Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas 2008

From Christmas Eve & Christmas Day Drive to Dekalb - Views of Winter

I can't believe how the Fall rapidly receded into Winter and how we now have had sub-zero weather and several winter storms. I have only had one flight canceled so far this season, but that was due to a mechanical incident and not weather. Will my luck hold? I can't even enumerate the places I've been. My United miles runneth over, though.

I need to post some pictures of our trip to London and Paris over Thanksgiving. We had fish & chips for Thanksgiving dinner and didn't really miss the turkey much! I cannot say enough about the Evensong service at Westminster Abbey. If in London, at 5PM most days, the choir sings the service and the seating is but a few feet away from where nearly all the Kings and Queens of England have been crowned. Sitting in an 800+ year old space, surrounded by the tombs of the greatest citizens of the Empire, listening to the choir sing in Latin is simply marvelous.

The holiday season has been busy. Click here for some pictures of the drive to Dekalb on Christmas Eve and Christmas Morn. It was nice to spend time with family and friends on both sides of the family. Click here for some Prairie and Iroquois River pictures.

Merry Christmas to all and a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Germany - Jewish Museum - Final Night

Hi Gang,

Last night in Berlin. After we packed up and returned to the hotel we ventured out to the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The museum itself was beautiful in a very modern sense and the exhibits were technically very well done if multimedia is your thing. It covered the history of the Jews in Germany and Europe and the repeated pattern of persecution and assimilation. I found it surprisingly light on the Holocaust and almost feel like I missed something! After wandering back nearly to Checkpoint Charlie for a cab we headed back to the Ku'Damm and had dinner again at the Block House. Susann was again our waitress, taking Joe back to show him the t-bones, which was rather amusing. Dinner was good, but then it was time to pack and so we headed back to the hotel to get ready to depart for Frankurt. Here are some photos from last night!

Back home today .... can't wait to get a little sleep on the plane and get back home!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Germany - Funkturm & Schloss Charlottenburg

Hi Gang,

Took a walk yesterday ... a long walk, but it was nice to see a bit of Berlin or at least 6 km worth! Click here for the photos The Funkturm used to be the highest structure in Berlin and was referred to as their Eiffel Tower. It is right in the center of our convention center and so to step outside where the smokers gather puts you right at the base of it. You'll also see a view shots of our booth and surroundings. I commenced my walk and discovered a bike shop as large as a Dominicks or Jewel-Osco! But with the exchange rate not so much in my favor, I was able to avoid temptation! And I've got enough bags coming home! I then wandered into a cemetery for a look around. The graves were often lettered in gold which made the names pop out easily. Finally after a few more street shots, we get to Schloss Charlottenburg, early 17th century and I believe at one time the largest palace. Of course it was bombed heavily, but rebuilt. A few more street shots and my walk was complete, my feet tired. We'll see what today brings.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Germany - Berlin - Kaiser Wilhelm, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag & Checkpoint Charlie

Kevin in Berlin
Hi Gang,

Presently in Berlin and have had a little time to see the sites. Last evening after we got finished with the show for the day we walked to the Kaiser Wilhelm church and tonight we ventured out to see the Brandenburg Gate (Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!), the Reichstag and Checkpoint Charlie (You are now entering the American Sector). I'm too tired to fully describe things and hope to in the coming days, but for now, here are some pictures, though I know that with it being dusk they aren't stupendous by any stretch and I'm unlikely to win a photojournalism award:

Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag and Checkpoint Charlie
Kaiser Wilhelm Church and more

Check back soon. I apologize that this isn't my usual writing, but it has been a long day.

As ever,

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Finally at home in Downers Grove ...

Photo Credit Kim Butler of Chris and Kevin
Hi Gang,

Another criterium season winds to a close with the venerable National Championships Weekend in Downers Grove. Wheel Fast Racing was ably represented by myself and Chris Hammer racing Masters 30+ 4/5. With the race not until 4 in the afternoon, I had a lazy morning, getting the Bianchi ready, putting a 25T cog on my sew-ups and figuring that with the hill, light wheels would trump aero.

