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.

Some new numb foot advice

Something is going on out there with all sorts of riders, and it’s not good. It has to do with foot numbness. I’ve noticed that some of my more recent posts aren’t getting as much readership as I thought they would, but some older posts I’ve done dealing with my numb toe problem continue to get readers on a daily basis.

So what’s up? Are we a community of sore-footed cyclists?

I’m at the point where I have decided to tolerate my numb toe situation. I like to stop for a break every hour or so — maybe a little longer — and when I do, my numb toe problem solves itself. Even when I was smarting the other day after my crash, and my toe was screaming at me in agony, when the group stopped for a break and I walked for a few minutes, the problem was gone (of course, I was so sore in other places that I really didn’t stop to think about my feet until later, when I realized the toe had stopped burning).

Here’s a little something that might help some folks out there. It’s an article from Road Bike Rider, a web site I visit on at least a weekly basis. They’ve got several ideas about foot pain — they call it “hot foot” — and they invite bloggers to reprint their article. So here it is:

How to Solve Painful ‘Hot Foot’

By Fred Matheny for http://www.RoadBikeRider.com

In cycling, it’s known as “hot foot” — a burning pain in the ball of the foot, perhaps radiating toward the toes. Severe cases feel like some sadistic demon is applying a blowtorch.

Hot foot occurs most often on long rides. It may develop sooner or more intensely on hilly courses because climbs cause greater pedaling pressure. The pain results when nerves are squeezed between the heads of each foot’s five long metatarsal bones. These heads are in the wide part of the foot (the “ball”) just behind the toes.

My worst case of hot foot occurred on a 3,400-mile, 24-day transcontinental ride. With an average distance of 140 miles per day, no rest days and more than 100,000 feet of vertical gain, my dogs were smoking by the third week.

My RBR partner, Ed Pavelka, remembers being in agony near the end of one 225-mile ride early in his long-distance career. It was his first experience with hot foot, and the problem plagued him that season until he changed to larger shoes. Feet always swell on long rides (more so in hot weather), causing pressure inside shoes that normally fit fine.

“Hot foot” is actually a misnomer. It’s not heat but rather pressure on nerves that causes the burning sensation. You’ll sometimes see riders squirting water on their pups in a vain attempt to put out the fire.

Besides tight shoes, another risk factor is small pedals, especially if you have large feet. Small pedal surfaces concentrate pressure on the ball of the foot instead of spreading it the way a larger pedal will. If your cycling shoes have flexible soles like most mountain bike shoes, they’ll be less able to diffuse pressure.

Before Ed figured out his shoe-size problem, he tried to solve the pain with cortisone injections. That’s an unnecessary extreme in most cases — and it’s not fun to have a doctor stick a needle between your toes. Here are several better solutions.

  • Adjust shoe straps. It’s the top strap nearest your ankle that stops your feet from slopping around in your shoes. Tighten it as much as necessary, but keep the strap nearest your toes loose for maximum room.

  • Use thinner insoles and/or socks. This will give your feet more room to swell without restriction, especially helpful if your shoes are borderline snug.

  • Re-focus the pressure. Many riders solve hot foot by moving their cleats to the rear by as much as 8 mm. Long-distance enthusiast may go back as far as the cleat slots allow. They might even drill new rearward holes. After using this remedy, lower your saddle by the same amount if you moved your cleats backward 2-4 mm. If more than 4 mm, lower the saddle about half the amount. So, if your cleats go back 1 cm, put the saddle down 5 mm.

  • Add metatarsal buttons. These foam domes are placed on insoles (or are built into them) just behind the ball of the foot. They spread the metatarsal bones so the nerves running between them aren’t pinched by pressure or swelling. You can find these products in the foot-care section of drug stores.

  • Switch to larger pedals, for the reason mentioned above.

  • Buy new shoes. Look for a model with a wider-and-higher toe box, a stiffer sole and an anatomical footbed with a metatarsal button. One model that meets these specs is the Specialized BG, with versions for road and off-road.

  • Purchase custom orthotics. These plastic footbeds are supplied by podiatrists or sports medicine clinics. Among their biomechanical benefits are built-in metatarsal buttons. Be certain the practitioner understands you’re a cyclist, because orthotics for runners are not what you need. Cycling is a forefoot activity, not a heel-strike activity.

For more information on hot foot, orthotics and other foot-related issues, see “Andy Pruitt’s Medical Guide for Cyclists,” available as an eBook in the online eBookstore at RoadBikeRider.com.

Receive a FREE copy of the eBook “29 Pro Cycling Secrets for Roadies” by subscribing to the RoadBikeRider Newsletter at http://www.RoadBikeRider.com. No cost or obligation!

I’ll be interested in hearing if these suggestions help any. I’ve been kicking around several ideas, such as wider shoes, switching to touring style pedals with a wider base and SPD-compatible mountain bike shoes. Let me know what works for you.

Everybody falls

We took a longer Sunday ride than usual this morning, to get ready for some long organized rides several of us will do soon.  We went to San Marcos, Texas — abut 35 miles south of Austin.

The San Marcos River’s headwaters are at a spring-fed lake in town. A park on the university campus straddles the river (in the Midwest, where I grew up, we’d call it a creek), and everyone oohed and aahed at the crystal clear cold clean water.

