Friday, February 27, 2009

Fashion Sense

If you see a group of guys wearing skin tight clothing in a variety of flamboyant colors, and these guys are primarily discussing clothes, shopping and other people’s body parts, you are probably looking at a group of cyclists.

In my normal life, I am the least fashion conscious person I know. Blue jeans, which ever T-shirt my hand happens to fall on first, tennis shoes and I’m ready to go. My goal when I go clothes shopping is generally to spend the last amount of time possible in the store. I want a shirt. There’s one. Let’s go. It isn’t so much shopping as getting and then getting on with my life that I’m interested in.

And yet…

Here I am hanging around with a very fashion conscious group of people. There are people who have multiple bikes and select which kit they will wear based on how well the colors harmonize with the color scheme of the bike they are going to ride this day. (Note that I am not criticizing this, I am merely stating that it’s antithetical to how I normally operate.)

I have actually shopped for a new jersey. I mean, I have gone through and looked at all the options and carefully considered which one might suit me best before buying one. (This may sound to you like a thing that normal humans do, but, if so, then I am not a normal human, because I don’t normally do this.)

I have some jerseys and a jacket with the Seyboro Cyclists colors and logo, and I actually got excited because we were going to place another other and this time we could finally get *gasp* VESTS! Can you believe it? Something appears to have gone wrong with my brain. I am excited about getting an article of clothing.

Who knew that this cycling thing would affect so many aspects of my life? I have become a clothes horse. I put a lot more thought into what to wear on a ride than I do into what to wear to work.

Gloves with fingers or not? Should I wear tights or regular shorts? Maybe I should buy a pair of those bib shorts…I wonder if I need a new jersey? Hm…maybe I should wear my new vest today…(Okay, so that last one hasn’t happened yet, but it will. Trust me. Just wait and see.)

I even find myself wondering which pair of socks to wear on a ride, for crying out loud.

(You have to understand that, in my normal life, all my socks are white so that I can just grab any two and put them on. It turns out that all white socks are not identical. Who knew? So sometimes people notice and ask me why I am wearing two different socks. It’s usually news to me that I am. I’m not saying this is the way you should live your life, I’m just saying it’s the way I live mine.)

All of this is just an unexpected consequence of taking up cycling, and I just had to comment on it.

See you on the road.

If I can figure out what to wear, that is.


I was watching the Tour of California…oops…I mean, the AMGEN Tour of California, as the announcers were always very careful to say, the other day, when a noncyclist wandered into the room. The peloton was cruising along flat ground, and the riders had formed echelons, so there was a vicious cross-headwind blowing, and the noncyclist asked, “How fast are they going? Sixty miles an hour?”

My goodness. Sixty miles an hour on the flat and into the wind, sustained over many many miles. That would indeed be impressive. The reality, however, was quite impressive to me, but the noncyclist, who seemed nonchalant about the idea of a bike going sixty miles an hour on the flat, was not impressed at all by the fact that they were actually going 35-40 mph.

In the Indiviual Time Trial, the average pace was around 37 mph, which certainly impressed the heck out of me. A noncyclist, having seen part of the time trial asked me, “Could you comptete?”

“I beg your pardon?” I replied politely.

“Could you go into that race and compete?”

Well, of course, I don’t have a license…but, if I did, could I compete? Well, if by compete you mean smile politely as all the pros shot forward and disappeared over the horizon while I sat back and watched them go, then, yes, I certainly could.

“No,” I said. “I’m not that fast.”

“Well, what if you trained?”

Hm. Well…if I had a professional coach and professional equipment, a doctor to monitor me, a power meter and heart rate monitor, my own cook and quit my job so that I could train six or eight hours a day, then….no. Not a chance in the world. I may not know precisely what my limits are, but I know that’s well beyond them.

What are my limits? Well, one day three of us rode “Six Hills Road.” That isn’t actually its name, and there are probably more than six hills on this short stretch of road. It’s a beast and a lot of fun at the same time. Even if everyone has been riding together, it is every man for himself as we hit the hills. You go as fast as you can and wait for the slower folks at the end.

One day I did this ride with Scott and a friend of Scott’s. The friend had a problem and Scott, could ride me into the ground with one leg tied behind his back, waited for his friend. I didn’t hold anything back and flew down the road. At the end, I was hanging over my handlebars while my stomach made a series of uncertain revolutions.

Scott and his friend caught up with me. “What are you doing?” Scott asked.

“Trying to decide if I’m going to throw up,” I gasped.

Scott laughed. “Come on,” he said, and he and his buddy pedaled gently away. I sighed and clipped in and pedaled after them. I hadn’t quite reached my limit after all, apparently.

The cycling club rides and annual double century – 200 miles in one day. I completed this ride. I was the lantern rouge, paced in by another rider dead last. I didn’t finish pretty or strong, but I did finish. No limit there, either.

The thing about cycling is that it will encourage you to push through what you think your limits are, and that’s a pretty rewarding thing.

Scott says, “You have to start by knowing you can do it.”

There you go.

I’m going for a ride.

See you on the road.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


It’s comeback time, ladies and gentlemen. (I hope you noticed the optimism in that statement – I said ladies and gentlemen implying a belief that I have at least four readers). Lance Armstrong has raced his first American race in several years. Floyd Landis has ridden his first stage race in two years. I am back riding the bike after my appendectomy.

One of these things is not like the others

One of these things just doesn’t belong

Can you tell which thing is not like the others

By the time I finish my song?

Now, I know that it might embarrass Lance and Floyd to be mentioned in the same paragraph as me, but since they’ll never read this, I don’t suppose it matters a whole lot. I suppose each one of them has a moment that, for him, will mark, in his own mind, that his comeback is real. There will be that moment when he’ll think, “Yes, I’m back.” I have that moment, too. Well, really, I have two of them.

The first one will be when I ride Bike Route 40 from…well, I can’t say from start to finish because it’s a circle, more or less, but you get the idea. I was originally only going to have one such mental landmark, and then I went on a ride with Jerry, and Jerry said, “I’m going to ride Bridge to Bridge this year,” and I found my mouth, without bothering to consult my brain first, saying, “I’ll ride it with you.”

Say what?

I rode Bridge to Bridge four years ago, in 2005 (thus proving I can do simple arithmetic) and the experience is still green in my memory. Some things, you don’t forget. I have this distressing feeling, though, that my memories are not accurate. I suspect that I’ve blocked out the real pain and suffering that were involved. Well, I guess I’ll find out this September.

Mind you, I’m a long way from Bridge to Bridge right now, in every conceivable way. Geographically it’s across the state. Chronologically there are many months to go. Physically…oysh. Physically I am in another state of being. I got up and rode a mere fifteen miles at sunrise the other day and I felt it that evening. Oh, well, from little seeds mighty acorns sprout and from short rides longer rides are born, or something like that.

So now I have two goals for my comeback…well, to have a comeback I suppose you have to have been somewhere in the first place, and I’m not certain that applies to me, but why be picky?

Right now I am looking at the picture of myself near the top of Grandfather mountain. Below that is the patch I got for completing the Bridge of Bridge ride. In that picture I look at ease and even happy. That picture is lying. I was suffering like a dog and wishing the ride was over. When the ride finally was over, I couldn’t get off my bike for a while because I couldn’t lift either leg high enough to get it over the top tube.

And this is the ride that I have chosen to do again…

Well, something tells me I’d better get riding. I have a lot of miles to ride before I reach the base of the mountain, right?

See you on the road.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sore Legs

Do you know what happens when you got for an unusually long walk (a little over six miles in this case) to which you are not accustomed and then you spend a lot of the next day sitting down?


Yes…you in the back row…

Correct. Your legs get stiff.

That’s why, even though I got home only slightly before sunset, I decided to go for a ride. I tossed on some jeans and a sweatshirt, helmet and gloves, and hit the road. I figured I could only get in about fifteen minutes of ride time before it got uncomfortably dark, but, hey, fifteen minutes is better than no minutes, right?

Every ride has its own flavor, and this one was largely contemplative. It was cold (about 38 degrees) with some wind on top of that, but it was quiet and really quite pleasant, except for the frozen cheeks and blocks of ice where my ears were supposed to be.

