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February 26, 2015
by James Knox

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Slaying it, with the Badger



“Cycling is an individual sport, practiced by teams.”

–Samuel Abt, quoted in “Slaying the Badger”

Netflix started showing a documentary to compliment the book “Slaying the Badger” by Richard Moore. Its subtitle is “Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault and the Greatest Tour de France”.

I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book. It was out at the library when I searched it. But, having actually gone to film school, I guess I could check it out on my TV.

Netflix may be known for some fancy Kevin Spacey show or being the best-known streaming service but in my house it’s known for weird, obscure crap that only dad likes. One of my favorite Netflix docs (as my kids will attest) is Hell on Wheels or, Höllentour about Germany’s Team Telekom in the 2003 TDF. I have made them sit through this too many times to count.

ESPN calls it this way: Before Lance Armstrong, there was Greg LeMond, who is now the first and only American to win the Tour de France. In this engrossing documentary, LeMond looks back at the pivotal 1986 Tour, and his increasingly vicious rivalry with friend, teammate, and mentor Bernard Hinault. The reigning Tour champion and brutal competitor known as “The Badger,” Hinault ‘promised’ to help LeMond to his first victory, in return for LeMond supporting him in the previous year. But in a sport that purports to reward teamwork, it’s really every man for himself.

This story shows us how, at this level there are no friends, only deals, politics and bullies. The naive LeMond moved to Europe to race when he was a teen. The film claims that LeMond rose with such promise in the States that Hinault wanted him on his team so he wouldn’t have him as an opponent. It all kind of backfires. Hilarity ensues.

The “Badger” is more like a 20/20 piece inspired by a true-account book of a great story. The archival footage is great. I had no idea John Tesh covered the Tour de France. I’m going out to buy his Music from the Tour de France, Vol. I right now!

As a true sicko, I watched it in my pain cave while spinning on my trainer. Just to suffer alongside the only American to ever (officially) win the Tour de France. As a part of ESPN Films 30 for 30 series director John Dower does a great job of balancing the information for both uninitiated cycling fan and with nuts like me. My French is a bit rusty but a few moments stand out as awesome.

For example, the moment when LeMond’s race director Paul Köchli is asked about the ability of cyclist to suffer and he says, “Bull. It’s a game.” Or, when Hinault remembers telling LeMond to go slow so he can “play games” with the other riders.

Hinault is kind of portrayed as the villain of the story. I’m not sure that’s fair. Maybe in LeMond’s case he is the protagonist but Hinault argues that he played the game by the rules in place. The main rule being, there were no rules.


February 24, 2015
by James Knox

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There is No Santa Claus and, Lance Cheated


When I finally gave in to the fact that Lance cheated it felt an awful lot like how it felt to find out about Santa. For years I had sneaking suspicions about the packages addressed “Santa” with the same exact smiley face that is my mother’s calling card. But, hey I was getting the G.I. Joe headquarters! Who am I to nit-pick.

We all benefitted from his success. Weather we were lifted up by his comeback from cancer or how he increased America’s lost love of bike riding and racing, we owe him. For the good and the bad. More on that in a minute.

I recently read a pair of books about two unlikely kids’ rise to fame in bike racing. “Wheelmen (Lance Armstrong, The Tour de France and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever)” by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell [2013] and bike racer Phil Gaimon’s “Pro Cycling on $10 a Day (From Fat Kid to Euro Pro)” [2014]. I didn’t mean to read them concurrently but it worked out to be a very cool comparison of two unlikely heroes’ rise to fame.


Gaimon’s book is a breezy stream of consciousness from a smart-alecky kid who loves racing clean. It’s reads like Dave Barry meets Dave Stoller from “Breaking Away” with a ton more fart jokes. It shows a varnish-free cycling. The likes the 7-Eleven Team had to suffer through to be the first American team to compete in France’s biggest bike race. The bad food, bad equipment and missed opportunities all point to the author’s love of sport over financial gain. There are no dates with supermodels, no parties at the Musee d’Orsay or calls from Bill Clinton, just the blood sweat and tears of a guy who wants to race bikes for a living. And, it is pretty damn funny.


