It was a beauty — and I wanted it.
It being a McMahon titanium bicycle racing frame.
I held no illusions that it would make me faster. I knew it wouldn’t.
But even so the allure of pedaling something so slick and weighing a full pound less than my LeMond Rainbow Jersey top-end steel frame was just too much. I had to have it.
So 23 years ago I plunked down $3,000 and put the $4,500 balance on a credit card and took delivery of a customized titanium bicycle from Delta Cyclery in Stockton.
It was the more than twice the $2,800 I had paid three years previously for the LeMond.
This was back when bicycling and breathing were one in the same for me. I was still putting in 250 miles a week including an 80- to a 110-mile ride on Sundays. I wasn’t a racer — not by a long shot. I know because I tried and failed miserably save for team triathlons where my ability to jam all out for 15 or so miles was effective enough so that when I was paired with a serious runner and an accomplished swimmer we consistently managed top 10 finishes in our age group. This, of course, was before serious athletes got involved in fringe sports and long before the appeal of cycling started attracting hardcore athletes.
After the new bicycle lust wore off — perhaps 14 months — I finally realized something. I preferred the $2,800 steel bicycle over the $7,500 titanium bicycle. Back then, folks warned you that the gains in performance after spending $700 for a solid bicycle were extremely small and extremely expensive. While there was a world of difference between a $200 bicycle and a $700 bicycle, there wasn’t much measurable difference between a $700 bicycle and a $1,500 bicycle except the price.
And because the titanium frame was a bit more stiff which means less energy was “wasted” pedaling, my body felt a 100-mile ride more on the McMahon than the LeMond.
Oddly enough there is a lesson here for those lusting after artificial football field turf and all-weather tracks for high school stadiums within the Manteca Unified School District.
An artificial surface won’t enhance performance. Let’s face it. Given that the function between that and a top-end well-maintained grass field is miniscule at best, it isn’t worth the expense. And if it was all that critical for a winning team, there would not be a single stadium left in the NFL with natural grass.
It is cool to play on artificial turf, right? Nothing says you’ve arrived as much as playing on multi-million dollar synthetics extracted from barrels of oil.
A funny thing about my two bicycles, though. Virtually everyone that sees the two assumes the LeMond is much more expensive. It’s kind of like when you see a well-manicured and fertilized lawn as opposed to artificial turf side-by-side. The artificial lawn looks blah and — after a while — kind of ghetto. The well-cared for lawn oozes images of a country club.
Then there are practical issues. I started running — when possible — at 3 o’clock in the afternoon during the summer even on days when it was 100 degrees plus. It is when the temperature reaches its zenith. It can be brutal jogging on concrete and asphalt after four miles or so. I started doing so after a Manteca firefighter I had seen jogging at that ungodly time told me he did so because it was the best way to condition for the heat.
I have never seen high school football teams practice at 3 p.m. in the summer even during hell week. In fact, I’ve never seen high school football teams run or do drills on concrete or asphalt at 3 p.m. on an August afternoon. Artificial turf will elevate surface temperatures to reflect running on concrete at 3 p.m. on Aug. 15.
And given the fact I’ve had more than my share of tumbles, I can tell you without reservation my body would rather slam into grass than concrete or a synthetic base with give consistent with asphalt.
You might also try jogging for a few months every day on asphalt and concrete before you say “yea” or “nay” to artificial turf. I guarantee you will favor the asphalt over concrete as it has somewhat as a give to ease the constant pounding. Grass when compared to artificial turf is much the same.
As for injuries, I can show you three humdingers of scars I still have from one time when I slammed into the pavement going 45 mph downhill on a bicycle, tripped on a crack on a sidewalk and was unable to break my fall in time, and the other slipping on early morning ice while jogging by IHOP. For comparison I can point to where I took nasty spills on grass or dirt either running or hiking. You won’t see any permanent scars as the impact wasn’t as traumatic.
Although I love my McMahon there are times I wished I had spent the $7,500 on something else since I already had a perfectly fine $2,800 steel bicycle that never let me down as long as I took care of its maintenance. A year later getting married and then shortly afterwards buying my first house, I thought about how that $7,500 would have come in mighty handy.
There was a saying for the longest time in bicycling circles when carbon fiber first started popping up: “Steel is real”
The same thing can be said about high school football fields and grass.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.