Rider Profile: Martin Criminale

Martin is a Seattle native (his family moved here when he was five), and started racing in the early 1980’s. After taking 15 years off to get married and raise a son, he came back to win a Masters National championship, cultivate a fetish for endurance mountain bike races including the La Ruta de los Conquistadors and TransPortugal, and helped start Thumbprint Racing.

Age: 46

Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Washington, Associate Degree in Networking with a specialization in Cisco Routers from North Seattle Community College

Full-time Ski Instructor and Ski Patrol in the 80s; worked in bicycle shops (managed Ti Cycles for six years) in the 90s and then went back to school to change careers and now work in IT at the University of Washington Information School.

Year started cycling:

How did you get into cycling?
Some friends in my fraternity rode bikes and I thought they were pretty cool so for me to be cool I had to ride too. After a year one of my friends started racing and getting top-10 finishes so I thought to myself, “I can do that too…” That got me hooked and I raced for the next six years.

After 15 years off from competition a friend of mine encouraged me to give it a go again. Finally I entered a circuit race at Pacific Raceways and surprised myself by getting in the break and staying in it! That got me started racing again.

Martin circa 1984 or 85 on the Malaga climb in road race stage of the Wenatchee Stage Race: Just got dropped by the leaders but ahead of the main bunch.

What bikes are you currently riding?
1. Road/Race: Ti Cycles Hyak (Titanium)
2. Track: Raleigh Rush Hour Pro (Aluminum)
3. Cyclocross: Redline Conquest Pro (Aluminum)
4. Time Trial: Abici Time Machine (Aluminum)
5. Winter/Rain: Bianchi Volpe (Steel) with disc brakes
6. MTB: Performance Access XCL; fully rigid single speed (Aluminum)
7. Single Speed: Kona Paddy Wagon
8. Commuter: Raleigh Mojave 8.0; single speed MTB with platform pedals
9. Road Tandem: Co-Motion Robusta (Aluminum)
10. MTB Tandem: Ellsworth Witness (Aluminum)

Your deep quiver of bikes definitely qualifies you as a “gearhead,” but you rarely use even basic electronics. What’s the story there?
On my team I am ‘the guy with no power meter’ and in fact I rarely even use a basic cyclometer. Back in the day I had a heart rate monitor but it seemed almost like a governor instead of a training aid so I ditched it and have never looked back. This will probably change soon and I’ll join the 21st century but I’m holding out for the Garmin unit that is inside of a Speedplay pedal. That way I can teleport myself from the Stone Age straight into the future.

Any other cycling gear you love at the moment?
The cotton cycling cap has got to be the best piece of cycling attire ever. I seem to wear them on every ride and what better accessory to top off any outfit? And they are way cheaper than all the wristwatches I’d like to buy.

Given your long history in the Seattle peloton, what have been some highlights that you’ve seen over the years?
I vividly recall the first time I ever heard the alarm from a heart rate monitor – it was in my first race (the Ravensdale Road Race) which was probably in 1983? At the time I was thinking, “What kind of crazy technology is this…?!” Soon after everyone had them. It was what you used if you were ‘serious about training’.

I also recall all the excitement/resistance to change when indexed shifting came along. Some people were afraid the noise of the ‘click’ would telegraph your intentions come time to sprint. How crazy does that sound now?

I never raced with wool clothing but I did start out with toe clips and straps. Two straps per pedal to be exact; I guess I thought it was pretty cool at the time. Also I kept pulling out of one strap because I was too miserly to buy the good ones. Imagine starting the Volunteer Park Criterium with dual straps on each foot… I would get one tight before the water tower and the second on the first descent – if I was lucky. Yikes!

My first cyclocross race was on the first 10-speed bike I ever owned – a Sekai made of high-tensile steel with stamped dropouts. The brakes had such big, long-reach calipers I did not need cantilevers to use knobby tires. Of course I couldn’t stop either so I hit a log with my front wheel and bent the fork back about 6″. I still managed to finish the race thank goodness; and straightened the forks (more or less – with my hands!) so I could do another the next week. Two races was all that bike lasted if I recall correctly.