I was listening to the iPod of the mind, which is my way of saying I had a song running through my head for much of the ride. This time it was The Braes of Balquhidder by The Tannahill Weavers, which is a good song to accompany a quiet ride.

At one point I saw a dog ahead of me. It appeared to be a Lhasa Apso with a shaved body but not a shaved head, which gave it a remarkable resemblance to a dandelion. So, this dandelion ran down the street toward me barking at the top of its little lungs. Then, as it got near me it suddenly swerved into a driveway and began to sniff the ground. It gave every appearance of a dog who would have been whistling nonchalantly if only it had been able to figure out how to purse it lips. It kept up this attitude of indifference as I rode past and then, when I had gone by, proceeded to bark and chase after me for a few minutes. It was clearly a very brave dog.

I passed a few people out exercising. People exercising generally fall into two groups:

A) Those who are focused and intent and will not acknowledge your existence and probably don’t even know you’re there anyway.

I may well have been that person in the past - not because I deliberately ignored anyone but because i was so focused on my ride (or so wrapped up on a lactic acid induced haze of pain) that I simply didn't realize anyone else was there.

Jörg recalls calling out to me while I was riding past in the rain, head down and wet and focused, but I never heard a sound other than that of my own wheels on the road.

B) Those who think that being fellow exerciser makes you a comrade to be greeted cheerfully.

I saw a couple of people who were clearly walking just for the joy of it.

It's easy to tell the difference between people who are walking to someplace in particular and those who are just out walking for the sake of the walk. (It’s easy to be certain about what you know when you're sure you won't ever have the opportunity to find out if what you know is right or wrong.)

They smiled cheerfully at me and waved. I waved back. I'm polite that way.

I didn’t have a lot of time, so there were two ways to get the most out of it. One way was to go as hard as I could the whole time, spend every last erg of energy that I could. The other way was to go utterly easily, no stress, no sweat, just enjoy spinning the pedals. That was the option I went for, and why not? A hard ride is its own reward, but so is an easy ride, just so long as you're riding.

See you on the road.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Natural Hazards

There are many natural hazards out there on the road. Here I am not thinking of bumps, hills, or cars. I am not even thinking of wind, even though that might be considered a natural hazard at times (such as today when the wind here is blowing at 20 mph with gusts up to 30). I am mostly thinking of bugs.


Yes, bugs.

One day, Dave got stung by a bee while riding. There was a general stop while medical necessities were dealt with. Unfortunately for Dave, Chuck was the one doing the dealing. According to Chuck, he pulled out a credit card (always a useful thing to have on a ride, right?) and used it to scrape away at Dave’s forehead (yes, he nearly got stung right between the eyes) in an attempt to get the stinger out.

According to Dave, Chuck abandoned the credit card and pulled up a speed limit sign and used that to scrape away at Dave’s forehead and didn’t stop scraping until several minutes after hitting bone. We think Dave may exaggerate, but he swears that, if he ever gets stung again, he’ll leave the stinger in rather than let Chuck help him out because it will hurt less.
Other bug encounters have been less painful.

For example, one day I headed out to ride with some friends. I was riding to the rendezvous point and, for some reason even I can’t explain, had decided to go as hard as I could. I was an utterly unattractive site, because my mouth was hanging open so I could suck down air and a bug flew straight in my mouth, bumped my epiglottis and dived down my throat.

Now, I know that bugs are supposed to be high in protein and low in fat, but I’ve never eaten one willingly, not even as a child, and I'm not tempted to eat any more, because this one tasted really really bad. The experience has not inclined me to become insectivorous.
Then there was the great mosquito feast.

A group of us had gone out for a ride in the county, and, as sometimes happens, someone got a flat. We all pulled over to wait. There were no houses visible within a few hundred yards. There were, however, trees, grass, a ditch (into which I would, on a later day, tumble head over heels while trying not to run over the face of someone who had gone down right in front of me) and lots of dirt.

No big deal. We lounged around chatting while the flat was being changed. The lounging lasted all of three minutes, after which slaps began to be heard followed by a bit of language. The mosquitoes had come. We don’t know from where, but they had come in a massive swarm. You could see them crawling over nearly every square inch of exposed skin. Who knows what they lived on when they could get human, but there were a ton of them.
I am not ashamed to admit that we fled. (Not the person who was changing the flat, mind you, though I suppose the insect advent did increase the speed with which that flat was fixed.) We hopped on our bikes and took off down the road for a good hundred yards, where we tentatively climbed off our bikes and waited. The mosquitoes did not follow us.
Then there are the armadillos.

Armadillos?! Aramdillos aren't bugs.

I know. I just wanted to work them in and couldn't think of a good segue.
Well, we don’t actually know about the armadillos. Chuck claims to have seen the armadillos one day while out on a ride. Several other people looked but no one else saw the armadillos. I offer that one up without comment because I wasn't there.

I also know at least one cyclist who ran into a deer (or got run over by a deer, depending on whose side your on) with no apparent injury to either party.

We won’t even bother to talk about dogs. The dog related injuries of people I know have ranged from scrapes, bumps, bruises, road rash, a separated shoulder and a broken pelvis. None of them, however, have been bitten.

(Yes, I did notice that, right after saying I wasn’t going to talk about dogs, I pretty much did so. That’s the kind of confusion you get sometimes in a blog like this.)
I suppose there have been other animal encounters out there, but I haven’t been involved in them. If you have, feel free to share.

See you on the road.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

An Afternoon Ride

It was a balmy 52 degrees Fahrenheit out, quite windy, and I only had an hour, but I couldn’t resist spending that hour on the bike. Under the peculiar illusion that it was warmer out than it really was (which it never is) I passed over the tights and decided to wear knickers (which is cycling lingo for “pants in which I look extraordinarily silly”) and hit the road.

I had a route already picked out. Being the science nerd that I am, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone (no birds were harmed in the writing of this blog) and find out which of two routes to a certain point was longer while I was getting in a ride. This had the added advantage of taking me by the house.

I don’t really know much about the house. I had passed it on a few club rides quite some time ago and was quite surprised to pass it recently in the car. I hadn’t had any idea that I was anywhere near the house.

Okay, enough with the italics.

The house is a very nice and very very large house set well back from the road. Rumors abound about how much the house cost to build. I have been told (and I pass this on without vouching for it but also without prejudice) that the driveway alone cost a million dollars. The driveway is, in fact, two parallel driveways, and, while I don’t know how far back from the road the house is, I know that it’s a long way. The house was apparently built and then never lived in and has been vacant now for several years.

A few days ago while driving past, I saw a man jogging down the driveway. This made me consider the idea of riding my bike down the driveway and founding out just how long it is. I was discouraged from this, however, by the large red and black signs reading “Private Property.”

A thing that I noticed on this ride is that a lot of people didn’t want me to encroach on their property. This was a fact which they made clear with a variety of appropriately worded signs. (I hasten to add that none of these signs actually had my name on them, so don’t I suppose they were addressed specifically to me, but it was quite inhospitable all the same.)

And I still don’t know how long the driveway is.

The most exciting moment on my ride came when a Chihuahua ran out after me. Though I have been told of the mythical thirty mile an hour Chihuahua, this was more like a two and a half mile and hour Chihuahua, but it was well ahead of me and ran toward my just as I was cresting a hill. It was well placed in front of to dive directly under my front wheel if it had a mind to. Why it would want to do such a thing, I don’t know, but the only dog of this particular breed that I ever met socially did not dazzle me with its intellect.

I stopped and glared at the dog. It barked at me. I set off again and the dog kicked up its speed to run along beside me yapping hysterically. I gave it a spray from my water bottle and it stopped, quite stunned, clearly obviously unprepared for this tactic. As I rode off, I did hear a few plaintive yips from behind me, but that was it.

When you have done enough rides with a cycling club, you never ride alone, even when you ride solo. I had advice in various voices in my head along the way. As I was coasting down a hill, for example, coughing from the cold and panting from the effort I had made to get up the hill, I heard Keith saying, “Pedal up, pedal down.” Sometimes I took his advice, and sometimes I just coasted down. It was good advice, but I needed a little rest all the same.