On the other hand, “Wheelmen” reads like a Wall Street Journal article. That’s probably because the two authors’ day jobs are at the Wall Street Journal writing articles. The gripping details of the growing paranoia of Lance and his inner circle as the lie grows is palpable. Lance believes he is too big to fail. It was a little like seeing “Titanic”. I know they go down but, how? Having read Tyler Hamilton’s book and “It’s Not About the Bike” by Lance I didn’t yet know how deep the rabbit hole went.

I’ve come to a crossroads in my appreciation of his efforts. We now sit in a new era of cycling in America. We owe this surge partly to Lance’s success at dominating the Tour de France and putting an American team in an international fight that most didn’t even know existed. The idea of having an American cycling team win the Tour is like a French baseball team winning the World Series as “Wheelmen” states. There is a large group of riders that started because of this international swagger-fest. But, now all average people know about cycling is drugs and cheating.

Lance now owes us his help to fix the mess he waded into and brought to a frenzied crescendo. He got too greedy. I think he is the only one to fix it. But, I’m not sure he’s man enough to do it. The example of Jonathan Vaughters is a good place to start. Someone outside of cycling has no clue who this guy is but, he was Lance’s teammate. He doped, too. He confessed and started a team based on internal, zero-tolerance blood testing and accountability. They won the Giro d’Italia in 2012 with Ryder Hesjedal. They are claiming the era of “Big Doping” over.

Lance needs to do something of this magnitude. He can. But, will he? I sure wish he would. It would make a great ending to the story.


February 12, 2015
by James Knox

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The Wheel Mill



So, I spent the morning riding bikes, shooting videos and taking pictures at the Wheel Mill in Homewood. Check out if you’re curious. Owner Harry Geyer and I remarked that it’s unbelievable that we get paid to do this. (Not much but it’s a living)

The Wheel Mill is a completely indoor bike park in an 80,000 square foot warehouse in Homewood. There are more winding ramps and jumps than you can shake a frame pump at. I learned how to pump a bike and, more importantly, that there is a whole world of riding I have yet to discover. I also realized that I need a new bike, too.


February 5, 2015
by James Knox

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Fat Bikes Rule the Snow


FAT bike 1

(photo by Rothrock Outfitters)

The weather outside sucks. I was over it when I put the Christmas lights away. If winter was a man, I would punch him in the mouth. I did get a little anxious to ride Wednesday when I left work and it was in the upper 40s. But, life gets in the way. No ride for me.

I got out of the house to ride the other day when I didn’t have to drive kids to piano, theatre, musical practice, gymnastics, church or jai alai practice. I was climbing one of my favorite long painful climbs where I am usually all alone. Not that day.

“Whoo!!” a voice behind me shouts. I turn to see a roadie gaining fast on me.

“Hey! Afternoon. I don’t usually see people on this road,” I said while at 180 beats per minute. Trying to seem calm.

“Make way for the King!” he says and, he was gone.

But, despite that weirdo, the winter can be a glorious time to ride. Fat bikes in the snow and bikes with studded tires. Sounds like a Queen song.

Fat bikes are super-wide wheeled specially built mountain bikes that can climb a car. My friend Sara Petyk with Bike the GAP (That’s the Great Allegheny Passage) and help from Rothrock Outfitters is offering fully supported 2- and 3-day fat bike trip packages are based out of Ohiopyle State Park this winter starting at $550. Go to for more info. It is the ONLY fat bike tour in the eastern US.

You can also check out their blog:


(photo by Rothrock Outfitters)


Super Wide Tires – 3.5 inches or wider (A typical mountain bike is a little over 2”)

Tire pressures of 10psi or less (Your car is 32psi. A typical road bike is around 140psi)

Enough floatation that you can travel over snow without leaving a rut deeper than one inch (ONE INCH!)

