Gifts for the Cyclist

As an internationally-renowned bike blogger, I get hit up on a regular basis from entrepreneurs who would like to some help publicizing their products. I generally resist such entreaties, because this blog is not in the business of giving free publicity to consumer products (Although I’ve done it before, and will probably do it again).

Anyhow, with the holidays approaching I’ve been besieged with more requests than usual. So I figured, what the heck? Let’s feature some of the more interesting ones that have come my way. Maybe you’ll be interested enough to back these budding billionaires, or maybe just buy their products for Christmas gifts for your cycling buddies.

First — Dappercap! It’s a British-made cycling helmet for the urban cyclist, that aims to bring a touch of style to a much-maligned cycling essential. The helmets will be hand made in Cornwall and tested to European standards.

dappercap

Dappercap will launch with these four colors, but expects to add more.

Dappercap will launch with these four colors, but expects to add more.

Sorry — it’s not available in time for Christmas this year. They expect to introduce it in Europe in April, 2015, and reach the U.S. and Canada in September next year. But if you’d like to support them, their Kickstarter program is open until December 5.

Wearable technology is all the rage now, and a company called 1 Voice hopes to fill a perceived need among workout fiends who can’t be without their music. They’re introducing the 1Voice sports headband. It’s got a built-in Bluetooth receiver, which eliminates the need to hard wire your MP3 player. The headband has built-in earbuds, which the company says will not fall out during a workout.

1 Voice has just introduced the headband to go along with its beanie.

1 Voice has just introduced the headband to go along with its beanie.

If you’re interested, check out 1 Voice’s website.

Ever get frustrated when you signal your turns, but for whatever reason motorists don’t see you? Another Kickstarter program hopes to remedy that situation. It’s another British venture called Wing Lights, and they’re bicycle turn indicators. Attach them to the ends of your handlebars, and when you intend to make a turn, press them with your hand and they’ll start to flash.

3bf0bd8a1695dc2df3615e10c69498ca_large winglights

 

Wing Lights are only available for straight bar bikes. They can’t be fitted to drop bars or cruiser handlebars. For more information, check their Kickstarter page.

Finally, here’s one just for the guys. Because I know we all have this problem, right? It’s a problem unique to guys, because of our…uhh…equipment. A new product called “HappySacs” is supposed to make sure you’re not caught during Public Displays of Adjustment, as the company puts it. It’s very simple — a sack for your sac.

happysac

They claim you won’t have to worry about discomfort and chafing, and won’t have to use chamois creams, either. For info, check their website.

Now that I’ve handled your Christmas shopping needs, we can get back to biking.

 

A Reordering of Bike Stuff

The deep freeze that has spread across so much of the country has made its way down to Texas. We’ve had a few nights where the temperatures hovered around freezing, and we’re due for another tonight. Meanwhile, the dayside conditions have been miserable, too — with a persistent mist and a chilly dampness that you can feel right through to your bones.

So I was neither surprised nor upset when my pal Maggie texted me this morning to say she was not riding. That suited me. Although it meant that I would be off the bike for more than a week, I figured I could give it a rest and do something else.

It turned out that something else was bike-related — sort of. We’re redecorating the house a bit, and my wife wanted to give the bedroom some attention. One of the problems I faced was the big basket of clean clothes from the laundry that needed to be put away. Many of them were my biking things. But my “bike” drawer in the dresser is way past being full. So I made that my immediate task.

First, I unloaded the whole drawer onto the bed. Then, I picked through what I had, and started to cull. A couple of old jerseys are being retired, along with an unused cycling cap, some bandanas, some headbands, some socks — you get the idea.

Even with that, I couldn’t fit everything back into the “bike” drawer. The socks and bandanas and arm warmers and such get packed into a large shoebox, and that moved to another drawer. I culled some items from that drawer and added them to the discard pile. When I was done, everything fitted perfectly.

A place for everything, as they say. Jerseys on the left, base layers in the middle, shorts on the right. Arm & leg warmers lower left.

A place for everything, as they say. Jerseys on the left, base layers in the middle, shorts on the right. Arm & leg warmers lower left.

But my bike stuff has now expanded to a second drawer. I suppose that was inevitable — and overdue. I also suppose I should rethink how I store my bike stuff. Maybe a large plastic tub that sits in the closet might be a better way to handle it.

Well, as I said, we’re redecorating. That means what I think our bedroom will look like is going to change a time or three before we actually start shopping for new furniture. So I might have the opportunity to “design in” some storage space just for biking gear. And in the interests of open-mindedness, I’m going to solicit your input: How do you store your jerseys, shorts, jackets, and other biking clothing? Maybe I can add your ideas into the final product.