One polite fellow in a car waved at me, another gave the absolutely politest quietest toot on his own horn I have ever heard to let me know he was coming up behind me. Everyone else passed with courtesy and safety, and I got some miles in. It was altogether a most excellent ride.

I’m ready for another one, though.

See you on the road.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Missy Says

Cyclin’ Missy says:

I think it's sad that one of the biggest turnoffs to bike commuting is fear of the roads. We all seem to have our horror stories. It frustrates me that motorists don't seem to know the traffic laws concerning bicycles. I advocate awareness and education, building bike lanes and trails, etc. But while we wait for that, one of our best defenses as cyclists is increasing our visibility.

That’s so full of good juice that I want to take it piece by piece.

I think it's sad that one of the biggest turnoffs to bike commuting is fear of the roads.

And a lot of people are scared of the roads. (Mind you, there are people I know who are scared of exercise, too, but that’s a different matter.) When I set out to ride to work, my Lovely Lovely worries about me. I can see why she does. I’ve had my share of close calls, up to and including the time a lady in a jeep passed me and then pulled right in front of me and slammed on her brakes to turn into her driveway. It was only by throwing both bike and body desperately to the side that I avoided pancaking into the jeep. Apparently she was in a real hurry to make that turn. Perhaps she had some ice cream which she wanted to get into the freezer before it melted, I don’t know. It’s hard to argue that she didn’t know I was there, since she pulled around me to pass.

We all seem to have our horror stories.

I know I do - for instance, see my previous comments - but no serious injuries, though the backdraft from a tractor trailer going 55 mph as it blew past me without either slowing down or moving over did once knock me off the road and nearly into a ditch and then into a tree.


I’ve mentioned my buddy Dave before, but his website does a much better job of relating his experiences than I can do here.

It frustrates me that motorists don't seem to know the traffic laws concerning bicycles.

And you have to think that some of them wouldn’t care if they did know. I have seen my share of polite and courteous motorists, but I have also seen my share of motorists who gave the appearance of not caring.

Mind you, there is a sort of selective blindness out there. I don’t think a lot of drivers see us, and I know they aren’t looking for us. How you avoid seeing someone in an electric green jersey who is riding a bike painted six different shades of orange, red, and yellow, I don’t know. I would think that would kind of tend to stand out. (That isn’t a description of me, mind you. I was just using that as an example (although I do know someone who greatly resembles that description). I just wanted to make that clear.)

Whew. That's a lot of parentheses for one short paragraph.

I advocate awareness and education, building bike lanes and trails, etc.

Me, too. The town I live in has a population of around 40,000. (I don’t know how many of those people have bicycles.) We do have nearly four miles of bike lanes. The bike lanes don’t actually go anywhere, of course, they mostly just make a loop, and the four miles aren’t exactly continuous, but, still, it’s better than nothing.

I think.

But while we wait for that, one of our best defenses as cyclists is increasing our visibility.

Be visible and be predictable – my two favorite rules.

Missy was talking about something called the light lane. If you’re curious, head on over to her blog and read about it yourself. Meanwhile, stay upright and stay out of the way of anybody dangerous.

Oh, and have fun. I intend to.

See you on the road.

Cars and Things

As far as I can tell, most drivers are not actively trying to kill bicyclists. They just don't care whether we live or die. If a driver wants to turn right 6 inches in front of me without signaling, that is, apparently, my problem,
-Del Dickson

In 15 years of riding and racing, there were so many times when trucks and cars passed by just a bit too close. Sometimes they’d be so close I could feel the vacuum-like force that is typical of a large vehicle passing at high speed. It’s amazing how easy it was to brush off all those close calls and keep riding, never really conscious of the minute difference that separated all those moments from the one that landed me in a hospital.
-Diana Panchyk

Virtually every cyclist, and certainly every roadie, has had more than one close call with a motorist who made too close a pass ─ sometimes unintentionally, but sometimes intentionally.
-Bob Mionske

You know, every time I read or hear about a cyclist getting hit by a car, it makes me feel a little twitchy on my next ride. When I hear a car approaching from behind, my back kind of prickles. After Dave had his encounter with a car, I thought a lot about it on my next ride, but I realized that Dave would hate to be the reason anybody stopped riding.

I read all of the statements above in the same day and then went out for a ride. It was a short one – twenty miles – but it was over a route that involved a fair amount of climbing, helped (if that is the word I want) by a screaming (and chilly) headwind. I was faced with the same conundrum that hits me every year when it starts to get cold. How do I dress?

In the beginning, I usually get it wrong. This time I was underdressed, and, despite all the work I was doing and the heat it generated, I was cold.

And twitchy. Let’s not forget the twitchy part.

But I have to admit that the vast majority of the cars who passed me did so not only safely, but courteously. Of course, all it takes is one person who’s inattentive or actively hostile to a guy on a bike to ruin your day or month or year or even decade.

So why ride?

That’s the very question my mother (who still worries about me) asks from time to time. She sees the health benefits (cardio, pulmonary, etc.) and she also sees the health risks (SPLAT!!!!!!!!!!!), and the latter agitates her more than the former comforts her.

I’ve certainly had enough people tell me that riding a bike on the road is dangerous.

I’ve also had someone say to me, “I don’t mind if people want to ride their bikes, just so long as they don’t do it on the road.”

“Where should they do it?” I naively asked.

“I don’t know.”

Not very helpful, really.

So I still ride on the road, but what do I do to protect myself out on the road?

Well, to be honest, there isn’t all that much you can do to protect yourself from a rampaging 2000 lb beast even if said beast is only going thirty-five miles an hour and is being driven by someone who is paying attention and values the lives of others.

I do have a Road ID that I wear containing some vital contact information. Granted, that won’t do much to protect me from getting hit in the first place, but it might help me out afterwards.

Other than that, be visible, be predictable, use common sense and then don’t fret about it too much because you’ll only torture yourself internally and end up as an unhappy person who used to ride and now sits in a corner staring at the microwave thinking it’s the TV set and wondering if all shows are this boring and wishing you were in the saddle instead, and nobody wants that, right?

You know what? I’m going for a ride.

See you on the road.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One Fine Day

Yesterday I expected to go home in the same way that I went to work: in a motorized vehicle. For reasons that shall remain obscure, I had to walk instead. Now, If you are an avid follower of this blog and have diligently committed every random fact to memory, then you know that’s a distance of a little over six miles. The weather was fine, and it was a very nice walk, but you learn some things when you finally walk a ride that you have so many times ridden. (I realize that sentence may perhaps be described as grammatically awkward, but I prefer to think of it as being intriguingly constructed.

1. Steve says: “Any walk over a quarter mile sucks. That’s why I always carry an extra


Well, at the beginning of the walk, I did find myself wishing that I had my bicycle. Also, at the end of the ride, by which time my feet were beginning to complain a bit, I did wish I had my bicycle. In the middle of the ride, however…well, I wished I had my bicycle then, too.
The walk really was quite pleasant, but I do have to admit that I would nearly always rather be riding.

2. Many drivers care just as little about pedestrians as they do about cyclists.

I have often wondered if those drivers who honk as they are coming up behind me would honk if they were coming up behind a pedestrian. The answer, in at least one case, is definitely yes. This is particularly odd since I was walking on the correct side of the road, so the car was coming up behind me but was in the other lane. I don’t really know what message that particular honk was intended to convey, so I’ve decided it was something like, “Hey, how come you aren’t riding your bike?”

Drivers who don’t pull over to give any clearance to a cyclist hugging the shoulder, certainly don’t pull over to give any clearance to a pedestrian who is actually walking on the shoulder. I’ll admit that I tend to swing out to give such people a little extra room, but a lot of people don’t.

3. Dogs are different when you are on foot.

I’m not sure how to explain this one.

Two dogs who typically ignore me when I am on the bike came trotting out to meet me as I walked past. Well, I don’t know that they wanted to meet me precisely. One of them, fortunately the extremely small member of the pair, was giving every indication of wanting to see the color of my insides. Neither of them actually left their yard to pursue me, however. In the case of these particular dogs, I think they ignore me when I’m on the bike because they don’t want to chase me. Even the one who sounded like he was cussing me out in dog language was merely sauntering after me. If you can’t catch a guy who’s walking, then you aren’t really trying.

