Real Ale Ride leaves me ailin’ (ride report)

Ignominy (IG’-na-min-ee): Great personal dishonor or humiliation (American Heritage Dictionary). Used in a sentence: The Real Ale Ride today ended in ignominy for the Bike Noob.

The Real Ale Ride in Blanco, Texas, could have been a great ride. All the elements were there. A beautiful day (OK, hot); nice Texas Hill Country scenery; a start and finish at a microbrewery (Real Ale) with beer and barbecue at the end.

Pat and I both signed up for the 50-mile route, from choices of 15, 30, 50, 65 and 85 miles. She was smart — realized she didn’t have enough mileage under her belt to do a 50, so cut back to the 30. I, on the other hand, was not so smart.

We got off to a good start. We met Jared from Just Another Nerd… and his friends Eric and Christine. They all planned to do the 50, too.

Eric, Christine, and Jared.

It didn’t take long for the hills to kick in. I think some bikers were caught by surprise at the extent of the hills, and their steepness. I was huffing and puffing just a few miles into the ride. This ride is organized by a local bike shop, and attracts a higher caliber of rider from both the Austin and San Antonio areas than most typical charity rides. The first rest stop is about 13 miles from the start. Typical remark while in line for the food and drink: “I was gonna do the 50, but I think I’m cutting it to 30 today.”

Rest Stop #1. We didn’t go over the hills in the background, but we did go through gaps to get past them. That involved climbing enough.

Hunting for bananas, and pickle juice, and…

Jared and friends decided to skip this stop, so I watched them head down the road. Since my bonk earlier this year, I am sensitive to keeping fueled while on a ride. Besides, it’s not a race, anyway. When I did get going, I made decent time to the second rest stop, and had caught up to them. Heading out from here, we picked up a ranch road with light traffic, and made better time.

Yep, that’s the Noob.

The ride goes through cattle country, and riders had to cross cattle guards at several points along the route. The signs warning of the cattle guards seem to carry a double meaning:

Someone needs to rein in their morals.

The ranch road brought us back to the first rest stop again. I plopped into a chair under an awning, drank my liquids and ate some food. The temperature was into the 90s by now, and some of the starch was coming out of me. The road out from the rest stop climbed through the passes over the hills in the earlier picture. I was in the largest cog of my compact double, and kicking myself for not getting the triple when I bought the bike. Then, I hit a hill I could not pedal up. That didn’t bother me — lots of others walked their bikes up it, too.

Will this guy make it, or will he have to walk his bike, too?

The beauty of a struggle up a hill like this one is that once you’re at the top, it’s downhill. Man, was it ever. At one point, the road dropped away out of sight. Once you hit the dropoff, your speed soared. I was going more than 35 mph, and could easily have hit 45, but some of the curves in the road made me uneasy. I feathered the brakes to keep from gaining too much speed, and kept it around 35. BANG! The rear tire let go like a shotgun blast. I kept the bike steady, and stopped to assess the damage.

Shredded rear tire. I’m guessing the heat buildup from the braking (no, I didn’t keep the brakes applied constantly — used mostly the front and hit the rear intermittently) caused the tire to blow. After a half hour, a sag wagon found me and drove me back to the start. I finished about 38 miles.

Pat was already there, having completed her 30-miler. She was fried. She pushed her very upright, heavy steel hybrid through those same hills, but when she got to the main intersection in downtown Blanco (pop. 1500) and realized she faced one more two-mile climb to the finish, it was almost more than she could take.

We didn’t even bother to stand in line for the beer and barbecue, but headed for home right away. Pat is now talking more seriously about a new, lighter, road-friendly bike, and I’m once again making a resolution to work hills into my weekly rides more than I do now. Upcoming rides? Talk to me after today recedes into my dim memory.

For another take on the ride, see comments left by Daren of the LMRA Bicycle Club of Ft. Worth on his club’s message board.

Real Ale Ride tomorrow

Another organized ride in the Hill Country is coming up.  The Real Ale Ride offers routes of 15, 30, 50, 65 and 85 miles.  Pat and I are both signed up for the 50, but after yesterday evening’s short jaunt, she’s decided that 30 will be plenty for her.  Work demands have kept her off the bike most weekdays recently.  Based on the elevation views of the route maps, her 30 might be more challenging than my 50.  We’ll see.  Full ride report Saturday evening.

ID

I’ve always been a bit irrational about carrying identification when I ride. That’s because early on I worried about losing my wallet with my drivers license. Even when the wallet was securely zipped in my seat bag. Even though sometimes I carry my wallet in a pants pocket that doesn’t button shut.

