, was the guy to find what I was looking for.  After test riding a few different makes and models from other companies, he had me focus my attention on the LeMond Versailles.  It was a unique frame for sure with its platinum steel spine and OLCV carbon cockpit.  Steel was the only frame material I had ridden and this was to be my introduction to world of carbon riding.  With combination of steel headtube, downtube and chainstays and carbon top-tube, seat tube and seatstays it provided both a stiff and smooth ride.  And, this bike took corners like it was riding on rails!  Outfitted with Shimano 105 and Ultegra, it had good componentry to compliment this outstanding frame.  I was sold, now we just had to order one in my size before they were all gone, this being a closeout of last year’s model.  As luck would have it, I got one of the last ones left in the entire country in a beautiful black and carbon with white lettering.  Soon a KU Jayhawk sticker adorned the top-tube to let others know I raced for the collegiate team.

As the racing season progressed I placed well in the first couple of races.  Then it was time to go to North Dakota for a weekend of racing.  This would be my first time racing here, with it being so far away and the weather usually unpredictable.  With a well-placed team we ventured out onto the course for a 30 or so mile road race.  Alongside my teammates we all rode up front controlling the race as the miles ticked by.  Approaching the last stretch of road before the finish line I knew it was time to make my move.  A select few of us worked our way to the front and then it was on – a bunch sprint for the finish.  I made sure to latch onto the wheel of a couple of riders in front of me, holding off my sprint until the very last second.  As it we started to run out of real estate, I knew I had to make my move.  Off I went, sprinting my heart out; across the line for my very first win!  As I slowed down and tears started to form in my eyes, I knew then and there I too was a champion, just like LeMond."

March 20, 2016 by Andrew White

Gravel Worlds Video Recap

One of the biggest events in the sphere of gravel racing is the infamous Gravel World Championships. The latest edition, held in August, proved to be a demanding course that took every rider to the brink of their ability. This video recap includes interviews from Rebecca Rusch, Yuri Hauswald and our own, Dan Hughes.

 

 

September 10, 2015 by Andrew White

Gravel World Championships 2015

We had the pleasure of attending the infamous Gravel World Championships in Lincoln, Nebraska last weekend. It was a...

Posted by Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop on Monday, August 24, 2015
August 24, 2015 by Andrew White

Staff Blog: Mt. Boreas

Mt. Boreas
by Ashton Lambie
“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.”

 

The weight conscious part of me thinks it is way too much work to take a Whitman poetry book and a flask of whiskey up to the continental divide for a bikepacking overnight, but it is easy to justify once you get up there. Although I go bikepacking, hiking, and general outdoor sleeping as often as possible, Boreas Pass provided one of the best sub-24 hour overnights (S24O) that I have had in a long time. The grade was nearly Kansas-level flat, albeit far longer than any climb for miles around. The plan was to head up to the pass, camp at the continental divide, summit Mt. Boreas the next morning, then hike/ride back down into town in the afternoon.

 

The air was crisp; even though it was hot, the dry air (or lack thereof) made it feel cooler than it would be with Lawrence humidity. After riding through Breckenridge, the climb up to Boreas pass is a single, steady uphill that turns to gravel halfway through. Anyone who has ever ridden with me knows how much I hate climbing, but this wasn't too bad. After getting to the pass, I settled in to watch the sunset with a simple dinner of Cup O' Noodles and tea, followed by some whiskey and Whitman for the star-watching half of the evening. Truly, a million dollar view, and all the better for having it to myself.

 

Colorado nights are great for sleeping, but cold nights mean wet tents. After a quick breakfast of pb&j wraps and tea, I was off to the summit by 8:00, just in time to watch the sun sliding down the mountains. There wasn't much of a trail, so I resigned myself to pacing myself up a scree field to the top, followed by a rocky walk along the saddle. Lo and behold, a fellow traveler had left a full, perfectly chilled, bottle of water at the top! Full of trail mix and extra water, I slid back down the scree field to the campsite. The ride back down was warmer as the day went on, and thankfully uneventful. An ideal S24O!

 

Although this is about as picturesque as a bikepacking trip can get, anywhere I can sleep outside with some minor creature comforts is a good location in my book. The key is simply to get out wherever and whenever your schedule and budget allows. It doesn't have a to be a week-long excursion in Scotland, you don't have to have a bikepacking-specific bike, and it doesn't really require much equipment. Take a backpack, your mountain bike, the basic necessities, and you are set.

 

“Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!”

