Keep Those Knees In!

Back when I started riding, I was with a friend who was an experienced biker, taking a few laps on the Veloway. At one point, a young woman passed us, and my friend picked up the pace to stay close to her. This surprised me, because this particular friend isn’t interested in women.

I caught up to him, and he said, “I wanted to see her position on the bike — if she kept her legs in. She does. Looking good.”


“A good rider keeps the knees close to the top tube,” he replied. “Some people ride with their knees sticking out to the sides.”

Uh, guilty as charged. When I walk, my feet splay out a bit. I even have my cleats adjusted, ever so slightly, to maintain that foot position on the bike. But I realized that my knees not only looked bad, they were putting pressure on some of the muscles in my upper thighs.

I paid attention to my knee position after that. It took some work, because it wasn’t a normal position for me. But over the ensuing years, I forgot about knee position.

Just last week, I noticed it. I’m not sure why, but it came to me that my knees were sticking out again. I moved them toward the center, and whadya know — it felt a lot better. It seemed as though I was putting more power to the pedals.

Putting the knees toward the inside has another benefit. It helps get the feet into a heels-down position. I had been gradually getting on my toes when riding. It seemed as though I was generating power. But it had been flexing my calves, and they were often sore and achy after a ride. With the heels down, I really am generating power. It’s easier to pedal in a circle, and I’m getting a little faster. And when I finish a ride, my calves don’t ache.

But it’s not something that I can attend to once, and adopt it as a new habit. In the last few days, I’ve caught myself with my knees sticking out on every ride. I pull them in. But another mile or two down the road, they’re out again. It looks like it won’t be easy for me to keep my knees in.

But I know it’s the right way to pedal. I’ll keep working on it.

Favorite Rides – The Zoo Ride

When I consider rides I like, it’s easy to overlook the Zoo Ride. That’s because it’s not as long as most of our other marquee rides. But it does have a lot of features that make it worthy of consideration. In fact, our club has an informal “Friday Zoo Ride” that I might be able to join one of these years. In the meantime, I have mostly ridden it by myself.

As the name suggests, the Zoo Ride heads to the Austin Zoo. Our zoo is not in the city, but is several miles west. From our neighborhood, we get a quick taste of the hills that highlight the Zoo Ride. We take an easy climb through one of the newer subdivisions and cross Ranch Road 1826 into an older subdivision with large lots.

We get to zoom down a couple of nice hills here — hills that allow us to easily top 30 mph. Because of the way the route heads, we will not be coming back this way, so we don’t have to climb those hills. On one of our other routes, we do make a return trip through this area, and coming near the end of the ride, the hills can take a toll on worn out riders.

Anyhow, the route takes us across U.S. 290 west of Austin, and on to Circle Drive. This is a nice two-lane road with minimal traffic, although speeds tend to run high. We’re on Circle Drive for less than two miles, though, and then we turn right onto Rawhide Trail, at a sign pointing to the Austin Zoo.

These horses were close to the road when I turned the corner onto Rawhide Trail. But by the time I got my camera out, they had retreated.

These horses were close to the road when I turned the corner onto Rawhide Trail. But by the time I got my camera out, they had retreated. (Click all pix to embiggen.)

From this point, it’s all downhill. The road twists and turns through typical Hill Country landscapes, rocky ground covered in cedar and live oak. Some suburban-style subdivisions are being built out here, too. With all the sprawl in Austin, we wonder how much longer we’ll have decent biking around here, or whether we’ll have to drive to worthwhile riding areas. I’m afraid it will happen sooner rather than later.

Rawhide Trail takes a jog to the right, and the zoo isn’t too far down. If you decide to go that way, the entrance to the zoo is a short way down. Once past the entrance, you’d never know the zoo is there. Its fences are camouflaged by the heavy brush along the road. At the end of the road is Paisano Ranch, the former home of the late Texas author, J. Frank Dobie. It’s now owned by the University of Texas, and two writers in the graduate school there are awarded fellowships to live and write at the ranch for six-month periods. They can work undistracted, in isolation. However, entrance to the ranch is blocked at this point.

The road to the zoo. I prefer to take D. Morgan Road to the left.

The road to the zoo. I prefer to take D. Morgan Road to the left.

I prefer to jog left near the zoo entrance, on D. Morgan Road. It’s not long — a little over a half mile — but it’s great fun. The road twists and turns, dipping downhill all the way, sometimes steeply, sometimes near level. I have never encountered a motor vehicle on this stretch, although there are entrances to some homes along the way.