A Good Sign

During the summer, I expressed my concern over the resurfacing of streets in our neighborhood with chip seal. Chip seal is irritating, because cyclists are riding through small, loose gravel until it become tamped down to a sort of smooth surface.

That tamping is pretty much taken care of now, and on a ride the other morning, I saw some crews striping the streets. The striping doesn’t just trace the marking that had been in place previously. Instead, it accommodates cyclists better. Here’s a look at what I mean:

The new bike lane might be in the door zone, but there's still some room for bikes to miss doors.

The new bike lane might be in the door zone, but there’s still some room for bikes to miss doors.

One irritant to me when riding in the morning or mid-afternoon was the number of helicopter parents who drop off and pick up their kids at school. They had no qualms about parking their cars in the bike lane, forcing bikes out into the traffic lane. That wouldn’t be a problem, since everyone was moving at a snail’s pace, but a bike mixed in with all those cars caused consternation on the part of drivers — many of whom had no idea what to do. Of course, indecisive drivers can be a bigger hazard to cyclists than blocked bike lanes.

Well, the new markings angle that problem. There’s a parking lane for cars next to the curb, then a bike lane. The traffic lane is considerably narrower than it had been before.

It’s not perfect. The bike lane could put bikers in the door zone. But it’s a little wider than most lanes that are in the door zone, and frankly, I’m not too concerned. It appears the city is listening to cyclists and making improvements in traffic markings.

Recruiting New Riders

For some time, several of us in the club have been conducting “B”-level rides. That is, we’re not as fast as most of the folks who show up for the Sunday club ride, and it’s no fun being left behind.

Trouble is, we have a very small B group. Most often, the only ones to show up for the B ride are my pal Maggie and me. So Maggie got an idea: Why not schedule a “beginner” ride for people who we know are reading the club emails on our Yahoo group, but who for whatever reason don’t come out to rid with us?

She did one a month ago, and got my wife and one other person to join her. We haven’t seen or heard from the other person since. But not one to be deterred, Maggie posted another “beginner” ride for this weekend.

Lo and behold, she got a bite! A woman messaged back that she and her husband would come out.

We were concerned that Sunday’s chilly morning temperatures would scare them off, but at 8 a.m., two new faces rode into the parking lot at Starbucks. Diane and Mike are older riders, closer in age to me than Maggie, and they ride a lot — hardly what you would call “beginners.” But they had the impression that our club’s average speed is in the 16-18 mph range, and they’re not fast.

We assured them that we’re not fast, either. We asked about their riding habits, and it turns out they ride a lot of the routes we do on our club rides. Maggie’s thoughts of doing a simple neighborhood ride were dumped for something more interesting.

“How are you on hills?” I asked.

“Okay,” they said.

I suggested doing the Zoo Ride. It’s hilly, but the hills aren’t killers, and it’s a little shorter than most of our routes, so if the hills do tire a rider out, the suffering is not prolonged.

We started off. The pace was leisurely as we wound our way through the twisty Granada Hills subdivision, and stayed leisurely when we got to Circle Drive, where the club ride usually picks up speed. The sweeping downhill to the dead end near the zoo was fun, but then we had to climb out of it.

Deer can often be seen in the large yards during the early morning.

Deer can often be seen in the large yards during the early morning.

Mike rides a Novara Randonee touring bike with a triple chainring. “It can climb walls,” he said.

Diane’s bike is a Specialized, similar to my own. It has a compact double. While Mike spun at more than one pedal turn for every rotation of the wheel, Diane gamely pushed her way up the hill. We made it to the top, and stopped to rest.

“That’s the end of the hill,” I told Diane. “Until the next one.”

We take a two-lane road for about a mile and half that is most notable for the amount of traffic on a quiet Sunday morning. Cars and trucks have to slow to our speed before they can pass, because the small hills and gentle curves of the road can hide oncoming vehicles. When we got through it, I assured them that we had just completed the diciest part of the ride. They were relieved.

But then came the biggest hill of the ride. It’s on Southwest Parkway, and for years was my nemesis. I can ride it well now, and I swung around Maggie to attack the hill. (Got a Strava PR on it!) Then I waited at the top for the others to catch up.

“From here, we have a choice,” said Maggie. “We can continue on to Travis Country and ride some more hills, or we can turn at William Cannon Road and head back.”

They were all for heading back.

That meant the day’s ride was about five miles shorter than it would have been, but was still a great way to spend a cool fall morning. We stopped back at Starbuck’s for coffees and conversation.