 

Get out there!

 

August 17, 2015 by Andrew White

Staff Blog: A Hard Rain's (Probably) Gonna Fall

 

A Hard Rain's (Probably) Gonna Fall

by Ashton Lambie

 

Lots of people remark that it takes a certain kind of rider to ride and appreciate Trans-Iowa. This 340-mile gravel race is known for rough weather, and this year was no exception. As many of you already know, this was a year where absolutely 0 riders finished (with 97 toeing the line), due to a grueling dirt road hike, 20mph winds, lots of rain, and 40 degree weather. We started at 4:00 am Saturday morning. Everyone knew the roads would already be soaked, since it had rained over .50” the day before, and we were set to get more rain over the course of the day. The race had several checkpoints throughout, with time cutoffs at each one. The first one would be a grueling; 4.5 hours to cover 55 miles, with an average speed of 11.8 mph required. We were doing well--averaging around 12.5 mph--until in started raining at 5:30 am,. The rain made road conditions even more peanut butter-y, with tires cutting into the mud underneath the already swollen gravel. As I continued, I knew it would require an all-out effort just to keep 12 mph to the first check point. It would have been a closer race if there hadn’t been a B-road at 35 miles in. An Iowa B-road is basically just an unmaintained dirt track; with around an inch of rain, it turns into a muddy mess that is completely un-rideable (yes, even on a fat bike). Everyone was walking, and my 12.5 mph average was a dismal 10.4 mph by the end of the hike. At this point, there was nothing left to do but ride it out, as I knew the ride was over for us. I made it, completely drenched, to the end of my 55 mile ride, to checkpoint one, at 9:15 am, 45 minutes after the time cut off at the first checkpoint.  


It takes a certain type of rider to appreciate extreme weather, and the sort of gratification that it provides. That type of rider enjoys the after-party of the race, the glow of having worked hard, the camaraderie it provides, the joy of having attempted it, and the rest earned after giving it your all. I, however, am not one of those riders. As soon as I arrived at the pre-race meet up, my focus was all on visualizing the night riding, the food plan, the weather, and crossing the finish line. I was 100% prepared to finish the race, and didn't even bother with a  contingency plan in case I didn't finish. I had been training 15-20 hours per week since December; I hadn’t counted on the weather being bad enough to not continue. The worry about the equipment, training, resting, nutrition, and numbers had been my main concern for the past several months. Why worry about what you can’t control? Not being able to continue after the first checkpoint was difficult to say the least. I was expecting 300+ miles, and my appetite was only whetted after the 55 miles to checkpoint one. Admittedly, it did still take 5+ hours, but far less than the 30 that I was expecting. The experience was definitely one to remember, and I am still glad that I attempted it. The training for such an event certainly helped my cycling, both physically and mentally. With Trans-Iowa V11 firmly behind me, I turn my sights to a sub-24 hour 600k (373 miles) brevet.


Brevets are similar to the Trans-Iowa self-supported style of racing, but on the road. They are sanctioned to a greater extent than Trans-Iowa, and basically a more organized way of doing exactly what I trained for. It has been a few years since I did randoneurring last; I completed my first 1200k (770 miles) when I was 20 years old in 2011. Even though quite some time has passed, I think my Trans-Iowa setup (minus the tires) translates very well to nighttime road riding. Without getting too nerdy about it, basically brevets are ultra-distance road riding sanctioned through a European organization. They don't worry too much about finish time or placement—just finishing. I'm a big fan. When I completed my 1200k, it was a great feeling; I had worked very hard to prepare for and to complete the event, and I got the same award as everyone else. Do I think that is the right way to stage an ultra-distance race? Maybe, but it takes a certain kind of rider to appreciate brevets.

 

May 15, 2015 by Andrew White

Staff Blog: The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

 

The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

by Sara Bilhimer

 

I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with my friend, co-worker, and Sunflower Repair Shop Manager Joe Sweet. (Well, shoulder to rib cage, I should say. Joe could only stand shoulder to shoulder with the Jolly Green Giant.) We are listening to two of my cycling heroes, Dan Hughes and Rebecca Rusch, talk about the Dirty Kanza. A dusty ride born in a motel parking in 2006, it has grown into, very arguably, the premier gravel grinder in the nation, and in 2015 will be undertaken by a field of over a thousand riders.

