The Warm Up

I went out Sunday morning with a group I’d never ridden with before. We left from Mellow Johnny’s bike shop in downtown Austin and headed south. Four of us showed up for the so-called “Mid-Century Ride,” named because you had to be at least 50 years old to take part. We four were all men, all more than 60 years old.

The ride leader took us on a circuitous route to get out of downtown. We wound our way through tight turns, almost stopping, almost putting feet down. Finally, after taking some sidewalks through a city park, we reached a north-south residential street, and could ride freely.

Except that I noticed something. Our free riding was still pretty slow riding. I understood that we had to ride slow getting out of downtown — it was just too congested with the turns and the pedestrians. But now, we were past that — and we were still averaging only a tad over 10 mph.

Oh well, I figured. These guys looked strong enough. Maybe they just didn’t want to put the hammer down. (Putting the hammer down is a relative term, when I’m involved. I often feel like I’m hammering, only to watch the other bikers disappear off into the distance.)

We got into some residential areas on the south end of the city, and I watched our average speed creep higher — all the way to 11, almost 12 mph. We were about nine miles from downtown and into a semi-suburban area when we started to pedal at a comfortable cruising speed.

Now, I’ve been criticized a time or two in my past for leading a group ride out too fast. I think it might be because of my typical solo rides during the week. I most often do a one-hour ride in my neighborhood, so I tend to stand on the pedals sooner rather than later.

We had some nice fast runs on the rest of the ride. Our average speed after 41 miles was over 14 mph. When coupled with our slow speed on the way out, it showed we were really moving later on.

“I always consider it an accomplishment when we average over 14 for a ride,” the ride leader said, once we were back at the shop.

It was a good ride. And maybe I was able to go fast and stay with them because we had taken our time warming up. I’ll have to pay closer attention to that in the future.

How about you? What’s your warmup routine? Do you pedal easy for quite a while, or do you pick up the pace soon after the start? And what’s a good warmup pace?

Strava Speed vs. Bike Computer Speed

I’m now able to irritate a lot of my friends because I use Strava. The record-keeping is useful, and the segments — while they do prompt one to speed up when one might not want to — provide a nice progress report on one’s ability over certain parts of rides. But there’s one thing I’ve noticed: My speeds according to Strava are different from the speeds registered by my bike computer.


Now, I know I have el cheapo computer. However, I’ve been pretty satisfied with it. I measured the circumference of the front wheel by hand, and found that I need to enter 19 more millimeters than the 2096 commonly used for 23mm tires. My tires are 25mm, so 2115 mm is less than the suggested measurement for that size. Anyhow, when I compare my readouts to known distances on some of my more frequent rides, they are accurate to a level I find acceptable.

So I was puzzled when I noticed a difference between the stats in Strava and the stats on el cheapo. After the first couple of rides with both, Strava settled in and registered total distances for rides within one-tenth of a mile of my old computer. Even this morning, when I did a longer ride, the two were only four-tenths apart, and that was because I neglected to start my old computer at the beginning of the ride. I lost the data for about four blocks of riding.

But on Friday’s ride, there was a real disconnect. The problem area is maximum speed. For one downhill leg I do, the old computer clocked 31.9 mph. Strava had me at 36.4! That’s too much of a difference. Wonder what causes it? I also know from experience that the old computer’s speed was more likely to be the accurate of the two. I’ve ridden this stretch once or twice a week for the last several years, and I know what to expect. I also know what 36 mph feels like on my bike, and I didn’t have that feeling this time.

Therefore, while Strava is fun and useful, I have learned to be skeptical of it sometimes. I’ll continue to enter my ride stats on my spreadsheet (Yes, I know) according to my computer, and use Strava to gauge improvement.


This is a Bad One

A cyclist was hit and killed this morning by a pickup truck in Edinburg, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. The two men in the truck allegedly tried to hide the cyclist’s body, but were caught by police.

The victim, Eddie Arguelles, was a close friend of Ramon H., who has commented here several times and even written a guest post.

Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the family.

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.