\There is a self storage place along this route with two chows guarding the fenceline. When I ride past, they bark at me and run along the fence and generally look fearsome and dangerous. (When I say two chows by the way, I actually mean six chows but four of them are recent additions and are slightly smaller than throw pillows. They are puppies, in fact.)
As I walked past, the puppies looked at the adults to figure out what to do about the interloper. One of the adults ignored me and the other one ran to the fence and wagged it’s body and gave a doggie grin and seemed to do everything in its power to communicate the fact that it was a good doggie and wanted to be friends.

I didn’t actually try the experiment to find out.

4. I see a lot more when I am walking.

Well, that one makes sense. I’m closer to the ground and going slower. Not everything that I saw was worth the seeing, mind you. I never realized how much manure gets spread on some of the fields that line this route. I never realized how much garbage lines the road, especially beer bottles and, oddly enough, cds. (No, I didn’t look at them to see what they were. They probably had manure on them.) I didn’t see that dead fox the last time I rode by.

I’m sure there was some natural beauty out there. It always seems like it when I’m on the bike, but I didn’t notice it this time.

I think the next time, I’ll ride instead.

See you on the road.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Heigh Ho

For the past week the temperatures have been in the seventies. The days have been beautiful for riding. So, of course, I haven’t had much time to ride. Today my desires and my circumstances coincided – it would be helpful to others if I rode my bike to work and I had the time to do so. The temperature: 37 degrees. With the infamous wind chill factor the temperature was equivalent to 31 degrees. If you’re standing still, that is. I don’t know what the heck it was if you were riding into the wind, but it was cold. If Murphy didn’t write a bicycling specific law, he should have.

I headed out not quite prepared for the temperatures. I was wearing my work clothes – slacks and a shirt, a coat with a broken zipper (not the most effective outwear, I’ll admit), a winter walz cap with ear flaps (if you don’t have one, get one now) and full fingered gloves. And a helmet, of course. It didn’t take me long to regret the absence of a balaclava, but I wasn’t going to turn around and go get one. Why? I have no idea.

When I went to put the helmet on, I saw that it had been adjusted for a head smaller than my own, which should have been an important clue to me but, somehow, wasn’t. It meant, of course, that the last person to ride the hybrid was my lovely lovely. This is rather an important fact, because she four or five inches shorter than I am. Does anybody see where I’m going with this yet?

I hit the road and something felt strange, but it took me a moment to realize that my saddle was too low. It only took a couple of seconds longer to realize that I didn’t have any allen wrenches with me. The smart thing, of course, would have been to turn around, get the wrench, adjust the saddle, all of which would have taken five minutes or less. So, of course, I didn’t do it. Why not? I have no idea. AI have to put this all down to some effect of having a Y chromosome.
Did you know it’s harder to ride uphill when your saddle is too low?

Well, it’s really pretty simply biomechanics and quite obvious to anyone who’s actually thinking, which, as I believe I have already demonstrated, I wasn’t doing this morning.

I spotted a German Shepherd early on in the ride, but then I realized it was in a fence. Then I saw, tacked to a stop sign, a very tiny placard for a missing dog. It appeared to be a terrier of some kind named Toby, but the sign was waaaaaaay too small to read. I then passed the self storage place that used to have two chows in their yard. They now have about six or seven chows in their yard – two adults and several puppies. They were all huddled up together, and seeing them should probably have made me wish I was snugly tucked under the covers at home, but that thought didn’t occur to me at the time. At least I was getting a ride in.

I would like to say thank you to the driver of the SUV from Georgia that slowed down behind me and then waited until it was safe and passed me slowly and with clearance. I would also like to say quite the opposite to the tractor trailer driver who whooshed past me with less than a foot of clearance.

It occurred to me this morning that, if a student rides his or her bike to work, he or she is looked upon as either being

a) normal


b) an object of pity for being so poor as to have to resort to the bicycle

but if a teacher rides his or her bike to work, he or she is looked upon as being utterly strange and a bit amusing. Oh, well.

I got a rather pleasant little ride in this morning – my commute is just over six miles – and that puts me six miles to the good, and I have a six mile ride home in front of me. Mind you, I think I’m going to try to borrow an allen wrench before I make that trip home.

The world is good when you can ride your bike to work.

See you on the road.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Daisy Chain

In the following story the names have been changed to protect the innocent and because I I can’t remember the real name of the person involved, so I have decided to call her Daisy.

The Story of Daisy

When you go on your first club ride, you will often be given helpful advice. (Here I am speaking of actual helpful advice rather than advice given primarily for its amusement value to the giver.)

Daisy was a teacher of spin classes who was taking to the road for the first time in preparation for a triathlon. There can be friendly rivalry between roadies and trigeeks or between triathletes and people who couldn’t run a mile if a bear were chasing them, depending on which side of the fence you sit on, but beginners, no matter why they are riding, always get good advice distilled from years and miles of wisdom. Now, just because you’ve only been doing something for fifteen minutes and someone else has been doing it for twenty years doesn’t actually guarantee that they know more about it than you do, but it’s got to be considered a pretty good indicator, don't you think?

Daisy didn't think so.

She was discovering a few differences between riding a spin bike and riding on the road. One difference is that you don’t control the environment. The temperature, the wind, the steepness of the hills, all of these things are beyond your ability to do anything about them. Another difference is that your bike doesn’t stay upright unless you make it stay upright. You have to pay attention to that. There is also the fact that your bike can wobble quite a bit, swaying from side to side in some sort of bizarre dance that makes everyone around you nervous.

Daisy was also discovering that people were offering her advice. The advice which she was given included such things as:

“You should drink water. I notice you don’t have a water bottle. Take one of mine.”

Daisy’s response was: “I think water bottles are just for show. People don’t actually drink while they’re on rides or in races.”

I have to admit that I found this a curious sentiment for someone who teaches a spin class. Do they not drink during spin classes? I honestly don’t know. I’ve ridden a spin bike and found it to be a less boring indoor ride alternative than some other things I’ve tried, but I’ve never taken a class. Don’t they drink?

I also discovered, on Daisy’s second ride when, for the second time, she nearly bonked, that she was on a low carb diet.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, on a lot of rides, your muscles are primarily powered by carbs. Bonking is what happens to you when your body uses up its share of the carbs and your brain decides that whatever blood sugar remains in your system needs to be saved for the proprietary use of the brain, all of which is a longwinded way of saying that your brain wants you to stop exercising, preferably RIGHT NOW!

A nasty headaches is an early symptom, soon to be followed by nausea, dizziness, and falling down. This is a battle that the brain is going to win. Fortunately, the bonk is easy to combat. Take in some carbs. Drink a soda, eat a candy bar, how about a gel? Your options are numerous.

Daisy, however, didn’t like this idea because, let us not forget, she was on a low carb diet. This is rather like taking your car on a long drive while it is on a low gasoline diet – not the best of all ideas.

Daisy didn’t ride with us many times. For one thing, she got tired of people offering her water. What I would have called an act of kindness seemed to tick her off. Maybe it’s because nearly every rider in the group offered her water, and she didn’t want it. (On her last ride with the club, she had a water bottle. She never drank out of it, and she later admitted that it was merely there so no one would offer her water. Curse you nice people!)

These rides were conducted in the summertime, and everyone ended up soaked in sweat at the end. Some of us, however, were still hydrated. Others, not so much.

Well, in the end, if you don’t want the advice which is offered to you, don’t follow it, but it is just possible that someone else may know better than you do from time to time.

Daisy disagrees, but that’s her prerogative.

See you on the road.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Riding the Hamster Wheel

I do not like to ride indoors. I am not alone in this, I know. I have never tried to imagine myself in the place of a hamster or Ian Anderson's One Brown Mouse, yet that is the inevitable comparison whenever I resort to pedaling indoors: I can imagine the little guy going round and round in his wheel and getting absolutely nowhere. If course, it’s probably better than nothing. Right? Right? Tell me it is. I need the motivation to keep going.

I have done the stationary trainer.

I hate the stationary trainer.

