Easy spinnin’

Today was the long club ride I look forward to each week. It’s a necessary part of my training for the century in October. It seems I learn something new every time I go on one of these rides, and today was no exception.

The ride went into the rural countryside southeast of Austin. It was advertised as a 44-miler, and would be a nice bump up over last week’s distance.

Once we got out of the city’s built up area, the roads started to get hilly. Mostly rollers, not too bad, but still a challenge. We didn’t have an organized B ride, so I told the ride leader that if I and my friend David dropped off the back, to consider us the B ride and not worry about waiting for us. The peloton took off, and were soon out of sight.

Many of the roads we traveled were part of my first metric century last fall, so I was familiar with them. But after about 28 miles, I could feel myself losing energy. David pulled over to the side to wait. We saw a gas station a quarter mile down the road, and decided that would serve as an impromptu rest stop. But it turned out to be the planned rest stop — everybody from the group was there, swapping stories, eating energy bars, and drinking water or Gatorade. For me, the break came just in time.

The group lost us again within a mile of leaving the gas station. It was taking awhile for the nourishment to be felt, so I shifted to the small chain ring and spun easily through the countryside. Today was not going to be a speedy ride.

After about a half hour, I started to feel some strength in my thighs again. The rest of the ride in was uneventful, but when we got to our starting point at Starbuck’s, only two riders were still there, drinking their post-ride coffees.

So what did I learn? Spinning is underrated. The speed won’t be as high, I won’t be able to keep up with the group, but I will be able to finish strong. Breakfast is important. Mine this morning wasn’t big enough. Two waffles, a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee don’t provide the calories needed for a long ride. Don’t trust the numbers. The ride was supposed to be 44 miles. My total at the end was 52.

It’s the longest unsupported ride I’ve done to date. I’ll be better prepared for the next.

“Every ride must have a plan”

Regular readers of this blog have figured out that I’m a professor at a nearby university.  School is back in session now, and I’ve become concerned that full days at work will cut into my riding.

So today I made an effort to get home in time to sneak in a ride before supper.  I rode to the Veloway, where I connected with my friend David.  We set an easy pace down the trail.

After a lap of the track, chit chatting about stuff and such, he asked me a question: “What’s your plan for this ride?”

“What?” I asked.

“You’re training for a century.  Every ride must have a plan from here on out.  What’s your plan for this ride?”

“I don’t have a plan,” I said.

“Well, you’ve gotta start thinking about a plan for each ride.”

“You know,” I said, “I haven’t ridden since that ride Sunday with you.  I wanted to get out tonight to get some miles in.  I’m not thinking about intervals or hill work, or cadence — I just want to get in some miles.”

“OK.  That’s your plan,” he said.

Earlier, he had steered me toward some training plans for a century ride, archived online.  I bookmarked those sites, as well as some others I found in a search.  I’ll be poring over them in the next few days.  I’ve never approached a ride goal with a plan before.  But I will now.

Little change = big difference (Part 2)

When I rode a rented bike on our recent vacation in Michigan, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it fit me. I had specified a 56 cm frame — the same as my own bike — but at the shop, no one checked the fit. After a 37-mile ride, I felt no discomfort at all.

When I got home and took a 21-mile ride on my own bike, I felt soreness in the seat. The bike just didn’t feel as comfortable as the rental. I wondered how that could be, since I got a bike fitting when I bought it in February. So I figured it was time to do some tweaking. I had already learned that a little change can make a big difference, and thought it would be worth a shot here, too.

I started with the handlebars. By turning them slightly upward, I thought I could bring them a bit closer to me, and maybe ease the soreness I was getting in my hands as well as my butt. But that only made it worse, since I wound up putting too much pressure on my hands. I quickly reset the bars to their original position.

Then it was time for the seat. I had moved it back one centimeter earlier, with no appreciable results. I moved it back another centimeter.

Bingo! Magic happened. On our hill ride, I felt like I was in Michigan again. No discomfort at all — either in the hands or the butt.