Of course, when the road ends at a locked gate, the cyclist has to turn around and head back — and that means a climb of almost a mile and a half. According to Strava, the grade averages only about three percent, but there are spots where it touches 10 or 11 percent — and two little places where it’s 14 and 15 percent. So that short slog can take much longer than the typical 1.4-mile jaunt.


Two views of the curvy uphills on D. Morgan on the way up out of the valley.

Two views of the curvy uphills on D. Morgan on the way up out of the valley.

An ultra-modern house peeks out over the cedars and live oaks.

An ultra-modern house peeks out over the cedars and live oaks.

The next leg of the ride takes us over some semi-busy two-lanes, up to Southwest Parkway. Southwest Parkway is a six-lane divided highway with a generous shoulder. It’s very popular with bikers. It hits its high point by the big AMD semiconductor complex, then makes a nice, fast drop down to Travis Country. Travis Country is a nice upscale subdivision with a road circling it. Ridden in a clockwise direction, it’s more downhill than up, so the cyclist gets a nice reprieve after all the ups and downs around the zoo and on Southwest Parkway.

Southwest Parkway looking back up the hill to the AMD complex. (Picture from Google Earth Streetview.)

Southwest Parkway looking back up the hill to the AMD complex. (Picture from Google Earth Streetview.)

Leaving Travis Country, we take some major arterials again, but the traffic isn’t usually too bad. Our final stretch is along Escarpment Blvd., the main north-south road through our Circle C Ranch subdivision.

The route. D. Morgan Rd. is the single line at the upper left, Travis Country is the irregular oval at the upper right.

The route. D. Morgan Rd. is the single line on the left, Travis Country is the irregular oval at the upper right.

In total, the ride is around 25-26 miles. Again, not all that long. But the hills add a bit of challenge to it, and the scenery is a bit different than what we get on our rides to the south and southeast. If I feel like testing myself, the Zoo Ride is a good choice.

Shorts — Old and New

Over the last few months, I have finally acquired some new bike shorts. I’ve been riding the same ones for about four years now — no, wait — five. It’s time to replace some of them.

In our family, the biking clothes of choice are Pearl Izumi. We know they’re not the cream of the crop, but they’re pretty good quality and have served us well. This time though, I wanted to try something different, just for the sake of being different.

Performance Ultra.

Performance Ultra.

My wife gave me a pair of Performance Ultra shorts for Christmas. These shorts, and the Performance Elite, have gotten good reviews online for several years. Furthermore, several members of my bike club wear them, and like them as well.

I was pleased with them from the first ride. The only thing I noticed was that they are a bit snug fitting. They compress my waist so that I look like my belly is even bigger than it really is. They do a nice job of compression of the thighs, too. And they’ve got a feature I hadn’t seen before: the leg grippers are about two inches above the bottom of the leg, leaving the bottom two inches feeling looser. Neither I nor my wife, who also got a pair, liked that at first. Now, we’re used to it, and it feels fine. The Performance shorts also have a feature I really like: a modesty panel. That is a piece of material that extends forward and up from the chamois and flattens your, uh, package, so it’s not as obvious when standing around in mixed company at a coffee shop or convenience store stop. I wish all short makers would include one of these.

My second new pair of shorts, which I bought as a birthday present for myself, was the Top Shelf by Aerotech Designs. I’ve read favorable reviews of Aerotech’s products for several years, especially in  regard to big and tall sizes. So, I thought I’d try a pair to see if they worked as well for a guy who has a belly, but would like to think he’s not fat — yet.

The Aerotechs are closer to true sizing, and don’t have the tight feeling of the Performance shorts. The leg grippers are in the traditional spot, at the bottom of the leg. But the biggest difference between the two is the chamois pad.

Aerotech Design Top Shelf.

Aerotech Design Top Shelf.

The pad in the Performance shorts is what I would call a traditional size and shape. It’s similar to the pad in the Pearl Izumi shorts and bibs I own. But in the Aerotechs, the pad is a pad. It’s a bit larger, and feel something like a thick diaper is between your legs. Some cyclists wouldn’t want that. But it suits me just fine. Maybe it’s my old guy flat butt, but I need extra padding in my shorts, or I’m uncomfortable after the first hour in the saddle.