Joe and I were signed up for the more demure 110-mile DK Half Pint. Neither of us had ever completed a Century. Both of us professed to day-dreaming- rolling green hills, a big blue dome above your head, white gravel crunching under your tires. Dreams filled with roads snaking up to the horizon, miles on miles. Freedom with no fences.  But we didn’t talk as much of the sleepless nights we were both having- nights filled with 30 mile-an-hour winds, searing heat, unclimbable hills, and the heavy prospects of failure and defeat.

Dan talks of the temptation to quit, of “praying for a mechanical that would force me to stop pedaling.” The payoff, he tells, is the final ride down the red carpet and across the finish line of downtown Emporia. “There isn’t anything else like it. There’s nothing better.”

Reba gives her own reasons for indulging in the masochism of the Kanza “I’m not addicted to the podium…I’m addicted to the finish line. I like the person I am better on the other side.”

I take another sip of PBR, feeling the cold condensation and the slickness of the red and blue can. I feel like I don’t belong in the room. Reba reads from her book, and sums up the task in a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  I find the quote comforting, affirming. I am all but certain that I cannot finish a hundred miles in the Flint Hills.

* * *

A couple of months earlier, I threw my bike down in the sticky brown mud at the Austin Rattler, 60 miles of singletrack snaking around the hill-country south of Austin. I’d finished half the race, and I was more emotionally exhausted than physically. By my second lap, the leaders were practically elbowing me in the face to finish their last one. The tight turns of the damp single track meant that at points, only one rider was going to get by at a time, which meant I was pulling off the course for frustrating whole minutes at a time, waiting for a break, and then struggling to clip into pedals caked in mud so that I could do it all over again in another quarter mile. At one point, a faster rider’s shoe clipped my bike, dragging me down, and literally through, the mud. It didn’t feel anything close to fun, it felt like trench warfare.

Across the finish line after the second lap, I shook my head despite fellow Lawrencian  Michelle Jensen’s encouraging words to keep it up!, and handed my DNF to an official. She quickly pulled back the proffered finisher’s medal she’d almost mistakenly placed in my hands. I wasn’t ashamed of myself- I felt more pissed off at the whole situation. I wasn’t a mountain biker, and part of me felt like I’d just followed my boyfriend down there, and let my coworkers talk me into a ride I’d not known that much about in the first place.

I ended up crying in the breakroom at work the day I got back to Lawrence- I told my coworkers I was disappointed in myself. But somehow that wasn’t quite right- Sorry, I apologized, I’m just a crier. I cry all the time. When I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m angry, when I’m frustrated, when I laugh. I cry at movies and when I’m reading books.  I wasn’t really sure at that moment why I was crying- I knew I wasn’t a quitter. This was the moment that I knew I absolutely had to finish the Kanza, that I had no choice. I had to prove it.

* * *

The race itself ended up seeming almost anti-climactic. Certainly it wasn’t easy, but the weather was nothing short of beautiful- high 70s, 15mph winds. The gravel was white, the grass was green, the sky was a yonder blue, and it was hills to the horizon, not a power line in sight for most of the race.

Probably my best memory was of Joe and I, rolling to a stop at a deserted intersection about 5 miles outside of town. We complained about our backs, our asses, and our aching feet. Everything hurt, and we were exhausted.  There was a pause, and Joe kind of chuckled. I looked up, and could almost see blue eyes twinkling behind his dark sunglasses. “Well hell, Sara. We’re really gonna finish this thing.”

The ride down the red carpet was almost as glorious as I had pictured. The announcer called my name, and Joe and I were there together at the end, just as we’d been together at the start. I did almost accidentally run him into a barrier when I attempted to throw my arms up in victory- but I’m pretty sure he’d tell you the important part was crossing that line, not the fact that I’d ruined our photo finish. But you’d have to ask Joe.

 

Second Time Around

A year later, and I’ve signed up again. Some things have changed.  This year feels less important, less epic, and I don’t have my friend Joe by my side. The first time that a challenge is taken up, there is adventure, and there is a sort of frontier of known experience to be crossed.  The second time, however, the task is inherently less interesting. The question, “Why are you doing this?” can no longer be answered with, “Because it is there. Because I don’t know that I can do it. Because I must try.” You’ve done it already. We’ve been to the moon once Neil, why spend all that money and go again?

Last year, I lived with my friend and riding partner (Paul “the Bulldog” Heimbach), a block away from my job at Sunflower. I was the assistant manager at a place I had loved since I was 18, working with a fantastic manager (some of you may remember Trent “the Gent” Sorensen).  Rides were easier to get in, I was more disciplined, I had a routine going, and it was working pretty well.