Whenever my wife’s golf game goes south, we have a little saying: “It’s the grip, stupid.” A slight change in her hand position is usually enough to get the ball going straight again. I guess for me, the new saying will be: “It’s the seat, stupid.”

Head for the hills

It’s time to get serious. I’ve actually set some goals for the next couple of months (more about that later in this post). But in order to meet those goals, I have to ramp things up.

I was happy, therefore, to see that this week’s B ride would be led by my pal David. He’s been biking since the early ’90s, and has been a dependable source of information about getting better. David decided the B’s would ride the Lost Creek hills (“I don’t know what’s ‘B’ about that,” said the A ride leader).

Once again, As and Bs headed out together. The As were going to do an over-the-top hills expedition, and we wanted no part of that. They went their own way about five miles into the ride. The Bs shot along the curvy downhill into the Barton Creek neighborhood.

At Lost Creek Blvd., we turned again. David advised us not to be afraid to ride the brakes on the upcoming downhills. They were twisty, and at over 30 mph, a bit unnerving. But then the climbs began.

The first one was daunting. We quickly shifted down to our lowest ring and cog combinations, and stood on the pedals, straining to overcome the steep grade. About halfway up, Chris, who was riding with us for the first time, declared that he was hopping off to walk. We waited at the top for him, and I was glad of the chance to catch my breath.

Two more similar challenges followed. Eddie, the other new B rider, led me to the top of each one, where we waited for Chris before starting out again. Finally, David gave us the good news.

“We’re done,” he said. But we weren’t — not really.

David (foreground) and Eddie wait at the top of the last of three Lost Creek hills. No shots of the hills themselves, because I was either hanging on for dear life on the downhills, or pulling hard on the bars in the uphills. Either way, I needed both hands.

David wanted us to get a taste of Loop 360. This is probably Austin’s best known biking route. It’s a four-lane divided highway with a generous shoulder. And it’s hilly, but not steeply so like Lost Creek. The hills on 360 are loooong. We traveled another five miles or so up 360, turned around and did it all over again coming back.

Chris crosses an exit ramp on 360, while David catches up.

In the post-mortem over drinks at Starbucks, David told us that riding Lost Creek and 360 would be a quick way to build our endurance and climbing prowess. No doubt about that. The good news for me was one, I actually climbed all the hills without having to get off and walk the bike up any of them — something that would not have been possible just a month ago — and two, I felt great after it was all over. I did 33.5 miles at an average of 13.6 mph — the hills really cut into the average speed — and I felt ready for more. It was a nice contrast to some bonking episodes I’ve talked about earlier this summer.

So, in light of today’s performance, I’ve decided to go public with a big goal for me: I’m going to tackle an Imperial Century. I plan to do the 100-mile ride at the Outlaw Trail 100 in Round Rock, Texas in October. I’ll warm up for it with a metric century (100 kilometers, or 62 miles) at the Tour de Florence, in Florence, Texas next month, and I’ll be increasing my weekly mileage and the length of my weekend rides between now and the ride day. Things are looking up for the Noob. Follow my progress here.

Riding in traffic vs. bike lanes

The whole riding on the sidewalk issue brings up a parallel line of discussion: Bike lanes or not?  Those who think cyclists must be treated as equals with motor vehicles maintain that bike lanes set up a divide between bikes and cars.  They think bicycles should ride in traffic, obey the rules of the road, and be given the same courtesies as motorists.

Those for bike lanes argue that bikes and cars are not the same, because of the difference in mass.  Many are probably less skilled riders.  In their view, bike lanes are common sense solutions to a potential hazard.

As seen in the previous post, I would have preferred to have a bike lane available, and did not opt to take what I thought was a risk of riding in traffic.

One problem with the bike lane or not issue seems to be the way urban planners and developers design new residential and commercial areas.  The north-south thorofare in my area has a bike lane for its entire length.  The speed limit for cars is 40 mph, on a four-lane divided road.  The main east-west road, the previously mentioned Slaughter Lane, has a bike lane for more than half the distance it travels across the city, but none in the last five miles or so on the west end.  Why?