The subtle differences in the two shorts came to the fore during rides this week. On Tuesday, I wore the Performance shorts on an 18-mile cruise through my neighborhood. Despite their tightness when I stand in them, they feel fine when I’m in a more aero position over the handlebars.  I do move around on the saddle more often during the ride, but I would grab this pair anytime.

I wore the Aerotechs for a 32-mile ride Friday. Here’s where the big pad separated itself from the rest. I was comfortable throughout the ride, climbing tough hills, roaring down others, riding tempo, and just rolling along easily. After two-plus hours on the bike, I was as fresh as when I started.

It might be unfair to review biking shorts after such a short period of use — three months for one pair, one month for the other. If the shorts are not comfortable that soon for whatever reason, there’s a problem. It will be interesting to see how they hold up over time. I have a nice pair of Sugoi shorts that also have a large, thick pad (although not quite up to the standard of the Aerotechs) that I like to wear on longer weekend rides. But the Sugois are separating along the seams where they connect the legs to the pad, and these shorts will not be around for much longer. My Pearl Izumi shorts have just about run their course, but the pad is still in great shape. So even though they look terrible, they still feel good on the bike, so I’ll keep them around a little longer.

Anyhow, if you’ve been considering a new pair of shorts, you can consider either the Performance Ultra or the Aerotech Designs Top Shelf. Choose according to your preferences for padding, and remember that the Performance shorts run a bit tight. I’m sure you’ll be happy with either kind.

Strava Revisited

Okay, I have no integrity whatsoever. After bashing Strava several times on this blog, I am now immersed in the ride tracking program — big time.

Why the sudden change in feeling? Well, it’s all because of a new phone. I’ve never had a smartphone before. All my mobile phones were very basic. So when my wife and I sprang for new phones over the weekend, I knew I would want to try out some apps. And for a cyclist, what better app to try out than Strava?

Honestly, I thought I would use it to take the place of my Bike Journal entries, where I keep tabs online of my rides. Strava catalogs much the same information — distance, average speed, maximum speed — but it gives you much more.

For starters, the GPS feature records the route you ride in a map. And if you want, you can trace the route you took by following a little blue dot around the route. I’ve already used it on a couple of my friends’ Strava pages to see what kind of variations they ride on the basic neighborhood route that everyone around here rides. And it’s already given me some good ideas.

My regular route through Circle  C Ranch. It was fun to see how my friends ride essentially the same route, but with little variations of their own.

My regular route through Circle C Ranch. I enjoyed seeing how my friends ride essentially the same route, but with little variations of their own. (Click pix for bigger.)

Of course, the big thing everyone who has ever heard of Strava is familiar with is the King of the Mountain and Queen of the Mountain titles that go to the fastest rider on a particular segment. No King of the Mountains for me yet. I suppose I could do as others do, and chart a short section of a bigger route, then claim a KOM because no one else would have ridden it yet — but that’s meaningless, and I’m not about to do something like that. This week.

You can also create a segment on your own, but after today’s ride I found that I might not need to. I rode a popular neighborhood route of about 18-21 miles, depending upon the variation taken on a given day, and when I accessed the Strava record, I found the route had 20 different segments.

Some of them are worthless to me. They’re short little chunks of road, not even .3 miles long. But other segments are parts of the route I have always paid particular attention to anyway. Now, I have a record of how fast I went to compare with future efforts, and also to compare against other riders I might know.

Basic data from today's ride.

Basic data from today’s ride.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I did well on some of the segments. One, that tracks a full lap of the Veloway (3 miles), had me clocked at 10 minutes, 4 seconds. I typically ride it at around 10:30. I have done it as fast as 9:30 in years gone by. Now, I can keep that figure in mind (Strava has already declared it a PR, or Personal Record, for me) and try to better it in future trips around the Veloway.

So, if you’re on Strava yourself, and want to chuckle at some slow times, visit my page. We’ll see if I get a little faster in the coming months. Even if I don’t, it’s going to be fun to compare routes and times with myself and my friends.

Mountain Bike Noob

Now, don’t freak out. I still consider myself mainly a road biker. But sometimes, it’s good to change things up.

Saturday morning, I decided it was a good change-up day. The night before, I had pulled the skinny tires off the mountain bike, and replaced them with the knobbies. Good thing I did, too — the old skinny tires, which I had taken from a cast off bike a neighbor had left at the curb several years ago — showed a major problem. As I ran my thumb along the sidewall, the rubber cracked and flaked away.

