We complain a lot about bikes getting along with cars — or not. But what would your ideal cycling situation look like? Take a look at the city of Groningen, in the north of The Netherlands. It bills itself as “The World’s Cycling City,” and offers lots of food for thought as to how we might make some improvements in our biking infrastructure in the States. Take a look at this 15-minute film. Click the picture to play.
This has been a tough week, biking-wise. We had something that is quite unusual around here: a cold snap. It’s part of the massive winter storm system that pushed through the country, but we got just the tail end. And we were very lucky. Compared to Dallas, which got lots of ice, we had very little.
The temperatures, though, made bike riding out of the question, at least for me. As you might know, I try to ride Tuesday when I get home from work, but I was stuck there late this week since we’re at the end of the semester. A lot of final projects are being finished on a rush basis, and I have to be around to offer suggestions, write critiques, or even save some from crashing and burning. I looked forward to Friday, when I didn’t have to go in. The semester was over on Thursday.
But biking wasn’t going to happen Friday. Too cold. I’m good for temps down to 40 degrees (4C), but if it gets any colder than that, I simply don’t have the clothes to handle it. Instead, my wife and I put flannel sheets on the bed and lit the fireplace for the first time this winter.
Meanwhile, I saw that some members of my club were getting in their miles in spite of the weather. They did it indoors — at their gym (health club, fitness center, whatever you want to call it). Spin classes apparently were full.
We used to have a gym membership. Actually, it was my wife’s, but I could go over there from time to time on a guest pass through her. We dropped that membership a few years ago, for two reasons: she had stopped going regularly, and the cost was more than we wanted to pay, especially if we weren’t going to use it.
So this week, I found myself a bit envious of my pals. I’ve never enjoyed riding a stationary bike, but at least it would work up a sweat and I could feel like I was “pretend” riding. I didn’t do any pretend riding this week. I waited for Sunday to roll around and the temperatures to moderate some, and went out for a nice 18-mile jaunt through the neighborhood.
I know my Northern friends are chuckling right now. “The answer is easy,” they’re saying. “Just get yourself a trainer, and you’ll be able to ride, too.”
With Christmas just around the corner, that won’t happen. Any money we have will go to presents, and entertaining family visitors for several days. Trainers might make sense when you’re kept indoors for three months straight, but I’m used to riding year round, so I’ll hold out for better weather and try to make up for lost ground.
Looks like it got all the way up to 48 (8C) today. That might be the warmest it gets until next weekend. Anyone want to let me into their gym on a guest pass?
Have you ever been riding along on your bike, when a passing motorist yells something like, “You don’t pay taxes — get off the road!” or something to that effect? In my experience, those shouts are triggered because bikes slow down traffic, and adversely impact a commuter’s driving time. In my experience also, that slowdown lasts for approximately three seconds. Then, the car is free to pull out and roar past — often at a distance too close for comfort.
On the urban planning website Planetizen, blogger Todd Litman dissects the internal combustion crowd’s arguments against supporting better infrastructure for cyclists, including the one on taxes. It’s a thorough, thoughtful piece, and I look forward to more discussion on this subject.
Litman’s post, “Who Subsidizes Whom?” can be found here.
On a recent ride near Dripping Springs, I was leading our peloton of about six or seven riders, when I had to call out a warning.
“Cattle guard!” I yelled. “Two of ‘em!”
We had reached a spot where a small ranch straddles the rural road. To keep his cattle from getting out into the surrounding countryside, the rancher had embedded two cattle guards in the road surface, perhaps 20 yards apart. And these weren’t flush with the pavement, either. They sent a bone-rattling vibration from the wheels up through the bike, right into your teeth.
About 300 yards down the road, we all stop at an intersection. But we have to be careful there, too. As we’re braking for the stop sign, we have to cross yet another cattle guard.
For those city folk who aren’t sure what we’re talking about here, cattle guards consist of several rows of steel pipe, laid into the road over a shallow trench. The pipes are spaced just wide enough that a hoof can pass through it, so a steer’s leg would wind up trapped in the guard. The cattle sense this, and keep away.
Cars don’t worry about them much, but the skinnier your bike tires are (and the more pumped up), they can really feel the jarring the guards cause.
Some stretches of road are more likely to have cattle guards than others. The section I mention above is about four miles long, but has at least a half dozen. Other parts of the same ride have none over even longer distances. A section of the LBJ 100 bike route is known for all the guards in a relatively short stretch, but the guards themselves are some of the smoothest I’ve ridden over, and it’s not a big deal.
The style of guard varies. Some are made of pipe with a fairly wide diameter, others with skinny pipe. Some are laid nicely flush with the pavement, but others protrude just a bit. Those are the ones you don’t want to cross too often.
To minimize the effect of the guards, a bike rider can take a simple remedy. When approaching the guard, put your pedals at 9 and 3 o’clock, and stand. Unweight the bike as it reaches the front edge of the guard. You’ll still feel the jar, but it won’t be as traumatizing as it would be if you stayed seated.
Overheard on a ride: “We keep crossing all these cattle guards, but I don’t see any cattle.”
Response: “They’re doing good job, aren’t they?”
No one I know likes to ride over cattle guards. But most folks I know like to ride out in the country. And in Texas, as well as much of the American West, you’ll encounter cattle guards. It’s a tradeoff that we just accept.
My friend Rick had a great idea for a Sunday club ride.
“After two challenging days in the saddle, my aging legs are looking for a recovery spin at a long slow distance pace,” he posted. As a bonus, he suggested a starting time of 9 a.m. — much more civilized than the 8:15 a.m. start we traditionally have.