Mike, Maggie, and Diane (and a blur from my hand -- I'm a lousy photographer) as we unwind after the ride.

Mike, Maggie, and Diane (and a blur from my hand — I’m a lousy photographer) as we unwind after the ride.

We told them to watch the club’s message board for posts about future B rides, since they would fit in just fine. They’re busy next weekend, but with any luck, our Sunday B rides will be more than just Maggie and me.

Two State Parks — Two Different Rides

I’m a member of a Meetup group, the Austin Mountain Bikers. Earlier this week, I got a message from them that an interpretive mountain bike ride would take place at Bastrop State Park in Bastrop, Texas, about 25 miles east of Austin. We would be led by a park ranger on trails that are normally closed to the public. Sign me up.

Maggie had the same idea, so we loaded the bikes onto the SUV and set out for Bastrop. The park and the area are known for the “Lost Pines” — a substantial acreage of loblolly pines that somehow detached from the piney woods of East Texas. it’s the farthest west stand of loblollies in the United States. In 2011, the area — including most of Bastrop State Park — was devastated by a forest fire. Most of the pines are gone, but the park is starting to come back. For naturalists, it’s a gold mine of information about regeneration.

In all, about 13 riders turned out. Rangers Mick and Cullen told us that we wouldn’t be pounding along rough singletrack — instead, we’d be stopping a lot to hear about different aspects of the area. A few riders apparently hadn’t realized that when they signed up, and there was a little grumbling, but Mick pointed out that there’s a lot of mountain biking in the area, including nearby Buescher State Park.

Rangers Cullen (center left) and Mick (far right) herd the cats at the beginning of the ride.

Rangers Cullen (center left) and Mick (far right) herd the cats at the beginning of the ride. (Click all pix to embiggen.)

The ride was along a grassy truck path, the grass beaten down by park maintenance vehicles. Most of it wasn’t technically challenging, but we did have a nice longish downhill through some rocks that made riders pay attention, and a tough climb near the end of the ride.

Maggie and I both enjoyed the many stops to find out about the challenges facing the park. The area where we rode was outside the park proper — it had recently been acquired by the state, but not added to the park yet. Mick pointed out the damage being done by feral pigs, which had not been a factor in the park before the fire. He said a lot of the native predators like coyotes and bobcats fled the fire, and never returned.

Ranger Cullen displays the decomposing head of a deer found along the trail. A nice set of antlers, but this being a state park, they must be left here.

Ranger Cullen displays the decomposing head of a deer found along the trail. A nice set of antlers, but this being a state park, they must be left here.

Ranger Mick points out damage done by feral hogs.

Ranger Mick points out damage done by feral hogs.

We also stopped at an abandoned town site. Yewpon, Texas, existed from about 1902 to 1918. The only signs remaining are the town’s cistern and a mound that shows where the steps to the post office used to be.

Ranger Mick answers a question from Maggie at the remains of the town cistern in what used to be Yewpon, Texas.

Ranger Mick answers a question from Maggie at the remains of the town cistern in what used to be Yewpon, Texas.

Pines thrive in sandy soil, and we were caught unaware by the depth of sand in some of the tracks we rode. A few riders lost control and had to stop to regroup. In some of the more densely forested areas of the ride, we could see evidence that the forest is regenerating.

A new pine pokes up through the ground near some trunks of trees that had been damaged in the fire.

A new pine pokes up through the ground near some trunks of trees that had been damaged in the fire.

 

A nice-sized King Snake basks on a rock next to a creek. Snakes like this are vital to culling the mice in the park, which increased exponentially when natural predators left after the fire.

A nice-sized King Snake basks on a rock next to a creek. Snakes like this are vital to culling the mice in the park, which increased exponentially when natural predators left after the fire.

 

Even with the large stands of ruined trees, majestic pines still populate parts of the park.

Even with the large stands of ruined trees, majestic pines still populate parts of the park.

After the short ride — only about 4.1 miles (Mick said he eliminated some of the planned ride because of impassable conditions) — we decided to go on to Buescher (BISH-er) State Park, a few miles east. We drove the well-known Park Road 1C, which dips and twists for miles between the two parks, and I remembered how I had tackled the tough hills during my MS150 ride back in 2009.

We got to a trailhead, and took off into the woods. This turned out to be a great singletrack. It was a little bit sandy, often hard-packed, sometimes rocky, but not with the difficult rock gardens we deal with around home. Although the area is quite hilly, the track doesn’t put the rider in any jeopardy, and we were treated to some fun, twisty downhills, some steep uphills, and constantly changing terrain. No pictures for this section — we were too busy having fun riding to stop.