Sufficient traction that you are able to safely control your bike and ride in a straight line (That is helpful)


My guess it is like snowshoeing on a bike.

And the good news is you’d probably have the trail all to yourself.

Make way for the KING!


January 5, 2015
by James Knox

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Enter the Pain Cave!



Time to head to the Bike Torture Chamber.


Some call it a Man Cave or the Woodshed.

No matter how nice it is, it can be a very dark place.

When it is too cold or, unsafe to effectively train out doors, smart cyclists move indoors.

Now, you can call me weak and soft. Guilty. But, I did ride Sunday outside and have ridden in weather so cold my water bottles froze. Two words: Dirty Dozen. Nothing can match the benefit and fun of riding outside whatever the forecast.

But, when I ride indoors I go to what my wife and I refer to as the “Pain Cave”.

Two bikes, two trainers and some Metallica.


To outfit your own BTC you need a few things. You’ll need a bike, a trainer (or rollers if you hate fun) and a fan. A few extras would be a TV or laptop to watch a movie or training video and a bucket (if you really mean it). I also change the soft race tire on my rear wheel with a thick and heavy red trainer-specific tire. You could shred a tire in one session on a rugged trainer.


I have a room in my basement that is off of the laundry room that is 6’X9’. I painted it a cheery green and set a cabinet with a flat screen TV, DVD and a iPod dock. I have room for mine and my wife’s bikes set up on two magnetic resistance trainers with front wheel risers for stability. I have a sweat cover over my bike so I don’t rust the little steel that’s on by bike. There are three fans blowing full speed when we are in there.


“Riding a stationary bike is sooooo boring,” you say? Well, I found one way to make it memorable.

The Sufferfest is a series of training videos with a worldwide cult like following. I have the flag of Sufferladria flying in my BTC. You can go to their website and view BTCs from everywhere from Shanghai to Afghanistan to get some ideas.

The videos push threshold training to new heights. Or, they push suffering to new lows.

They show on screen cues and feature footage from real UCI road races like the Tour de France.

Just make sure you leave enough in your legs to climb the basement stairs.


December 1, 2014
by James Knox

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Dirty Dozen Recap




“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”


The 31st edition of the Dirty Dozen is in the rear view mirror. I made it up all 13 of the steepest hills in the city and in the world, really (Canton Ave. has a bid for at least the steepest grade in the world). I never stopped. I never put my foot down. I made it up on my own power on the first attempt all 13 hills.

Now I can move on with the rest of my life.

They really should call this the Dirty 30 because some of the hills we used to get to the actual hill were just as bad. I made it up all of those without fail as well.

I feel pretty good. I did drop a 40-foot ladder on my foot while hanging my Christmas lights yesterday so as to forget how bad my legs hurt.

So, what did I learn? Why did I do this? This can’t be good for you??

Well, doing something like this involves a great deal of pride. The good kind as well as the bad. They feed off each other in such a situation. The shame of failing is so great it’s palatable as you pass people walking or crashing on these multiple 30% and more roads that seem to never end.

“If you stop, you fail ALL of the hills,” your pride keeps screaming.

But, you want to do it so you can say you did it. That’s the bad pride. “Look at me, I’m a Badass,” it says. Well, it’s kind of got a point. This race is a tough guy (or gal) race.

There are four things you need for this race and they are as follows: strong legs, good gearing, insane bike handling skills and supreme mental toughness. But, the mental toughness aspect is supreme.

This is a race where you can have all of the first three things on that list and still fail.

I saw plenty of that on Saturday.


My legs were strong. Steve and I trained separately and together quite hard and intense for about two to three months. We knew our legs could handle it.

My gear was pretty good. My 1980s Cannondale had a new chain on some Frankenstein-ed chain-rings. They of course stuck and required some kicking to get it into the right gear before the first few hills. I also flatted at the top of hill #2 Sharps Hill and had to make a quick change before Berry Hill. I was almost completely fixed by the time the sag wagon showed up and offered a floor pump and some lube. I buried myself pretty good to catch back on and flew up Berry Hill just in time for the group to head to the next hill.