The problem is compounded by a lack of east-west arteries in town.  Because so many suburban streets are built on curvy paths, there is often no parallel, less-traveled alternative to take.  For instance, for me to take an alternative route to Slaughter, I would have had to go a mile farther north, not just a block or two.

So I guess I’m all for bike lanes.  As bikes become a more common mode of transport, people will have to demand of their city officials more accommodation for bikes.

Riding on the sidewalk

I rode on the sidewalk the other day.

I know, it’s terrible. Real bikers just don’t do that. You might run the risk of being hit by a driver who isn’t expecting to see a biker on a sidewalk. Bikes have the same rights and responsibilities on the road as motorists. Take the lane.

All of which I agree with, except for one case: Slaughter Lane in southwest Austin. I’ve ridden on Slaughter in the past, as part of a club ride where we form a “bus” and are treated as such by the cars on the road. But Slaughter is a different animal for a solitary biker. It is a four-lane, divided road with no shoulders. The speed limit is 45 mph, but most drivers do at least 50. It just feels dangerous.

Slaughter Lane. Picture taken on a Sunday morning when traffic was relatively light.

So, the other day when I was on the last leg of our club ride to Kyle, I had a decision to make: Do I ride on Slaughter by myself, or do I take the sidewalk for the last mile and a half?

I thought back to the Road I course I took in April. The instructors told us that if we were uncomfortable doing something out on the road, don’t do it.

So I took the sidewalk. I make no apologies.

The ride leader gets dropped

After a pleasant experience riding with the “B” riders in our club, I wanted to keep doing it on a more or less regular basis. But two weekends in Michigan interrupted those plans.

So now that I’m back, I stepped up and volunteered to lead a B group ride. I suggested a trip to Kyle, Texas and back — a ride I like because the turnaround spot is a little independent coffee house in Kyle, the Lucky Cup.

Two other riders indicated they’d come along. Then the guy who ordinarily leads the A group rides every Sunday said he thought the route was a good idea, and the A riders would go that way, too. About 17 of us headed out. I rode with one of the other B riders, Bob, and we fell behind, but caught up with everyone in Buda (BYOO-duh), a small town south of Austin.

Buda still retains its old downtown, although it is rapidly growing into a bedroom community for Austin and is full of the fast food and chain store sprawl common to American suburbs.

From Buda, we took some back roads into Kyle, the next town south. We reached the Lucky Cup, and sat out on the patio with coffees and energy drinks. It was a pleasant break after 24-something miles of pedaling.

On the way back, Bob and I quickly fell behind again, and then I found myself well ahead of Bob. As I hit the turn onto Burnham Road (Ranch Road 1626), I glanced back and saw that he was hanging in, but trailing by several hundred yards. I figured we would regroup in Buda as we did on the way out, and he would catch up to us there.

But in Buda, I was alone. If the rest of the group had stopped, they’d already moved on. And there was no sign of Bob. I was perplexed. Two women cyclists we had passed in Kyle crossed ahead of me on Main Street. How did they get ahead of me?

I rode alone the rest of the way back to the Starbucks where we started the ride. Most of the gang was out on the patio, enjoying their post-ride coffees. And in the middle of them was Bob. “When did you pass me?” I asked. “When you turned onto 1626,” he said. “I kept going past the cement plant. It’s a shorter way into town. I caught everyone in Buda.”

We took the more roundabout route on Burnham Rd. and Old Black Colony Road (Aside: It has that name because it was the site of a settlement for freed slaves after the Civil War). Bob’s route into Buda was more direct.

So the leader of the B ride was dropped by the B riders (Pippa, the other B rider today, had no trouble hanging with the A’s throughout the entire ride). Whatever. I did 46.25 miles at a 15.7 mph average — respectable for me. But I’m thinking about exploring a suggestion another riding friend recently made: Let’s start a group for C riders.