So, a good, if not long, morning of mountain biking. We’ll be returning to Buescher State Park for some more time on the trails. As for Bastrop, Ranger Mick said there would be more interpretive bike rides like today’s in the future. If you’re interested, keep an eye on the park’s website.

Carnival of Animals

We decided it was time to head for Dripping Springs for Sunday’s ride. It’s been months since we were out there, and I had trouble figuring out why, since it’s my favorite place around here to ride.

None of the other B riders joined us, although in fairness, this was the day of the Livestrong ride in Austin, and I knew they were going to have a large field for that. We saw only a few other riders, all near the beginning of our ride.

Several miles into the ride, we rounded a bend and Maggie called out, “Turkeys!” There was a big one on the left side of the road, and another not too far behind. Then we saw another, and another. In all, a gaggle a rafter of eight turkeys scurried behind some nearby bushes to get out of our sight. Maggie speculated that the first one we saw was a male, and the rest were his harem. I had no idea if turkeys collected harems or not.

The turkey sighting was unexpected, and welcome. Several times, I’ve rounded that same bend to come upon a small herd of cattle right along both sides of the road. The turkeys caused a lot less consternation than the bovines would.

As we pedaled easily along the country road, we chatted about all manner of things. Maggie is usually alert to animal sightings, and she pointed out a red-capped finch on a telephone pole. But then, as she looked away, a nice whitetail buck jumped across the road ahead of us and disappeared into the underbrush. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen her miss an animal sighting.

We decided to take the Mount Sharp Road route. The roads south of Dripping Springs offer a variety of route options, and Mt. Sharp is the longest of these. Maggie had only ridden in this area once before, so she was open to going a little farther. Of course, Mt. Sharp is also the hilliest route, so we were going to be in for some work.

We passed a few really nice specimens of longhorn cattle, with impressive spans of horns. Try as she might, Maggie couldn’t get any of them to look our way. They were too busy grazing to pay us any attention.

At the intersection of Mt. Sharp and Jacob’s Well Roads, we stopped for a short rest. This would be our turnaround, because Jacob’s Well gets busy as it approaches the community of Wimberly. I’ve always gotten a kick out of a telephone pole with directional markers for various houses and ranches.

signs

The only problem with stopping where we did is that once we turn around, we have several hills to climb in rapid succession. It’s tough to get any kind of momentum in this area, and I slowed us some more, when I saw some llamas behind a fence. (Click to enlarge.)

llamas

They were curious, and ambled over to the fence when I stopped to fish out my phone with its camera. Besides these two, several others grazed under some trees off in the distance. They posed for some pictures, and when I put the phone back in my pocket, they turned and walked back to the rest of the herd.

Maggie didn’t realize that I had stopped for pictures, and I had to hustle to catch up to her. I rounded a 90-degree left turn and saw her at the top of a hill. By the time I caught her, she was looking off to the left. “Look at the antelopes!” she said, and sure enough, a herd of about 20 was moving away from us. Apparently, they had been down by the fence close to the road. Maggie speculated that they belonged to an exotic game ranch. We have some around here, although there were no signs along the road that indicated this might be one of them.

On the way home, Maggie looked up turkeys on her phone. Males will gather a harem, but that’s in the spring, during breeding season. It’s likely the turkeys we saw were all of the same sex, since they segregate themselves by sex the rest of the year.

All in all, a successful ride. We rode where the deer and the antelope play (couldn’t resist), and saw llamas and longhorns to boot. Our slowish 12.2 mph average speed over the 36 miles reflected our take it easy attitude this day, but it was still enough to send me to a nap once I got home.

 

MY First Double Century (Guest Post)

Our guest poster Don Blount has checked off another item on his bucket list: a double century. Here’s his account of riding 200 miles in one day.