Good legs covering inadequate gear. The road mechanic sternly admonished me for putting these goofy rings on my bike the wrong way. Sorry dad. Gosh.

As for the bike handling I feel pretty good after touching wheels several times from people behind me and not falling. There was an overabundance of salt on most hills just piled up in clumps everywhere causing spinouts and crashes. Thanks Bill Peduto for your salty vigilance. On Eleanor I had to ride through a sewer drain depression filled with salt to miss a bigger pile of salt where people were falling over.

As you made it up the final kicks of hill #13 Tesla Street with the end in sight, your mind starts playing tricks on you. “Just stop,” it says. “Shut up,” you say and battle through. That was actually every hill the whole way all day. But, making the voices stop or at least keep to themselves trumps any hill workout or S-Works Venge with disc brakes or BMX skills any day.

So, what did I learn? I learned I CAN overcome anything. And I’m proud of it.

Bring on the Zombie Apocalypse.


November 28, 2014
by James Knox

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Go Time!




(Russell and Knox)

Tomorrow is D-Day…the Dirty Dozen, and I thought I’d give a link to the video fellow Trib photographer Andrew Russell and I put together about last years race. We both, (at about 6-foot-plus and 200lbs each) rode his motorcycle with all our cameras shooting video and stills all day.

At one point going up Sharps Hill we stalled on the steepest stretch and one of the intrepid fans shouted at us, “YOU CAN DO IT!!”

Such a great race.

Check out the links below and get inspired yourself to ride this ridiculous race showcasing THE steepest road in the world and some of the most breathtaking vistas of our awesome city.

Enjoy, I’m going to bed early…


This is the link to the pictures and the story:

This is the link to the video:


November 19, 2014
by James Knox

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Preparing for battle



When you prepare for battle, you must sharpen your sword and polish your shield. I just made that up, but it applies to most things. Get your gear in order before doing something that depends on your gear as much as your mind.

When gearing up to shoot “Monday Night Football,” a sports shooter would use canned air and cloths to clean his lenses, front and back. Get the proper clothing and extras you might need just in case.

When gearing up for a bike race, the checklist is different but the effect is the same. Very few sports rely on gear as much as cycling. One bad choice could cost you dearly. Maybe bobsledding is the exception, but who the heck recreationally bobsleds in Pittsburgh?

I’ve been going over my preparations for the impending Dirty Dozen, a bike race that pits man versus hills in an open-air battle over Pittsburgh’s almost-famous terrain. To climb six of the nastiest hills in the ‘Burgh is tough, but to hit all 13 of them in one day requires some thought as well as some damn strong legs.

I have been sitting up at night counting teeth in cassettes and cranks to get to sleep. I have a dilemma.


I own two road bikes. One is a new carbon road-racing bike. The other is a 30-year-old touring bike. They present two different tacks. The race bike has a “racy” set-up. The front crank is a double, meaning it has two chain rings to choose from. One has 53 teeth, the other has 39 teeth. The rear cassette runs from 11-25 teeth. This is good for most hills and an extra gear to scream on the flats and down hills. It’s meant to go fast, fast, fast.


My other bike weighs almost 50 percent more. It has a steel fork and an aluminum frame. Its crank is the knee-friendly Shimano Biopace ovoid-shaped rings. It is a triple, meaning there are three rings to choose from. The biggest is a 50-tooth ring. The middle ring is a 42 and the smallest is a 28-toothed “granny gear.”


I have been waiting for a new cassette to come in the mail from the UK. I think the boat is a little slow — I ordered it the day before Halloween. They must be on “holiday” or whatever it is they call slacking off in Europe. What’s coming in the mail my buddy Steve keeps referring to as “Her Majesty’s Cassette.” I’m not sure if that means its arrival is up to some inbred Brit or if it ever gets here, it will be announced with a trumpet fanfare.