Martin in full flight in the ‘retro’ category (using non-time trial equipment) at the Frostbite Time Trial.

Today everyone has a fancy pants bike they dedicate to time trials. Not me back in the day. I rode my first state championship TT on my road bike. I did manage to borrow an antiquated, lenticular rear disk wheel from a friend (so lenticular that my rear derailleur would hit the disk in the largest cog) and I wore a skin suit. Done. I just stayed in the drops the entire time and went as hard as I could. These days they practically call that the ‘retro’ category.

When I started at the track it seemed everyone there didn’t wear socks when they raced. I guess with soft, leather shoes and toe straps any extraneous padding would compromise that belted-in feeling? Now everyone is not only wearing socks, the ‘fashionable’ socks have gotten quite a bit longer than they used to be. Proof positive that clipless pedals have not only changed how comfortable you are on the bike, they have also changed what you wear.

When debating the merits of various materials for bicycle frames all people used to talk about was Columbus vs. Dedacciai vs. Reynolds. Now it’s been reduced to one word: carbon. Okay, maybe six words. “How much does your bike weigh?”

Training hard used to be equated with suffering. If you ran out of food or water on a training ride it was assumed you were going to reap the benefits of all that suffering at some point down the road. So much so that people would intentionally not take very much with them. “Dude… did you hear about [insert some name here like Mick Walsh]? He rode 100 miles yesterday when it was 95 degrees with just a banana and one small bottle. What a stud.” Stories of bonking phenomenally hard were related with more than a little bit of pride. Thanks to modern nutritional science for finally clearing up that mess.

Martin on the track at the Marymoor Velodrome.

What were your athletic experiences before cycling?
Not so many… I played high school soccer and rowed crew and did as much downhill skiing as possible. For the most part, sustained aerobic exercise was something I had never wanted to subject myself to. It’s hard!

What does your yearly cycling schedule look like?
I’m almost embarrassed to say I don’t keep track of my miles or hours on the bike… These days in the summer I ride about five or six days/week (if you include commuting to work on a bicycle) and in the fall when I’m running only once/week. As I start to ramp up my training in the winter I spend one or two days each week on the trainer and ride outdoors two or three days each week.

Which other sports do you do? What kind of cross-training do you do?
Three years ago I started running in the fall for a change of pace and after two years I found I really liked it! Now I look forward to the time of year that I can head out for some trail runs and have even started entering road and trail running races.

I still love the snow and have also taken up skate skiing. Add some light gym work and flights of stairs into the mix and I’m good to go.

With roughly three decades of local bike racing under your wheels, tell us about some of the highlights:
1) My first race as a Cat 2 was a stage race in OR. Alexi Grewal was there. Team Crest was there. Team Lowenbrau was there. Multiple Canadian and US National Champions were there. I felt intimidated. After the road stages our first criterium was TWO HOURS LONG. Knowing I had no chance towards the end I took off for the 1st prime and since no one knew who I was and since all the big shots were watching each other I won it. The next day the second criterium was shortened to 1:45 because of rider protest and I did the same thing. I think I won a t-shirt and a box of chocolates but those were the coolest prizes ever because of the caliber of event I was at.

2) When I was a Cat 3 on the track I was on the same team as Alastair Locket and about four or five of us helped him win the State Championship Points Race that year. It was my first time racing with the Cat 2 guys on the track and we were hauling from the gun. I think I finished at least one lap down but being able to pull for Alastair and help him bridge even a couple of gaps was such a rush and so rewarding.

