Friday, July 17, 2009

Hipp memorial ride: Sunday 9am Palo Alto Form Fitness

A recovery week for me this week, a time to reflect on my fitness, my training, and my priorities. A chance to avoid digging myself into a metabolic hole, something I've done too many times before, and something which so many cyclists invariably do in the endless season which is San Francisco Bay area cycling. Hammering is an addiction, as strong as any, as potentially self-destructive as most.

This time for recovery was deflected from its canonical trajectory by the news of Chris Hipp's sudden death. It even cracked the New York Times, and not because of his cycling prowess. Yet despite his fame, of which I was unaware, Chris who was always a mystery to me. My most recent impression of Chris is from the Noon Ride, when I was intrigued by his Leopard frame.

Cyclists can generally be binned into two groups: those who obsess about equipment and those who don't. I'm definitely among the former. When I see an interesting frame, I want to know everything. How does the head tube angle and fork race correlate with handling? How does the stiffness affect comfort? How much does the weight of the paint affect an Old La Honda time?

However, Chris wasn't interested in any of these things. When asked what he thought of the bike, he responded only "it's good", or something equally unsatisfying. Subtext: it's the rider which really matters, and if you understood that, maybe you'd be faster.

Well, I won't get into that discussion here. But in this case it was clearly the rider who did matter. Frames fracture, handlebars snap, spokes break. In this case it was the body which broke. A sobering perspective.

Chris may have been a bit opaque to those who met him casually, like on a Noon ride or Spectrum ride or Morning Ride or Valley Ride or Dave's Ride or one of the oh-so-many rides on which he was a regular. But his sense of humor shined through, at least to me, most in his on-line videos. Landis on Palomar. The finish of Pescadero RR.

Only after his death did I learn about his engineering accomplishment. He basically led the revolution of blade computing: modular low-cost low-profile CPUs mounted in massive server networks, a backbone of so many web sites. But like so many techies, professional success clearly wasn't enough for Chris. The tech world isn't what it's made out to be. Too cynical, too political. He only truly found himself on the bike.

Even though I barely knew him, I'll miss him. And I'll certainly be there Sunday morning, 9am, for the memorial ride in Palo Alto. Unlike too many memorial rides, this won't be an exercise in rage at a system which places so little importance on human safety, but rather a sobering introspection at the fragility of human life.

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