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Thursday, March 13, 2008

My trip to SBCU

"Do you know the way to San Jose" and "Seems it never rains in Southern California" were the two songs I thought of when I was told I'd be going to SBCU. What's SBCU you ask? It stands for Specialized Bicycle Components University. Based out of the Specialized corporate office in Morgan Hill California, SBCU is a short drive south of San Jose. Hence the "Do you know the way to San Jose" reference.
Turns out I do know the way to San Jose; meet Marty and Rich at our Randolph store at 5 a.m., have Marty drive us to Newark airport for our 8:30 flight to LA. Decline the $5 sandwich, the $5 alcoholic drink and the $3 bag of chips or 3 musketeers bar that American Airlines offered. I'll take the free orange juice thank you very much. After an hour layover at LAX we hop on a flight to San Jose where we arrive at 3 p.m. PST. We meet our shuttle driver, a few other SBCU students and a half hour later we arrive at the Marriott Courtyard of Morgan Hill which will be our home for the next 4 nights.
We arrived famished. After all, we've been traveling for 15 hours. Lucky for us there was the quintessential California dining experience across the parking lot from our hotel. I'm talking about In' N Out Burger. Rich and I sprinted across the lot to place our order. I loved the menu: hamburger, cheeseburger, double hamburger, double cheeseburger, fries and your choice of beverage. That's it. Simple, effective and not much thought needed. It took me 2 seconds to decide I wanted 2 double cheeseburgers, fries and an iced tea. And then the oddest thing happened. The cashier and person who served me my meal were actually nice! Not fake nice either, nice. How dare they! I'm from Jersey, we're not used to that. It was kind of, well, nice. We chowed down like there was no tomorrow and went back to the hotel to watch a little TV. An hour later, Brandon and Rick, our fellow students from Texas, whom we met on the shuttle from the airport, called to tell us they were in the lobby relaxing drinking some beers. We couldn't disappoint our new friends, so an hour later we joined them. I made it to 11. O'clock, not beers. I was awake for 22 hours and tomorrow was a big day, so I called it a night.
The alarm went off at 6 a.m. I showered and along with Rich headed down to our complimentary breakfast. After filling our plates and sitting down, we encountered the "breakfast Nazi" for the first time. "Where's your coupon" she demanded. Chill bro, it's right here. Breakfast complete, we took the last shuttle to SBCU. Ten minutes later we were greeted by Gina. Gina arranged the accommodations and all the transportation for the students. I slapped on my "Hello, My Name Is" Lou tag, grabbed an SBCU water bottle and headed to the classroom. On the way I looked down a hallway and saw about 50 bikes lined up. These were the bikes of employees that ride to work.Pretty damn cool. I could get used to this place.
When we got to the classroom our instructors Elon and Josh were waiting. They gave us an overview of the course and a bio of themselves. They asked us to do the same. In addition to Brandon and Rick from Texas, there was Chris, Erin and Glenn from North Carolina, Brian and Henry from Georgia, Taylor from Michigan, Victor from California, Ben from Montana, Roger from Maryland, Dave and Eric from Ohio and rounding out the class, Paul and Dave from Missouri. We had North, South, East and West covered. This should be a lot of fun. Little did I know how much.
Introductions complete, it was time for Elon to give us a tour of the facilities. He explained Specialized does all of their R&D and testing here. Indeed they do. We got to watch a helmet being tested and were informed that all Specialized products exceed the industry standard for safety. As we continued the tour I noticed what looked like bikes covered with sheets. "Hey Elon, what's that"? "Keep moving along, nothing to see here, ignore the bike behind the curtain". New for 2009 the Specialized......I have no idea. We'll both have to wait until the unveiling in 2009? Or maybe 2010.
Back in the classroom we learned about Specialized womens specific designs, helmets and shoes. Book learning is great, but as you know, I want to test ride bikes. Get a feel for what they can and can't do. I got my first opportunity when Elon told us it was time for lunch. We could eat first then ride, or ride then eat. I walked as fast as I could to the locker room, got changed into my cycling clothes, walked to the cage where all the test bikes are, claimed a 56cm S-Works Tarmac SL2, put my pedals on, pumped up the tires to 110psi and set the seat height to 75.5cm. I grabbed an S-Works helmet and finished off my look with arc sunglasses. I was ready. The weather wasn't. It rained all morning and was a little chilly. Fortunately it stopped raining and warmed up to a toasty 50 degrees by the time everyone was ready. Off we went.
