Is It Getting More Dangerous Out There?

My friend Ramon H. from the Rio Grande Valley recently had a shock when a drunk driver plowed into several members of a group ride he was in. Two were banged up, and one went to a local hospital’s ICU. Ironically, the group was riding in honor of another of their cycling circle who was killed a year ago — again, by a drunk driver.

The crash rattled Ramon, and he is reassessing his commitment to cycling.

“At this point,” he wrote me, “I am not sure what the future holds for me as it pertains to pre-dawn cycling or road cycling in general.  This event hit too close to home and emotions are very raw still.  Not just for me, but for my wife as well.”

A lot of Ramon’s riding is done on a trainer now.

I have noticed an increase in traffic on roads I’ve biked on for years. Until the shoulders were recently widened on one popular (but high speed limit) highway, I had stopped riding it. Too many cars going too fast. However, on our longer cycling routes into the country, I can’t say motorists are any more of a threat than they have ever been.

So I was concerned when two members of my cycling club posted about one of their recent rides. Going down Cement Plant Road near Buda, Texas, a cement truck passed so close that it touched the arm of one rider, and left a disturbing cement dust print on his shoulder. Neither of the two was hurt, but we probably will confine our riding on that road to Sundays in the future.

However, a heightened sense of danger on the roads is far from universal. Our guest poster, Don Blount, says he hasn’t seen a problem.

“I have found drivers to be remarkably courteous, giving me plenty of space,” he said. “I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have been buzzed and most of those times will involve some knuckleheads in a pickup truck.”

Don surveyed members of his cycling club in California, and they had similar impressions.

  • “Motorists are pretty mellow in my experience.”
  • “Having lived and biked in the foothills since 1997, I see no real difference in the autos.”
  • “I have not noticed a greater danger,  bad drivers are still bad and don’t count on anyone giving you three feet clearance.”

Our other guest poster, Jeff Hemmel, checks in from Florida: “Not sure if I would say that it feels like things are getting worse, but there are definitely moments.” Jeff says he’s noticed more anger on the roads, as well as more disregard for traffic laws. So, he’s adjusted some of his riding practices.

“I always ride with a very bright, Blackburn Flea blinking taillight day and night,” he said. “I’m also really conscious of watching taillights, looking ahead to intersections, etc, to try and anticipate what might happen.”

Jeff said it’s up to the cyclist to be proactive. “I think about what hours I’m out there,” he said. “I pretty much stick to morning, and especially avoid later afternoon as kids are out of school, people are starting to go home from work, etc.”

Frankly, one of the reasons I’ve started doing some mountain biking is that it gets me off the roads. If I hit a rock and do an endo — well, that’s my fault.

And even Ramon hasn’t given up. “I am not ready to stop cycling because I have seen the tremendous weight-management and stress-relief benefits it provides,” he wrote. “I have seen very positive changes from when I started back in 2009 to where we are today.  Drivers have started to look out for us, and we have slowly started to instill a ‘share the road’ mentality.”

And Saturday, Ramon finished a 100-mile organized ride with his best time ever for a century.

Sideways

Our frequent guest poster, Don Blount, is dealing with a setback.

BlountOnBikingMy cycling year has gone sideways.

I had planned on building on what I did last year, riding a total 6,500 miles and completing a bunch of challenging rides, including the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride and my first double century.

This year my goal was to complete three double centuries, which would give me a California Triple Crown and to complete the Death Ride again.

But man makes plans and God laughs.

Instead of preparing for my next ride, I am readying for major surgery in March and rehab with hopes of being able to complete a double century by the fall.

Don's left hip.

Don’s left hip.

The problem is osteoarthritis in my left hip. It is something that I have been tracking for nearly two years. X-rays taken about last May showed no cartilage in the joint, which meant there was bone on bone grinding.

My doctor described it succinctly: “You have a crappy hip.”

Cycling is a non-weight bearing activity – except for standing when climbing or making a hard effort – so the only option was to live with it until it became problematic.

So I rode and for the most part without any significant problems.

In October I had a quick consult with an orthopedic surgeon who looked at the x-ray, and told me to come see him when I was ready. Ready meant ready for hip replacement surgery.

Don's right (replaced) hip.

Don’s right (replaced) hip.

The hip was balky but it provided no real indication that it would fail.

But over the Christmas holidays it took a turn, becoming increasingly difficult to use until one morning after New Year’s I got up and could not walk at all.

My hip had not just deteriorated; it felt as if it had imploded. I can ride, I can work out. But the pain became constant and I needed a cane to walk.

It was time for hip replacement surgery.

I spoke with my doctor who referred me to the surgeon and a surgery date was scheduled.

I may view this major surgery a bit differently than other people since I had my right hip replaced in 2004. People do not know I have a replacement hip unless I tell them. The surgeon says I can be on bike trainer a few days after surgery.

That’s my new starting point on which to build and hopefully I can complete a California Triple Crown in 2016.

Another Year!

glassThe fine folks at WordPress tell me this is my seventh anniversary as a blogger.

Many thanks to all of you who continue to stop by to read my occasional entries, and to offer always interesting and fun comments. I’ll try to keep things moving along in the coming year.