I begin to hate the sight of the wall in front of me. I’m wearing my cycling shoes, I’m on my bike, the pedals are spinning, and that wall is just sitting there in front of me. Oh, I can do it for awhile. My resolution is good for at least two or three minutes of pedaling to nowhere. Then I begin to get bored.

I tried music. I tried books on tape. Nothing worked. So I decided to try rollers.

I had been told that riding on rollers was a lot more like riding for real. In fact, this is true. It is so much like riding for real that I was able to crash for real. We’ll ignore the little incidents - such as the time my front wheel slid off and I came down hard on the bar - and we’ll skip right to the big one.

I did find the rollers more interesting than the stationary trainer, but that’s a lot like saying that I found the beige wall more interesting than the plain white one. It still wasn’t fun. So I tried watching cycling videos while riding the rollers. This helped quite a bit, actually, and, if I had been smart, I simply would have stuck with it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well, it wasn’t broke, but I decided to fix it anyway.

One year during the Tour de France, a well known cycling coach put out, for free, a series of workouts inspired by the TdF stages. They were downloadable files that you could put on your mp3 player and ride along with. There was music and helpful suggestions and I figured, what’s the worst that can happen? I can try it and, if I don't like it, no harm done, right?


In fact, the worst that could happen was this: The coach was in my ears telling me to sprint, so I was sprinting hard. The bike slid sideways just a bit and then off the rollers. Now, I was in a little hallway, so I clung to the walls rather like Spiderman and the bike went out from under me and turned a complete flip in my kitchen. I climbed down from my perch and found that the chain was actually wrapped around the crank arm. It took me a bit to disentangle it, at which point I found that the rollers were still rolling. I had been spinning the pedals at quite a nice pace, apparently.

I put my bike back on the rollers and climbed on, only to find out that the rear derailleur was now useful only as an objet d’art.

Riding on rollers is very realistic.

I even went to the gym and climbed on a spin bike. I did not take a spinning class. I remembered what had happened on the rollers when I tried to let someone else tell me how to ride, so I figured I’d just do what I wanted on the spin bike.

This was as strange experience. There were little red dots on a monitor on the bike, one of which apparently represented me and one of which apparently represented my competition. (I decided arbitrarily to race against a variety of pros. I beat them all. It turns out it isn’t that hard to beat a little red dot. I'm sure it's quite a bit harder (which is my way of saying impossible for me personally) to beat the actual pros.

Watching a little red dot chase another little red dot around an imaginary track in an imaginary velodrome was not the most fun I have ever had. I suppose the dot chase did do something to liven up the ride. The giant fan blowing on my sweaty form simulated the wind. I have had less fun, such as riding the stationary trainer, but somehow the idea of pedaling and just not getting anywhere still doesn’t appeal to me.

Maybe I could hook the bike up to some kind of generator. I’m sure I could generate at least enough watts to power a radio. Not a big radio, mind you, just one of those little transistor things, and not long enough to listen to an entire program. Maybe long enough to listen to an entire song.

Actually, I’m not sure I could generate enough watts to power a radio. I have a feeling I’d get bored first.

Today, however, I have a chance to ride outdoors instead of indoors. I think I’ll do that.

See you on the road.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

An Early Ride

Last night I went to bed early, and my brain said, “Maybe if I wake up early, I’ll go for a little ride before I go to work. My body laughed quietly to itself, snuggled under the covers and said, “Sure.”

Unfortunately…I mean, fortunately, I did wake up early. Quite a bit early than I would have liked, in fact. I eventually got out of bed and checked the weather. The temperature was on the midforties, not bad after two weeks of snow and ice and subfreezing temps. The wind was supposedly light. “That doesn’t sound bad at all,” my brain said. “No, not at all,” my body agreed. “Let’s go back to bed. I bet we can fall asleep again if we try.”

But I got kitted out – adding tights, booties and my lovely walzcap with the earflaps and headed out.

The first thing I noticed was the cold and the hill outside the front door… the two things I noticed were the cold, the hill outside my front door and the child screaming in the distance…the three things I noticed were the cold, the hill, the child screaming and the geese…the…amongst the things…amongst the things I noticed were diverse items as the cold, the hill outside my front door, the child screaming and the geese.

As I went up the hill, my legs, apparently still under the impression that I had been going to go back to bed, began to protest. “We didn’t know you were serious about this!” I was, though, and the pain in my thighs helped me to know it. I heard a child give a loud and piercing scream followed by a second loud scream. I suspected this might be due to the unexpected sight of me in lycra. The scream was followed by laughter and then more laughter, at which point I was certain it was due to the unexpected sight of me in lycra, but I may have been wrong.

The sun had barely cleared the horizon and some kids were already out and waiting for the bus.

As I was starting to catch my breath after the hill, I saw a small flight of geese take off honking. It wasn’t melodious, but it still looked pretty.

I made the turn onto the road and took off. My body was still telling me that it had thought I was kidding, but it seemed apparent that I wasn’t going to turn back now, so we just went with it. I was passed by a couple of school buses and various cars and trucks, and I began to wonder how many of those people passing me thought I was crazy. I was fully expecting to get the freakshow look, but I wasn’t actually looking at any of the driver or passengers, so I don’t know if I did or not.

Suddenly, off to my left, an animal burst out of a screen of bushes and took off after me. It was what Basil Fawlty once referred to as “el perro microscopic” and, despite the fusillade of furious barks that it hurled after me, it didn’t have either the legs of the wind for that particular chase and began to fall behind immediately.

Well, at least I have better legs and lungs than an extremely small dog. Good for me. That’s clearly a step in the right direction.

Ahead I saw a woman carrying a plastic tub in one arm with a cat walking beside her for all the world like a dog at heel. They were only three feet away from the edge of the road, but they ignored a school bus, some cars, an SUV and a motorcycle. Then they saw me. Both the woman and the cat froze, eyes wide, staring at me. As I passed them, the woman gave a little uncertain laugh, the kind you give to prove that you aren’t terrified out of your mind. The cat wasn’t even pretending. It was clearly terrified of the guy on the bicycle. I got the freakshow look and then some.

I passed a house with two very large dogs who danced about their yard and made little feints in my direction, but neither of them came after me. A few minutes later I turned onto what must be the worst maintained road in the county. Everything on the bike was rattling, including my teeth. Then I reached my turnaround point and headed back.

The two large dogs were now three, and the third dog clearly had something important to say to me which it persisted in saying in a very loud voice even after I had gone by, but none of them set paw in the road, though one of them ran along the full length of its yard as I rode past.

The woman and her cat had apparently run off in terror for fear that the horrible apparition might come back, as indeed it had, and I eventually made it back home safe and sound.
Recipe for how not to ride well: be ill the night before, get up extra early on a winter morning, don’t eat any breakfast, don’t drink anything, head out on the road. It’s only common sense that you won’t be on top of your game.

Recipe for how to have a fun ride: be ill the night before, get up extra early on a winter morning, don’t eat any breakfast, don’t drink anything, head out on the road. That must be true, since my ride was a lot of fun. The enforced layoff has taken its toll and my sit bones have to get used to saddle again, but that’s okay. It’s still fun. A lot of fun, in fact.
See you on the road.

If you’re up early enough.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Hot Dry Day

The Fable of Frank and the Greatest Water You’ve Ever Tasted

It was a hot day, but not to worry, according to Frank, because there was a springwell coming up which produced “the best water you ever tasted.” (I have to admit that I don’t actually know what a springwell is, but that’s okay. Live and learn.) The water was so good, Frank said, that everyone should go ahead and dump out whatever water remained in their bottles so they could fill them up at the springwell. Everyone took his advice. Everyone that is, except Frank himself, although this fact went unnoticed for the moment.

The group rounded the curve, and Frank pointed out the springwell. It was a pipe sticking out the ground, out of which came a stream of thick green water. Yummy. Well, what do you do when you’ve dumped out your water bottle and it’s a very hot day and you’ve been riding for awhile and are still miles from home? You drink what’s available, and the sound of slurping filled the air, rapidly followed by the sound of people spitting and gagging and then looking for some way to get the taste out of their mouths.

“There was so much iron in that water,” Dave says, “that it tasted like what you taste when you’ve got a bloody nose.”

