Windy City bike ride

I just got back from a few days in Chicago, where I was attending a conference related to my work. The conference was fine, and I got a lot out of it, but it had nothing to do with biking, so that’s all I’m going to say about it.

But Chicago is another thing. Both I and my wife grew up in the Chicago area, and although we have no family left in town, there are some friends who we like to see whenever we have a chance to get back. And if you can couple the visit with friends and some biking, you’ve got the best of all possible worlds.

I’d like to urge everyone who has never been to get to Chicago. The trip downtown from O’Hare Airport was slick and cheap ($2 each) on the commuter train, which sailed by the multi-lane parking lot that is the Kennedy Expressway. The near north side around Navy Pier and the Magnificent Mile is great for walking, shopping, and dining. In the 30-some years we’ve been away, the city has become more people-friendly than ever.

Pat and I arranged to meet our friends Brad and Linda for a Saturday morning ride. A bike rental place sits at the entrance to Navy Pier, and I had made online reservations for a pair of hybrids. The bikes were ready when we got there at 9 a.m. After some quick adjustments, we were on our way.

If you choose to bike along the Lake Michigan shoreline, you can go either north or south from Navy Pier. We opted for south, because going north the bike route is too jammed with walkers and roller bladers. An asphalt path about six feet wide bears a yellow stripe down the middle — that denotes the bike route. Southbound is plenty crowded too, around Navy Pier. The route crosses the Chicago River where it meets the lake, and the way is constricted. Joggers, walkers and bikers all share the narrow walkway across the bridge, but then things start to spread out.

We set a steady, but not fast pace along Lake Shore Drive. Brad rides a recumbent every day, and it was no big deal for him, but Linda doesn’t ride a lot, and did a nice job keeping up. We rode through Grant Park, Chicago’s “beautiful front yard” with its stunning view of the city’s skyline to the right and the lake dotted with pleasure boats to the left.

Pat, followed by Linda, avoids a bad spot of trail.

We rode the trail around Shedd Aquarium, and passed Soldier Field and McCormick Place. Now the crowd really thinned out. It was still steady — just more gaps between people than there had been. The bikers ran the gamut from roadies in full kit to hybrid riders in t-shirts and shorts to mountain bikers in baggy cargo shorts to kids on 20-inch first bikes. The atmosphere was that of a pleasure ride. No one was trying to rack up major mileage, and it felt like the kind of riding I remember when I was growing up — we’d ride fairly long distances, but did it naturally, with no special equipment or clothing.

Just before reaching Jackson Park with its Museum of Science and Industry, we decided to stop and head back. We stopped for some Kodak Moments when we got back to Shedd Aquarium, then set off on the last leg of the ride.

Pat & Linda, with Brad in front on the recumbent.

The Bike Noob hisself, complete with helmet hair, shows off a Texas biking souvenir.

I had to stop to adjust a loose seat post, and when I finished, I couldn’t see Pat, Brad or Linda. I couldn’t tell if they’d passed me when I wasn’t looking, or if they hadn’t caught up to me yet. Since I hadn’t been riding very fast, I assumed they must have passed me, so I started out again. I stopped opposite Buckingham Fountain to take more pictures, and then saw them catching up to me.

Pat had hit a patch of water, the bike slid out from under her, and she took a tumble. She didn’t complain, and had very little road rash, although she landed on her tailbone and bad hip — the same places she hit when she was thrown from a horse last week! She led the way back to the bike rental shop, and we headed out for a welcome brunch.

It was a perfect day for riding — temperatures in the 70s, bright and sunny, a little breeze. As near as I can tell, using Map My Ride, we went about 13.5 miles. That’s way more than Linda normally rides, and it got her fired up to train for next month, when we’re all vacationing together in Michigan and plan to do a lot of biking.

The international blog audience

Back in my junior high school and high school years, I used to listen to broadcasts from around the world on shortwave radio. One of the statistics I kept was a record of how many foreign countries I had received.

Shortwave radio is now passé, since most of the international broadcasters stream their programs over the Internet. But I find I’m collecting countries again, among folks who find this blog and spend a little time here.

I was astounded a few months ago when Bike Noob drew its first comment from overseas, from Brazil (Olá, Renato!). That was followed by other commenters from Germany and Singapore.

Site Meter, which I use to track visitors to the blog, uses little flag icons to show where visitors come from. I get a kick out of seeing flags of countries that haven’t been here before.

For each numbered link in “detail,” Site Meter tells you the name of the ISP, the operating system and browser, and what pages within the blog visitors started and ended their visit.

And, for every 100 visits to the blog, Site Meter displays a pie chart showing what percentage of those visitors come from given countries:

This example is a bit unusual, in that U.S. visitors tend to account for 75-85 percent of Bike Noob’s page views. Australia, the U.K. and Canada often alternate in second place. In the above example, those countries’ numbers are a little higher than average, which is usually closer to six percent each.