Chris and I discussed taking an amble around the course to scout out new potholes and just re-familiarize ourselves with a course that is lined with great and terrible memories. I quickly discovered that between corners 7 and 8 of the 8-turn mile long circuit that a wind tunnel occurred and after we registered I headed home to switch to the Bontrager Race Lite wheels. I know the hill on Summit is not a long climb, but I also knew that my power is a bit suspect and thought that hitting the 53x25 every lap would allow me to maintain speed with a good cadence and not waste a lot of what little power I could put to use. Now racing a 14 year old frame with 11 year old Campy Chorus bits in what is my favorite race seems perhaps counter-intuitive, but without worry I knew I could put my bike in any hole. I realized at the completion that this old bike melted away underneath me and I was focused on racing smart without a second thought, so attuned to the bike that it was simply an extension of my will. I know it sounds perhaps cliché, but it was true on Saturday. I never gave a second thought to the bicycle beneath me.

Our warm-up went great. Chris pre-softened his tire on my patio, a story I'll leave to him, but we worked up through our heart rate zones and got the sweat pouring. Chris indicated that he wanted to put in a hard effort at the beginning of the race. I thought to myself, that's great, I just want to finish with the field. Lofty goals. Actually, that isn't fair. I had several goals for the race: stay near the front early, expend no energy on the climb, stay near Chris, and finally make it to the finish with the leaders.

Chris and I joined the field of 75 and ended in the third row at the start. Neither of us was pleased, but on the right hand side I knew we could make a jump and hopefully get up quickly. After posing for pictures that Stephen and Kim were taking, the official gave instructions, and we set out. Chris and I both got a good jump and we were right up at the fronPhoto Credit Kim Butler of Kevin Butler Downers Grove ILt of the race. Fantastic. Now to maintain it. We turned the first lap at a rapid clip. I headed through 8 to the roar of my personal fan-club. Thanks to Stephen & Stephanie, Mom & Dad, and Tim & Maddie for showing up to cheer. Coming up the street I could hear Kim giving Chris and I plenty of encouragement and taking pictures. As we continued we picked up the cheers of Scott and John. I know Laura, Matt and Chris' mom are out there pulling for us, too. It was great!

True to his word after a lap or two Chris went up and put a monster effort in, pulling free with two riders that found they couldn't match his horsepower so soon in a race and quickly were back in the field. I'm sitting about 6th wheel for the Chris Hammer show. Should I ease off and let a gap open? I knew it would be tough for me to try and control the front much and I made a quick decision that rather than drop back and give up position I'd just watch the show.

Photo Credit John Wrycza the next lap and a half or so, the crowd was treated to a beautiful view of Chris' yellow & blue Bicycles Etc. shorts as his legs drove on his Easton EA70 wheels sparkling in the afternoon sun. We were going single file, tongues out, but the great thing was that being at the front we weren't touching brakes in the turns and I wasn't having to accelerate as heavily. It was great. Kim said that the announcer gave Chris some much deserved love on the PA. Finally we catch Chris. As he drifts on my right side I give him some encouragement and he slots back in. Fantastic.

We continue to speed around the course, Chris and I never leaving our spots near the head of the pack. It was tough, I'll be honest when I saw that only 13 minutes had elapsed I questioned whether I'd indeed see the end, but I hung tough, finding Chris' backside my target – don't leave Chris.

We did have a good wreck. For Marky Mac & Tire I will recount that on Summit a guy somehow touched a wheel or did something else foolish and hit the deck. His head landed by my right pedal and I heard the smack on the ground has his helmet collapsed, saving his brain long enough for him to get run over from behind, the riders bunching in as the front slowed up and over the climb. I heard the grunt Photo Credit John Wrycza body went over body and instinctively, as any criterium veteran knows, punched it. We made the left hander onto Main Street and dropped down the hill at a dizzying pace. I only saw 33.1 as a max, but it might have been here. However, the field didn't split.