“I just filled my bottles up from there yesterday,” Frank said, “and it tasted great!” The grin with which he said this, followed by the realization that Frank hadn’t dumped his own bottles out, probably contributed to the general air of disbelief with which this statement was greeted. This was followed by Frank politely but firmly declining to share his water with anyone else. Well, really, not all that politely.

Not too surprisingly, Frank eventually found himself leading the group. Being the only guy with water does a lot to help you outride everyone else. The even tenor of Frank’s ride, however, was interrupted by a sudden piercing scream. He turned around to find out what had happened.

What had happened was that the panting peloton, like the deer that longs for running streams, was on the lookout for water. They spotted a woman watering her garden and descended upon her en masse. They would have been friendly, even polite, but, when she was a group of lycra clad spandex wearing guys on bicycles pulling over at the edge of her yard, she shrieked, dropped her hose, with water still streaming from it, and ran for her front door as fast as her legs could carry her.

Upon being asked, “Did you drink from the hose?” Dave replied with an emphatic “Yeah,” and added. “We filled out bottles up, too.”

Now, what there may have been in the sight of a group of cyclists to send the poor woman shrieking and running for safety, I don’t know. I never did find that one out.
Still, live and learn.

Especially learn not to trust Frank when he makes a suggestion.

(Just to show that Frank is a good guy, one day I ran out of water on a ride. I was passing Frank’s hosue and saw him working in the garage. He gave me a drink and filled my bottles up with cold clear water that didn’t come from his favorite springwell.)
See you on the road.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On the Road Again

WOOOHOOOO I’m riding again! I can’t tell you what a joy it is to be back on two wheels after my enforced layoff!!

It was a lovely day, nearly seventy degrees out. Of course, the wind was blowing 15 to 20 mph, but you can’t have everything. We were slated to have an easy ride, with President Dave, Jorg, Mark and Lisa, Jerry and Frank, clearly a small but select group, by which I mean, people whose bare legs haven’t seen the sun in who knows how long because most of them haven’t been out riding for one reason or another.

Our goal was 20 miles at a lazy 15 mph, and that was pretty much what we did. That’s the kind of pace a fellow just on his first real ride after surgery needs.

As usually happens, most of us were riding around the parking lot as we waited for the ride to start. Frank did three laps, and we headed out. Before we got to the street, Frank’s wife honked at him. Apparently three laps of the parking lot and his kitchen pass was revoked.

Mark was, of course, riding his recumbent, which was even more fully tricked out than the last time I rode with him. I found this out when he honked back at Frank’s wife, and the horn on his bike was louder than the horn from her car. He later sounded his klaxon from behind us when we were on the road, and his wife Lisa issued a threat that involved both the horn and a part of his anatomy and no further details of which will be revealed here. It was a very loud horn.

At one point early on, the cry of “Dogs left!” was heard. Lisa had one or two rude words to say, since she is, for some reason, a dog magnet and since she was on the left side of the double paceline at that point. We heard a furious fusillade of barks followed by the appearance of two microscopic animals that might, if one stretched the definition nearly to its breaking point, have been called dogs. Whatever they were, they were both ferocious and game. They darted into the street at us, barely restrained by our yells of “No!” As we passed, they skidded to a stop in a manner worthy of a Bugs Bunny cartoon and then darted all the way across the road and took off after us again. In fact, they were actually gaining on us. Then Mark sounded his horn. Both dogs leaped nearly a foot into the air and, when they hit the ground, froze. That horn must have sounded like the trump of doom to them, and they were awaiting their fate in a paralysis of horror. We all thought it was pretty funny.

Later in the ride, the cry of “Rider off,” was heard. It was Mark. Jörg asked, “What? Did his satellite dish fall off?” This joke led Dave and Jörg to give a joint telling of:

The Story of Alan

Alan was to come over to Jörg’s house for a ride. Jörg gave him his address and started to rattle off directions, but Alan said, “I don’t need that. I have GPS.” Indeed, he did. What he had, in fact, was a computer with some sort of wireless satellite connection. Riding down the road, he could often be seen using a stylus to tap at a screen in the middle of his handle bars. He was sending emails from his bike. Now, I’ve heard of multitasking, but that just sounds like a way to ruin a good ride to me.

Alan had ridden a long way to get to the ride and had a long way to ride to get back home again afterward. He wanted to be back home by 4:05, so he set his GPS to track to the time for him and tell him when to turn around and head back. His GPS dutifully did so. “Turn around now to be back home by 4:05.” Of course, the GPS has calculated his distance traveled and the time it took him to travel that distance. It had not included in its calculations the fact that that he was on a bicycle and had a 20 mph headwind on his ride out and would have a 20 mph headwind on his ride back. He got home arournd 8:00. Take that, GPS.

Jörg was on his latest ride, which was also tricked out, but in a totally different way than Mark’s. He had gotten hold of an old Pinarello steel frame. His bike now had a hidden downtube cable, tube shifters, and tubular sew-up tires. He says they’re great as long as they don’t roll off the wheel while you’re riding. 175 psi makes for a different ride, right? Of course, the idea of the tire rolling off the wheel would make me think twice before trying it.

It was great being back on a ride after the surgery. All the equipment seems to be A-okay. Well, I don’t guess I should go that far. All the equipment seems no worse than it was before the appendectomy, anyway. After all, it’s still my equipment.

I saw some friends, traded some stories and spun the pedals. This is what life is all about.

Speaking of stories, at a later time, we will hear the story of Frank the water bottles that shouldn’t have been emptied but were. Stayed tuned.

I’m back in the saddle again. Bike Route 40, here I come.

See you on the road.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Gullibility Factor

Note: I did have my first ride back after my appecdectomy, and it was a blast. Unfortunately, my computer ate the post I had written. I'll rewrite it and put it up tomorrow. And now for today's entertainment:

When you join a bike club as a new rider, you will be offered a great deal of advice and given a lot of new information. Some of it is even true. The trick is to learn to tell the difference.

On one of the routes we ride, there is very steep hill that leads up to the parking lot of a church. There are also stairs that lead up to the church. Standing at the bottom of that hill and looking up is a daunting experience, so you don’t do that. However, if a ride goes past the church, several people will opt to depart from the afternoon’s scheduled activities long enough to ride up that hill. When we finally get to the top, everybody circles around the church parking lot for a little while until they can breathe again. Did I mention that it was a very steep hill? Then, after you’ve recovered, you get the pleasure of riding down the hill.

Well, perhaps pleasure isn’t exactly the right word, as this hill debouches onto a very busy road with pretty much no line of sight, so you can’t blast down it. Well, you can, but, as you run a serious risk of encountering a car or truck moving at sixty miles an hour, it isn’t an especially good idea. Instead, you have to ride your brakes - hard - all the way down.

On a now not so recent ride, a fairly new rider talked about liking that hill, as many of us do. (Yes, many of us are crazy. Most cyclists are crazy. Haven't you learned that yet?) He was immediately told that, while the hill was fun, the real fun was in riding up and down the stairs instead. Now, there are perhaps fifty steps in the stairway, and it looks a bit more like a ladder than a staircase, so the very idea of riding either up or down it is pretty much ludicrous in the extreme unless it is your great desire to break something. Or possibly several somethings, since a fall down those stairs into the busy road would be quite spectacular from start to finish and might actually involve an involuntary lesson in flight with no accompanying instructions on landing.

The person in question asked, “Really?”


“That would be pretty hard!”

“Nah, you just have to get a rhythm going. Bump Bump Bump. It’s not that bad.”


Now, for those of you who are keeping track, that was false information, as was eventually explained to the listener in question for fear that he might actually try it one day and end up on MTV waving at the camera from the ambulance.

In fact, the peloton (the official name for a roving pack of cyclists) is full of chatter, much of it involving pulling someone’s leg.

“Dump out your water bottles here, because there’s a great spring around that curve where you can fill them up again with fresh water.”

Sure. (This is part of Frank's story, which will be posted in its entirety in a couple of days. I can tell you are breathless with anticipation.)

“No, there are no hills on this route at all.”

Of course not. There never are. Of course, this statement is almost certain to be followed by, "Oh, except that one. I forgot about that one." Then, later, by, "Well, you can't count this one. This isn't really a hill." And so on.