As of today, I have had visitors from 46 different countries around the world. While I treasure every overseas visitor, I delight in getting page views from “exotic” locales, such as the U.A.E., Estonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Thailand, and Malaysia. I hope you are able to understand my idiomatic English.

I have spoken before of blogs as being part of an online “conversation,” and I believe that my experiences here bear that out. Individuals from any part of the globe can get along. It’s their governments that make things difficult. Let’s keep the conversation going. Ride, post, comment, repeat.

That which does not kill you…

After Sunday’s disappointment, I was anxious to see how I would do on today’s quickie after work ride. I did 15 miles, and am happy to report that it was great.

Despite the 95°F (35°C) heat, with a brisk wind from the south, my average speed was higher than usual. I felt strong pushing up the few slight hills on the route, and did not run out of gas toward the end of the ride, as I have done often in the past.

Because I knew the ride would be a little less than an hour, I didn’t take any special measures. I ate lunch an hour before the ride, and brought two water bottles (which I emptied during the ride). Otherwise, it was a pretty normal afternoon ride.

Yesterday’s rest undoubtedly helped the recovery. But I think so did the stress on the body Sunday. I bounced back from it well. We’ll see how next Sunday’s ride goes, because I’ll be out of town until then on business, and won’t get in any additional riding.

It’s a long, slow road to progress

Today should have been a great ride. I decided to combine two rides I do often into one, and come out with about 35 miles. I did the ride as recently as last week. But today it was agony.

Things started out great. I headed out Mopac, which I’ve mentioned here before. Traffic is generally light on Sunday mornings.

The shoulder on Mopac disappears at several places. The SUV was probably moving at about 65 mph. The bikers ahead were on hybrids, and I was catching them fast.

I felt good as I finished up the Mopac loop, and headed north to pick up Southwest Parkway. Southwest Parkway is also a four-lane divided highway with (usually) generous shoulders. Traffic can be heavy, but it’s a biking favorite, because it’s fairly hilly. I took advantage of the long downhill once I hit the parkway, and reached a speed of 37.8 mph. I detoured through a pleasant residential neighborhood for a few miles, and just before the route rejoined the parkway, I stopped for a break at about 22 miles. The Larabar in my pocket was good, and I finished off one of the water bottles and took a swig from the second. I stretched a bit, walked a bit, and headed out.

I had to go back up the long hill I’d flown down, and I felt as though I lacked energy today. I got up it all right, but didn’t feel the snap to my pedaling that I do on a good day. At the top of the hill, I paused for a picture of some fabulous houses that hug a ridgeline.

These houses are along a private road that dips down into a valley. It’s popular with bikers who really like to hammer hills, because most riders start in the valley and come up along the houses.

By this time, I was getting concerned because my butt was really bothering me. I was wearing my new bibs with a generously-padded bottom, and I’ve liked my saddle since I first got it, but today I couldn’t seem to get comfortable. I was pleased that I could deal with the discomfort well enough to get up the the steepest hill on the route — slowly, but at least smoothly. From this point, it’s only about five miles to home, with some nice fast downhill stretches.

But I think the heat was getting to me. It was about 92°F (33°C) — nothing I haven’t been used to this summer, but not this far into a ride. I was slogging. The going was made worse by the fact that the city is laying new chip seal on a road near home, and it was rough and unfinished.

Just as I turned the corner to head into my own neighborhood, my left thigh cramped up — painfully. I couldn’t turn the crank, and almost had a clipless fall until I could regain control, stop, and dismount. I shook the thigh to loosen it up, while a pair of turkey vultures perched on a light standard across the street hoped I would just collapse already, so they could have lunch!

I didn’t collapse until I got home, though. I gulped down a pint of water and fell into bed. I was baffled why things finished with such difficulty today. This ride wasn’t any farther than I’ve gone a number of times before. It was on familiar roads. I carried adequate water and food, and was pretty good about drinking every 10-15 minutes. My average speed was slower than usual, but only by about a half mile per hour.

I figure the heat must have had something to do with it. It was the only variable that had changed, being hotter today than the last time I rode this route. And I must admit, I probably did push it more than I should have on the Mopac portion of the ride, when it was a bit cooler.

Still, if I’m going to increase my weekly and long ride mileage to get ready for some new biking challenges, I have to figure out why today left me with so little energy. And what’s with the sore butt?

Finally — a break in the heat

I had a post all ready to go tonight, moaning about the record hot temperatures we’ve endured in central Texas for the last two weeks, and how it’s affected my biking (I don’t get out as much). But a little cold front formed up north, and slid our way bringing overcast skies and even a drop or two of rain. I got out after work and had a great ride.