BlountOnBikingA year to the day after completing my first century ride, I set out on my first double century.
A lot had happened during the past 18 months that resulted in me being a stronger rider.  Still, I never ever thought I would be riding a double century. Yet here I was riding the Bass Lake Powerhouse Double Century in Clovis, Calif. 
This double is actually like three different rides. It begins with a fairly flat 73-miles and ends with 27 miles of mostly downhill with a few rollers. Thrown in the middle is a century with 10,000 feet of climbing.
Simple enough.
As a first time double century rider it was important for me to remember that this was a ride and not a race. Riding too hard, too early could lead to trouble later. I just wanted to finish in about 15 hours of riding time.
Here are the four rules I had for riding this double:
1)    Ride safe
2)    Eat enough
3)    Drink enough
4)    Pace myself
I had a good week leading up to the ride. A few easy rides, more water and carbs to store up for later and I was well rested.
I got to Clovis about 7 p.m. Friday and picked up my registration packet. My motel was only a mile from the ride start and I was able to get to bed about 10 p.m.
I awoke at 2:25 a.m. to eat breakfast as I wanted something in my system and give it time to digest before riding. I was back in bed by 2:55 a.m. and slept until getting up for good at 3:45 a.m.
I rode the mile from my motel to the ride start, checked in and was on the course by 4:35 a.m.
I started fine, riding only at about 15.5 miles per hour to the first rest stop at about the 35-mile mark.
It was while stopped there that I encountered my first problem. There were no Hammer products at the rest stop. The ride director assured me by email weeks previously and in person the night before that there would be bars, gels and other supplements at the rest stops.
I have problems eating enough food on long rides and use Sustained Energy to supplement my on-bike nutrition. I had already gone through the only bottle I had with me. The only bars at the rest stop were Nature Valley granola bars along with the usual fare of muffins, pretzels, potato chips, nuts, oranges and other sweet stuff that does not sit well on my stomach.
What I would learn well after the ride was that a volunteer had mistakenly taken the Hammer nutrition products to another rest stop and by the time the mistake was discovered that it was too late to take any to the first (and second) rest stop.
 
I had a few items with me, a Clif Bar, some Shot Bloks, but not nearly enough to comfortably make it to the lunch stop.
I was screwed. 
I choked down a peanut butter sandwich, some potato chips and fruit and went on. The course looped back to this rest stop, so I would be back in about 38 miles.
At about mile 68 I encountered my only mechanical of the day, a flat rear tire. I pulled four goatheads out of the tire, hoping that four holes in one tire would mean that I would not get one hole in four separate tires. Don’t laugh, a friend doing the ride had three flats on the day.
I changed the tire and moved on, came across my friend Joni at the second rest stop and we headed out together.
I had ridden with Joni a bit earlier in the ride but it was good to see her again. She is a member of the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame and has completed more than 60 doubles. She helped me with my preparation and we had ridden together before so riding with her helped me feel more comfortable. I would see her off and on throughout the day.
One of the more difficult things for me at this type of ride is the time spent alone. Sometimes chatting with someone just helps, the same as it does on a club ride.
I started the day in arm warmers and a vest but it was getting warm quickly. And I was feeling it. I came upon a water stop and gladly refilled my bottles. But by mile 100 I was becoming a bit wobbly in my mind. Not addled, mind you but feeling physically weak.
I was not in very good shape when I reached the lunch stop at mile 107.
I turned my phone on for the first time that day and had a message from a friend who was checking on my progress. I texted my wife and him that I was not feeling well and honestly did not know if I could continue.
It was similar to what I had experienced at the Death Ride.
I needed to get some calories in my system quickly.
Lunch was a chicken burrito, pickle, fig newtons, potato chips, two cokes and whatever else I could tolerate. I drink very little soda but on longer rides I find the caffeine and sugar helpful.
And lo and behold, there were Hammer nutrition products. I asked for Sustained Energy, got plenty of ice.
I downed as many calories as I could without bloating myself. And then I waited. I do not know for how long but eventually I felt well enough to continue.
The roughest climb of the day was ahead. The pitches were steep and it was hot. It was like climbing out of an oven.
Volunteers at a water stop somewhere on the climb told us it was not much farther to go and then at some point to remember to make a left at the totem pole. Yes, a totem pole. (Click to enlarge.)
 
Totem_Pole2
 
And there it was signaling the beginning of an 8.6-mile climb. But the climbing was gradual and led to the fourth rest stop at mile 132. There was only one difficult climb left.
Powerhouse grade was actually not as bad as I had anticipated. It was dark again by the time I reached it, so I could not see the grades, but I could feel them. It went on for a good seven miles, so all I did was sit and pedal. 
Eventually, I was over the top and at the next-to-last rest stop. I had not completed that century in the middle of the ride but I was close and there were no real climbs left.
I was told the last rest stop, no. 6, would be the most fun. It was only 14 miles from the finish. By this time anyone there, barring a catastrophe, would finish. Music was playing, people although tired were happy and the volunteers were jovial.
My Garmin died on the last descent of the day and I did the only unsafe thing I had all day. I took my phone out of my jersey pocket and turned it on so I could calculate my total time.
I arrived at the finish, with Joni again, at 10:25 p.m.
I had completed my first double century in 14.5 hours of riding time and a little less than 18 hours total time for the day.