I think this tire has passed its expiration date. (Click to enlarge.)

I think this tire has passed its expiration date. (Click pictures to enlarge.)

How those tires got through my maiden mountain bike ride two weeks ago, banging over rocky trails, without blowing out, is beyond me.

With the new old tires in place, I though I’d head over to the Slaughter Creek Trail.  It’s perhaps two miles from my house. The trail was built several years ago on old ranch land that is now managed by the water quality district. When it was built, the only access was by driving to a poorly-marked entrance. Now, however, a track has been worn along two main roads that leads right to the entrance. I rode over there, pleased at the way the wider tires ate up the uneven path.

Slaughter Creek Trail is open to hikers, bikers, and horses, and I saw all of these. Cyclists take a clockwise route, while horses go the opposite way. That way, they meet on the trail, instead of cyclists catching horses from behind, and possibly spooking them.

An experienced-looking biker at the trail head pointed me in the right direction, and I set out. Most reviews of the trail describe it as a nice beginner track. For this mountain biking noob, it was a challenge. The roots weren’t a problem, but the rock gardens were. They were often coupled with sharp uphills, and I found my first real trouble spot. I need to replace the shifters on my bike. They’re Shimano eight-speed shifters, but will only go into gears 5-8. If I really need a lower gear to power up a steep section, I can’t get it, and I have to get off and push.

Luckily, there aren’t too many of those on this trail. Lots of rocky sections though. I suppose I should have been prepared for that, especially after my ride two weeks ago.

A typical spot on the trail.

A typical spot on the trail.

One of the nice features of the trail is a series of markers that explain the topography or the history of the area. One pointed out the encroachment of the urban environment on wilderness.

Rooftops of suburban-style homes peek over the line of trees at the end of the trail land. A piece of single track can be seen at left.

Rooftops of suburban-style homes peek over the line of trees at the end of the trail land. A piece of single track can be seen at left.

The trail is only about five miles long, but at the careful pace I chose, gingerly negotiating my way over obstacles, it took almost an hour to get around it. The few other bikers I saw along the way gave me something to shoot for, as they zoomed over the rough ground with little effort.

A biker bursts out of the woods at the end of his lap.

A biker bursts out of the woods at the end of his lap.

But I couldn’t stop at that short distance. I headed out for the road I took to reach the trail, figuring I’d retrace part of the route I rode two weeks ago through a metropolitan park close to my house. I didn’t do the entire distance as before, but doubled the mileage of the first trail.

The metropolitan park trail crosses Slaughter Creek with a short, steep, descent. It'll be awhile before I can ride it.

The metropolitan park trail crosses Slaughter Creek with a short, steep, descent. It’ll be awhile before I can ride it.

I have not equipped the mountain bike with its own computer, and probably won’t. Friday, my wife and I went shopping for new cellphones, and got a good deal, we thought. The iPhone I got is my first real smartphone. All my old phone could do was send and receive calls and messages, and take bad pictures. One of the first things I did with the new phone was download the Strava app, mainly to track how far my rides were on the trails. Yes, I have disparaged Strava several times before on this blog, but I must admit, it’s pretty cool. I don’t plan to share my rides, but I will be a regular Strava user from here on out.




Yipes! My Hip Hurts!

I dunno. I must be getting old. About a month ago, I started to feel it. Whenever I came back from a bike ride, I felt great. I stretched, showered, and changed, then sat down — maybe for a meal, maybe to watch a little TV, maybe to noodle on this blog.

And when I stood up again — Yow! My left hip hurt like a sonuvagun.

It didn’t take long to get rid of the pain. I just walked it off, stepping around the house or outside a bit. But it persisted. Whenever I sat down for any length of time, I could count on the ache — soreness –hurt — when I got up again.

I was at the doctor’s on a routine visit, when I brought it up. “Could be arthritis,” was the guess. “Take anti-inflammatories — Aleve, Ibuprofen.”

“What about glucosamine-chondroitin?” I asked.

“Well, that might work,” she said. “Try it if you want. Some people say it’s good.”

My wife is one of those who do. But I haven’t gone that route yet. In fact, I’ve noticed the pain isn’t as bad lately. Partly, that’s because the Aleve really works well.

“You took two Aleve?” asked my wife, incredulous. “The dose is only one.”

