Grandfather’s axe

The crunch of finely ground dirt and gravel under my tires seems to amplify my sense of speed in the early-morning mist. That peculiar sound adds a sense of urgency, of pursuit. It is fitting given the way the path winds between some of the Revolutionary War’s most important sites in Minute Man National Historical Park.

It is a road for remembrance just after dawn. British and American flags sprout like spring buds from cracks in stone fences. This testament, while somber, is also a beautiful reminder of why a simple trip by bicycle can be imbued with so much more when you can lose yourself in your surroundings.

Such practiced reverie takes work Yet I was regularly preoccupied during my first solo outings along Battle Road.


Blood sport

A black and gold jersey spattered in blood is nothing new in sport. In Boston, that’s called hockey.

How long before that’s called cycling?

Spectators of the world’s greatest bike races are seeing more and more high-definition trauma, the spindly kings of the road frequently seen painfully pedaling along with Oakleys askew, yellow jersey in tatters as if they tried to elbow a hungry black bear for a choice dumpster. It’s a long way from a NASCAR track’s crash-lust, but this year’s European stage races showed a new, bloodier side of the sport.

Tragedy is unfortunately nothing new in cycling, particularly in the Tour de France, but it is supposed to be a rarity.


Road feel

The 11 riders in the finale of this year’s Paris-Roubaix were all exceptional cyclists whose faces were so cracked and lined with sweat and dust that a fortune teller could have read their fates like a dying man’s palm.

This is a race notorious for the toll it takes on men and machines. So grueling is the 257-kilometer course that a team director must use every known technological trick available in order to better insulate his racers from the bone-shaking suffering on the cobblestones of Northern France.

Yet in this year’s winning break, two of the riders appeared to be racing without gloves, usually the first-line of defense in the 111-year old running battle against the pave. One such rider was John Degenkolb, riding for Team Giant-Shimano. The other was Omega Pharma-Quick-Step’s Tom Boonen.

This is a race Boonen was destined to win again and again. He has four times, though he came up short this year when his teammate soloed to the line. There are riders whose relationships with certain races, the terrain or the climate, are as profound as a marriage. It would be hard to find a cyclist, professional or amateur, who is not secretly wracked with a kind of jealousy over Roubaix’s regular embrace of Boonen.


Skating ahead of the puck, in space

In sport, it is harder to imagine equipment with a tougher life than a hockey puck. It survives on the ice because it is made from rubber. To an engineer like Dr. Peter Wegner, former head of the Defense Department’s Office of Operationally Responsive Space, it is a perfect model of resilience. An understanding of resilience is especially important when it comes to America’s national security policy toward military and commercial satellites.

Dr. Wegner, currently Director of Advanced Concepts at Utah State University Space Dynamics Laboratory, and Charles Miller, a former NASA advisor who is president of NexGen Space LLC, joined an American Security Project panel in Washington on Thursday to talk about the asymmetric threats to U.S. space assets. It’s a long list, from Chinese anti-satellite missiles to errant space junk to determined hackers. Given how fragile and vulnerable satellites are, and how dependent the military is upon them, America needs a far more robust launch capability in order to replace those systems when they are inevitably damaged or destroyed during a crisis. That has not happened yet, but it is certain to.

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No helmet required

Visitors once saw New York as a really dangerous place, rife with sharp knives and a serrated demeanor that has largely been purged from Manhattan. It’s been years since you could smoke in a bar. Bottles are feared not for their utility as a street fighter’s weapon but for their caloric payload. Yet there is still a way to taste the perils of the past. The Citi Bike is your time machine.

See the essay at

Medium: How Larry Ellison Can Save The America’s Cup

Operating with a level of secrecy on par with anything in America’s intelligence community, the boat designers and engineers designing America’s Cup boats produce some of sailing’s most jaw-dropping advances. It is just one sign of the Cup’s rising price.

The cost of a campaign to even try to make it to the final races and contest for the massive trophy is so large that it would make a Formula 1 team manager blush. There is another cost and that is the alienation of the public. Yet the latest round of the America’s Cup, won by Oracle Team USA, thrilled audiences who watched the daring high-speed sailing on San Francisco Bay. The boats were as extreme as the reported $100 million it cost Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison to hold on to the cup. In this race, the narrative of the richest guy winning dominated, particularly after his team rolled right over its rivals in a historic comeback.

If the America’s Cup is to survive that narrative needs to shift and Mr. Ellison is the unlikely person to do it. He ought to give away the top secret plans for his boats to help make the America’s Cup what could become a more competitive open-source event.


Riding on

A neighbor walked by the other day as I sat out front reading and he looked at me with a smile.


For kids on bikes, it’s been spring for weeks already. They shake off the chill in the evening, their parents’ preoccupation with tragedy near and far and they ride. Best of all, they call us to ride with them.

And we do. There is no better way to put a tough winter behind you than to go for a ride with your kids.

Read the full post at Red Kite Prayer.

Running together

The marathon is a test of individual endurance and will, but also community. Nobody truly runs alone. Never more so on Monday.

At mile 16 of the Boston Marathon, a spot that comes a few minutes before runners approach the punishing segment known as “Heartbreak Hill” and a few hours before a pair of bombs shattered the event forever, all that is great about the race was on display.

But it wasn’t the head-to-head battle between the two female runners leading the race up the steady grade.

It was curbside.

A spectator picked up a leading racer’s just-discarded energy drink bottle. Another approached and asked for the container, marked with a name, pleading that it had belonged to her idol. The conversation was emotional and honest, the sort of exchange that comes from deep desire and ends with hugs of gratitude.

Marathons are open events. The world’s best runners pass within arm’s reach. Casual competitors, if that can be used to describe any marathoner, share the road with the monastic greats who dedicate every waking hour to becoming the fastest humans on the planet.

The events themselves, be it in Boston or elsewhere, are a model of both commerce and also camaraderie. They embody so much of what is great about our society. Charities raise tens of thousands of dollars. Strangers cheer people who they will see for a moment, and almost certainly never again. Families crush their loved ones with hugs as runners break stride to connect with what gives them the strength to complete one of the most arduous challenges we find socially acceptable today. Racers, and their families, sacrifice for something difficult and elusive, but certainly meaningful.

By late afternoon Monday, Boston was caught in the shadow of something awful. People learned that few things are more humbling than scouring the Internet for signs that a friend or loved one is alive.

Next year at mile 16 the runners will be back, girding for battle against one another and the rolling hills ahead. They will return as much out of defiance of those who want to isolate and enfeeble us as out of dedication to a shared experience of overcoming. Among the family and friends, fanatical fans and onlookers, loss and gratitude will compete for our hearts.

But nobody will be on their own that day.

The measure of a man

They say you can tell a lot about a man by his shoes. I say you can tell a lot about a cyclist by their tires.

When I worked in Washington, D.C., if you met someone wearing glossy ebony dress shoes and an over-sized Timex running watch with a nice suit, they almost certainly spent some serious time in the military.

Likewise, when you’re out on the road this spring and your eye catches the green stripe of a plump Vittoria tubular and a supple big-ring cadence, that rider is someone you don’t want to half-wheel. You want to follow. If you can.

An inch-wide tubular painstakingly glued on a carbon rim symbolizes all that is wonderful about a sport endlessly grappling with its origins and its future.

Read more at Red Kite Prayer.