Also, I had just left grad school, where I was miserable. And it seemed clear to me that my new life was simpler, less stressful, and healthier. If I could just finish these hundred miles of gravel in the Flint Hills- things would be better. I would be better.

This is a story. My sister would quote Joan Didion here (she’s an English major at Rice). I’ll indulge her:

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live...We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely […] by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the 'ideas' with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience."

-Joan Didion, White Noise

 

This year that routine, that balance- has been missing. I use the word “balance” loosely here.

The balance of being good at my job, being a good girlfriend, being a good daughter, a good sister, of reading the books I want to read, and eating well- and getting the miles in. I feel constantly that I’m only very partially succeeding at a few of these at a time- and sometimes none of them at all.

Doing all of these things is an impossible task. People like to throw around the term “work/life balance.” They like to read and write self-help books, and pen little “How-To” articles on Facebook. This is all complete crap, of course.  Nobody can be good at all of these things. You have to pick what to salvage, and what to drop. Thank God, I think, I don’t have kids.

This year I’m out of college, searching for a purpose and a selfhood of my own now. There is less time to see the important people in my life. My twin sister is in Texas, reading Thoreau and George Elliot. My brother is doing his pharmacy thing in New York. Always the homebody, I’m the only kid left, and even now I feel like I barely ever see my parents anymore. I still work full-time at the Shop- only I don’t have a Captain to follow and stand beside. He’s given me the Bridge.

I am now responsible for a place that I love, and for a whole lot of people that I love. Things make less sense now, the lines are fuzzier, there’s more grey on the map. Which is probably how it was all along, that shifting phantasmagoria.

So why the Kanza? And why a second time?

I think it all comes down to the simple fact that riding bikes is fun. It has a lot of the simplicity of running, of getting somewhere by virtue of your sweat and your legs, but with less of the loneliness. Even when you’re riding by yourself, you have your bike. Your bike is your steed- if you take care of her, she’ll take care of you. You get the sun on your face and the wind in your hair, and the thrill of surfing down big gravel descents. Nothing feels better than a long descent after a grueling climb. Someone once said if you understand baseball, you understand life. I think there’s an argument there for cycling, too. Ups and downs, and all that.

There are rides that suck, but you live for the good ones, the rides where you feel strong, where you’re out of the saddle and it’ s just you and your bike and the gravel road ahead. No work, no friends you’re letting down. No worries.  For a few hours, things actually make more sense, and the lines are pretty sharp. It’s just you, your legs, your bike and a few hills thrown in.

I’m doing the Kanza again because it makes me a better person. Reba does it to see that other version of herself on the other side of the finish line, the Reba that she knows she can be. Dan knows even at mile 170, that as much as it sucks now- and it really, really sucks- he’s going to thank himself later for the perseverance.

It’s Sea Fever. The lonely sea of green grass and the sky. It’s the same reason that Captain Kirk will never be a decent Admiral. He needs to be at the helm of the Enterprise, heading into the stars of the Final Frontier. Just a tall ship and a star to steer her by.

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.*

 

Now, bring me that horizon.

The thing is, I actually like being Captain of the Starship. As a kid, my favorite Star Trek character wasn’t Mr. Spock, it was Captain Janeway (apologies for the mixed-franchise metaphor). She was fierce, brave, maternal, intelligent, and flawed. She wasn’t good at her marriage, she never had children (instead opting for the golden retriever proxy). Sometimes she made a bad decision. But she was a great Captain, and she loved her crew.

I love my crew. And I love riding the Dirty Kanza. Maybe a few rides have sucked these past couple of months, maybe I’ll be even slower this year than last year. But basically, I just have to get up on a Saturday morning and ride my bike all day. I’ll figure the rest of my life out later.

I quoted John Masefield earlier. He was a merchant seaman and a poet laureate. He wrote a lot about the call of the sea, and the siren song of adventure. Tennyson felt the same way, that saddling up and doing what’s difficult was necessary, instead sitting around and becoming but a name, to rust unburnish’d!

Here he is in his glory, because people don’t write like this anymore. They haven’t got the time, or the patience. They‘re too cynical, and too busy being ironic, or Instagramming pictures of themselves looking cool. Anyway. Here are words to live by, and a story to tell yourself:

 

Come, my friends,

'T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

-from Ulysses

 

*Masefield, John. Sea Fever.

 

 

 

 

May 11, 2015 by Andrew White