“Yeah, worked good,” I said. “Rode the bike for two hours, and I haven’t felt any soreness all day.”

Well, it’s not all gone yet. I still get a twinge when I stand. But all I need to do is walk down the hall, and it shakes out. I think I won’t panic for the time being.

Cycling Has Made Me a Better Driver

The ride Sunday morning had been an uneventful one. Four of us set off for Creedmoor, southeast of Austin. We found that one of the country roads we take to get there had been partially graded to prepare for resurfacing, and was not in good shape for cycling. If we go that way again, we’ll have to figure out an alternate route. One of the highlights along the way is an exotic game ranch, featuring lots of African deer and antelope, zebras, ostriches and emus, and other critters.

The animals take off when I stop and get out my camera. But the guy on the left shows off his long horns. (Click to enlarge.)

The animals take off when I stop and get out my camera. But the guy on the left shows off his long horns. (Click to enlarge.)

It’s only about 17 miles to Creedmoor, but for some reason, every group I ride with tends to stop there for a long time. We take turns going in to buy fig newtons, top off our water jugs or buy Gatorade, and use the facilities. Finally, I asked everyone if we planned to go home at all today.

Not sure why we spend so much time here -- it's a rather nondescript convenience store stop.

Not sure why we spend so much time here — it’s a rather nondescript convenience store stop.

We take a different road back than out. Thaxton Road takes us past lots of single-wide and double-wide manufactured homes, but also some anomalies.

A fancy ornamental fence in front of a house in the country.

A fancy ornamental fence in front of a house in the country. Picture from Google Earth Street View.

A cute, well-cared for cottage on a stock pond. Picture from Google earth Street View.

A cute, well-cared for cottage on a stock pond. Picture from Google earth Street View.

On the way home, one of the group peeled off to head for his house. The remaining three were spread out, with me bringing up the rear. With just two miles to go, my ride nearly ended. A driver poked his nose from a side street on the right into the bike lane, looking to make a left turn. But for some unfathomable reason, he only looked to his right. I was traveling at about 20 mph, and it looked like he would pull out right into my path. I moved out of the bike lane and into the traffic lane, so his chances of seeing me were better. At the last moment, he looked my way, saw me, and slammed on his brakes.

I passed in front of him, and gave him an appreciative wave, wondering at the same time if he’d ever received any drivers’ ed. I was reminded of a woman on my block who was supervising her grandson while he rode his bike through the neighborhood.

“Left, right, left!” she called as he went by. Meaning, of course, that he should first look to his left, then to his right, and make a final check to the left  before riding through an intersection.

The car driver I encountered could have used a refresher like that.

Then, just a quarter-mile beyond, a pickup truck drew even with me as I came upon another intersection. I knew this wasn’t going to be good. His turn signal was flashing, and he was going to turn right. I don’t trust pickup trucks. I hit my brakes, and eased into the traffic lane behind him. Sure enough, he braked hard and turned right. If I had stayed in the bike lane, it would have been a classic right hook.

Two cases, two times I anticipated what the drivers would do, and saved myself from a potential disaster.

I’m not sure that would have been the case five or six years ago. But since I started riding a bike, I’ve become a better driver.

When I’m on the road, I’m a lot more aware of what’s going on around me than I used to be. I used to be proud that I checked my rear view mirror every 15 seconds; now I do it even more often. And it’s not just the rear view mirror. I’m constantly scanning around me, even the oncoming traffic on the other side of the road divider. You never know when some clown is going to lose control and cross the median into your path.

In Texas, I think there’s something genetic that keeps drivers from signaling their turns. I’ve gotten pretty good at reading minds, and anticipating what drivers around me are going to do. Most often, they pull around to pass me on the right — even if I’m going down the Interstate at 80 mph.

My heightened awareness behind the wheel doesn’t mean I’m a little old octogenarian tootling along well below the speed limit. A good driver won’t hold up traffic, but also won’t dart in and out of lanes, just to wind up only two car lengths ahead by the time we reach our destination 15 minutes down the road. Instead, I’m part of the traffic, trying to be as predictable as possible.

I’m the same way on my bike — predictable. Drivers might not pay the closest attention to me, but once I’m in their sights, they should have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to do. But I never really worried about being predictable in the car until after I’d ridden the bike for awhile. When you ride with heightened awareness, that rubs off onto your driving, too.