What I don't clearly remember is whether the next break was away at the time of the wreck. Two guys got down the road, maybe Lot and Tower Racing?? I don't quite recall and will rely on Chris' photographic memory to fill in that detail. They got maybe 50 meters and sat out there for awhile, but the guys at the front didn't view it a large threat.

I continue to hear Stephen from the sidelines in my ear admonishing me to “stay up there.” We are hitting the corners pretty hard now and sometimes are finding 4 riders abreast. It is a bit scary, but everybody is riding pretty smoothly and nobody is taking chances near me at least. I see 3 laps to go and realize that my little goals are turning into reality. Chris and I are still near the front and I'm not completely spent. I'm a bit stunned after nearly being the veritable Lantern Rouge, or for those that aren't cycling fans per se, the last official finisher, of Chicago and Elk Grove.

We roll through for the bell. 1 lap to go. 1 mile more. It is three lines of riders streaming up Main Street and Chris and I are right in the middle. Suddenly, the rider in front of Chris backs off the accelerator. What the heck? We lose spots. Crud. We were sitting pretty with one lap to go and now are facing probably 25 riders ahead in the blink of an eye. That's bike racing for you. One moment you're on top of the world, the next your back's on the asphalt staring at a blue sky.

With nothing else to do, we charge onward trying to regain some position. The descent is screaming and it is impossible to move up. The four final turns are a blur. We exit through 8 and I hear my fans, shift and sprint. Chris is right ahead.Photo Credit John Wrycza We're definitely outside of the Top 10 which is a bit disappointing, but I achieved every goal I set out to achieve and so that disappointment is very short lived. I'm still in the front half of a strong field, I kept the bike upright, and I didn't embarrass myself in front of my fan club. I catch up to Chris on our cool-down lap and we chat briefly about it as our heart rates drop out of the clouds. I head over to chat with my fans, everybody is really excited. I'm pretty thrilled with the outcome. It is always nice to have a good ride on my home streets.

I still don't know what my official place was for the race. We averaged about 24.5 mph for a touch over 30 minutes. I spent half that time with my tongue definitely hanging out when I checked my HRM – 16 minutes with the heart doing 3 beats a second or faster and 15 minutes with it doing slightly less, for a race average of 171 BPM. About right on for this distance.

We head back to my house with Scott & John meeting us and enjoy the wonderful post-race recovery drink provided by our friends at Two Brothers Brewing in Warrenville. Chris finds his favorite “Dog Days” while I enjoy a “Bitter End”. The only thing I found bitter in the day is that my fitness is finally arriving as the season closes. Downers Grove is inexorably for me the end of Summer, that sign that it is time to head back to school, for indeed it once symbolized that back in the early 90's when I first discovered Downers Grove as university student in Urbana. It is a bitter-sweet weekend for me. I know there are good days ahead and more miles to be spent on the bike with my friends, but the days are already getting shorter. I know we'll be watching the leaves change in Argonne before we blink.

I would be remiss without giving one last plug to our fantastic sponsors. First, Brian and the entire team at Bicycles Etc. do an excellent job keeping our bikes and wheels rolling. I've raced two different bikes and four sets of wheels without issue this season and that is in no small part due to their skill. Our meetings would be far less fun without the sponsorship of Two Brothers Brewing. Thanks to Jim, Jason and Gabe and the whole crew there that keep us well hydrated. My Giro helmet kept my head safe while my Easton wheels were a dream to ride. The chains stay lubed with Boeshield and the yellow Oury grips complement my WFR-blue mountain bike, shod with Kenda tires. I know there is a difference of opinion on our shorts, but the Voler kit in bright yellow & blue makes it pretty darn easy to find Chris in a crowed field. It is an expensive sport and the sponsorship of these terrific people keep us rolling.

Finally, a photo credit for some of the images in this post to John Wrycza. Visit for more fantastic images!