But we had to head back. About four miles out, the road takes a sharp turn. My new frame mounted pump was getting jolted by the rough chip seal road surface, and the hose had come loose. It was banging against my knee on every pedal stroke. I leaned forward and reached down to try to get it back in its cradle.

The road hit a bridge over the Blanco River. The expansion joint at the edge of the bridge was mounded up with sand and dirt. My front wheel hit the two-inch high mound, and a series of bad things happened.

The mound slowed the front wheel almost to a stop. Since my weight was forward, I lurched even more forward. The wheel jerked to the side. I knew I was going down.

Time really does slow in a situation like this. In my case, I saw things unraveling in super-slow motion. I saw the wheel slow, then turn. I saw that I was leaving the saddle, and that my body was being propelled up and over the handlebars. A classic endo.

Because things were happening so slowly, I could actually think my way through it. Roll, I said to myself. So I twisted to hit the pavement on the back of my right shoulder, and somersaulted to a sitting position.

That's all?  Big wup.

That's all? Big wup.

Everyone stopped in horror. They gathered around to check out my damages, which weren’t bad. I hadn’t hit my head, and the only damage that was obvious was a nice bloody strawberry on my elbow. The back of the shoulder where I had hit was just dirty, not torn (good thing — it was my favorite jersey).  “You got some impressive height to your trajectory,” said one of the riders.

I had one guy pour some water over it, and we resumed the ride. But the combination of the soreness and the pace we had set on the way down (I finished the 34+ miles to San Marcos at a 17.2 mph pace, way faster than I usually go) had taken it out of me. By the time we got to Buda, I was ready to pack it in. That’s when I discovered the other casualty of the ride — my cell phone.

Time for an upgrade.

Time for an upgrade.

I borrowed a phone from one of the other riders, and called home.

“Honey? I’m at the Walgreen’s in Buda. Can you come pick me up?” (I think I detect an unwelcome pattern here.)

It turned out later that although cracked and otherwise damaged, the phone still worked.

I once read a comment, either in a book, magazine, or an online forum, that went, “When you crash — and you will…” At the time, I thought it didn’t apply to me. I was too, ahem, mature, too careful for that. But I guess everybody crashes at one time or another. At least, that’s what I tell myself to make myself feel better about this situation.

What did I learn? If it’s important enough to require your attention, it’s important enough to stop the bike to attend to it.

Phwfffffssssst! Duh…

I think I’ve had a very fortunate summer and fall. My last flat tire was on May 31st, during the Real Ale Ride. Since then, I’ve ridden lots of miles over some pretty rough patches, but the tires have held up beautifully.

Tonight, I had just completed a Mopac loop, and turned into the Veloway to knock off a few quick laps before heading home for supper. I crossed the gravel and dirt parking lot, jumped on the asphalt track, and pedaled easily, taking time to grab a swig from my water bottle.

When I reached the first curve, I immediately sensed that something was wrong. The rear wheel wobbled. It lost stability. !@%&*#! A flat.

I pulled over to the side and took off the wheel. Couldn’t find the tire levers! It had been so long since I poked around in my seat bag, I forgot that I had tucked them into a nifty little wallet that I keep my patch kit in. I got the tire off, and another rider came along.

“Got everything?” he asked.

“Yep,” I said. He nodded, and kept going.

Once I got the tube out of the tire, I inspected the inside of the tire for the culprit. There it was — a tiny sliver of sharp metal, about a quarter-inch long. I had to pull it out of the tread with my teeth.

“You okay?” asked a female rider as she passed.

“Yep, I can change this myself,” I replied. “Good,” she said, and pedaled off.

I always carry a spare tube. I got it into the tire, mounted both onto the wheel, and dug around for my CO2 cartridges.

WTF? Why am I carrying around a CO2 cartridge that’s already been used, and has a puncture?

Oh, there’s another good one in here. Let’s just stick it into the inflator and screw the top down…

Pop! Phwffffsssst! Oh no! I punctured the cartridge! Quick! Get it on the presta valve before…

I screwed down the top of the inflator, and stopped the leaking — but not before a cold white residue covered the cartridge, my fingers, and my gloves.

“!@%&*#!,” I shouted. I got the rest of the CO2 into the tire. There was enough to give the tire some shape, but not enough to make it rideable. I wasn’t far from the parking lot, so I started walking the bike back.

At the beginning of the path, a biker was taking it easy next to the water fountain. I leaned my bike against the bench nearby, and asked if he had a tire pump.

“No, but I have one of these things,” he said, holding up a CO2 cartridge. “I don’t know much about them. Can you use it?”

“You betcha,” I said (I’m originally from the Midwest). “Hey, it’s the threaded kind. That’s better.”

I screwed it onto the inflator, and fitted the end over the presta valve. Pulled the trigger. Whoosh! In about one second, the tire was inflated. I tested it with my fingers. It was firm to the touch. Let’s see…if I give it one more shot, it’ll probably inflate to the pressure I like…

Bang!

“Aww,” said the guy.

I said something stronger.

I inspected the flat tire. Dummy! The tube had gotten caught between the tire and the rim. One of those things they teach you to check for when you first learn how to change a flat tire.

I got out my cell phone.

“Honey? I’m at the Veloway. Can you come pick me up?”