Mountain Biking at an Advanced Age

There’s a nifty event coming up in Austin in a few weeks. It’s called the “Big Southie,” and is an unsupported mountain bike ride consisting of three different loops on the myriad of bike trails in the south part of town.

I’m going to ride it. Not the whole thing, but parts of it. So when I saw that a pre-ride of the route was planned for Sunday, I decided to join in.

The pre-ride was just the north loop, and would cover about 17 miles. This is described as the “most technical” of the three loops. “Technical,” in mountain bike talk, means you have to bounce over lots of rocks. I figured if I was part of a group covering some trails that I have not yet ridden, I’d be okay — even though I’m not very good at negotiating rocks.

We started within a few minutes of the scheduled 9 a.m. departure. The ride leader was looking for someone to serve as the “sweep,” or last rider in the group, and I said that since I was probably the slowest rider there, I would do it. We started on a paved multi-use trail at a local park, and right away I had to push it to stay with the group. These were some serious mountain bikers, some of whom I had seen before on other outings.

Just over a mile from the start, they veered off a familiar path onto a trail that I never knew existed. It was a different way to get to the Mopac Expressway, which we would cross under. But not on a road. We would cross under it on a rough trail. It was really quite fun, because we first crossed under the southbound lanes of the expressway, and then rode between the two divisions of the road for some time — about 12 feet below the road surface, so traffic didn’t even know we were there. Eventually, we crossed under the northbound lanes, and the trail started living up to its “technical” billing.

I’m not at the point where I blast over rocks, especially loose ones like we were dealing with. At one point, the trail turned abruptly up, and I had to downshift to the small chainring and stand on the pedals to keep my forward momentum going. Just then, the front tire hit a rock that was larger than most around it, and the bike jarred to a halt. I had to jump quickly to keep from being thrown onto the bed of rocks. While I wrestled the bike up the rest of the hill, the group had disappeared into the woods and underbrush ahead.

I pedaled hard on the trail, and soon came upon one of the bikers, who had held back to wait for me. That’s the way it would be for the next 10-15 minutes: I’d fall back, and someone would stay back to wait.

We reached the Sunset Valley trails, a nice network of trails in the town of Sunset Valley, which is completely surrounded by Austin. Now, I could stay with the group. But they were headed toward another bit of “technical” stuff — a trail I had tried to ride about a month ago, and that proved too risky for me. I let one of the riders know that I was turning back, and wished them all a nice ride.

Heading back through Sunset Valley, I decided to take some of the branch trails I’d never been on before. One was quite nice. Twisty singletrack, into and out of woods and prairie. Eventually, I reached a point where it climbed a hill steep enough that steps had been built into it. Clearly, I was off the part of the trail used for biking. But I carried the bike up the steps (the rustic kind made of logs and mud), and reached an overlook.

I learned that this spot is called Crystal Mountain. It's hardly a mountain, but does offer a nice view.

I learned that this spot is called Crystal Mountain. It’s hardly a mountain, but does offer a nice view.

The sign said I was in a nature and conservation area, and sure enough, I had blundered onto a trail where bikes are not allowed. I walked the bike down the hill, and picked up the trail I had taken into this spot. This time, I decided I’d had enough exploring for the day, and headed home.

I have enjoyed mountain biking since I started doing it last April, but I think I’m getting cautious in my old age. (A friend once told me I’m just getting wiser.) The rough stuff other riders attacked were the kinds of terrain I like to avoid — or at least tackle at a slower, more exploratory pace than we rode this day. But they’re about 30 years or more younger than I am, and I’m not sure I’ll ever ramp up to their level of expertise that navigating over rough ground.

I’ll continue to ride the mountain bike, but at my age, I’ll ride on my terms.

Earworms

I’m bugged. Somehow, things are getting into my brain, messing with my ability to concentrate while out on the road, and generally driving me nuts.

Those things are earworms.

If you haven’t heard the term before, it refers to those songs that play in your head — over and over and over. If you try to drive them out, they just get louder.

Now, I normally wouldn’t mind a song in my head. I like music. The trouble is, the songs that have been playing lately are unwelcome, because they’re a) irritating, b) bad songs in general, or c) bad biking songs in particular.

A bad song is anything that I never enjoyed listening to, even if it was a hit. Most pop songs of the ’70s and ’80s fall into this category, but there were some real gems from earlier than that. Do you remember “A white sport coat, and a pink carnation…I’m all dressed up for the dance”? Or, “Honey,” by Bobby Goldsboro? “See the tree, how big it’s grown…”

Not only are they awful songs, but they’re particularly bad for biking. When I’m out on the road, I want something that helps me maintain my pace: Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild,” or most anything by the Rolling Stones. But those songs never invade my cranial innards.

Motown? I love Motown! At first blush, it might seem like the beat is a tad on the slow side. But “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops (“Sugarpie, honeybunch”) has a beat that you want to hit on the downstroke of your pedal. I have been known to sing “Tears of a Clown” out loud while pedaling down a lonesome country road.