Elon told us we would be doing a 20 mile loop with a climb and, of course a descent. Exactly the terrain I seek out when I test a bike. I noticed right away how light and responsive the SL2 is. Normally I try to avoid potholes and manhole covers, but not when I'm putting a bike through it's paces. Since the roads where unlike Jersey, no potholes, I had to settle for manhole covers. The SL2 glided over them effortlessly, soaking up the vibrations with ease. This is one comfortable ride. We made our way to the climb where I intended to put phase 2 into effect: How does this bad boy climb? At the base Brandon attacked, followed by Victor, and then Elon. Wait for it, wait for it, okay go! Time to test the Jersey January fitness. I stomped on the pedals, clicked down a few gears and immediately learned how stiff the bottom bracket is. The SL2 propelled me forward. Awesome acceleration. As the gradient steepened I shifted to a harder gear? I ride Campy, the SL2 has SRAM. So in the heat of the moment I forgot what I was doing and almost came to a standstill. Luckily I snapped out of it before I had to unclip.THAT would have been embarrassing. I continued my ascent to the top, convinced this was one great climbing bike in spite of my brain lock.
After we regrouped at the top it was time to see how the SL2 descends. Going around corners was great. I pushed hard, trying to get the SL2 to shimmy or go off line. No chance. As well as being a great climbing bike, this was a great descending bike There is one last test I like to give bikes. How does it go up short "power climbs". I feared this test would go unheeded. Wrong. After a few flat miles Elon took off for the "town line" sprint. No way I was going to catch him with my Jersey January fitness. But I saw exactly what I was searching for, a short power climb. Based upon how the SL2 accelerated at the base of the climb, I had an idea of what to expect. I shifted into the big ring and took off. I was right. Acceleration is great, with no loss of power or speed.
As we rode back I remembered the SL2 had a Specialized Toupe seat. I ride a Specialized Alias, so I was interested to see how the Toupe felt on my butt. I was very skeptical, but after finishing the ride with no "issues" I determined the Toupe was indeed a more comfortable seat.I took off my arc glasses and immediately noticed the lenses were darker than when I started. This adaptalite technology really works, and you don't even realize it's happening. Test ride over, I took a shower, ate a hearty lunch and found my way back to the classroom where we learned about Roval wheels, optics and Specialized clothing until we called it a day at 6. After eating dinner we took the shuttle back to the hotel.
This being Morgan Hill with nothing to do, there was a steady procession to The Market across the parking lot. Everyone sufficiently loaded up with their favorite alcohol, it was time to congregate to the most happening place in town. The lobby of the Marriott Courtyard. How much fun was it? I'll give you a brief synopsis. We learned one of our fellow students likes to impress women by bench pressing them at bars. Watch out for the ones with cankles he warns. There was a marriage proposal. I'm still not sure if this was serious, and no, it wasn't me doing the asking. Lots of laughs. A couple of complaints from hotel guests. The smoothing over of the complaints with the hotel staff by offering them some beer. They declined but let us continue to have a good time. I think they were enjoying the show. A late night run to In' N Out burger. More Laughs. A dip in the hot tub and hotel pool at 2 a.m. and finally bedtime for bonzo at around 3. And that's just what I can remember.
Sufficiently rested with 3 solid hours of sleep, I began my familiar morning routine. Shower, breakfast, breakfast Nazi and the last shuttle to SBCU. Elon took one look at us and asked, "What the hell did you guys do last night"? Nothing, why do you ask? We eventually, slowly filled him in. He got a big laugh out of our shenanigans. We spent the morning learning about bikes until it was time to go for a ride. It rained in the morning but it cleared up by time we were ready to ride. I quickly got changed and headed to the cage. This time I snagged an S-Works Roubaix. The Roubaix series has a longer wheelbase and head tube which allows you to sit more upright. I wanted to feel the difference between the Roubaix and SL2. Wow, I had no idea the difference would be so great. We rode the same loop as yesterday, except in reverse. I'll get right to it, I hated my position on the Roubaix. Way too upright. I felt like I was riding a chopper. If I had taken the time to flip the stem, my position would have been lower, but I quickly realized this was not the bike for me. The bike rode great, it was the position I hated. You have to understand, I'm a freak. I am very flexible so getting into a lower position is not a problem. If you have lower back pain or want to be more upright, then the Roubaix is for you.
When we got back I swapped my S-Works Roubaix for an S-Works Tri-cross. While the rain was holding off, the roads were still wet, which means the trails will be muddy and wet. After a 7 mile road ride we made a left onto the trail. I have never ridden a cyclo cross bike. The first section wasn't too technical which suited this roadie just fine. We regrouped after a quarter mile. Andy explained the next section was more technical but there was a road that went left if we wanted to choose that option. I chose the road. This section was very very muddy and technical. As I waited at the meeting point with a few other road takers I could see others walking up the trail. Since I made the mistake of using my Look Keo pedals and Sidi Genius shoes, this confirmed my decision.