But that’s no matter. I just couldn’t get past the lost DL thing. So I created an ID of a sort, typing out name, address, and emergency contact info on a small piece of paper, taking it to Wal-Mart and running it through one of those cheapy laminating machines near the entrance.

It got bent up in a few rides. I didn’t want to keep going back to Wal-Mart, so I tried something different. This time, I created the ID as above, and also xeroxed my health insurance card. I cut them both to the size of a business card, then put each on either side of one of my business cards, and used clear packing tape to improvise a lamination.

I’m pretty happy with the results. The resulting card is stiff, and the packing tape makes it virtually waterproof. The first thing I do when leaving for a ride is stick it in one of the back pockets of my jersey. No need to worry about jamming my wallet into the seat bag.

My wife thinks I’m being silly. She puts both her drivers license and her health insurance card in her seat bag before every ride. Of course, she’s never had a problem.

Road ID has built a business for itself by making nice ID tags that can be fastened to a wrist, or an ankle, or most any other place. The company argues that emergency workers don’t typically go through an injured person’s pockets, and wouldn’t find an ID card there — but will see an ID tag worn outside.

I haven’t talked to an emergency worker, so I don’t know. For now, I’m comfortable with my way. But if I can be convinced, I will happily change.

Base layers — even in hot weather?

Speaking of jerseys, I have some base layers along the lines of Under Armour (mine are by Jockey). They fit tight to the skin, which is somewhat disturbing to look at in the mirror, but work like a charm.

The base layers are thin polyester material that wick moisture away from the body. They add to the rider’s comfort, because they can warm a bit on a chilly day, and cool a bit when it’s hot and humid. I have a t-shirt and a tank top, and have used them both throughout the spring.

But today, the temperature was already well into the 80s when I left on my ride, and it was only going to go higher. I skipped the base layer. When I got back after a 24-mile hill workout, the temperature had risen to 94°F (34°C) — hey, this is central Texas and will probably be this way until late September — and I was drenched with sweat.

If I had worn the base layer, it might have minimized some of that drenching. But it might also have made me warmer on an already hot day.

Do you use base layers? Is there a temperature cutoff point at which you won’t wear them anymore?

Jerseys — the cooling (and coolness) factor

When I started biking last summer, my uniform was a pair of mountain biking shorts I’d had for more than 10 years (yes, they still fit) and a cotton t-shirt. It didn’t take long to figure out that I needed to make a change.

Most importantly, I had to get rid of the t-shirt. I’d come home drenched with sweat, and would have to wring it out on the back patio before bringing it inside.

I was aware of the colorful jerseys cyclists wear, but in keeping with my usual spending habits, I was put off by the price tag. Sixty dollars and up seemed excessive. So I got the best one possible: a free one. My wife already owned a jersey and had just bought a second one, but it didn’t fit her. It fit me, though, so it was mine.

The hand-me-down jersey.

Sizing was an issue right away. The jersey is by Nike, and their clothing always seems to run small. This is an XXL, and my usual shirt size is XL. And in this case, even the XXL was snug. So, taking my cue from this experience, I figured other jerseys were sized small, to get that skin-hugging sensation, and I ordered Nashbar’s most basic jersey, for about $19.

The Nashbar Essential jersey.

No skin-hugging here. It flaps in the wind. I didn’t return it for an exchange, because at the time, I was more comfortable with loose than snug. And the safety factor is great. The picture doesn’t do the bright, saturated yellow hue justice. This thing really stands out.

How do they perform? They’re both great. They wick perspiration away from the skin, and even though they can be soaked at the end of a ride on a hot day, my body is comfortable. I wear each of them a couple of times a week, but I favor the white one for club rides or organized rides.

Since then, I got a third jersey, a long-sleeved one from Performance, as a Christmas present. Although it is Performance’s basic jersey, again just a single solid color (red this time), it’s very different from the Nashbar one. For one thing, it fits better — it’s an XL. It seems better made. The fabric is heftier, which makes sense, since it’s supposed to be used in cooler weather.

So I’m pretty happy with the basic jerseys. I could use another, though, because it seems I’m always tossing these things in the wash. Which brings me to the big question — what kind? I kind of like the solid colors, but something’s been nagging at me. The coolness factor is missing. I see multi-colored club jerseys, and beer jerseys, and pro team jerseys, and rock ‘n roll jerseys, and I wonder if this old fart should gussy himself up a bit more? Thoughts? What do you wear?