“If you move your water bottles from your bike to your jersey pockets, it’ll make your bike lighter and you’ll be able to climb faster.”

Oh, yes. You should try it. This is one of my favorites, actually. It's amazing how many people will believe this one.

Then there was the time I was buying a new bike. I had ordered a Litespeed Classic only ti find out after a few weeks that the model had been discontinued. Okay, so I went with a Tuscany. Then I waited. A week or so later on a ride, I heard Chuck behind me in the paceline talking to someone else. It seems his son had ordered a Tuscany and they were on backorder. It was going to be six months before his bike arrived. I was aghast, as you can imagine. (In this context, aghast is a euphemism for really ticked off.) Of course, it turned out that Chuck's son had not ordered a Tuscany and this conversation was specifically for my benefit. Even I thought it was a good joke.

You actually do get good information sometimes, though. I swear you do. Come on out and find out for yourself.

See you on the road.

Friday, February 6, 2009

It’s COOOOOOOOLD outside.

I headed out for a walk, and that made me consider how cold it would be if I were riding. I would still rather have been riding, cold or no cold, but there is a certain pleasure in considering how cold you aren’t because you’re not riding.

I was recently asked if I ride when it is “really cold” out. I answered yes, and the questioner was amazed. Do you still wear those shorts? Well, no. That would be crazy. I may have ridden my bike up a mountain during Bridge to Bridge. I may have ridden my bike 200 miles in one day in the middle of a heat wave during the Summer Sizzling Mileage Marathon, I may have ridden my bike in 34 degree temperatures and in pouring rainstorms just for the fun of it, but I’m not crazy.

Of course, I have discovered that people who don’t ride have a different definition of crazy than the rest of us do.

As I write this, the temperature outside is a toasty 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t ask me what it is if you include the wind chill because I don’t know, but I think the answer is “really really cold”, which, as everyone knows, is markedly colder than “really cold”. I’m not sure how many degrees each “really” represents, but I’m sure it’s quite a lot.

I will admit that the cold is making me think of the hottest ride I ever had.

The Seyboros were riding to the beach one summer. The beach ride is a blast – roughly eight miles of riding (not counting the miles covered on a ferry at one point) followed by a great dinner and then we drive home with the bikes in the back of various vans and trucks and SUVs. This particular bike ride, however, was one that I couldn’t go on because I didn’t have all day to spend, unfortunately.

There were half a dozen of us who couldn’t make the whole trip, so we rode perhaps thirty-five miles out with the rest of the club and then turned around to head back home. It was a scorchingly hot day, with the temperature well up into the nineties. It was so hot that I was expecting my tires to melt and bend like some sort of Salvador Dali inspired bike painting.
At the turnaround, I had emptied my bottles and got them refilled. Unfortunately, I allowed them to be refilled with a “sports drink” that shall remain nameless instead of good old pure H2O. I don’t know why I did this. Perhaps my brains had started to melt and leak out my ears.

Now, I don’t have anything in particular against sports drinks, but, for my tastes, many of them are too sweet. In this case, the drink was so sweet that, without realizing it, I stopped drinking. I nearly emptied two bottles on the way out but barely drank a fifth of a bottle on the way back, and it certainly hadn’t gotten any cooler in that time.

I was going slower and slower and starting to weave a bit, and then we finally got back onto what I would consider home roads. We were twelve miles from home, and I was convinced I could ride those roads under any conditions. I’d ridden that road on a solo breakaway. I’d ridden it hanging in with the pack at a high rate of speed. I’d ridden it alone and toasted after having been dropped and watched the group disappearing over the horizon. I could ride it now. I was certain of it.

Feeling that I was slowing everyone else down, I tried to get them to go on, but they refused. The truck that was with us stopped to dish out drinks, and I was sucking on ice and dropping it down my jersey. My face was red (probably from a mixture of temperature and pure embarrassment) but I hung in there.
I was motorpaced by the truck at about twelve miles an hour for the last three miles, but I made it.

Ah, those were the days. That’s what I’ll think of when I’m out riding this weekend, and I will be out riding this weekend. It will have been four weeks since the appendectomy, and my bike is calling my name plaintively asking where I’ve been for the last month.
Cold or no cold, I’ll be there.

Will you?

See you on the road.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Perils of the Commute

I ride my bicycle to work each day
It's not so far
It's better for me than my car.
I wear a helmet that is made of rigid Styrofoam
Inspected by a French guy named Guillaume.
I downshift my Shimanno gears
I pedal hard and I'm out of here
Glad I am that the coast is clear
Glad I am to be my bicycle and me.
- “Bicycle” by Livingston Taylor

My commute to work is too long and too short, all at the same time.

That doesn’t have the same ring as the opening sentence of “A Tale of Two Cities” but Dickens got paid by the word for his writing, and I don’t get paid at all (which is why there’s no charge for that literary reference right there. It is one of the many free services that we here at the blog provide).

My commute is too short because, when I ride my bike to work, the trip is over too soon.

My commute is too long because, when I ride my bike to work, especially in the summer time, I get pretty darned sweaty, and there are no showers at work. Now, this isn’t much of a problem for me, but it may be a problem for those I work with. They haven’t actually said anything about it, but I’m waiting.

I do not live in a bike friendly town. There’s some good riding out in the county, but it’s not so good in and around the town itself. I have very little choice about the route I take to work, and the road I have to take is fairly well traveled and doesn’t have much of a shoulder. In fact, a lot of it has pretty much no shoulders at all. Kind of like me, really.

Now, there are all kinds of good reasons to commute – health, the price of gas, saving the planet and so on, but the best reason of all is, of course, that it’s more time on the bike, and you can’t beat that. In fact, I would have thought it was self evident that commuting is a good idea. It turns out, it isn’t self evident to everyone.

I know this because people often:

(A) Try to talk me out of doing it

The arguments for this are usually based on two points. The first is that I might get hit by a car. Well, yes, I suppose I might. As Livingston Taylor put it:

Pedal that bike,
pedal that bike
Don't open that door 'til I go by.
Pedal that bike, pedal that bike
That little old lady in the Dodge Diplomat
I don't think she sees me
I hope she don't teach me how to fly

The second point is usually about how much effort is involved. I don’t really have much to say about that, except that it’s fun. I do it because I enjoy it. Really. I do. Honest.

(B) Give me the freakshow look when they see me on the road

If you’ve ever been out riding fully kitted out, someone has given you this look. A head turns as you go by, and you know that, if you could hear the person in question, they would be saying something like, “What the…?”

(C) Give an amused look when they see me arriving

These are the same people who, on very cold or very wet days like to ask, “Did you ride that bike today?” Sometimes I startle them by saying “Yes,” and they grin and shake their heads in a knowing way.

That’s all okay. I get a ride out of it, and that’s all I’m looking for. There must be some other commuters out there. Aren’t there? Let me know.

See you on the road.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bike Shops

A bike shop is a special place.

I ran by my local bike shop recently to pick up a water bottle (which is what we call wishful thinking, since I can’t ride hard enough to need a water bottle right now) and I was reminded how much I like bike shops. I like the way they look, and I like the particular smell that you get, which is, I suppose, composed of equal parts new tires, new lycra, chain lube and sweaty cyclists. (If sweaty cyclists who were out for a ride and just happened to pass by the bike shop never stop in just to pick something up or get a drink or say hello or just hang out, this is a bad sign.)

Every bike shop needs a Steve. Steve is a wrench extraordinaire who has a simple philosophy: “There’s a right way to do things, and you should do things the right way.” This is a guy who I want to take care of my bike.

We considered trying to get a constitutional amendment past so that the Steve in every bike shop that has one would in fact be called Steve, but we decided in the end that it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. It would save cyclists who go to new towns a whole lot of grief, though. You could walk into a bike shop and ask, “Do you guys have a Steve? No? I’ll go somewhere else, then.”

Of course, then I suppose there would be unscrupulous bike shops which would hire a guy whose name happened to be Steve even though he was a Steve in the truest and best sense of the word. You’d have to watch out for places like that.

I have to admit that I have visited bike shops in other cities. I know this might seem to make me untrue to my local bike shop, but it’s okay just to look, right? That’s the excuse I offer, anyway.

