I joined a bike club

I learned entirely through accident – by reading the neighborhood newsletter, which I never do – that my neighborhood has its own bike club. Who’d a thunk?

They maintain a group site on Yahoo! where I learned all about them. There are A, B, and C class riders in the club – A being the “hammerheads,” or fast bikers, B the 14-16 mile-per-hour crowd, and C the beginners, families, hybrid riders, etc.

Looked good, so I mailed in my $30 family registration along with my and my wife’s signed waivers for club-sponsored group rides (if we’re hurt, we don’t hold the club liable).

They have regular no-drop rides on the weekends, with Saturdays being the faster of the two. I opted to show up for one of their Sunday rides. About 13 were there. We rode city streets to the far southeast corner of town, then headed out into the country. As the new guy, and the guy who was inexperienced in group riding, I opted to hang off the rear and see how the ride shaped up. One of the regulars, who styles himself as the club “sweep,” hung back with me and gave me tips on drafting. It was a pleasant ride, with lots of chatter about bikes and other things. I felt like I could keep up with them without any trouble. Then we hit the country.

It took me a few minutes to realize what was happening. But after a few minutes, only one other rider was anywhere near me. We were far behind, and could see a rainbow of bike jerseys topping a far-off hill. At the 20-mile mark, they stopped and waited. I caught up, downed a big gulp of water, and ate half a granola bar. Then they were off again. It looked like they were not going to use this as the turnaround point, but just keep going. Once again, I found myself with the same biker who had been alone with me when we first hit the country. He, too, was frustrated that he couldn’t crack a 15 mph average, but we were both on steel bikes (I still had the Raleigh at this point), and we weren’t in their league.

Finally, we hit a t-intersection, and none of the other bikers had waited to point the way. “Which way?’ I asked. “Left,” he said. We turned. And we didn’t see a soul for the rest of the ride.

Eventually, we made it back. Well, I did. My new biking friend turned off to head home before we got back to the local Starbucks where our rides begin. A few of the original group were finishing up their lattes, and I stopped to let them know we had gotten back all right. At that t-intersection, the group had turned right, and waited for us at a country store about a half mile down the road. After a half hour, they gave up on us and came home. Total distance for the day: 47 miles, and it was tougher than a metric century I had done back in November. But we had achieved one distinction: In the year and a half the club had been around, we were the first to ever be dropped in an organized ride.

Mopac

The first real “road” ride I did when I started biking last summer was Mopac.

Mopac Expressway (also known as Loop 1) runs south-to-north through Austin, west of the downtown area. By the time it gets down to my part of town, traffic has thinned out considerably, which makes it an attractive ride venue. It’s still a divided four-lane highway. It also has wide shoulders.

On weekend mornings, Mopac south of Slaughter Lane hosts many bikers. The ride along this section of the expressway is simple: Go south a couple of miles until Mopac turns west. It becomes Texas 45 at this point. There’s still a marked shoulder, but the paint line that defines it presses toward the curb as you approach some entrances to residential subdivisions. The road here has some long uphills. Stay on the wide shoulder all the way out to Ranch Road 1826.

mopacmap.png

Just before you get to 1826, check traffic and cross into the left shoulder. At the junction, you can turn left, and stay on the shoulder for the northbound 1826 traffic. It was recently resurfaced. In about 100 yards, you’ll reach the eastbound lanes of Texas 45. Cross the traffic lanes and pick up the shoulder. This is the start of a downhill section, which features two or three nice descents. It’s fairly easy to top 35 – even 40 mph along this stretch.

Once Texas 45 reaches Mopac, you follow the curve around to the north, and several uphill climbs to the stoplight at LaCrosse. Here, you have the option to turn right and head for the Veloway – just a quarter-mile down – or turn left on LaCrosse to the southbound lanes of Mopac, and do another Mopac loop.

From my house, it’s about 2.5 miles to Mopac. The out-and-back loop is 8.12 miles. If I do three “Mopac Loops” I’ve done 29+ miles.

It’s not my favorite ride in the area, but it’s convenient if I want to get out on the road.

Spin class

If it’s up to me, I’d rather ride. But when the weather turns sour, an alternative is called for.

Two weekends ago, Saturday morning dawned with a downpour. I wasn’t going to be able to get out on the bike at all. But my wife recently joined a high-end fitness club, and she invited me to use one of her guest passes to come to a spinning class.

I wanted to see the inside of the club, so I agreed. Quite the place. I got a locker in a very posh locker room, and changed into cycling shorts and a jersey. Most spinners wear padded cycling shorts – something I didn’t know. The “spinning studio” is on an upstairs level, with dark wood floors and subdued lighting. The instructor recognized that I was not a regular, and came over to make sure I fitted the “bike” correctly.

A spinning bike is not like the exercycles you might find in the same workout room as the stairclimbers. These put you in a riding position closer to what you would find on a road bike. You can increase and decrease resistance by turning a knob, if you want to create the sense that you’re climbing hills.

The room filled quickly. Of the 40 bikes, about 35 were taken. An older gentleman in full team kit took the bike next to mine, and started spinning slowly. The instructor encouraged everyone to spin easily, to warm up before class.

My wife made it a point to get me two earplugs. She said I’d need them when class began. As usual, she was right. The instructor plugged her iPod into the sound system next to her bike, and cranked it up. Throbbing techno music blasted from speakers throughout the room. The sound was so clear, I had to check several times to make sure my earplugs were actually holding.

The instructor said she was going to tax our anaerobic thresholds, and leave us gasping. We started pedaling faster. I was sweating in no time. She told us to back off, spin easily for a minute, then she hammered down. We cranked up the resistance, we stood up on the pedals. The gentleman who had started slowly next to me was pumping like crazy – going faster than the pace the instructor set. I plopped back into my saddle. “Don’t you dare back off!” she yelled, pointing at me.

That’s pretty much how the rest of the session went. A series of mad dashes and gasping easy periods. When it was over, I was soaked through. We sprayed disinfectant on the bikes and toweled them off. It wasn’t biking, but I thought it would be a useful substitute if the weather failed to cooperate in the future.

Downstairs, I spent ten minutes in the steam room, followed by a cold shower – then a Mediterranean breakfast in the club’s cafe. I suppose fitness clubs do have something to offer. I’ll have to have my wife get more guest passes.