Mid-morning drivers

During the week, I usually ride in late afternoon, after I get home from work. Traffic then is still heavy; rush hour is still under way. But commuting drivers seem to be aware of what’s going on around them. They see me, and they anticipate what I will do. Knock wood, but I have never been flipped off, yelled at, or even honked at.

Now, I have a few weeks off, and I’m able to ride in the morning, but after rush hour. What a difference! The traffic is lighter, yes, but the drivers — measurably worse.

My route today took me down a four-lane suburban street, past some strip malls. I was traveling at about 25 mph on a slight downslope, approaching the entrance to one of the strip malls. A Camaro waited to make a left turn in the oncoming lane. I assumed the worst, and I was right — immediately after a car pulled out of the strip mall, he made his left into it, right in front of me. Because I figured that’s what he would do, I was already feathering the brakes, so I was able to slow a bit without a problem.

An SUV waiting to exit the strip mall on my right saw me coming, and saw that she had to wait for the Camaro to make his turn in front of her. The look of uncertainty in her eyes was evident. Should she pull out now? Should she wait until the Camaro made its turn and then pull out, or should she wait until this biker, in the bike lane, passed before she turned? If she waited for the biker, why, that would mean she’d have to sit there an additional three-and-a-half seconds without making any forward progress. What to do?

I always make sure motorists see me in a situation like that. Today I wore a bright yellow jersey — hard to miss it — and I stood up on the pedals and eased to the left edge of the bike lane to make myself more obvious. Because the Camaro’s turn almost cut me off (I was obvious to him, too, but he wasn’t gonna let no biker slow him down) she was forced to let me pass in front of her before starting out.

She must have stepped on the gas as soon as I went by her, because a car laid into its horn right away. She was so engrossed in watching this upstart biker cross in front of her soccer mom gas guzzler that she didn’t bother to notice that another car was traveling right behind me in my direction, and she nearly pulled out into the road in front of him.

That incident would not have happened at 5:30 in the evening, at least in my experience it hasn’t. But at 10:30 in the morning, with less traffic, conditions are actually more dangerous.

Shoes: Worth the big bux?

I’m always blown away when I look at the various types of biking shoes in catalogs or online.Not because there are so many different types, but because some of them are so expensive.

What does the typical road cyclist really need in the way of a shoe? (What’s a “typical” cyclist, Bike Noob? I dunno. Insert yourself.)

Number 1 — stiff soles. Inexpensive bike shoes have soles made of plastic. It’s stiff, but not as stiff as soles made of carbon fiber. Plastic can flex. Mid-range shoes may have fiberglass or carbon fiber added to the plastic — or maybe all carbon fiber. The high-end shoes have carbon fiber soles.

Uppers. Expensive shoes have uppers made of leather. It breaks in quickly, and is generally considered more comfortable. Less expensive shoes may be made of synthetic leather, or plastic.

Fit. Summed up in one word: snug. The heel should stay put, and not come out during the pedal stroke. At the same time, you don’t want shoes so snug that they cause numbness in the foot. To fasten shoes, velcro straps, buckles, or shoelaces all work. Most road shoes seem to use two velcro straps and a buckle for the top strap. Of course, be sure to leave some room at the end of the toes.

The Sidi Genius. Carbon fiber sole. MSRP: $299.99.

If I averaged 30 mph over a 100-mile ride, maybe I’d want to pop for some shoes like the Sidis, and pay the big price. But I’m guessing you know me better.

My shoes, the Exustar sr421.

I ordered my shoes from Nashbar, and paid about $40 (on sale). Nylon-fiberglass soles, coated leather uppers, velcro closures for all three straps. But they fit well, with the right amount of snugness. Sometimes the little toe on my left foot goes numb, but that’s usually because I pulled the small strap too tight. I’ve had these for nine months, and I have no complaints.

From just cursory observations of organized rides, club rides, and individual cyclists, it seems that many people are willing to pay for quality. Lots of Sidi shoes on cyclists’ feet around here. Maybe someday — but for now, the money I save on fancy shoes can go to buy well-padded shorts, or maybe a really garish jersey.

(Thanks to BicycleApparel.com for providing much of the info contained in this post.)

Random musings about biking

Ever notice how stoplights are always at the base of a hill, so you’re hard pressed to build up any speed once you hit the slope?

And on the subject of stoplights, ever notice that when you grab your water bottle for a drink at a red light, the light invariably turns green?

I continue to be passed on hills by other cyclists. It seems that most of them have thighs the size of my spare tire. Not the tire in my seat bag — the spare tire around my waist. I bet if I lose 15 pounds, I’d start passing some of them.