I’m always pleasantly surprised at how well I do after a longer than usual layoff. Today I rode almost 23 miles at an average speed of 16.8 mph. That’s 1.5 mph faster than my typical ride. Part of it was due to not having ridden since the 15th (Sunday), and part of it was due to the 79°F (26°C) temperature when I left my house. The ridiculous upper 90s that sap my energy didn’t show up today. It was more humid than usual, but who cares?

We might even get a little rain over the weekend, so my Sunday morning ride has the potential of being a comfortable one, too. But the forecast for next week has us back in the sauna again. I’ll be sure to freeze my water bottles before heading out on my next ride (that way, the water will stay cold for at least the first 10 minutes!).

Austin cyclist hit-and-run

Always lots of discussion about car vs. bike accidents. But what really gripes me is when I hear about a car that hits a biker and then takes off.

This incident happened several days ago — last Saturday. It appears the cyclist was not in the wrong.

In the Comments section of the TV station’s web site, Ms. McNair adds, “It’s a MIRACLE that i wasn’t killed since i went over the hood and off the back of the car. i also have extensive whiplash and nerve pain shooting from my head wound down through my right shoulder. but you know, it’s kinda hard to SHOW that.”

You can argue all you want about whether bikes should be allowed on busy city streets, but the point here is that leaving the scene of the accident and not rendering aid is criminal.

What I’ve learned about blogging

This post is going a bit off topic, in that it deals with blogging more than biking.

After posting awhile ago about the blog and what it’s taught me about biking, it occurred to me that I’ve also been learning a lot about blogging.

Bike Noob has been more successful already than I’d ever thought it would be. I average about 100 page views a day — a small number, compared to some of the really big blogs like Bike Snob NYC, but substantial enough after being online for only five months or so.

So what’s important when blogging?

Comments are golden. I can count visits and page views, but when readers take the time to write a comment about something I’ve written, that starts the “conversation” that the Internet promised way back in the ’90s.

Commenting on others’ blogs is almost as golden. There are some devices the blogger can use to drive new readers to the blog, such as commenting on others’ blogs. That may prompt some of their blog readers to check out yours. I know I’ve picked up a number of regular readers that way.

Post at regular intervals. It doesn’t have to be every day, but shouldn’t be too long between posts, either. I’ve tried to develop an every other day routine. I’ve noticed that my page views fall off markedly when I go a day or two without adding new content.

Content matters. Well-written items that resonate with others’ personal experiences seem to attract the most views. It’s still a surprise to me, but my most viewed post is a little narrative titled, “Smoked by an old guy.” I felt I needed to post something that day, but I had nothing until I went out for my ride and the incident happened. I thought it was a cute, okay item. But the popular Kent’s Bike Blog from Seattle stumbled onto the story and linked to it. My traffic soared that day. “Smoked” has now had more than 900 views in just two months, and still gets several visits every day. (And now I’ve ensured that those views will continue to mount.)

Even the most mundane posts seem to get the greatest response. An entry on whether I should choose bandanas or sweatbands to keep my forehead dry drew 10 comments (a lot for me). Maybe it was the picture of my dog that did it.

In that case, here’s another look at Emily, my 13-inch Beagle.

By the way, I still wear bandanas, but my preferred SCD (sweat control device) is a HeadSweat — one of those things that makes you look like a pirate.

Sometimes, people discover you by accident. I use WordPress as my blogging platform, and WordPress generates links to what it thinks are related posts at the end of every entry. Sometimes those “related” posts bear no relation at all to the subject of the entry, but by clicking on the link, folks have found me.

Always check which sites referred visitors to your blog. It’s weird to find some blogs that link to you that don’t seem to have any connection to your subject. My favorite of these oddball links comes from “Being grown and sexy: Fashion, tech and politics from the prospective (sic) of an (sic) black male nerd.” What he finds of interest in a biking blog written by a white guy in late middle age stumps me, but I’m in his blogroll.

Nonsensical search terms can somehow connect readers with this blog. Every so often I check to see what search terms people wrote that brought them here. Some favorites: expensive beer bicycle jerseys, my foot goes numb with road shoes, one up two down, sidi soles number straps mean, and why do my jerseys stink when i sweat.

The most recent posts are not necessarily the most-read ones. Sometimes posts I did weeks ago show up as the most viewed on a given day. I have no idea why.

Some bloggers actually make a living from their blogs. I don’t expect to ever do that. (If you’re interested, Australian uber-blogger Darren Rowse’s Problogger site is loaded with tips to make the big bucks blogging.) I do expect to keep up my posts, and hope to keep interacting with commenters. Regardless of topic, the most important thing I’ve learned about blogging is to keep up the conversation.