3) One year two friends and I decided to head down to Oakridge, Oregon to do a 100 mile MTB race. Back then it was called the Boss 100 and I think it became the Creampuff 100 sometime later. We had fanny packs (CamelBaks did not exist yet), toe clips and straps, no suspension and being bicycle mechanics carried about every tool and spare part under the sun with us. It was a phenomenal experience to be out there all day long. The next year I went back alone, only carried what I could fit in my jersey pockets determined to race and won the event beating some MTB pros in the process. It came down to a 2-up sprint with me and this professional racer and unbeknownst to me the pace we had been keeping had worn him out. As we got out of the saddle to kick he cramped. I could not believe my good fortune.

4) A few years ago I went to the Masters National Championship with Martha Walsh and we raced the tandem time trial (TT) and road race. Both courses were insanely hilly (not my specialty) and in the TT it rained sheets. There was a descent followed by a sharp turn about one mile from the finish and I was practically blind going around that corner… We won by about eight seconds and I would not be surprised if it was due to my sparing use of the brakes on that section of the course. After way too long in the hot seat when we found out we won I almost burst into tears. We also got 3rd in the road race.

5) This summer my wife Shelley and I rode our MTB tandem for 1100 km through Portugal at the Travessia de Portugal and it was much harder (on us and on our bike) than either of us imagined it would be. But we did it! In the process we used up two tires, two chainrings, a chain, a cassette, one pair of pedals, one pair of shoes and broke five spokes. But after some rest and recuperation we would go back and do it again.

As the 2010 road season winds down, what’s on your radar for 2011?
Masters Nationals! I have no illusions about doing well but the experience is something no one should turn down when it’s this close to your home town (the 2011 Masters Nationals will be held in Bend, OR). And who knows, anyone can get lucky.

What’s your favorite Seattle-area ride?
From Seattle heading up and over the Issaquah plateau and then down the old Issaquah-Fall City road and up to Snoqualmie Falls has always been a favorite route of mine. It’s scenic, has hills and what better view than the falls?

Martin’s son Cameron gets some stoking practice during the Courage Classic.

Do you have any advice for folks getting into cycling or for cyclists thinking about racing?
I love cycling because you can go so far compared to running. You need to be pretty fit to run 10 miles but after some training most people can ride 50. If you can ride 50 miles you can go all the way around Lake WA or up to Snohomish and back! It’s really amazing what you can do in just one day. There’s also nothing better than climbing some mountain pass, looking back to see what you’ve just accomplished and then savoring the descent. I love the speed; probably comes from my years of skiing.

If you are thinking about racing, always remember what got you on the bike in the first place. Some racers go a little overboard when it comes to gadgets, technology, expensive equipment and a super strict training regime. For me this takes some of the fun out of cycling and if I’m not having fun I won’t do it. If you love participating in recreational centuries, make time for a few of them. If you like to ride your mountain bike, hit the dirt. Also, each discipline compliments the others so I would encourage road racers to give the track a try or to enter a cyclocross race.

What keeps you excited about cycling?
The speed! Once I passed a friend who was going 55 mph at the Death Ride in CA and it was so much damn fun.

The distance! As soon as you are fit enough to ride 100 miles there are so many beautiful centuries you can do and places you can ride to. Covering all that ground in one day is still a huge sense of accomplishment for me.

The camaraderie! There is nothing finer than sharing a great ride with friends. Cycling is more conducive to talking than most other activities.

Being able to eat while exercising! What could be better? Nothing, that was rhetorical.

What obstacles get in the way of cycling?
Time and money.

Cycling takes much more time and money and resources than pretty much any other sport there is with the exception of one that involves a boat. If you are not careful your passion will make you a very selfish person so leave time for your family and your friends that don’t ride and the ‘normal’ fun stuff that people do like going out to dinner and seeing an outdoor movie and talking about anything other than cycling. This activity can be all-consuming if you let it. Besides, doing other stuff will make you appreciate your time on the bike all that much more.

The Velocity Blog’s “Rider Profiles” highlight the accomplishments of some of our amazing local cycling athletes, and provides insight into their lives that may inspire us all.

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