Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring Rites

This weekend, two spring rites that I don't believe have ever occupied the same weekend occurred -- my annual trip to New Jersey and New York for the auto show, and my first real ride of the year.

Auto Show
I took Friday afternoon off from work and headed straight from Lowell to my friend Brian's house in New Jersey. The ride down was really pretty painless -- maybe 4 3/4 hours, which from Lowell seemed pretty good. There was only one tight spot in traffic (accident outside of Hartford), and that maybe cost me 15 minutes.

Saturday was a beautiful day, and we rolled out after a late breakfast without jackets - the first time I think we've ever been able to do that. And the show itself was pretty good. It seemed smaller than in past years because there were several missing manufacturers, either from brands being killed off or because they didn't show up (no Ferrari, for example, from what I could tell). But that really just made it easier to get around, and most of the missing brands didn't do anything for me anyway. I was a little disappointed that a couple of the cars listed in the iPhone app for the show weren't there, but I suspect I'll live.

This year, as last, Ford seemed to be pulling the most activity, though the BMW booth was jammed too. Ford had the new Fiesta there in sedan and hatchback guises, as well as next year's new Focus, also in 4- and 5-door configurations. One of the missing cars from the iPhone app was the Focus C-Max, which is essentially something like a Mazda5, but maybe a little shorter. For a divorced soccer dad with two girls, a dog and our bikes, a car like that makes a lot of sense, and I'll probably move into something like it the next time I buy a car. I'm not planning to replace my Mazda3 any time soon, but in a couple of years I'll need to do something. It's racking up the miles quickly (120k and only 50 months old), and starting to get some rust bubbles on the door window frames.

The Chevrolet booth was supposed to have the Orlando on display, but it wasn't there either, despite what the iPhone app said. The concept was more muscular than the C-Max or Mazda5, and had conventional doors, and I'm interested to see how it'll compare to those. Next year, perhaps!

One car I really liked is the new Buick Regal. Yeah, I know -- the name is a throwback to my high school days. But that aside, this is an Opel Insignia, transplanted here from Germany virtually unchanged. It's got an attractive and well-finished interior, great seats, all the features you'd expect in a European or Japanese car, and no evidence that I could find of cheapening. It compared favorably to the Saab 9-3 or the small Volvos, and if there were a wagon version, it might be a contender for my next car. But whether it's right for me or not, it looks like a great car and I genuinely hope GM sells a million of them.

The Toyota booth was relatively quiet and the mood contrite. They didn't have the FE-86 concept on display, which might have helped things a bit. But there seemed to be plenty going on over at Lexus and Scion, so maybe all of the brands haven't been tarnished by the accelerator problems. But honestly, I think Toyota's biggest problem is that their line-up looks dated. The freshest designs are the new Sienna minivan and the new-last-year Venza -- how depressing is that?

I should say that the people working the booths this year seemed extra helpful. I had one woman chase me down to give me better answers about the Ford C-Max than she'd been able to offer initially, and a woman at the Chevrolet booth sought out an expert from the Detroit debut of the Orlando concept for me to ask questions of. Now, these folks are being paid to be helpful, but it was clear that something had changed from prior years to this year. Maybe there really is a new level of humility in corporate Detroit after the catastrophes of 2008 and 2009? Time will tell, but I liked the experience.

After the show, we walked across the city to Hillstone's (formerly Houston's) for a late lunch that proved sufficient to cover dinner as well. Good stuff, and as always the wait staff was superb. It had gotten windy and a little chilly, so we cabbed it back to Penn Station for the ride home.

First Ride
The weather has been absolutely gorgeous all weekend, which makes up for the downpours that caused unprecedented levels of flooding in my basement earlier in the week (6 or so inches, across the whole basement -- ugh). That made for the most painless ride home from New Jersey ever (4 hours flat, including two quick stops), and left me with an afternoon to fill between driving home and Easter dinner at the folks' house. The weather proved too much to resist, so I took the Kestrel out of the attic, pumped the tires up a bit more and set off for a ride.

And it felt absolutely fantastic to be out there. This is much earlier than I usually go, and though the roads were still pretty badly potholed from the winter and the recent rains, the sand had mostly been rinsed away, even though the towns haven't rolled out their street sweepers yet.

I followed my normal workout route over to Route 30 in Southborough, following it to 135 in downtown Westborough, then following that to 85 in downtown Hopkinton, then finally heading back into Southborough. Traffic was really light, presumably because so many people were home for Easter dinner -- lots of evidence of family gatherings, in the form of houses with many cars in the driveway. The computer on the Kestrel read 19.67 miles, which is shorter than I think it's ever read for the same route, so I need to measure the circumference of the new Vittoria tires and program the computer more precisely (I just used the internal preset for 700x23). They felt fine outside, by the way -- maybe a little harsher than I remember Vredestein Fortezza's feeling, but in fairness it's been years since I had a set of those on the Kestrel.

I felt really strong. There weren't many other riders out there, but I passed a few heading the other way, plus one on an aero-bar'ed Cervelo heading my way. He seemed tired, especially after he poured it on to retake the lead on a nice downhill, so maybe it was near the end of his ride. Or maybe it's just as early in his season as it was in mine. Either way, it felt good to pass a guy on a $4-5000 bike, while wearing sneakers and a tee shirt. Twice. And climbing, at that! Usually I'm a weak climber because I'm pretty heavy. But perhaps not, this season. I felt pretty strong.

Speaking of downhill stretches, I really do need to do something about the Kestrel. I just don't have confidence in it anymore and kept speeds below 25 mph, where in the past I have attempted and achieved nearly double that speed on the hill out of Hopkinton Center. When I sell the house, I'll call Rivendell and order a Roadeo, hopefully in time to get some use out of it this summer.

Wrapping up the ride, I was not at all prepared for the pain when I got off the bike! The muscles and tendons under my sit bones were positively screaming once I stood up, particularly on the left side. I need to toughen those up! Some of it may be that I've lost a bunch of weight since last season (15 lbs since New Year's), and some of it is probably the pounding from the crappy roads. Stretching helped, but time in the saddle is really what's needed.

Which I should have plenty of, come May. My last day at my current job is going to be 4/30, and I don't have anything lined up yet. I'm looking forward to logging a bunch of miles and working out the mental and physical kinks on the bike, so that when I do land, I'm fully recharged and ready to go!

All for now,


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