Hopefully I'll check in another time or two this fall, but otherwise, after a couple of years of not racing as much as I'd hoped due to a variety of events, I'm happy to be back going fast again and thrilled that 08 ended on a very high note that will carry me into 2009. With the new Masters 4/5 appearing more and more on the schedules, I'm really excited about racing next season and really excited about the prospect of having Stephen re-join us. Now that it has taken longer to summarize the race than it took to race, I'll draw this to a merciful close. Thanks to all of you reading this for your friendships and support.

As ever,

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Rough day in the saddle - Good day at the Tap House

Well, I was feeling pretty good about my racing so far after two solid finishes. I knew that Winfield would be a test because of the two-step climb on the backstretch of the course, but I hoped that I could make it through 30 minutes and 3 laps. It was an absolutely gorgeous day to be racing a bike - 80 degrees, light breeze, plenty of sun. My warm-up went ok and so I wasn't too nervous.

Kim was joined by my Aunt Rita. Aunt Rita is without doubt the reason I got into cycling. Thanks to her, I rode my first "real" bike, her Miyata 1000 that she rode from West Chicago to the race. Her stories of centuries and RAGBRAI fueled my imagination and soon I had my Schwinn Traveler. It was great to have fans, especially one that was so instrumental to my early love of this sport.

Over 60 of us lined up to race this pleasant Sunday morning. They staged us and to get the timing back on track, we weren't given a warm-up lap. Just as well. I lined up in the second row. After instructions, off we went.

The first couple of turns were fine and soon we faced the demon that would haunt this day, a two-step climb into a left-hand turn. The first lap wasn't so bad. I was pleased with my legs and thought it might be an ok outing. We flew through the final turn and proceeded to go just flat-out down Winfield Road. They announced a $20 prime on the very next lap. Ouch. Again the hill wasn't awful. My heart rate was staying high, but things would settle, right? The third lap was harder. We were not backing off the throttle at all. We were going single file down Winfield.

I stayed in contact and just waited to see the lap counter. 17 minutes into the 30 minutes I was nearly finished. It was all I could do not to get gapped and the hill was now torturing me. I just didn't have the leg strength to power, and by bailing to my 53x23 my heart stayed high. Crud. At 20 minutes I finally came unglued. Kim asked how much longer I was going to go now that my end was near. I yelled back one more lap. The final time up the hill was rough. Now in my 39 I knew that I have work ahead. A flat crit is one thing, but a hill will need some training. And so I withdrew after 24 minutes. It was a tough reminder about how hard racing can be and a positive reminder that I really can't expect to race on the weekends without riding during the week and hope for any better. Ok, lesson learned.

So, with my bike and wheels loaded we set off for home, but decided to detour and hit our Wheel Fast sponsor, Two Brothers Brewing. They opened their new restaurant Two Brothers Tap House recently and it was good to grab a great meal after the race and support Wheel Fast Racing's beer sponsor. We took home a growler of The Bitter End to drink later. I had the mac & cheese with ham and a pint of Bitter End while Kim had the Veggie Delight with sweet potato fries along with a pint of their cask-conditioned ale. The food has always been great, the service friendly, and beer without a doubt is fabulous! So,

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bike the Drive

Sunday was Bike the Drive where Lake Shore Drive is closed to cars and bikes can ride from Jackson as far north as Bryn Mawr and as far south as MSI. We set off at about 7AM, Kim on her GT mountain bike with a semi-slick up front and a slick from the trainer (why I didn't get two slicks I'll never know!) on the rear and me taking the Bianchi. This might not be something I'd do every year, but it is a great reminder that we live in a wonderful city. I've been to all 50 states and a lot of great place, but this ride was a reminder that of everywhere I've been in the world, Chicago is still my favorite. If you're curious, Sydney Australia is next up. The ride up the lake front benefited from a nice tailwind and so we cruised easily along amongst the 10's of Thousands of participants. The bikes varied from the ridiculously expensive to the "I don't know how that even is ridable!" Still needing some baggy mtn bike shorts for days like this, I pulled on the blue & yellow Wheelfast kit and all was good. The view of the lake, the beaches and the beautiful buildings that line our shore was just spectacular. We just eased along with no hurry, passing and being passed. It was glorious. Amongst the crowds of bikes, it was a reminder that even though we race and so often are focused on our heart rate and cadence and power output and our sprints and climbing and skills, that at least for me, riding a bike is about fun. Sometimes we lose sight of the "fun" when results or training doesn't go our way, but a ride like this is a great notice that when we're out on two wheels it should be fun and take us back to be kids again.

