Monday, March 16, 2009

Toronto International Bike Show

Marked on cyclists' calendars from far and wide, March 13-15 was the weekend for nerding out on bikes. Held at the Direct Energy Centre, the recession didn't keep folks away from a day at the EX.

The Bike show features all the manufacturers in the industry hawking the newest and greatest parts, gear, apparel and bikes. There's a marketplace where shops can set up their wares and sell them for special deals. (I gave all my money to Kona for their rad hoodies at low low prices! I even got to meet the "Kona Lisa", who's name is on every Kona women's bike.) Charity rides and bike tours take up a corner on the show floor, along with advocacy groups and race organizers. BMXers gather to watch pros and amateurs jam. At the indoor dirt-track set up for the weekend, 4X racers and tricksters show their stuff on mountain and bmx bikes. And for a real treat, Ryan Leech set up for Trials demos and a seminar offering his views on the mind game of riding.

The Show Floor
I set out from work as soon as I could on Friday afternoon to register in the 4x event and visit the boys at the Sweet Pete's booth. Once I was signed up, wrist-banded, bike-banded and armoured, I went to check out the dirt track.

I bought the STP last year after test-riding one at the show, and never expected to be strapping a number plate to its handlebars. Racing 4X is not in my area of expertise. But where else can you ride dry dirt in March? My $30 entry got me show access for the weekend, a ton of practice (read, FUN) on a decent course and three rounds of racing. Pretty good deal, considering the show is ~$15/day on its own.

My only race goal was to avoid breaking anything, so I won! In my first moto, ("moto" is to bike-racing what "heat" is to track and field) I tried to pass a girl on the inside of the final berm and washed out my front wheel in the loose dirt. Crashing in 4X isn't the same as in XC -- in XC, I usually know it's coming! I was caught completely off guard on this one and hit the ground lacking all grace and style. I brushed myself off and rode another two rounds, improving my performance only by not bailing. But I didn't embarass myself either. I was racing girls with a ton of experience and they didn't leave me in the dirt, so I count it a success.

The Race Track

Once racing was over, I decided on another mission: enter every single draw possible. So hopefully I win a car/weekend getaway/bike/gift basket/gym bag. That mission forced me to check out all the vendors' booths. Some cool stuff out there that's for sure. I saw bike boxes that don't look big enough to hold a bike, hold a bike. I saw skin suits that claim to help muscle recovery. Insoles that make your feet happy. I sampled some power bars that didn't taste quite so "power bar". I saw all kinds of fancy new bicycles. I saw foodstuff charged at four times what you'd pay outside the EX. Truly amazing stuff.

Probably my favourite part of the weekend was the talk given by Ryan Leech: "The Mind Game of Riding". He told us he was inspired by a book he read when he was 12 called "Inner Skiing" (he started out as a skier! who knew?) that changed his life. The seeds that book planted helped him become one of Canada's great cycling treasures. He talked about not letting your ego get in the way of your riding. The ego is that voice in your head that won't shut up. It's usually concerned with what other people think, or how whatever you're doing translates into self-worth. It's not the "self" you should be relying on. The "self" you should rely on is your "true self" -- it comes from a place much deeper than your ego. You know you're doing it right when you get into the zone. I call that my "Racy Place". It's really tough to get there, and once you're there, your ego usually starts yapping again and it's gone. When I'm in my Racy Place, everything in my head is quiet and the harder it is, the easier it is. I feel like a Jedi racing through the trees, but at the same time, it's like slow motion. Conversely, if I'm suffering in a race, I stop focusing on what I'm doing. I just get frustrated with other riders, clumsy, and very unhappy. Ryan's talk really helped put some more context behind what's happening upstairs when I'm racing, training ... existing in general.

Ryan and his adoring fans

All in all, it was a great geek weekend for riders. The best part of the show is seeing all your riding buddies, racing pals and shop friends all in one place. You get to hear about how they spent their winters preparing for the next season. And soon ... it'll be here!
In 4X, where you start in the gate can be a huge advantage. To keep things fair, your moto-position is "in the cards." Here a rider draws a favourable spot!
The dreaded Gate Start. Riders must balance in the start gate until the green light drops the gate. There's an art to the timing of it all and a good gate will usually earn you a win. It's intimidating the first few times, for sure.
Here's me on the course. Photo cred: Liz!
Kona will give kids a sticker if they sing, break-dance, high five someone they don't know, or tip their caps to passing ladies. When they ran out of stickers they gave out Fun Dip instead.

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