When we regrouped Andy pointed to where we were going. Turns out we were only half way up the climb. We took the fire road, lots of mud, and some not too technical but very wet and muddy single track to the top. My shoes were wet but I didn't care, this was a lot of fun. The ride down was much faster and I'm glad I had a cyclocross bike. This is the perfect commuter bike. Major props to Chris. He did this ride on a Roubaix with road tires. On the way down he had to stop a few times to clear the mud from his brakes. Upon my return I took a shower and grabbed something to eat. We had a few more hours of classroom work before we ate dinner and headed back to the hotel.
Now I know what your thinking. A trip to The Market? Yes. Hanging out in the lobby? Yes. Lots of craziness? No. It was a long day and an even longer previous night. I hung out for a few hours and was in bed by 10. Like everyone else, I sacrificed tonight to make sure our last night would be a lot of fun. But would it?
Thursday morning was my own private ground hog day. Rain and breakfast Nazi included. Except when we got to SBCU we found out our class would be taught by Josh. He went over the rest of the bike line and showed us some cool pictures of yesterdays snow on the trails of the Santa Monica mountains. He also taught us how to set up suspension for a customer going on a test ride. Since it was raining all day we missed out on our scheduled mountain bike ride. With the extra time he showed us how to do a basic floor fitting. At long last it was time to put our knowledge to the test in the form of a 35 question final exam. I got 4 wrong. Not bad. Exam over, it was time to graduate. Gina brought in our diplomas and a snazzy Specialized Riders Club jersey. Josh handed them out to rousing applause.
Graduation over, it was time to go to dinner. It was off to Mama Mia's for our final meal. Graciously Elon and Josh told us the first round of drinks was on them. They mentioned this earlier in the day. That was a mistake. We decided, without their knowledge, everyone would order the most expensive drink available. When we arrived the waitress told us the first round of beers was on Elon and Josh. That is why they are the teachers and we the students. After dinner we headed back to the hotel. Elon said he would join us for a little while but Josh had to get home to his wife and child.
Back at the hotel, the pilgramage to The Market continued. With everyone back in the lobby toting the beverage of their choice, it was time to enjoy our last night together. There were a lot of laughs. I may be wrong, but I don't think Elon laughed so hard in his life. He doesn't drink, so he had a front row seat to all of our antics. While tamer than the second night, there was still plenty to remember. Someone tried to set up guitar hero on the TV. Unfortunately this was unsuccessful. A bottle of rum? was passed around. I declined. My beer was more than enough. We got a demonstration on how to bench press someone.This too was unsuccessful. Cankles were the problem. More laughs. More complaints from the guests. A final run to In' N Out burger. More laughs and finally it was time to say goodbye to my fellow students. It was 2 a.m. and I had a 5 o'clock wake up call. I got on the elevator and headed for the second floor. As I walked out the door I said "I hope your marriage works out". This of course in reference to the proposal on the second night. Everyone laughed. Leave them in stitches is what I say.
My town car picked me up at six. I flew from San Jose to LA. My friends Catherine and Evan picked me up. I stayed with them for a few days. Kind of a vacation after business. This, however was the best "business trip" I've ever been on, even though it rained every day I was in California. So much for it "Seems it never rains in Southern California".
There are many people I need to thank. First, Marty for sending me to SBCU. Catherine and Evan for starting the process of returning my life to a normal state. Gina, Elon and Josh. You guys were great and made learning a lot of fun. To my fellow SBCU students, I can't remember the last time I had so much fun. Chris, may you have tail winds to and fro on your daily ride to work. Erin, the next time I see you I promise to do a shot. Brian, Georgia in the house!, may you continue to train hard and qualify for Kona. Ben, may the wife see it your way and allow you to keep your race car. Brandon, may you still be employed. Taylor, I hope your boyfriends hand has healed up nicely. Victor, I hope you get a chance to go on the lunch ride and drop everyone. Paul, I hope the church you helped build has a thriving congregation. To the happy couple, may you have many years of happiness.

Until we meet again
Lou

2 comments:

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Nancy said...

A+ Lou. If you were my student... A+

Nancy B