Safer cycling

I’ve mentioned before that I work at a university.  One of the things I’ve noticed as I hit town during my daily commute is an increasing number of cyclists on the road, biking to and from campus.  I think we’re all noticing more cyclists lately, because of high gas prices, but the ones I’ve been seeing are worth a comment.

More and more cyclists seem to be practicing what is called “vehicular cycling,” where bikes take their place among other traffic on the road, and cyclists follow the same rules cars must follow.  This morning, one fellow waited in a left turn lane about four cars back from the stoplight.  When the light changed, he pedaled hard to stay with the flow of cars around the corner, then reached the bike lane on the road he was turning on to, and settled in.  The cars behind him were not delayed by following a bike.

A four-lane road leads from the interstate highway toward campus.  This morning, a cyclist rode “as far to the right as practicable” and moved at a pretty good clip.  Cars passed him closely, because there’s no room for a bike lane on this road, but there is enough room for two cars and a bike — if everybody pays attention.

I’m also seeing more riders stop at stop signs and signal their turns.

Of course, there are always some jerks, but that’s not what this post is about.

As a larger number of cyclists ride according to the rules of the road, that boosts the chances that motorists will be more likely to accept their presence, and perhaps ease the antagonism between cyclists and drivers.

And before you ask — no, I’m not one of the bike commuters.  Unfortunately, I live 30 miles from work, and riding there is not a realistic choice — for me.

Songs in my head

Nothing unusual to report from this evening’s ride — so maybe I’ll report something usual.

When riding, I often get a song in my head — one that I can’t get out.

This evening, it was the harpsichord bridge from the Beatles’ “In My Life.” It’s just a short passage, and sounds out of place in the song. But it’s one of those things that sticks with you. Perhaps because it’s a rather short passage, it didn’t stick in my head for too long. Instead, it morphed into Pachelbel’s Canon, which seems to have roughly the same chord structure.

Normally, I’d get irritated when a song sticks in my head and I can’t shake it. But I can put up with Pachelbel. What really bugs me is when it’s a bad song. Then, you try to fight it, and it usually wins the fight. Luckily, I don’t get stuck with the really bad songs too often. Mostly, they’re ordinary pop music dreck.

This phenomenon has happened to me while golfing, too — and is particularly troublesome when I’m trying to line up a putt. You try to stand still over a three-footer when the Four Tops are singing, “Sugar Pie Honeybunch.” Some part of me will move in time with the beat, and then — here comes a bogey.

The trouble with the song in the head is that it never ends. If I get the song early in the ride, 15 miles later it’s still riffing along.

Oh, well. I guess I’ll just continue to live with it — and hope the next time I’m out, the song will be by Amy Winehouse, and not Wayne Newton.

How long should gloves last?

Got out for a nice 15-mile ride today — first time I’ve been on the bike in a week.  Felt great.  In fact, I think the ride was just what I needed to chase the last vestiges of my cold away.

Man, you can sure tell when you’ve been off the bike for several days.  I didn’t really feel like my old self until I had put down about eight miles.  But then, the legs seemed to loosen up and everything was all right.  I even chased down a rider some distance ahead of me, caught him and smoked him!  Nice to be the smoker for a change.  (Once again, he had no idea we were in a race.  But he was wearing a cycling jersey and shorts, and rode a pretty nice Specialized Roubaix.)

Today I wore the gloves that have been relegated to back-up status for the past few weeks.  They’d been showing signs of wear, so I got new gloves to wear on the century.  In fact, the new gloves were the ones I was wearing when I fell, and they did a great job of protecting my hands from the pavement.

Today’s ride reminded me why the previous pair is just used for back-up.  They’ve really deteriorated.  I bought them when I bought the bike, back in February — so that means I’ve had them for eight months.  And they’re shot.

The left one is in about the same condition.

Now, these are Pearl Izumi gloves.  I think PI makes good quality stuff, and I own a number of different items of theirs.  But eight months?  I’d a thunk these would last longer.  As I said, they’re still  good enoughfor back-up, or for short rides like today’s, but probably won’t be for much longer. Their replacements are also by Pearl Izumi, but a higher-priced model, with thicker padding, especially around the heel of the hand.

I wash my gloves about every two weeks, maybe more often in the summer when my hands get so sweaty they soak right through the synthetic leather palm .  I wonder if the washings contribute to their shorter life span?

What’s your experience with glove wear?