The bad songs don’t have that kind of beat. Or, they’re way too slow. Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” is a great song, but you don’t want its syrupy strains spreading through your head when you’re trying to keep up a 15 mile per hour pace.

The worst one, though, was the one that got me last week. It wasn’t even a song, but a commercial jingle. For a regional chain of liquor stores.

Got cheer, all through the year — Chocolate, coffee, cheese — And a case of cold beer

Okay, it’s kind of catchy.

Spec’s fine spirits and finer foods — World class service — It’s all about you

But there’s a major problem with it:

Shop Spec’s — Low price amazing — Here’s to you (shout!) — Here’s to savings!

It’s only 30 seconds long! If I’m out for a two-hour ride on the weekend, and that’s the only thing playing in my head… it’s enough to drive a cyclist nuts.

How do you deal with earworms on a ride?

(If you’re not from Texas, and you’ve never heard the Spec’s jingle, here you go — but don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

 

“Adventure Road” Bikes

As I deal with less than optimum biking weather this winter (although I shouldn’t complain — I rode today in 62-degree (16C) sunshine), my thoughts turn to other bikes. What’s out there that I need to pay attention to?

I’ve noticed one category that has taken hold quickly, at least based on the offerings of all the major bike companies. That’s the so-called “Adventure Road” bike. Evolved from cyclocross bikes, the adventure road is intended to let the recreational roadie go beyond the tarmac. The wider tires offer good traction on gravel roads, too, and more comfort when the pavement disintegrates. It has the drop handlebars of a road bike, and it’s priced in a wide range — from under $1,000 to well up into the several thousands. What sets it apart is its wider-than-typical road bike tires and its brakes.

I took a look at several makes, and selected models that are priced in about the mid-range: $1,200-$1,500. Here’s what you can get:

The Trek CrossRip

The Trek CrossRip Elite.

The Trek CrossRip Elite.

The Elite model has an aluminum frame and carbon fork, a 9-speed cassette with an 11-32 tooth range, a 50/34 compact crankset, mechanical disc brakes and 32 mm tires. Its MSRP is $1,270.

Giant AnyRoad 1

The Giant AnyRoad 1.

The Giant AnyRoad 1.

Also aluminum frame, carbon fork, mechanical disc brakes. It has a 9-speed cassette with an 11-34 tooth range, and a 48/34 crankset. It also comes with 32 mm tires. Its MSRP is $1,225.

Diamondback Haanjo Comp

Diamondback Haanjo Comp

Diamondback Haanjo Comp

Aluminum frame, carbon fork, and a 10-speed Shimano 105 drive train. It has a 12-30 cassette, and a 46/36 crankset. Mechanical disc brakes, but wide tires — 40 mm. MSRP: $1,500.

Norco Search S2 Steel

Norco Search S2 Steel

Norco Search S2 Steel

The Canadian bike maker Norco has low-to-medium-priced adventure road bikes with steel frames, and more expensive carbon fiber framed models. The S2 has a chromoly frame and fork, and 11-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain, 11-32 cassette and a 50/34 crankset. Mechanical disc brakes, 28 mm tires. It’s priced at $1,215.

So, what’s the attraction of bikes like these? Well, they offer a more comfortable alternative to traditional road bikes. Their geometry is more relaxed than most road bikes, with shorter top tubes, and taller head tubes. The disc brakes offer better stopping power, and the wider tires cushion the ride somewhat. If you have gravel roads in your area that beckon the cyclist, these bikes are good gravel grinders.

It’s likely that they won’t keep up with the A group in your club, but that probably won’t bother most people in the market for them. For a certain type of rider, the ride is important — not the speed. I’m intrigued by these bikes. I’m not in the market now, but if I do start shopping for a new road bike, I think the adventure road will be the road I take.

Running Interference

We’ve been enjoying the newly-striped roads in our immediate area. As I’ve mentioned before, in some places there are parking lanes for cars, with bike lanes next to them. The bike lanes are fairly wide, which squeezes moving cars a bit, but has the effect of slowing them down — theoretically.

But I still see cars that follow bikes to an intersection, pass them, and then cut them off to make a right turn. My friend Maggie said she nearly followed a woman into a parking lot to yell at her about it. Maggie is better at controlling her temper than some, and thought better of it.

It doesn’t seem like it’s too much for cars to pull in behind bikes when approaching a right turn. It will cost them, what — only two or three seconds?

So I’ve decided to intervene — surreptitiously. When I’m driving my car, and a cyclist is ahead in a bike lane, I make sure he or she will get to the turn unmolested. I slow down and ease over so the side of the car is right at the edge of the bike lane. That blocks following cars from trying to pass me on the right in the bike lane to beat me to the corner. It also forces them to stay behind me so they can’t cut off the biker.

The beauty of this is that the cyclist is probably unaware I’m even there. They can keep pedaling without worry and get through the intersection. Drivers might get impatient, having to follow behind this slow guy, but they don’t honk or complaint. At least they haven’t yet.

Some of use from the club were sitting around after a ride recently, and the topic of running interference came up. Every person — all six of them — claimed to do something like what I describe here.

How about you? Do you take an active role in protecting cyclists from cars?