The Alps of Circle C

I’ve griped a time or two before about my slowness on hills, or even an inability to climb them without walking. I’ve kept telling myself this had to change. Recently, I’ve been riding routes that contain some decent hills, in an effort to build my thighs and not flinch from them as much as I have in the past. It’s helped — but I’m not going to win King of the Mountains anytime soon.

Today, that might have started to change. I went out on a friendly ride with a guy I haven’t ridden with for awhile. We cruised at a moderate pace, catching up on what we’ve been doing. But then, it was time to pick a route.

“Have you ever ridden the Alps of Circle C?” he asked. (We live in the Circle C Ranch subdivision.)

“Never even heard of it,” I said.

“That’s because it’s a route I cooked up myself.” he said. “I wanted a place nearby to get some hill work. So I looked around for hills in the neighborhood.”

We headed out on Mopac, turned west on Hwy 45, and rode the first hill up toward Escarpment Blvd. Not too tough, although he finished substantially ahead of me. Turning on Escarpment took us into the residential area, and the first small hill. Then we turned on some streets I hadn’t seen before (this is at the southern end of the subdivision, and it’s an area I seldom visit). We went up a street called Savin Hill, which curved, always climbing, for about half a mile. Then we did it again. I was huffing and puffing at the end of the second climb.

“Got another,” he said, as we turned down a different street. It was a long, looping road with a steady climb to Escarpment. Not tough, but another tester. Time to loop through a different area. Back out onto Hwy 45, with a series of mild climbs to the highest point on the route. But the return eastbound features a nice downhill that gave us a chance to recover — just in time for another series of climbs to the end of the route.

Real climbers won’t be impressed by the elevation change…

But as I said, my thighs burned.

“Whenever I want a quick workout, this is what I do,” said my friend. “I can finish it off in about 45 minutes and head to work.”

I thought I actually climbed better halfway through the ride than I had near the beginning, when I was fresh. I’m sure we’ll do this route again, many times. But I’m also going to be doing it on my own.

CO2 cartridges or a pump?

I’m probably flirting with danger here, but it’s been awhile since I’ve flatted.

Even so, I try to be ready if it should happen. My seat bag has a spare tube, a patch kit, and what I would most likely use in the event of a flat — a CO2 inflator and several CO2 cartridges.

The CO2 is convenient, but it’s not a panacea. When I have flatted in the past, I’ve found it’s not easy to get the right amount of air into the tire. I’ve resorted to a series of short bursts on the inflator trigger, and try to determine by feeling the tire whether it’s got enough pressure. When I first started using it, at a time when flats were much more frequent, I sometimes wasted a cartridge and needed two to fill the tire. And sometimes, I only managed to inflate the tire enough to make it home.

Another concern is the cost. The cartridges run about $3.50 each, so if one or two are wasted by fumbling around, the tire repair is suddenly costly. I usually carry four in my seat bag, so I can give one or two to another biker who might be flatted with no air.

Then there’s the environmental issue. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Do I really need to contribute to the Earth’s problems?

What’s the alternative? A pump. The choice is between a frame-mounted pump and a mini-pump that can mount to a frame or even fit in your jersey pocket.

A Zefal frame-mounted pump.
A Zefal frame-mounted pump.
A Blackburn mini pump.
A Blackburn mini pump. It's actually less than one-half the length of the Zefal.

The issue with the pumps is also one of convenience, and efficiency, too. I’ve had occasion to use a mini-pump, and I’m not crazy about them. They have trouble supplying enough air pressure, especially to a road tire that may take over 125 psi. But I like the convenience of the CO2 inflator, and I’m not sure if another gizmo fastened to my bike frame would be worth the bother.

For now, I’ll continue to go with the cartridges and inflator. I’ve had enough experience with them that I’m confident I won’t waste them in future situations. And for every day that I go without a flat, cost becomes less of an issue. But I’d sure like to hear your opinion. Inflator or pump?

(Since this post last July, I’ve resolved the issue to my satisfaction.  Here’s what I decided.)

Riding with the B’s

After last weekend’s reality check, I figured I’d be better off riding with the B riders in our club. Just a reminder — we consider A’s to be able to ride decent distances at a fast pace. B’s are slower, and don’t go as far. I know many other clubs break down riders into more classifications than we do.

Anyhow, since our B’s haven’t been very active lately, I guessed that if we were going to have a B ride, I would have to organize it. But whadya know, another guy beat me to it.

The A’s had an ambitious and difficult route planned for today. The B organizer picked a route that would follow them for a ways, then head back to our starting spot. We’d be in for some hills, but the ride itself would be relatively short.

The route on Map My Ride. The tough hill is at the top of the twisty part at the upper left.

Ride elevation. The hill most of us had to walk is at the 10-mile point.

The morning was perfect. Sunny, warm but not hot, not much wind. We set off with the A riders, so about 17 of us cut a fine figure pedaling through the neighborhood. We turned onto Barton Creek Blvd., which winds through a swanky neighborhood by a nationally-famous golf resort. I hadn’t ridden this road before, and I knew it was hilly. But the hills weren’t too much of a problem, until the last one before reaching Ranch Road 2244. That forced most of us to get off and walk.

At 2244, the A riders turned west, and we turned east for the ride home. The rest of the route was on shoulders of sometimes busy highways. Plenty of hills through here as well, as seen by this cell phone camera shot along Loop 360, but these were not difficult.

We got back to our Starbucks starting point for some FrappaMochaCappucinoLattes, or whatever, and some chit chat. Ride time: about 23 miles in 1 hour 43 minutes, avg speed: 14.7 mph. None of us could have kept up with the A group, and none of us cared. It was the kind of ride I’ve been looking for since joining the club. I’m looking forward to many more of the same, now that the B’s seem to be up and running again.