Resurrrecting the Cannondale

After having Brian @ Bicycles Etc update the faithful John Cherry frame to Campy Chorus 10, my trusty Bianchi from 1993 has stood ready with the worn but serviceable Campy Chorus 9 speed, and a gentle reminder that the Giro d'Italia has been a tremendous race so far this year! Where does that leave the Japanese Shimano 105 parts that disgraced the glory of Italy for all those years? Well, since 1990 a Cannondole has been kicked around and ended up in my basement. Having first been raced under Bryn in some NCCA races for the University of Illinois before being taken up by Wheelfast member and my brother Stephen and seeing still more duty on the NCCA circuit, the venerable bicycle has seen some combat. It was last pedaled the day before my wedding now 12 years ago this past weekend in driving and cold rain that left the trio of us nearly hypothermic, quite literally. It has hung with down-tube shifters in my basement since as first Bryn then Stephen moved away. As they say, possession is 9/10ths of the law, and 12 years in my basement makes it mine. So, it took control of the Shimano 105 parts and saw its first voyage in 12 years on Sunday. For those of you that recall the hey-day of the Cannondale 3.0 and 2.8 frames, they were beasts, solid beyond words and as uncomfortable a ride as one could imagine. So, as I departed for a 17 mile ride yesterday, I longed for my nice custom steel frameset. It was a miserable ride into a headwind. The rear was so stiff it hurt. Maybe a carbon seatpost could cure it, but this is the spare's spare, not a bike for much use. The headwind was terrible and I was unhappy, even in the warmth and sunshine. Then I turned around and fell in love, or at least "like". These particular Cannondales were designed to do one thing great - crits. And so as I headed back, now cruising at 25 mph the bike suddenly improved and proved that it was really great at going fast and handling great at speed. In the sheltered peloton this bike now nearly 20 years old, sporting 14 year old Shimano parts, could still hold its own. Just don't take it out on a long ride where comfort would be desired. It will see action some Tuesday night.

Give the guy a shoe and make him wait!

Saturday was stop number 2 on Kevin's Summer Criterium Tour. Back to Wooddale. For my long time readers and a few of my teammates you'll recall a story from probably 5 years ago in which several of us (Tony & John maybe???) raced the ABR National Championships at Wooddale in rain coming down so hard it literally hurt to keep the eyes open and left 3" of water in the turns. It was the heaviest rain I've ever faced and it was stupid that we continued, but we race bikes and we couldn't watch our heros on the cobbles of France and Belgium and feel a bit of what they face if we didn't persist in such ugly circumstances. Saturday was altogether different - sunshine and a light breeze that would meet us on the back stretch and through Turns 3 and 4. I'd guess around 50 or so lined up for the Masters 30+/Cat 4 event. Also sporting the Yellow & Blue Wheelfast Racing / Bicycles Etc. kit is Chris Hammer. We'd warmed up together and our plan was to survive and see what happened at the end of the race. I was really glad to have some company.