Biking is a great way to see a variety of wildlife that you would miss in a car because you’re driving too fast, or miss while walking, because you don’t cover enough ground. On this afternoon’s 18-mile ride, I saw a Roadrunner, a Blotched Water Snake (non-venomous, but about four feet long, crossing the bike path–I almost ran it over), a blue jay (not all that common in this part of Texas), and a tarantula as it crossed the bike path. Cool.

Practiced upshifting before downshifting to the small chainring — making progress.

Also working on clicking into the pedals without looking. Dana is right — it’s more effective that way.

Got passed by four cyclists during my ride this afternoon — and not one of them was an old guy!

Shifting problem

Here’s a problem I’ve been running into lately — perhaps someone can suggest how to fix it. Shifting on a hill — I can’t seem to do it smoothly. Actually, I’m not even talking about hills here — more like an incline that scrubs off your speed. If I’m in the large chainring, I’m always guessing at what point to shift down to the small ring. And when I do shift down, I’m in too large a rear cog, so my pedals spin freely, and I lose forward momentum. I frantically shift up several times in rapid succession to get to the gear I need to be in. Lately, I’ve tried shifting up a cog before shifting down to the small chainring, but even that doesn’t seem to solve my problem.

This never happens when shifting up to the large chainring, because then, I’m either going downhill or am at least on a flat.

Most of the articles I’ve read on the topic of shifting seem to stop just short of the situation I describe. They tell you to shift down so that you’re pedaling at the same cadence uphill as you would on a flat. Fine, but how to do it smoothly?

Doing the ‘Dillo (Ride report)

One thing I learned for certain after today’s ride — I’m getting better at this.

Today, I did my first organized ride since November. The Armadillo Hill Country Classic, the premier event of the Austin Cycling Association (ACA), follows some nice country roads northwest of Austin. Routes on the ride varied from a 14-mile family ride to 105 miles. I picked the 51-mile route.

Many riders, myself included, were concerned about the weather conditions we could run into. The forecast called for a high in the mid-90s. When I got up at 5:30 a.m., it was already 75. It was not looking to be a good day for biking. But luck was with us. A low cloud deck kept things overcast through most of the morning. At the start, a cool breeze kicked up. As it turned out, weather was not an issue on the ride.

It was a treat for me to make contact with a couple of Austin-area bike bloggers. Mike and Jared both turned out for the ride, and I was able to at least put faces with names. They’re both stronger riders than I am, and we never did get to rendezvous after the ride. I hope we can in the future.

Mike of “Mike’s Bike Blog” and Jared of “Just Another Nerd…”

ACA organizers were pleased that about 930 people preregistered for the ride. Add to that the riders who registered on site this morning, and the total number topped one thousand. That made for a dicey start. The 105- and 80-milers set off first, but the rest of us followed on their heels right away. Bikers took up most of the road that led from the high school to the heart of Liberty Hill (pop. 1400), and then strung out as the route hit lightly trafficked country roads.

The pack tackles another gentle, but long, uphill grade.

The route followed almost the same route as the Rip Roarin’ Ride last fall. It gave me a chance to compare my performance then and now. I was pleased to find that this time, the ride was relatively easy. The new bike made a huge difference. Roads I struggled on last year posed relatively little trouble this time around.

One of my favorite rest stops is Number 2, which we actually get to stop at both out and back. Besides friendly folks from the Liberty Hill Lions Club staffing the stop, it’s on the grounds of the Stock Tank General Store, which adds some Texas color to the ride.

Yours truly at the Stock Tank General Store. “Ah think ah’ll mosey in an’ git me a sarsparilla.”

Actually, there’s lots of Texas color on the ride. A couple of examples:

It’s a real place. But if you blink, you’ll miss it.

A donkey and a buffalo shared some pasture with a herd of longhorn cattle.

At the last rest stop of the ride, I ran into Gilbert Martinez, a co-worker of mine who is the Vice President of the ACA. He was riding with his wife Raeanne.

Gilbert’s on the right.(!)

From here, it was a quick seven miles back to the start. How did I do? As I said, I’m improving. Fifty-one miles in 3:22:47 (time in the saddle), for an average speed of 15.21 mph. I also hit a new maximum speed of 39.2 mph, which was a lot of fun while I was doing it, but a bit unsettling at the end of the ride, when I saw the number on the cyclocomputer.

Today’s ride whetted my appetite for more. I’ll have to go back to the ride sites, and figure out when and where to do the next one. Stay tuned.