This is a very rare cassette, I’m told. A 12-30 Ultegra 6700 10-speed is its official title. It might not make as big a stir as the Beatles’ arrival, but I might scream and cry and faint if it ever gets here.

So, what’s keeping me up a night is, do I use the slick, light bike with the slightly easier British cassette? Or do I ride tried and true “Old Blue” with the super granny?

I’m hitting some DD hills today after work with Old Blue to get some perspective. Is it cheating to use a granny? I’m torn.

Maybe the Queen will know the answer. She is, after all, the world’s most famous granny.


November 17, 2014
by James Knox

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Did you get the elevator or the shaft?



 (Playoff beard? No, that’s a Dirty Dozen beard at the top of Logan)

The training took a turn yesterday. My buddy Steve and I hit six of the 13 Dirty Dozen’s hills and much truth was learned. We learned that even devastating leg cramps can be overcome. We learned that Steve should tighten his clipless pedals. I also learned that the race itself will probably not be “fun.” Let me explain.

The rules state that if you put your foot down on any hill … you have to head to the bottom and start it over again. Steve’s foot came out of his pedal near the top of Rialto. He put his foot down, cursed under his breath, remounted then finished the rise. Um, that counts in my book.

I had devastating almost-gonna-call-a-ride-home leg cramps at the lower slopes of High/Seavey in Etna. As I sat on the ground trying to figure out how to stretch the inside muscle on my leg, a local walked by with his dog and said, “I climb that hill every day on my bike.” We looked at him and blinked when he said his bike was a motorcycle. “That hill is a (insert colloquialism referring to female canines).”

Once the cramps let down after some intense physiotherapy, (I hammered on my vastus medialis for ten minutes with my fist shouting, “Why?!?”) we mounted the long grueling climb from Etna into Millvale without incident. We remarked that almost every hill has a cemetery near the top. We wondered if that was for convenience.

Steve also remarked that an IT guy and a picture taker were no help when a real physiologist was required. All I brought was a granola bar and a multi-tool, bro!

He said that we at least finished 5.8 of the 6 hills we tried Sunday. IT guys and their numbers.

The road was long and grueling; did I mention the grueling part? I wouldn’t call this fun. I am a recreation biker. I ride for the enjoyment of riding. The Dirty Dozen takes riding into a superhuman feat of exertion and pain tolerance. We decided this would be our first and last run at this the Baker’s Dozen of Doom. The ride will be memorable, but fun? Probably not, but after a rough day where I had to walk the last few feet of Logan (one of the three hardest in the race) my spirits were down. Ribs and beer for dinner helped a lot.

Some days you just don’t have it. Or, as Steve said, “Sometimes you get the elevator and sometimes you get the shaft.”


November 12, 2014
by James Knox

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What’s In A Name? A Lot



(That’s a picture of James Knox Polk, not the Bard, FYI.)

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. — Bill Shakespeare

In church this Sunday the sermon was about Joseph, AKA “Barnabas,” and the origin of names and nicknames. More precisely, what would yours be in light of your walk with God?

It got me thinking about my name and what it means.

James Knox

The meaning of James is listed as “supplanter.” Not only is this my favorite book in the Bible but, duh, it’s the greatest name of all time. Favorite show as a kid: ”James at 15” starring Lance Kerwin.  Favorite band: James. Favorite grocery chain: Jamesway. James Earl Jones, Jesse James  … LeBron and the the most presidents (6) are named James.

Enough. Now with Knox, the meaning is an old Scottish Gaelic word: “cnocc,” meaning “hill or hillock.” Fort Knox, Knox Overstreet from Dead Poets Society, Knox Gelatine, President James Knox Polk … I could go on.

So to tie it together, my name really means Overthrower of Hills. I love it. I need to lose about 50 pounds to really have the BMI to be a “Hill Killer,” but I’ll take it.

The weather is turning colder and the training rides for the Dirty Dozen continue.

I’ll take any advantage I can get.

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