As we lined up, I noticed lots of high-end gear and the guy behind me was sporting Cosmic Carbones. I felt a little naked on my Bianchi sporting my Bontrager wheels and suddenly wished I'd have brought the Cherry with the new Eastons. We set off fast. I moved up and we sailed through the first couple of turns without brakes. It was great! Like at Monsters I wanted to stay up near the front as long as I could and the plan seemed to be a good one until a Team Mack rider attacked with another rider. Suddenly the two other Mack riders blocked and they had a decent gap. Crap! Somehow I end up at the front and a rider behind started "encouraging" me to chase. So, like an idiot I did. I took a hard pull and began looking for an assist. Nobody wanted to pull through! Crap! How on earth did I end up at the sharp end of the race? Finally, an Albertos rider takes over the chase and soon the field gets in on the action and it is once again together. I'm pretty gassed from the effort and drift back a touch letting the heart come down to earth. I could finish the day knowing that I'd done something to impact the race. I made my contribution rather than just sitting in. I hoped I wouldn't regret it.

So far things have been pretty smooth and we're taking the corners fast without much braking and things have felt pretty safe. Then, I'm reminded why I brought the Bianchi. Kim was taking pictures and happened to be right near the action. She says that she heard a rider start yelling "Flat! Flat! and begin to raise his arm to signal his position and give us a chance to get around. However, I think a rider advancing up the inside probably wasn't paying attention. Suddenly it is chaos. Bikes are flipping end over end. The air is filled with screaming riders. Then there is the "Ooooof" as riders are hit by the bikes behind and riders begin their tumble to the ground. There's the scape of metal on pavement. As we are cornering the carnage goes from the inside out and there is a veritable tidal wave. I look for an out and realize I should be able to squeak it through on the outside or right. In my peripheral vision I see the cascade of flipping bikes and realize that the wave is about to catch my back end. I hold my breath waiting for the collision and make it through unscathed. I know I'm not great at bike racing and I probably never will be, but I've done this enough times to know what is about to happen. My thumb makes two clicks and I accelerated to match the group that had survived. With an effort we could break the field in half and decide the race out of the 15 of us that survived. But, the resulting body count left everybody curious as to the status of their comrades. I couldn't get near enough Kim to inquire about Chris as passed her on the next lap. The safety truck was out and a rider was already in the bed along with his bike. The wheel pit had a few riders return. I still hadn't seen Chris. We slowed a touch, though, my heart dropped, and Chris pedaled up. Fantastic! He hadn't been collected in the fray. Kim figured 10 riders exited as a result of the crash. We continued to press forward. We are still hitting the turns pretty fast and at one point take the tight Turn 1 four wide. I've got a rider coming underneath me and find my bars two inches away from the rider's hip to my outside. If any of us deviate from our line, I'm cooked. I made it through and the laps kept ticking down. With about 5 laps to go we get an announcement. Not the usual Prime Lap announcement, but the following: "Would the teammate of Rider .... PLEASE withdraw from the race. You are needed to take your teammate for X-Rays." In all of my years, I've never heard them ask for a rider to withdraw like this. First, we've got 5 to go. Second, if the guy doesn't need an ambulance, he can tough out the pain for enough time to let his teammate finish. What could it be? A wrist? A collarbone? Give the guy a shoe to bite down on and make him wait!

We're are now with 3 laps to go! We are flying through and it is pretty hard to advance. I'm sitting mid-field and it is tough. The backstretch had been friendly to being able to move up, but now the speeds are such that forward progress is tough. Chris comes near me, but we are powerless to get to good position. We finally get the bell and things are crazy. We sail through the turns and in a rush find ourselves rounding 4 and heading to the line. Chris and I both put in a good effort, but we're just in the field.

We averaged about 24 mph for 17 miles which wasn't shabby for May. My avg heart rate was 175 bpm and 20 minutes of the 45 minutes of racing saw me above 178 bpm. It was hard, but I didn't feel completely trashed. Now I just need to find time to ride this week with a trip to Atlanta intervening. Next stop is Winfield this Sunday! It has a two-step climb on the back-stretch which will challenge. I know I can compete in a flat crit, but what happens when they had a hill? We'll see soon enough.

Anyway, I hope everybody had a great Memorial Weekend!

Chris took 23rd - Kevin took 25th