I and one other person posted that we would be there. When I got to our Starbucks starting place, however, a total of 10 riders had showed up. Two other club rides were going south at a fast pace, and to a very hilly route west of the city.
“I think posting that this would be at a conversational pace is what attracted people,” Rick said.
Everyone but me was an A rider, but because of the “conversational pace,” I didn’t expect any problems. Rick decided to keep the ride to neighborhood streets, and while some grumbled under their breaths that Sunday is a time to get out of the neighborhood, no one vocally complained.
Rick’s route took us on streets we all ride during the week, when we’re out for just an hour or so. It was fun to adopt the spirit of the ride, and chat with other riders as we worked our way up a nice bike-laned street to a turnaround point. Then we headed for a new housing development way at the south end of our area. The extension of our main drag goes on for another two miles or so, until we had to stop and do a U-turn when the road ran out.
Off to the Veloway for a quick lap. A few riders took that opportunity to put the hammer down, and disappeared. “It’s like you said in one of your previous blog posts,” Rick commented. “Riding easy is hard.”
The temperature, which had started at about 54 degrees (12C), was now warming up to the point that some of us had to stop to peel off layers. I was comfortable in a base layer under my cycling jersey, and arm warmers. Some had bundled up for much colder weather.
We went up a hill that isn’t very steep, but its length makes it a challenge, then headed back toward Starbucks. We had already gone about 15 miles, and Rick was looking for a ride in the 30-mile range.
That meant we weren’t going to stop for coffee, but plunged on to the north, where my old friend Convict Hill awaits. I usually ride Convict Hill first if I’m going to include it on my route. Now, it presented more of a challenge, because my legs were starting to tire.
At the top of Convict Hill, we had the option to take a side street down the backside. Coming back up is tough. I skipped the first one, but when we came to a second side street with a good drop, I joined in.
Rick couldn’t resist one more climb before we left Convict Hill. I do it all the time, but today it knocked me out. The rest of the group got well ahead of me as I struggled to keep the pedals turning.
The nice part about Convict Hill is coming down. We get to use a bike lane on a smooth asphalt road, and hit speeds of 32-33 mph. But at the bottom, I could only see one other cyclist make the turn to head back south. Everyone else was well out in front.
One of the best parts of our club ride is socializing at the end. While a few decided to keep going to add more miles, most of us stopped for warm beverages and conversation. I had expected to do around 40 miles today. I did 28. With the hills near the end of the ride, it felt like 40, or more. I’ll have to incorporate this route into my own repertoire of neighborhood rides. It’s a good one.
First it was our home remodeling project. Then it was a work obligation. Now, it’s the weather. All the stars have been in alignment over the past week to keep me off my bike.
Central Texas is under a Winter Weather Advisory. That’s nowhere near as serious as much of the country is facing right now, but in an area that seldom gets snow, these kinds of weather events are cause for consternation. It’s been raining on and off since Friday, sometimes heavily. That’s enough to keep me from riding. But the temperature has dropped to the mid-30s (2C), and that’s below my threshold for riding. I don’t have clothes that will keep me comfortable at anything lower than 40.
This past weekend was also that rare time when I’m tied up with work-related things. In this case, I emceed a conference for students all day Saturday. That wouldn’t have been a problem if I could get on the bike Sunday, but as I said, rain and cold together do not biking weather make.
But Thanksgiving is coming up quickly. I get to take Wednesday off work, and we don’t have to work Friday — so I expect lots of riding in the next few days. The forecast is going to moderate, too. We’ll be up to 70 (21C) by Sunday! All I have to do is dig my bike out from under all the remodeling waste in my garage.
Long-time readers of Bike Noob might recall that I used to have a bike computer that measured cadence. When it broke, I didn’t replace it with another cadence unit — I decided I didn’t really need that information.
One thing I found out when I did ride with that unit was that I naturally cruised at a cadence of between 82-85 rpm. Most of the cycling literature I had read indicated that you want to be up around 90 rpm. I did do a cadence workout once a week where I struggled to stay above 90 for a 15-mile ride. I believe that effort did help me, but I also think that because I was working hard on those rides, I was a little bit fitter than I am today.
But as I discovered that I was falling into a biking rut, which I mentioned briefly last month, I decided that one way to break out of it was to vary my workouts — not ride at the same speed under the same conditions all the time. And sure enough, once I started doing that, I also started to pay attention to how fast I was turning the pedals.
I realized that I had let my previous cadence efforts go by the wayside. I started doing some fartlek training again, and made sure that on the fast sections, that I upped my cadence. I don’t have anything to measure it by, and I distrust my efforts to count the number of revolutions in a 10-second section, then multiply by six — I just don’t think that’s accurate, at least when I do it.
Then, when out on a longer weekend ride, I shifted down one gear into something a tidge easier. That also allowed me to increase my cadence, and get used to spinning without necessarily working harder. And I discovered that I like the higher revs. I’m in comfort zone now that must be the result of my earlier cadence workouts. It’s almost certainly closer to 90 that 80 now.
One benefit of increased cadence is that if you have to shift to a harder gear, it’s easier to spin the pedals, because you’ve been training at higher rpm’s anyway. I’ll never be speed demon, but it’s nice to know that when I do have to accelerate, I can do it without having to gasp for breath a mile down the road.
So I think I’ll continue to make cadence a regular part of my biking routine. Not measuring it to any degree of accuracy, but just paying attention to how fast I’m spinning at certain points in my ride. My rides will be easier, my pace will be just as good, if not better, and I’ll be building endurance.
How about you? Does cadence have any role in your riding or training?