I hab a head code and other sundry stuff

Broke into a sneezing and runny nose fit yesterday afternoon. At first, I thought it was a bad attack of allergies, but no…when I woke up this morning, I realized it’s a cold. I hope it won’t affect my riding any. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ll be away for the next couple of days, and will be back Sunday. With any luck, my cold will have run its course.

Sunday morning, several of my friends will be riding in the Livestrong Challenge.  The course west of Austin is hilly, and the 90-miler promises to be tougher than the century I did last weekend.  Here’s hoping they have good weather a good rides.

Mrs. Noob’s birthday is coming up in less than two weeks.  It’s gotta include something bike related, like maybe a new bike?  She’s been spending less time on her bike lately, because of a new-found interest in horseback riding (and I’m not going to buy a horse).  Would one of these get her back on the skinny saddle?

The Trek FX 7.5.

Regarding my other saddle problem, that’s all cleared up with two days of rest.  I probably won’t ride Sunday in order to let the cold completely go away, but after that, I’ll be looking to get in the swing of things again.  In the meantime, knock off a few miles for me.

Post-century soreness in unmentionable places

I got home from work and decided not to ride this evening. Tuesdays are the only day of the week I get home at a reasonable time, and can fit in a ride of an hour or so. My usual Tuesday routine is to head for the Veloway, and do several laps around the track. Five laps will give me a nice 21-mile round trip from the house and back.

But today when I got home (after stopping to cast my ballot in early voting) I thought twice about it, and decided not to go. The reason is simple. My taint hurts like someone kicked me there! On Sunday, I did an easy nine-mile recovery ride, and was very uncomfortable the entire way. Today, when I assessed the tender spot, it felt as though there was some bruising there. Can’t see anything, but I sure can feel it.

So — no biking for a few days. I’ll be out of town Friday and Saturday, and wouldn’t be able to bike in any case, but I’ll see how I feel on Sunday, and with any luck, I’ll be back in the saddle then.

Looking back, I’m kicking myself for not taking advantage of an item in the century ride’s goody bag — a one-use packet of Chamois Butt’r. I had made liberal use of my new favorite – Body Glide — before heading out to the century. But of course that stuff will wear off. If I had half a brain, I would have put the Chamois Butt’r in one of my jersey pockets, and used it at about the halfway point in the ride.

I know that some veteran riders will tell me to HTFU — but I’ve ridden 2,300 miles this year, and I think I’ve done enough saddle time that I ought to be hardened. Wonder if I need a new saddle? I’ve always liked the one that came with the bike, but lately, I get uncomfortable on it after an hour or so. Maybe I need a thorough professional bike fitting? I got the free (and rather cursory, in my opinion) fitting when I bought the bike. I’ve made some adjustments since then that seem to have improved things, but obviously, it’s not enough.

Well, time heals all wounds. I’ll take a few more days off, then hit the roads again.

My First Century

A big day for me: I rode in — and finished — the Outlaw Trail 100 in Round Rock, Texas. Finally, I have a century ride under my belt. And as it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

I thought I was pretty organized. I did most of the work the previous night, loading the car, laying out my clothes. But when I got to the starting area in Round Rock, I found that I had forgotten something — my floor pump. So I figured I’d use the new frame mounted mini-pump to top off the tires. Uh, the pump is broken. It’s missing a piece where the pump attaches to the presta valve. It’s useless.

My blogging friend Jared found me, and I rushed to get myself together to go meet our other blogging buddy, Mike. In my haste, I left the route map in the car. It would have come in handy later. While they caught up on their biking exploits, I borrowed a floor pump from the bike shop sponsors and topped off my tires.

Jared (left) and Mike both showed up in their new Fat Cyclist jerseys. They’re in the starting area with the other 100-mile riders.

Then, we were ready for the race. I cut a most un-athletic figure while waiting at the line.

I’ll try to remember always to face the camera when posing in a cycling jersey (!).

It took about two miles before Jared and Mike were out of my sight. No matter. I had planned to ride at an easy pace throughout the ride. I could see quickly that my easy pace and the rest of the riders’ paces were in two different leagues. Up until the second rest stop, riders continually passed me. Although I was tempted to grab the wheel of more than one rider, I remembered to keep my eye on the prize — and finish, not race.

The ride traveled county roads through eastern Williamson County, Texas. It’s a farming area, known as “Blackland Prairie.” The harvest is in, and the fields are tilled. And the soil is black.

A typical view along the route.