I would like to make it clear that I am talking about bike shops here. I would hate to think that any of your who might have happened upon this blog by accident and who ended up reading it in spite of yourselves were making extrapolations about other areas of my life.

Bike shops.

My local bike shop has been known to let people come in and use the tools onsite and cyclists have been allowed to watch and ask questions while their bikes were being worked on so that they could learn how to perform some of the basic tasks on their own.

Yes, I know the old joke: The rates are ten dollars an hour, twenty dollars an hour if you watch, thirty dollars an hour if you help. Well, it isn’t like that. (Mind you, I have been known to provide great entertainment value. Just ask Steve about the time I took a can of degreaser and aimed it at my chain. I pressed the button and discovered that I was holding the can backwards. I degreased my face instead of the chain. It did wonders for my acne, brightened Steve’s entire week and probably created a story that will last a lifetime. It’s a bit embarrassing though, even for me, so don’t tell anyone, okay? Thank you.

If you happen to be a complete klutz, like I am (I have been known to injure myself just by watching someone else do something mechanical) it’s nice to have a trustworthy wrench you can take your bike to. If some people are mechanically inclined, I must be mechanically declined. Want proof?

The first time I ever got a flat on my bike, the bike was actually sitting in a stand at home. Now, I assume that I got a slow leak while out on the road somewhere and that it just took a while for all the air to drain out, but maybe that’s not the case. Maybe my bike has picked up my klutziness and actually did get a flat while standing still.

Whatever the case, I set myself to change the flat. I had been told how to do it, and I even (heaven only knows why) bought a book on bike maintenance, as if I were coordinated or something, so I felt what later proved to be a completely unjustified level of confidence in my own abilities to deal with the situation.

I pulled the rear wheel off of my bike and, sitting in my house, set a record for slowest tire change in the history of bicycle repair. I did, however, manage to get the tire changed and even inflated. I did not, however, manage to get the wheel back onto the bike. I was completely stumped.

At the time I was driving a small two door car. I got the back seat lowered and, by pushing the front seats as far forward as they would go, managed to get the bike into the car. I also managed to get my body into the car, albeit with my knees under my chin and my nose touching the steering. This was obviously completely unsafe, but I drove to the bike shop anyway, where they didn’t laugh at me once as I dragged bike and wheel in. Steve then showed me what I had been doing wrong, and took my now functional bike back home and went for a ride.

Since that time I have had to change a flat or two, and I have succeeded in doing it unaided, which is certainly a good thing, since they sometimes happen quite some distance from home. I’ve never been fond of that ride home with no spare tube, but that’s another story.

See you on the road.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A New Ride

It’s like a scene from a movie. Exciting music is playing in the background as our hero is climbing into his special clothes. We see a series of quick cuts as an arm slides into sleeve, as a helmet is adjusted on the head, as hands slip into gloves. He steps through a door and presses a button and then, as the music builds to a crescendo, the camera cuts to outside. We see a large door sliding slowing up. The sunlight streams in as our hero is slowly revealed I all his glory. Perhaps he is an astronaut in some kind of hangar bay. Perhaps he is a race car driver in the garage. Perhaps he is a certified public accountant.
Perhaps he is a cyclist who has been off the bike for awhile and is ready for that first test ride to see how his body has recovered from surgery. Perhaps he is just a guy who wants to go for a ride.

It’s a stirring scene, I know. In reality, I was doing a public service. If this seems farfetched, allow me to explain.

I get upset and hard to live with when I can’t ride.

I know I’m not the only one.

I can remember Dave telling me that, when he hasn’t ridden in a while, he knows he gets hard to live with because his wife will eventually say in an exasperated tone of voice, “Will you please just go ride you bike?!” Of course, this could just be a ploy to get him out of the house for awhile, but Dave’s a nice guy, so I don’t believe it.

This question is on my mind because I find myself to be sleepy, grumpy and dopey, and I don’t know how many of the rest of the seven dwarves. Granted, it could just be that I’m in a bad mood, but I think it’s because I haven’t been able to ride for awhile.

And this is why, three weeks after the appendectomy, I found myself strapping on a helmet today. It was a good feeling. I was going to be on the hybrid, so I didn’t get kitted out, but the helmet, aside from being a truly snazzy fashion statement, is a necessity for me whenever I ride.

I passed two kids on bikes today, and I was the only one of us wearing a helmet. I was troubled by this. Having had my skullular integrity saved by a helmet once, I hate to see anyone on two wheel without one, but I suppose not everyone falls down as often as I do.

The goal of today’s ride, aside from saving the sanity of everyone around me by putting me into a better mood, was to test out the state of my internal equipment. Current condition: acceptable, but not perfect.

I only rode a little over two miles – not even a warm up, but my body told me to start slow. It also said that, at least as far as today was concerned, I should finish slow and, while I was at it, take it easy during the middle part, but at least it was a ride, however ephemeral.

(And the category today is: Unexpected words to find in a bike blog.)

I can’t tell you how good it felt to be back on the bike.

That’s a rather odd statement to put in a blog, isn’t it? If I can’t tell you how it felt, then why am I taking the time to write about it?

An excellent question, and one which I have no answer for.

It isn’t exactly effortless, but it definitely lets you know you’re alive. Your blood is pumping, your muscles are working, your lungs are going and your spirit is free.

Now I want to go ride again.

See you on the road.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Happy Dreams and Frozen Toes

Work clothes are not proof against the cold. At least, mine aren’t.

It was a chilly morning, but I checked the temperature empirically, which is a fancy way of saying that I walked outdoors and said, “It doesn’t feel all that cold,” and I was empirically wrong. It was that cold. It was colder, in fact, but that didn’t stop me from deciding to ride to work, a distance of about six and a quarter miles.

I was riding the hybrid, and the hill right outside my door looked like a mountain, but I made it up to the top. My body wasn’t awake or adjusted to the temperature. I was wearing a balaclava and some cross country skier’s gloves, tennis shoes, slacks, jacket and, of course, a helmet. (You might conclude that my riding to work on such a cold morning dressed like that was evidence of a previous brain injury, but I still might as well protect my head.)

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

That was the voice of someone worried for my sanity or my safety or both.

“Not entirely,” I said, before pedaling off.

As I rounded the first corner and felt the full force of the wind for the first time “not entirely” became “no, I don’t want to do this,” but I merely pulled my balaclava up to cover my mouth and kept pedaling. Unfortunately, covering my mouth somehow made my glasses fog up, and riding blind didn’t seem like the best idea, so chose to pull it back down again and let my face freeze.

Actually, I’m kind of used to the cold face from previous winter rides, so I adjusted to that. My hands were fine, thanks to my trusty gloves, and my jacket kept my upper body warm.

An elementary knowledge of anatomy will show that I still have several body parts left to be troubled.

The wind cut through my slacks with ease, and my toes began to go numb. I felt that both of these developments were bad. (Actually, I had looked for my heavy winter socks, which go all the way up to my knees and are wonderfully warm, but I had only been able to find one of them.) I began to wish I was wearing tights and had some toasti toes handy. Well, it was only six miles, right?

You know, it’s amazing how long it can take to go six miles when the temperature is below freezing and you aren’t really dressed for it.

I know that particular ride well, so I had a number of landmarks picked out that I could use to fool myself. You know the sort of thing I mean. No, I’m not riding all the way to work, I’m only riding to that stoplight. Now that I’m at the stoplight, I’m not riding all the way to work, I’m only riding to that little store. Hey, what’s a little hypothermia between friends, right?

The above was, of course, written before the appendectomy which is currently keeping me in a chair and out of the saddle, but I thought of it because I had a conversation just today with someone who asked how I was doing. I gave the answer that I have already given at least a hundred times: “I’m getting better, but it’s killing me that I can’t ride yet.”

“Well,” I was told, “It’s cold out, so you probably don’t mind much.”

Cold?! It’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit out there right now! (How do you tell a native born science geek? He doesn’t give a number without including the unit of measurement.) 50 degrees isn’t cold. That’s good riding weather, that is.

My ride to work that day when there was ice on the ground – that was cold. Today would be a great day to be out spinning the pedals.


My day is coming soon, though.

See you on the road.