I hadn’t been through here before, so I was interested to see what it looked like. In addition to mostly flat farm fields, we did go through a few small towns. Walburg has some old buildings that harken back to its beginnings as a mostly German settlement.

Doering’s general store dates back to 1881.

The biggest town we went through was Bartlett, the route running right through its business district. On a quiet Saturday morning, there wasn’t much activity.

Bartlett used to be a major cotton shipping point — but cotton declined in the 1930′s, and so did Bartlett. Note the street paved with bricks.

Several miles past Bartlett, I came across the most notable incident of the day. A biker riding the Granger Dam road “caught on something” and went down. A trailing rider crashed into him, leaving the first rider with a broken collarbone. How the accident happened on the straightest stretch of road on the ride, with everyone moving at roughly the same speed and in the same direction, is a mystery.

Emergency vehicles at the accident on Granger Dam Road. That’s Granger Lake on the left.

The rest stop at the far end of the Granger Dam marked the 55-mile point in the ride, and I was starting to feel the miles. My seat had the comfort of a hatchet blade. My foot was singing its usual song. I started to wonder if I would be able to finish.

The advice given about riding a century is to break it up into parts. Ride four 25-mile rides. Or five 20-milers. Since the rest stops were roughly 12 miles apart, I decided to break the remaining ride up into four 12-mile parts. I figured even I could do 12 miles. Then do it again. And again.

That was a bit of a challenge, because as the day wore on, the wind from the northeast picked up. Although the route was generally clockwise, and the wind would be at our backs for much of the second half of the ride, the ride organizers managed to incorporate a surprising number of jogs that took us into the wind. I got onto my small chain ring and just spun and spun.

Riders I had passed miles ago now passed me. With just a few miles to the finish, I was all alone on the road. I turned into the large park where the ride began, and picked up the pace as the finish line approached.

I gotta tell ya, it was a bit of an anticlimax. The announcers were still at their post at the start-finish line. When they saw me coming, they started yelling encouragement on the PA. The theme from “Car Wash” blared. I zig-zagged to the music, and they got a kick out of that. Then, across the line — and no one around to watch.

There were maybe a dozen vehicles left in the parking lot. I couldn’t even find someone to take my picture next to the finish line. But I do have a record that the century is in the books: A shot of my cyclocomputer. The tale of the tape: 101.39 miles at an average speed of 15.47 miles per hour. Six hours, 33 minutes, and 14 seconds on-bike time. Not bad for a Bike Noob. I had expected to finish somewhere between 3 and 3:30 p.m., and I crossed the line at 3:15.

The only place I felt the ride was in my thighs. They were sore, but even that was to diminish within a couple of hours. For once, I hydrated correctly during the ride. I stopped at every rest stop but the first, and mixed up my food choices from stop to stop: banana here, orange wedge there, pickle at this place. And I, who likes long breaks during long rides, managed to keep my time at the stops to about five minutes. All in all, a very satisfying day.

Would I do it again? I don’t know. I’ll be riding long distances in April in the MS 150, but getting out and doing one of these again isn’t tripping my trigger right now. I guess we’ll just have to see. After all, there is the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred next summer, and I’ve always had an idea that riding in that one would be fun.

Anticipation

What a week it’s been. First the crash Sunday, then rain Tuesday when I wanted to do my regular evening ride. I was late at the office both Wednesday and today. In other words, I haven’t been on the bike.

Soreness from the crash persists.  I’ve got a beauty of a bruise on my lower back where I landed on my cell phone, and my knee is tender.  Full range of motion has returned to my right arm and my neck, so I should be good to go.

I’m still managing to do bikey things, though. Tonight I thoroughly checked over the bike to make sure there were no funny noises. I cleaned the chain and the rear cassette. I inspected the tires for any cracks or cuts or other weak spots.  I cleaned the brake pads of gunk (there wasn’t much to speak of).

Why all the attention? My first-ever century ride is Saturday. I’ll be in the Outlaw Trail 100 in Round Rock, Texas. It’s an event I’m looking forward to. Weather around here has moderated some, and the forecast calls for a low of 54°F Saturday morning, but a warm up into the 80s during the day.  That should make for easier riding, I hope.  I’ll have the good, the bad, and the ugly here Saturday night.

On an unrelated note, I’m  happy to report that I was able to register for the MS150 Houston-to-Austin ride next April.  The field of 13,000 riders was filled in only six and a half hours.  Amazing.  Now, I’ll have to find a team.